1st Edition

Between Byzantine Men Desire, Homosociality, and Brotherhood in the Medieval Empire

By Mark Masterson Copyright 2022
    230 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    230 Pages 15 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The presence and importance of same-sex desire between men in the Byzantine Empire has been understudied. While John Boswell and others tried to open a conversation about desire between Byzantine men decades ago, the field reverted to emphasis on prohibition and an inability to read the evidence of same-sex desire between men in the sources. Between Byzantine Men: Desire, Homosociality, and Brotherhood in the Medieval Empire challenges and transforms this situation by placing at centre stage Byzantine men's desiring relations with one another.


    This book foregrounds desire between men in and around the imperial court of the 900s. Analysis of Greek sources (many untranslated until now) and of material culture reveals a situation both more liberal than the medieval West and important for its rite of brother-making (adelphopoiesis), which was a precursor to today’s same-sex marriage. This book transforms our understanding of Byzantine elite men's culture and is an important addition to the history of sex and desire between men.


    Between Byzantine Men will appeal to scholars and general readers who are interested in Byzantine History, Society, and Culture, the History of Masculinity, and the History of Sexuality.


    Prelude: Letter 44 of Nikephoros Ouranos

    What This Book Does and How It Does It

    A Christian Empire

    Letter 26 of Nikephoros Ouranos

    A Comparison

    Civil Law

    Canon Law/Penitentials

    Men in the Life of Mary the Younger


    Chapter One: Eroticism and Desire in Epistolography

    How to Read Byzantine Epistolography

    Letters of Theodoros Daphnopates

    Letter 18

    Letter 17

    Desire’s Dreams and Visions in Letters of an Emperor and his Friend

    Dreams and Visions in the Suda

    A Letter from Constantine

    A Letter from Theodoros

    Two Letters of Symeon the Logothete


    Chapter Two: Histories of Masculine Beauty and Desire: The Case of Emperor Basil I

    Historiographies from the Mid-Tenth Century

    Narrative of the Rise of Basil I

    Summary of Things to Come

    Amorous Language

    Theophilitzes and Hetaireiai

    The Emperor’s Horse

    Grappling and a Naked Scourging

    Basilikinos/Basiliskianos: Handsome Competition

    Eagle and Ganymede

    Male Backsides and Romans



    Chapter Three: Framing the Brotherhoods of Emperor Basil I

    Basil’s Brotherhoods in the Historiographies



    Other Brothers

    Liturgies for the Adelphopoiesis Ritual

    A Tenth-Century Prayer: "A Thing Flowery and Much-desired by Us, The Sweet
    Scent of Love"

    Framing "A Thing Flowery and Much-desired by Us, The Sweet Scent of Love"


    Court Ceremonial and Epistolography



    Appendix of Prayers


    Chapter Four: Revisiting the Bachelorhood of Emperor Basil II


    The State of the Question of Basil’s Bachelorhood

    Symeon the New Theologian’s Evidence

    Basil II as Symeon’s Referent




    Mark Masterson is Associate Professor of Classics at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is the author of Man to Man: Desire, Homosociality and Authority in Late-Roman Manhood (2014), as well as a number of articles and book chapters on sexuality and masculinity. He is also one of editors of the collection, Sex in Antiquity: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World (2015).

    ‘… this book is highly stimulating and delightful. Masterson has a gift for covering much ground economically and with sophistication and verve. His readings are lucid and mostly compelling, despite the complexity of ideas’ - Speculum 98/4 (October 2023).

    ‘Masterson’s book is a meaningful contribution to those seeking to undertake a queer approach to Byzantine sources’ - Journal of the History of Sexuality, Volume 32, Number 3, September 2023.