Eunuchs (Gr. from a bed, and to guard), emasculated men employed in the East from time immemorial to take charge of women. A product of oriental polygamy, jealousy, and despotism, eunuchs were early common in Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, and the neighboring countries, and were introduced thence into Greece and Rome. Among the later Romans they were admitted into the families of senators and emperors, and by their skill in flattery and intrigue often established their power at court, especially under the Byzantine empire. The Romans ingeniously devised a method of making castration more or less complete. Gibbon affirms that the general history of Persia, India, and China proves that the power of the eunuchs has uniformly marked the decline and fall of every dynasty. They are still employed in the East as guardians of the harem, black slaves from Africa being generally preferred. The eunuchs of the Turkish harems are mostly made such in Upper Egypt, near Nubia, at a village where the operation of castration is performed by Coptic priests.
It is stated that about one in seven of the boys die in consequence of the operation. - The Christian church from the beginning manifested her abhorrence of the practice of mutilating men, excluding eunuchs from orders even before a law to that effect had been promulgated. The ordination of Origen at an advanced age, by the bishops of Ca?sarea and Jerusalem, was protested against by his own bishop, Demetrius of Alexandria, on the ground that Origen in his youth had mutilated himself as a safeguard against temptation - a fact which Origen had concealed, but which had become known to Demetrius. This recognition of such an ordination as irregular attested the universal discipline of the church, confirmed by the law enacted by the council of Nice, and observed ever since throughout Christendom. This law was directed more especially at a sect of fanatics called Valesians, from their Arab founder Valesius, who insisted upon this practice of mutilation as a necessary means of salvation. Christian Italy inherited from pagan times the custom of mutilating boys in order to preserve their voice; and down to our days such singers have been much sought for in theatres and churches. Clement XIV., renewing the enactments of several preceding popes, forbade their employment in religious services.
Nevertheless, the custom still continued to prevail in Rome itself. (See Castration.)