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Article titled "EUNUCH"

by G. Meier

in Reallexikon der Assyriologie, edited by Erich Ebeling et al., Berlin: Gruyter, 1928-2000.

Eunuch. Eunuchs of both sexes were known in Babylonia and Assyria in significant numbers. On the one hand, castrati [sic] played a role as officials at the royal court, and on the other hand, they formed an essential component of the cultic personnel.

§ 1. In the Hammurabi period, the girsequm (GIR.SE.GA = "courtier"), who was mentioned next to the muzaz ekallim and who was at the personal disposal of the ruler, appears to be a eunuch [1.] The Code of Hammurabi deals with the legal status of the girsequm in §§ 192 and 193. Since he could not count on progeny to serve him after death as a "water pourer," it is provided that a child adopted by him cannot return to his father's house under any circumstances. [I argue that this is a false reading of the law. The rule is that the natural child of a eunuch, after adoption by someone else, cannot be reclaimed by the eunuch. F.M.]

In a later period, the sarisen and the royal officers known as sa or sutresi must be considered eunuchs, at least in some cases [2].

Especially under Sargon, the sutresi assumes a significant role. We frequently find him in the high office of a governor [3]. Images of officers on Assyrian cylindrical seals are found for example in Unger, Babylonische und assyrische Kunst, p. 110f.

The zikrum, zikretu [4], and the mustarrestu mentioned in a vocabulary [5], which are attested in the Hammurabi period, must be interpreted as female eunuchs.

§ 2. In cult practice, eunuchs played a role under the designations kulu'u [6], a/isinnu, and kurgarru. assinnu and kurgarru appear as cinaedi [7] [passive homosexuals], but also as conjurers of witches [8].

Eunuchs are especially linked to the Ishtar cult [9]. In the myth of Ishtar's travel to the Underworld, Ea creates the Asusunamir, an assinnu, or kulu'u [10], in order by his beauty to free Ishtar who is being held in the underworld. The castrated [sic] cult personnel was deemed virtually as having been instituted by Ishtar [11]. A regular ritual for the assinnu and kurgaru, which was used in the Babylonian new year celebration, can be found in K 9876 [12].

§ 3. The esteem of eunuchs appears to have varied. The fact that they could attain high positions at the court shows, on the one hand, that their condition was not seen as something that dishonored them.

The people, however, had a more natural attitude. In popular humor, the eunuch was designated appropriately as a sinnisanu ("effeminate"). He is not only not a man [13], but rather he is even a mere "half" of one [14].

§ 4. The moral quality of eunuchs was low. They often allowed themselves to be used for pederastic purposes [15]. While the courtier made himself available to his royal master, the cult prostitute offered himself in the service of the divinity.

Castration is provided in the Old Assyrian Law as a dishonorable punishment for unnatural intercourse [16].

Meissner MVAG 1907, p. 152ff.; BuA I, p. 120; Ebeling RLV; MAOG I, 1, p. 7.

1 See Meissner, BuA I, p. 120; OLZ. XXV. col. 241f.
2 CT XXIII, pl. 10, line 14; ZA XXIV, p. 109, note 1; ZA XXXIV, p. 91f.
3 Sarg. Ann., lines 17, 68, 138 and frequently.
4 See Landsberger, ZDMG LXIX, p. 519ff.
5 KUB IV, No. 96, II, line 2; see Meissner BAW II, p. 46f.
6 Meissner, Assyrologische Forschungen I, p. 50; ZA XXXII, p. 181.
7 Zimmern, Neujahr I, p. 138; CT XV, pl. 44, line 28.
8 Maqlu VII, line 92.
9 See Frank, Religion, p. 20.
10 CT XV, pl. 46, Rs. line 12 = KARI No. 1, Rs. line 6.
11 See Ebeling, Era p. 24, line 9f.
12 See Zimmern, Neujahr I, p. 136ff.
13 IV R pl. 34, No. 2, line 21.
14 KARI No. 174, IV, line 15ff.
15 See Boissier, DA, p. 91, line 24ff.
16 KAVI No. 1, II, line 97.