The Andreios Eunuch-Commander Narses: Sign of a Decoupling of Martial Virtues and Masculinity in the Early Byzantine Empire?
The sixth-century Byzantine general Narses (478-573) has long earned historians’ respect. This acclaim is deserved since his major victories over the Goths in 552 and versus the Franks and Alamanni in 554, helped to secure the Emperor Justinian I’s (ruled 527-565) reconquest of Italy. So too did Narses perform admirably for twelve years in his role as prefect of Italy. Of course, it has always been important to emphasize that Narses was a eunuch. Indeed, for many modern historians, Narses’ identity as a castrate is more important for study than his military deeds and political achievements that proved ephemeral. For some, the presence of a eunuch in such an essential military role indicates a turning away from codes of generalship based on traditional martial courage and manliness. This paper questions such a view. It suggests that Byzantium had a much more flexible notion of the gender status of eunuchs than some recent scholarship allows. Indeed, I will show that Narses fits into a continuing hegemony of traditional masculine values based on the supremacy of Byzantine men’s martial virtues.
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