- Eunuchs played a significant role in most ancient Near Eastern administrations, although the scholarly debate over the meaning of terms denoting “eunuch” (Sumerian LU.SAG; Akkadian sa resi) continues.In the textual material from Mesopotamia, eunuchs are attested from Old Babylonian times on in various positions, ranking from high palaceofficials to servants in private households. The most significant and complex evidence comes from Assyria, and it is no surprise that the classical tradition attributes the origin of eunuchs to the legendary Assyrian queen Semiramis. From the Middle Assyrian laws, we learn that the penalty for adultery and homosexuality was “to turn him into a eunuch.” The Assyrian Palace Edicts from the same time show that eunuchs had access to the royal court and harem. In the texts from the Neo-Assyrian empire, eunuchs and “bearded ones” are mentioned side by side as terms for state officials, and eunuchs occur without beards on the Assyrian palace reliefs. As in other civilizations, eunuchs probably came from elite families and were chosen at an early age for a court career. They became high-ranking officers in the Assyrian army. The “Chief of the Eunuchs” sometimes even led the whole Assyrian army on a campaign (e.g., Mutarris-Ashur under Shamshi-Adad V). Others held important offices in the central and the provincial administrations. Outside the palace administration, eunuchs occupied various professions, such as scribes, musicians, and actors. It is not known whether all of them were slaves or whether there were free men among them.
Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. EdwART. 2012.
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