Guarding the harem, protecting the state: Eunuchs in a fourth/tenth-century abbasid court

Nadia Maria El Cheikh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The death of the Abbasid caliph al-Muktafi in 295/908 led to the proclamation as caliph of his 13-year-old brother, Ja?far (d. 320/932), who took the name “al-Muqtadir” on ascending the throne. On account of Ja?far’s youth, a handful of personalities at court acquired undue influence, most notably, his mother Shaghab, the chamberlain Sawsan and two eunuchs, Muʼnis al-Mu?affar, leader of the Baghdad forces; and ?afi, the chief of eunuchs. Such circumstances gave eunuchs the opportunity to play a significant role in the palace and in government, as the evidence reveals that they became trusted political advisers and powerful administrators of the caliph. They also appeared in important positions in the army and police. This chapter analyses the variety of roles that eunuchs assumed in the Abbasid establishment during the early fourth/tenth century. It starts with some comparative remarks on eunuchs in the Byzantine and Abbasid empires and then proceeds to outline the various functions that eunuchs had in the Abbasid state, notably that of guarding the Abbasid courtly harem. Their political influence will then be investigated by examining the careers of three eunuchs, each of whom played leading roles at the court of the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir. This chapter will also refer to the competition that ensued among the leading eunuchs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCelibate and Childless Men in Power
Subtitle of host publicationRuling Eunuchs and Bishops in the Pre-Modern World
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781317182382
ISBN (Print)9781472453402
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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