While the term “intersectionality” was coined in 1989, the existence of marginalized identities extends back over millennia. Byzantine Intersectionality reveals the fascinating, little-examined conversations in medieval thought and visual culture around sexual and reproductive consent, bullying and slut-shaming, homosocial and homoerotic relationships, trans and nonbinary gender identities, and the depiction of racialized minorities. Roland Betancourt explores these issues in the context of the Byzantine Empire, using sources from late antiquity and early Christianity up to the early modern period. Highlighting nuanced and strikingly modern approaches by medieval writers, philosophers, theologians, and doctors, Betancourt offers a new history of gender, sexuality, and race.
Betancourt weaves together art, literature, and an impressive array of texts to investigate depictions of sexual consent in images of the Virgin Mary, tactics of sexual shaming in the story of Empress Theodora, narratives of transgender monks, portrayals of same-gender desire in images of the Doubting Thomas, and stereotypes of gender and ethnicity in representations of the Ethiopian Eunuch. He also gathers evidence from medical manuals detailing everything from surgical practices for late terminations of pregnancy to save a mother’s life to a host of procedures used to affirm a person’s gender.
Showing how understandings of gender, sexuality, and race have long been enmeshed, Byzantine Intersectionality offers a groundbreaking look at the culture of the medieval world.
Awards and Recognition
- Finalist for the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Historical Studies, American Academy of Religion
Roland Betancourt is professor of art history at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Performing the Gospels in Byzantium and Sight, Touch, and Imagination in Byzantium.
"Byzantine Intersectionality takes up the challenge of reading ancient texts—visual and linguistic—through the lens of contemporary methodologies and, even more daringly, current social identities and concepts. Dazzling in its analysis, thoroughly researched, and theoretically illuminating, this book changes not only how we see the Byzantine era, but also the stakes of recent work in queer, transgender, and critical race studies. Byzantine Intersectionality is for anyone who wants to learn how the past makes the present new."—Elizabeth Freeman, author of Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories
"This radically interdisciplinary tour de force gives extraordinary insight into nonnormative Byzantine subjectivities while breathtakingly detailing how gender, race, and sexuality were understood and deployed. A magnificent book, Byzantine Intersectionality shows us how critical race theory and queer and transgender studies can change our understanding of the past."—Steven Nelson, author of From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa
"Byzantine Intersectionality aims at nothing less than the recuperation of trans identities of the premodern past. Skillfully bridging the chronological gap separating the Byzantine from the modern and beyond, Betancourt exploits the fecundity of anachronism. His engagement with materiality, and his exploration of the philosophical commitments pertaining to the relationship of form and matter, are nuanced and provocative."—Suzanne Conklin Akbari, author of Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100–1450
"Byzantine Intersectionality makes claims about historically remote gender-variant subjects and minority sexualities that are bound to be controversial. Whatever readers may think about the historicization of sexuality and gender, however, they are sure to find material here that will challenge preconceived notions about the histories of race, gender, sexuality, and desire."—Jack Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity
"Essential and groundbreaking, Byzantine Intersectionality is a major contribution to the ongoing discussion in critical race studies and gender, sexuality, and transgender studies."—Dorothy Kim, author of The Alt-Medieval: Digital Whiteness and Medieval Studies
"Rich with startling and even alarming evidence, this book offers a timely and challenging perspective on Byzantine society and culture. Placing late ancient and medieval Greek texts and images into dialogue with some of the most pressing concerns of our own day, including gender, sexuality, race, and identity, Byzantine Intersectionality may be the most significant communication from Byzantine studies to the rest of the humanities this decade."—Derek Krueger, author of Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium
"Provocative, imaginative, and original, Byzantine Intersectionality cuts across disciplines with an urgent and political voice. It investigates important topics and will stir up controversy and conversation."—Charles Barber, author of Figure and Likeness: On the Limits of Representation in Byzantine Iconoclasm