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Kennedy, Hugh (2018) 'Muʾnis al-Muẓaffar: An exceptional eunuch.' In: Höfert, Almut and Mesley, Matthew M. and Tolino, Serena, (eds.), Celibate and Childless Men in Power Ruling Eunuchs and Bishops in the Pre-Modern World. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, pp. 79-91.

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Abstract

The emergence of eunuchs as a major political and social presence in Islamic courts is a development of the third/ninth century. 1 For the first two centuries of Muslim political life, they were almost unknown, and their role, if they had one, would have been marginal. Eunuchs were effectively unknown in the Hijaz at the time of the Prophet and the Rashidūn caliphs. 2 Perhaps more surprisingly, given the importance of eunuchs in the Byzantine imperial system, they do not seem to have played a significant role in the Umayyad court or in Umayyad political life from 41/661 to 132/750. Eunuchs first became an important presence in Islamic political life at the Abbasid court, especially from the beginning of the third/ninth century until the mid-fourth/tenth century; this followed the Būyids’ seizure of power, which caused the Abbasid court to be much reduced in numbers and wealth and effectively restricted to a domestic role. The emergence of powerful eunuchs is closely related to two other changes in court life in the third/ninth century. The first was the gradual restriction of female members of the ruling dynasty to the caliphal palace. 3 In the first half century of Abbasid rule (132–193/750–809), the most prominent female members of the ruling dynasty had their own palaces and households, often in gardens along the banks of the Tigris, but by the third/ninth century, these had largely disappeared, and the women lived in the Dār al-Khilāfa, the high rambling palace on the east bank of the Tigris. The second change was the whole nature and design of palaces. Umayyad palaces, the ruins of a number of which survive, were modest in size, much like large Roman villas. They were sometimes exquisitely decorated but were centred on one or two courts or perhaps a bath house. The palaces of the mid-ninth century as we find them in Samarra were very much larger, enclosing vast numbers of chambers and gardens. They were like small towns in area and complexity, and there was no need for the inhabitants to emerge into the outside world. 4 Within these vast palaces, there were harem areas, strictly segregated from the rest of the complex and forbidden to male visitors. Both these developments put much more power into the hands of the gatekeepers of these new enclosed spaces, and these gatekeepers were often eunuchs because they alone could mediate between the caliphal household and the outside world.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East
ISBN: 9781472453402
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315566658-4
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2017 13:46
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/24490

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