As part of our continuing work on the HistEvents system, users are temporarily not receiving emails. Please just send details of your event to and we will list it for you.

Ruling Bishops and Ruling Eunuchs, c. 400-1800: The Gender of Authority: Celibate and Childless Men in Power

August 28, 2013 - August 30, 2013
University of Zürich

University of Zürich

View the Call For Papers

Topic areas

Talks at this conference

Add a talk


The conference will be held at the University of Zürich between Wednesday 28th August – 30th August, 2013. Registration will begin at 2pm on Wednesday.

Questions and queries about registration or accommodation should be sent to Matthew Mesley, University of Zürich, (

Registration will be free. This will include all coffee and tea breaks. However, meals will need to be paid for by non-speakers.

If you wish to attend please email Matthew Mesley and he will add to you to the conference attendees list.

See below for the FINAL PROGRAM for the conference. 

Conference organised by Almut Höfert, Hans Peter Pökel, Matthew Mesley and Serena Tolino

Current speakers include:

·      Hugh Kennedy (SOAS, University of London)

·      Julia Barrow (University of Leeds)

·      Shaun Tougher (Cardiff University)

·      Nadia el-Cheikh (American University in Beirut):

·      Mathew Kuefler (San Diego State University)

·      Hans Peter Pökel (FU, Berlin)

·      Metin Kunt (Sabanci University, Istanbul)

·      Stephen Marritt (University of Glasgow)

·      Rachel Stone (King's College London)

·      Ruby Lal (Emory University, Atlanta)

·      Jennifer Jay (University of Alberta)

·      Antje Flüchter (University of Heidelberg)

·      Shane Gannon (Mount Royal University, Calgery)

·      Michael Höckelmann (University of Münster)

·      Ezgi Dikici (Independent Scholar)

·      Jessica Hinchy (Nanyang Technological University)

·      Serena Tolino (University of Zürich)

·      Matthew Mesley (University of Zürich)

From antiquity to modernity, pre-modern ruling systems in different parts of the world often shared a common feature: the participation of men who were either physically unable or normatively forbidden to father children. One the one hand, there were the childless eunuchs who fulfilled a variety of functions at courts in the Middle East, Byzantium and China; they were much more than simply guardians of the harem. Due to their specific “gender”, the eunuchs formed an integral part of the different ruling systems; indeed, they held a central position in court politics, and their loyalty towards the reigning dynasty was not conditional on nepotism or favouritism towards their family, since they were childless. On the other hand, we have the ruling priests: the celibate bishops both in the Byzantine Empire and Latin Europe. Whereas the Eastern Church tolerated eunuchs as priests, the Western Church demanded that a priest was not castrated, and that instead he needed to have the willpower and resolve to remain celibate. Bishops, who formed an integral part of the ruling elites in both the Western and Eastern were subject to the same rules surrounding celibacy, and were prevented in theory from fathering legitimate children.

Without aiming at a strict comparison between the two groups, this conference wants to take the phenomenon of pre-modern ruling systems that incorporate celibate or childless men, as a starting point in order to address the following questions:

(1)  What were the political and economical consequences of integrating men who were childless or without any legitimate children into the ruling elites and the respective networks of family and kinship?

(2)  If we take the definition of gender by R. Connell in her classic study on Masculinities (Gender as a social practice in relation to the “reproductive arena”), we might expect specific gender conceptions for both priests and eunuchs. How should we view these men: as a third gender; a hybrid gender; or as an asexual gender? Were they always gendered in a specific way or only in certain contexts or environments? And how did the actors perceive their own role in this respect? Is gender still “a useful tool of historical analysis” (Joan Scott) even, or should we adopt different approaches?

(3)  What was the relationship between these men and a divinely legitimized rule in respect to sacredness?

In asking these questions, this conference aims to shed light on the culture of political rule in a period before a strict biological dichotomy of the sexes might be said to have existed. We hope that the ensuing discussion and debate will open up new perspectives on the connections, parallels and peculiarities that can be discovered between rule and gender on a pre-modern global level. The papers will explore such themes within the Middle East, the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity and Byzantium, Latin Europe, China and other geographic areas.

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)




August 15, 2013, 9:00am CET

RSVP below

Who is attending?

No one has said they will attend yet.

Will you attend this event?

Let us know so we can notify you of any change of plan.

This event has been submitted and is maintained by:

You should login and contact this user if you believe the information on this page needs updating.

If you judge that this event entry is inappropriate, please login and report it.