On the Margins of Manhood: Examining Physical Gender Atypicality Among Men in Imperial Roman Society




MacIlroy, Allie

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Ancient Greek and Roman medical texts naturalized gender dimorphism, which included only normative male and female bodies. Yet there are representations of gender atypical bodies and identities in Greco-Roman literature and material culture. The Roman juristic tradition reveals that gender nonconforming people such as infertile men, eunuchs, and (presumably) some intersex people were considered to be citizen men in the practical context of family law—so long as they sufficiently “passed” as men. Thus, the purpose of this thesis is to broaden our understanding of masculinity, marginalization, and gender (non)conformity for men in imperial Roman society. I use an intersectional approach similar to modern transgender theory to examine how authoritative writers labeled, categorized, and discriminated against gender atypical men whose bodies did not fully adhere to the idealized gender binary. I examine literary and material sources representing people with gender nonconforming bodies and identities who could have been considered to be citizen men in Roman legal contexts. People referred to as castrati, eunuchi, spadones, and hermaphroditi are the primary focus of my research. The sources that I analyse in this thesis reveal that, in the Roman masculine imagination, the category of “man” included a complex spectrum of nonnormatively gendered bodies, expressions, and experiences. Ultimately, I conclude that there was a range of both accommodating and discriminatory attitudes towards gender nonconforming men in imperial Roman literature.