against war on women: Byzantine wife saves husband from castration

satan castrating men

Tedald led Italian forces besieging Byzantine castles near Benevento in southern Italy early in the tenth century. When his forces captured some Byzantine soldiers, he castrated them and sent them back to the Byzantine side. Then he taunted the Byzantine military leader:

Since I have discovered that nothing is more precious to your holy emperor than eunuchs, I respectfully endeavor to send him just these few for now, but I will send him some more as soon as possible, with God favoring the enterprise.

{ Quoniam quidem vestro sancto imperatori spadonibus nil pretiosius esse cognovi, hos studui pauculos sibi verecunde trasmittere, plures quantocius Deo propitio transmissurus. } [1]

Eunuchs occupied high positions in the Byzantine imperial court. But castrated Byzantine soldiers serving in Italy weren’t likely to become elite courtiers in Constantinople.

The Byzantine force subsequently made a sortie against Tedald’s Italian force. The Italians captured many of the Byzantine soldiers. Tedald began castrating the captives and sending them back to the castle. But then a wife courageously intervened on behalf of her husband:

a certain woman, inflamed by love for her husband and not a little worried about his member, left the castle enraged, with loosened hair. Then she lacerated her face with bloody fingernails and cried with a loud voice before Tedald’s tent.

{ mulier quaedam, mariti amore succensa, eius pro membris non parum sollicita, passis crinibus de castello exiit furibunda. Quae cum cruentis unguibus ora discerperet atque ante Tedbaldi tentorium clamosis vocibus fleret } [2]

Women in ancient Greece mourned deaths by exposing their hair in disarray, lacerating their faces, and wailing loudly. This wife loved her husband and, like Maximianus’s beautiful and wise Greek girl, deeply appreciated his genitals. She was mourning her husband’s impeding castration.

She was also guilefully plotting to save her husband. Responding to her wailing, Tedald, as incredulous as a sexless husband today, asked the wife to explain herself. She declared:

It is a new and unheard-of crime, O hero, that you wage war on unarmed women. No bloodline of ours leads back to the Amazons; in fact, we are given over solely to the activities of Minerva {weaving, making handcrafts, and engaging in small-scale commerce}, and we are wholly ignorant of weapons.

{ Novum hoc inauditumque facinus est, heroes, ut bellum non repugnantibus mulieribus inferatis. Nostrarum nulla ex Amazonarum sanguine prosapiam ducit; Minervae quippe solum operibus deditae armorum poenitus sumus ignarae. }

The Amazons were ancient men-haters who waged war on men, to their own loss. The wife who loved her husband obviously wasn’t an Amazon; she was a woman who worked to provide material goods for her husband and herself. Tedald understood and affirmed men’s historical gentleness toward women. He also implicitly recognized that women determine who is a hero. He responded:

What hero with sound mind ever waged war on women, except in the time of the Amazons?

{ Quis umquam sani capitis heros praeter Amazonarum temporibus bellum mulieribus intulit? }

The loving wife explained to the ignorant Tedald:

What more cruel war on women could you wage, I ask, and how could you make it more uncomfortable for them, than to try to amputate the testicles of their men, in which lies the replenishment of our bodies, and, what is most important of all, in which lies our hope for future children? For you remove not what is theirs but what is ours when you turn them into eunuchs. … I shudder before, I flee, and I want to avoid by any means this particular great loss, as cruel as irreparable. Holy gods, all of you, avert such a plague from me!”

{ Quod, cedo, credulius mulieribus bellum inferre, quidve incommodius his potestis auferre, quam ut earum viris certetis orchidia amputare, in quibus nostri refocilatio corporis et, quod omnium potissimum est, nasciturae spes extat prolis? Dum enim eos eunuchizatis non quod illorum, sed quod nostrum est tollitis. … iacturam hanc tantum, tam crudelem tamque inrecuperabilem modis omnibus horreo, fugio, nolo. Sancti dei omnes talem a me avertite pestem! } [3]

This Byzantine Christian woman pretended to be so ignorant as not to know that God is one. All the men in and around Tadald’s tent laughed at her. But her loving appreciation for men gained their favor.[4] They not only returned her husband to her, with his genitals fully intact, but also returned to her animals that they had seized from her.

No pushover and no fool, the wife both dominated within the home and understood the social weight of institutionalized violence against men. Tedald sent a messenger to ask her to tell him what to do if her husband again came out to fight against the Italian men. The wife responded shrewdly and ironically:

Those eyes … are his, as are his nostrils, hands and feet. If he needs it, let Tedald remove what belongs to my husband, but let him leave alone what is mine, I mean, what belongs to his humble servant.

{ Oculi … sunt illi, nares, manus et pedes. Si hoc egerit, sibi quae sua sunt auferat; quae mea, suae scilicet ancillulae, derelinquat. }

The wife isn’t Tedald’s humble servant. She formally might be regarded as her husband’s humble servant, but she owns his genitals. If you own a man’s genitals, you own him. Castration culture, gynocentrism, and women’s actual dominance over men has changed little throughout history. What makes this wife special is her decisively intervening to save her husband from castration. Few wives today even understand the force of castration culture bearing down on their husbands.

The Byzantine wife’s bold action to save her husband is even more admirable in the context of the long, sordid history of ridiculing and disparaging men’s genitals. In tenth-century Italy, a prisoner appeared before the King:

when he was led before him {the King} without leggings, wearing only a short tunic, and he quickly fell prostrate at the king’s feet, all nearly died from laughter at the revelation of his genitals.

{ Enimvero dum ante eum sine femoralibus, curta indutus endromade ductus regis ad pedes pronus concite caderet, in genitalium ostensione membrorum risu omnes emoririer. } [5]

Men’s genitals aren’t ridiculous. Men’s genitals wonderfully contribute to the perpetuation of humanity.

Along with ridicule of men’s genitals comes contempt for men’s sexual welfare. To test the police in Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI (reigned 886 to 912) went out on the streets alone at night. When the police detained him and asked where he was going, he said that he was just one of the many men going to a brothel. The emperor Constantine the Great had built a large brothel in Constantinople to serve sexually deprived men, in accordance with the wisdom of Solon. Yet contempt for men’s sexual welfare subsequently re-emerged. The guards beat and held in custody the man who pathetically wanted to visit a brothel. When the detained man declared that he was actually Emperor Leo VI, a prison guard scornfully declared:

Am I to believe that the emperor is a dirty man who squanders his wealth on prostitutes?

{ Egon — inquit — hominem inpurum, bona sua cum meretricibus abligurrientem, imperatorem credam? } [6]

Many rulers have spent great wealth to gain the sexual favor of particular women. Men exchanging money for sexual access to women aren’t dirty. They might be more fairly characterized as being sexually impoverished, lacking in verbal and social sophistication, and pathetic.

The long-entrenched gender structure of war favors women. For example, consider the actions of Egyptian invaders attacking the Italian city of Genoa in the tenth century:

while the {Genoese} citizens were unaware, they entered the city, killing all except children and women

{ civibusque ignorantibus civitatem ingrediuntur, cunctos pueris exeptis et mulieribus trucidantes } [7]

Contrary to present-day dogma, violence against men has been and remains the dominant gender pattern of violence. So it was when Hungarians attacked the Saxon city of Merseburg in the tenth century:

they {the Hungarians} had taken captive no small number of children and women, and had made an immense massacre of men

{ eos non modicam parvulorum ac mulierum habere praedam, virorum vero inmensam fecisse stragem }

The heroic Byzantine wife accepted the gender structure of war as violence against men. She accepted in war mutilation of her husband’s body other than castration. A wife cannot individually overturn the gender oppression of war as it historically has been structured. But wives and mothers should strive to protect their husbands and sons from it as best as they can.

Mass-market commercials today use violence against men’s genitals for laughter. Castration culture has long been exploited for laughter. Under gynocentrism, scholars in recent decades have argued at length about whether the tenth-century story of a wife saving her husband from castration expresses misogyny.[8] One might perhaps charitably interpret that scholarship as a joke. There is a more excellent way: recognizing and promoting love for men.

Men will not save themselves. The Byzantine woman opposed war on women and saved her man from castration. Women of the world, do likewise!

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[1] Liudprand of Cremona, Antapodosis {Retribution} 4.9, Latin text from Chiesa (1998), English translation from Squatriti (2007). All subsequent quotes from Antapodosis are similarly sourced. In some cases I’ve made minor changes to Squatriti’s English translation to track the Latin more closely. For earlier, freely available Latin text and English translation, Dümmler (1877) and Wright (1930). Both are of reasonably good quality.

Liudprand wrote Antapodosis about 960. It circulated widely. This work is now known in whole or in part in 19 manuscripts. The earliest, Munchen, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 6388 (Freising manuscript), dates from the second half of the tenth century. This manuscript belonged to Abraham, the late-tenth-century bishop of Freising. It apparently contains Liudprand’s own handwriting.

The Latin text names the Italian leader Tedbald. Squatriti identifies him as Tedald, who died in 936 and was appointed military leader (margrave) by King Hugh of Arles in 929. Squatriti (2007) p. 145, n. 18. I follow Squatriti in referring to the Italian military leader as Tedald rather than Tedbald.

Liudprand, also spelled Liutprand, was a scholar, a court official, and bishop of Cremona. He lived from about 920 to 972. Liudprand was born into an elite Lombard family and became part of the household of Italian King Hugh of Arles at a young age. Berenger II, an Italian potentate, sent Liudprand in 949 on a diplomatic mission to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in Constantinople. Liudprand subsequently served the German King Otto I.

On his mission to Constantinople, Liudprand presented Emperor Constantine with many expensive gifts. These gifts included:

four carzimasia slaves, to this emperor the most precious of all these things. For the Greeks {Byzantines} call a child-eunuch, with testicles and penis cut off, a carzimasium. The merchants of Verdun do this on account of the immense profit they can make, and they are accustomed to bring them to Spain.

{ mancipia IIIIor carzimasia; imperatori nominatis omnibus preciosiora. Carzimasium autem Greci vocant amputatis virilibus et virga puerum eunuchum; quod Verdunenses mercatores ob inmensum lucrum facere et in Hispaniam ducere solent. }

Antapodosis 6.6. Castration culture has had a terrible effect on boys and men throughout history.

Liudprand himself disparaged eunuchs. He stated that the Byzantine emperor put a eunuch at the head of the Byzantine army. Liudprand referred to that eunuch as:

a sort of man — I called him “sort of” since he ceased to be male and did not become a woman

{ hominem quandam — sed quandam eo dixi, quia mas esse desiit, mulier fieri nequit }

Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana {Embassy} 29, Latin text from Chiesa (1998), English trans. (adapted slightly) from Squatriti. See also Relatio 63, which refers to a eunuch-bishop as a capon (castrated rooster) and a caupon (innkeeper). Neither situation was in accordance with canon law.

[2] Antapodosis 4.10. The narrative arc implies that the sortie was subsequent to Tedald’s first, mocking reference to castrating men and creating desired eunuchs. The subsequent four quotes concerning the wife saving her husband from castration are from id. On women’s mourning rituals in ancient Greece, Dillon (2003) Ch. 9.

[3] The term orchida is a rare Latin term for testicles. Pliny, Natural History 26.62.95 observes:

But very high on the list of wonders is the plant orchis, or serapias, which has the leaves of leek, a stem a span high, and a purple flower. The root has two tubers, like testicles, so that the larger, or, as some put it, the thinner, taken in water excites desire; the smaller, or softer, taken in goat’s milk checks it.

{ Sed inter pauca mirabilis est orchis herba sive serapias, foliis porri, caule palmeo, flore purpureo, gemina radice testiculis simili, ita ut maior sive, ut aliqui dicunt, tenuior ex aqua pota excitet libidinem, minor sive mollior e lacte caprino inhibeat. }

Liudprand added to orchida the interlinear gloss testiculos. Squatriti (2007) p. 147, n. 23.

The wife’s perspective on her husband’s castration differs significantly from the narrator’s in a way directly relevant to the historical practice of castration. The narrative voice describes the wife as worried about her husband’s membrum (penis). Yet when the wife herself spoke, she described the importance of her husband’s testicles in the context of women having children. Castration most commonly involved only the excision of testicles. Men so castrated retained the ability to have penis-in-vagina sex with women, but couldn’t contribute to a pregnancy. Liudprand artfully left uncertain the specific type of castration that Tedald was performing.

Scholars analyzing the story of the wife saving her husband from castration have ignored the difference between the narrative voice and the wife’s voice and different forms of castration. Balzaretti described the wife’s desire for her husband’s penis:

At the start of the story this woman’s love (amor) for her husband is set alongside her need for his penis but her love is not taken up later on, when only desire is important. We are left in no doubt that her relationship to her husband is primarily a sexual one, in which what we may care to see as her Freudian desire for his penis, although couched in terms of procreation rather than pleasure, is presented as something she needs and, indeed, has rights over.

Balzaretti (2002) p. 120. Grabowski similarly didn’t consider carefully male genital components, their specific values to women, and different forms of castration. He, like Balzaretti, merely assumed that the wife’s concern focused on her husband’s penis, not his testicles:

In the woman’s reasoning, the penis, a source of pleasure and giver of hope for a child, was property of the wives. … The woman’s explanation that the man’s penis is actually in the possession of his wife does not show her fixation on that part of human body. … it can be clearly said that Tedbald’s men laugh not at the sex-oriented woman who thinks only about a penis … The enumeration of parts and members he {Tedald} can cut off from his {her husband’s} body is meant to show how sex-oriented and penis-focused the woman was. … Both women seek pleasure and see penis as a way to achieve it … The soldier’s wife wants to save the penis to have children, secure herself in the society, and protect her husband from mutilation.

Grabowski (2015) pp. 248, 250, 256, 257, 260. Id., p. 258, In Chronicon Salernitanum 147 (alt. Latin text), Idta saves her husband Guaimar I of Salerno from castration about the year 897. Specifically, when a group of men ambushed Guaimar, one “would have amputated his testicles {amputaret testiculis}” if Idta hadn’t then pleaded to save Guaimar’s testicles. Nonetheless, Grabowski declared, “Idta wanted to save Guaimar’s penis.” Id. p. 260. The fundamental problem is socially pervasive lack of appreciation for men’s specific sexed being, including sexed injustices against men.

[4] The Byzantine wife’s physical and verbal performance for Tedald is highly sophisticated. Grabowski recognized its sophistication in a variety of dimensions, but not the Byzantine’s wife pretense of pagan polytheism to go with her references to Athena and Minerva. Grabowski (2015) pp. 256-7. Grabowski thus gave the gathered group of men too much understanding in their laughter:

The gathered people see it that way and laugh. They laugh at the well devised speech, as everyone must at least praise such a creation of a smart woman, but also at their lord who becomes a victim of his own words.

Id. Reifying contemporary academic gender ideology, Balzaretti speculated that the dominance of the wife over the husband perhaps was “the funniest aspect for contemporary readers.” Balzaretti (2002) p. 119. Women’s dominance probably wasn’t funny for learned, tenth-century readers who studied classical literature, knew the life of Aesop, understood without self-deception the position of General Belisarius, and read romances like Ruodlieb.

[5] Antapodosis 2.63. Men’s genitals clearly have a figurative problem in poetry.

[6] Antapodosis 1.11. Men typically prefer to have sex with a woman who isn’t a prostitute. Among other reasons, prostitutes are more likely to exploit men.

[7] Antapodosis 4.5. The subsequent quote is from id. 2.28. Cf. Deuteronomy 20:13, Numbers 31:7-9, 17-8 (Biblical gendercide). Men as a gender are not essentially preferable for fighting and dying. Women as soldiers potentially have significant combat advantages.

[8] Scholars have treated Liudprand as “prime example of medieval misogyny.” Grabowski (2015) p. 243. Balzaretti explained: “at the root of misogyny is not simple hatred of women but rather a refusal to portray women as they really are.” Balzaretti (2002) p. 125. Under today’s gynocentrism, the way women “really are” is socially constructed as essentially sugar and spice, and everything nice. Not surprisingly, “It is obvious that from today’s perspective Liudprand has to be considered a misogynist.” Grabowski (2015) p. 244.

Buc (1995) pointed out the Liudprand, in the evaluative framework of his time, contrasted admirable German women with whorish Italian women. In the evaluative framework of our time, Buc “tried to argue away Liutprand’s obvious misogyny.” Balzaretti (2002) p. 124.

Working under today’s dominant gynocentric ideology, La Rocca evaluated whether Liudprand should be posthumously charged with misogyny. She went through Liudprand’s Antapodosis chapter by chapter and classified each chapter as presenting a positive, neutral, or negative image of females. La Rocca (2007) p. 295. According to this line of analysis, even a fictional account of men-hating in academia must include a sufficiently large number of positive portrayals of women, or it’s subject to being arraigned on a capital charge of misogyny.

In gynocentric society, castrating men is considered with respect to misogyny. Does the story of the Byzantine wife saving her husband from castration indicate misogyny? Balzaretti warned against accepting objections against the charge of misogyny:

It might be objected that the woman gets what she wants as her husband is not castrated and is released. While true, this does not mean that Liutprand had an enlightened view of women but rather that he did not have a fully worked out, consistent view of gender in which all parts added up to a coherent whole.

Balzaretti (2002) p. 120. Enlightened persons now have a fully worked out, consistent view of gender: women are wonderful, and men are evil. In presenting men being castrated, Liudprand engaged in “abstract humour well suited to all patriarchal societies.” Id. p. 128. Abstract analysis ignoring injustices against men is well suited to all gynocentric societies.

[image] Satan devours children (foreground); Attis and other Galli castrate themselves to serve Cybele (background). Illumination from manuscript of Augustine’s De civitate Dei {City of God}, trans. from Latin into French by Raoul de Presles. Made in Paris about 1475.  Excerpt from fol. 344v of MS. MMW 10 A 11, in Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.


Balzaretti, Ross. 2002. “Liutprand of Cremona’s Sense of Humour.” Ch. 5 (pp. 114-28) in Guy Halsall, ed., Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buc, Philippe. 1995. “Italian Hussies and German Matrons. Liutprand of Cremona on Dynastic Legitimacy.” Frühmittelalterliche Studien. 29: 207-225.

Chiesa, Paolo, ed. 1998. Liudprand of Cremona. Antapodosis; Homelia pachalis; Historia Ottonis; Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, 156. Turnholt: Brepols.

Dillon, Matthew. 2003. Girls and women in classical Greek religion. London: Routledge.

Dümmler, Ernst Ludwig, ed. 1877. Liudprand of Cremona. Liudprandi episcopi Cremonensis opera omnia. Hannoverae: Imp. bibl. Hahniani. (alternate source)

Grabowski, Antoni. 2015. “From Castration to Misogyny. The Meaning of Liudprand of Cremona’s Humour.” Acta Poloniae Historica. 112: 243.

La Rocca, Cristina. 2007. “Liutprando da Cremona e il paradigma femminile di dissoluzione dei Carolingi.” Pp. 29-307 in La Rocca, Cristina, ed. Agire da donna: modelli e pratiche di rappresentazione (secoli VI – X); atti del convegno, Padova, 18-19 febbrario 2005. Turnhout: Brepols.

Squatriti, Paolo, trans. 2007. The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Wright, F.A., trans. 1930. The Works of Liudprand of Cremona. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.