Creating Gender: Castration in Rome – Kathryn Reusch (Oxford)

The introduction of the cult of Cybele into Rome in 210 BC made the Romans intimately aware of castration and its many uses. The strong patriarchal foundation of Roman society was unsure of how to handle the castrate, but initial revulsion came to be replaced by a practical attitude to castration – as long as it was not practiced within the borders of the empire, its product was useful and often desired. Castrates were seen to inhabit a dangerous liminal position in the sexual and therefore gender hierarchy. This made them into a distinctive other which allowed them to serve as priests and prostitutes, tutors and slaves. Despite the importance of this topic for gender, economic and cultural historians and archaeologists, most of our information remains text-based. This paper will discuss the merits of a more in-depth archaeological study of castration, which has the potential to expand our knowledge of castrates and castration and the links between kingdoms and empires of the Roman and Late Antique worlds. Evidence from funerary deposits will give more information about treatment of castrates in death, which will point to their social standing, treatment and gender roles in life. Information about how castrates were treated and how this was fed by and fed into their gender and social roles will create a greater resolution of overall gender perceptions and how they changed over time in this period.

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