Byzantine Intersectionality- Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages Book
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RELEASE DATE - 31 JANUARY 2023
A fascinating history of marginalised identities in the medieval world
While the term “intersectionality” was coined in 1989, the existence of marginalised 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 racialised 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.
"[Byzantine Intersectionality] is an insightful and powerful new addition to not only Medieval Studies, but also History of Art, Critical Race Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Queer Studies. . . . An exciting and radical new project with an ethical dimension and urgency, this text challenges the ways scholars have viewed Byzantine society and culture. . . . [This] innovative text provokes from the epigraph by Lewinsky to the final sentence with its ethical imperative for social and racial justice."
Meaghan Allen, LSE Review of Books
"[Byzantine Intersectionality] raises timely and pressing questions about gender, sexuality, marginalised groups, and diversity in the medieval Roman Empire. . . . This indispensable book makes clear that the study of Byzantine art is relevant and pressing today."
Armin Bergmeier, Art Bulletin
"[Byzantine Intersectionality] quotes Monica Lewinsky in its epigraph and brings an activist's zeal to its queer-theory close readings of texts and images from the Eastern Roman Empire between the fourth and fifteenth centuries. By scouring legal, medical, and religious sources, and reading misogynist invectives against the grain, Betancourt builds a fascinating picture of more fluid attitudes and practices around sexuality than have been suggested in the mainstream historical record. . . . The details Betancourt excavates can be as illuminating as they are juicy."
Lidija Haas, Harper's Magazine
"[The book's title] refers to the interaction between gender, sexuality and race, how the intersections between these three separate things were understood in Byzantine society and how these understandings endured or shifted across the period of the Empire's history from (roughly) the fourth century to the 15th. . . . The book is rooted in a huge number of meticulously studied late antique and medieval sources. Importantly, Betancourt allows them the freedom to speak for themselves."
Adele Curness, History Today