These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs

Shannon Quinn - December 26, 2018

Throughout the course of history, young men all over the world were castrated before puberty in order to become eunuchs. They were typically servant boys from the lower classes who whose manhood was taken from them for a very specific purpose. The reasons drastically vary from trying to prolong a high-pitch singing voice of a choir boy, to taking away the distracting hormones that distracted a man from a life of academic study.

In some cases, castration was a punishment reserved for enemies who had been captured and forced into slavery. In multiple countries around the world, it was actually a requirement to become a eunuch if a man wanted to work in a royal court, because it protected the women and also improved their focus. Many times, eunuchs were emasculated intellectuals who did not pose a threat to leaders. More often than not, they became trusted advisors to kings, and many of them found themselves in a very powerful position in society.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Farinelli was a famous opera singer who was also a “castrato”. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

16. Farinelli Sacrificed His Manhood To Hit High Notes

In the 18th century, an Italian opera singer named Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi went by the one-word stage name of “Farinelli”. He was considered to be one of the greatest opera singers of all time, because his voice could go all the way up to high soprano notes, which are usually only attainable by women. He still had the ability to sing deep, as well, so he could perform some of the most complex songs that were written at the time. The secret to his vocal success was no secret at all- it was castration.

At a young age, some choir boys in Italy known as the “castrato” were forced into becoming eunuchs before they hit puberty to preserve their high voices. Farinelli was born into a noble family full of musicians. He was raised to believe that there was nothing more honorable than sacrificing his body’s supply of testosterone if it meant having a great music career. By the time he was 15, he was traveling around the world giving his performances to members of the aristocracy.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
This statue of Poppaea is the closest we will ever get to knowing what Sporus looked like. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

15. Sporus Pretended To Be the Empress of Rome

The Roman Emperor Nero is remembered for being vicious and cruel, but few people know that he fancied a young boy named Sporus who was very attractive and feminine. So, he castrated him, and married the boy. According to the story, Nero kicked his first wife, Poppaea, to death when she was pregnant with their child. And when he saw Sporus, he thought that the boy looked almost exactly like his dead wife. He even started calling Sporus “Poppaea”, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he even made him dress up in his wife’s clothes. This was partly out of guilt, and partly to cover up the fact that he killed his wife. We don’t know how well this ruse actually worked, though.

Creepy? Yes. Insane? Definitely. Aside from the body mutilation and having to be married to an abusive psychopath, Sporus got to enjoy all of the luxuries of an “Empress” in the Holy Roman Empire. After Nero’s death, Sporus could have gone free, but without any real job skills to speak of, he tried to become the “wife” of two other politicians, since that’s what he did best. But his plans were ruined when he was exposed for homosexuality. He ended up being forced to fight as a gladiator, and chose to commit suicide on the battlefield, instead.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Ancient Roman servants helping their mistress. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

14. Halotus Killed a King And Became Rich

Roman Emperor Claudius had a eunuch servant named Halotus. His main duties were to test the emperor’s food for poison, and he also became a steward. When Claudius was killed, Halotus became one of the prime suspects in his death, because he had such close access to the emperor at all times, and he could have easily slipped poison into his food or drink. There was an investigation into his death, but there was not enough evidence to convict Halotus of Claudius’ murder.

Halotus looks even more suspicious after you consider that the next emperor, Galba, gave him the position of procurator. This was a very powerful financial position in the provinces, so he became a very wealthy man. There are a number of different reasons why Galba could have appointed Halotus to this position, but many historians believe that he would have done it to somehow benefit himself with the taxes and other financial affairs of Rome.


These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Statue of Pharoah Ptolemy. Pothinus never got to have his bust made. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

13. Pothinus Gave a Severed Head to Julius Caesar

Pothinus was a young king regent to the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator, who was running Egypt together with Cleopatra VII. They were only supposed to rule together until Pothinus became old enough to take over his rightful place as Pharaoh. There does not seem to be a good explanation of why Pothinus became a eunuch in the first place, but it could have been to prevent him from passing down the royal bloodline, or he could have chosen that lifestyle.

It was said that Pothinus studied the art of persuasion, but that he was far better at making friends with evil men. Pothinus tried to gain favor with Julius Caesar by killing and beheading one of his enemies, Pompey. However, this totally backfired, and it only disgusted Caesar, and made him mistrust Pothinus’ leadership skills. He ended up siding with Cleopatra and Ptolemy, and ordering that Pothinus be beheaded.


These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Portrait of the Chinese historian Sima Qian. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

12. Sima Qian Was a Revolutionary Chinese Historian

During the Han Dynasty, Sima Qian began to keep historic records of the Chinese empire over the course of 2,000 years. He is considered to be the founder of Chinese “historiography”, which basically means he was the country’s first historian. His worked influenced historians in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. He was also an accomplished astrologer, and he became a prominent figure in Chinese literature. He got involved in some serious drama in the royal family, and the Emperor put him in jail for three years, threatening to execute him.

Sima Qian had two options- Either accept death, or choose the humiliation of being castrated and becoming a eunuch in the royal court. He chose the latter. Sima Qian was actually married and had three children before he chose to be castrated. He wrote that he was embarrassed that he was too cowardly to commit suicide to regain his honor, but he felt that he did not want to die, because had far too much work left to do, and he was right. His sons continued writing his historic texts, and it was not fully revealed until several generations later.


These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
An Eighteenth Century Kizlar Agha, most likely a depiction of Mehmed Agha. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

11. Mehmed Agha

During the Ottoman Empire, the duty of “Kizlar Agha” was given to a black slave in charge of guarding the royal harem for the sultans in Constantinople. At that time, every man that served in the royal court had to become a eunuch, especially if they were expected to be around women and young male pages. Sadly, there must have been years of sexual abuse cases going on, and the Ottomans decided that this was the only solution. This tradition carried over to many other countries, as well.

One of the most famous individuals to hold that post was Mehmed Agha, who was from Ethiopia. He was the first black Kizlar Agha to serve the post after centuries of white men having the so-called honor of guarding the harem. In his own way, Mehmed Agha would have had sway in the royal court, because he was responsible for delivering messages directly to the sultan. He would have also received a royal education and got all of the perks of being in the royal court.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Portrait of Peter Abelard from one of his books. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

10. Peter Abelard Was an Accomplished Intellectual

Peter Abelard was a famous French scholar, theologian, and philosopher in the 1100’s. He was born into a noble family in the countryside of the Loire Valley. His family expected him to become a knight, but he rejected his family title and moved to Paris to study theology at the Notre Dame Cathedral. This is where he met an accomplished female writer and philosopher named Héloïse. The two began to have a forbidden love affair, and had a child together out of wedlock. They got married in secret, but Héloïse’s uncle and guardian, Fulbert, did not want the two of them to be together. He knew that their relationship was basically destroying both of their budding academic careers.

Peter Abelard told Héloïse to go to a convent and take up the life of a nun, in order for her to escape from her uncle Fulbert. He planned to continue to visit her, but Fulbert was so angry that his niece left Paris, his men held Peter Abelard down while they castrated him. When Héloïse was away, she wrote to Peter that she decided to actually become a nun for real. This came as a shock to Peter, since he did not think she was ever a particularly religious person. Héloïse later wrote that she thought it was completely unfair that men can continue their academic pursuits while women are stuck taking care of children, and she no longer wanted that life. Divorce was not an option back then, and without his genitals, he couldn’t exactly move on to have a life with someone else, so he continued to dedicate his life to his academic work, and became a monk who took on a vow of celibacy.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Mohammad Khan Qajar Credit: Wikimedia Commons

9. Agha Mohammad Khan Was The King of the Qajar Dynasty

As a child Agha Mohammad was a prince who was kidnapped and castrated by his captors. Despite this setback, he was still the eldest son of his family, so he still grew up to fulfill his royal duties. From 1794 to 1797, Agha Mohammad Khan severed as the Chieftain of the Qajar Tribe. It’s very possible that he never got over the fact that he had been castrated, because he was remembered as being a cruel ruler who showed the same level of brutality to other people as he had received as a child. He got into a lot of conflicts with neighboring chieftains he ruthlessly conquered the country of Georgia and forced thousands of residents to leave.

He spent far less time negotiating and being a politician, and focused almost all of his time and energy into the military. Instead of trying to run his country, he wanted to continue to kill more people conquer more territories. He obviously could not have any children, and therefore did not have any heirs. In 1797, Agha Mohammad was in a tent after taking over the city of Shusha. He got into a heated argument with someone, and he was killed. His nephew took over the throne after his death.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
One of the very first illustrations to be printed on paper was of its inventor, Cai Lun. Credit: YouTube

8. Cai Lun Invented Paper and Assassinated an Old Lady

Cai Lun was an aristocrat and eunuch who lived in the royal court of the Han Dynasty. For a very long time, writing in ancient China was done on strips of bamboo or sheets of silk. This was very expensive, and it prevented a lot of things from being written down, because people simply could not afford it. He recycled old trees, hemp, fish nets, and cloth rags together to form paper. Because of this invention, he changed the world forever, and he is considered to be one of the most innovative and influential people in all of history. He was rewarded with taxes from 300 houses, and he became very wealthy.

Aside from being a brilliant inventor, Cai Lun was very close friends with the Empress Dou, and she had a bitter rivalry with Consort Song, also known in death as Empress Jingyin. Consort Song was 82 years old, and yet she still held a lot of power with the Emperor, so there was a lot of jealousy and resentment. Both Cai Lun and Empress Dou felt that it was far past the time that granny Song should be out of the picture, so Cai Lu poisoned her, hoping that everyone would assume that she died of natural causes. However, the Emperor found out about this assassination. Before they could torture and kill him, Cai Lun poisoned himself, committing suicide.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Jia Xian’s math notes on square roots. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

7. Jia Xian Made Math Class More Difficult Forever

Jia Xian grew up as an apprentice under the mathematician named Chu Yan. When he grew up, he continued to be the mathematic scholar and lived and worked in the royal palace during the Song Dynasty. Like other royal employees, he was forced to become a eunuch, but it helped him to not get distracted him his academic work. Basically, he was like a resident genius, which was customary for the time. Making academic breakthroughs would help the empire make waves in the history books.

He was able to make some huge breakthroughs in mathematics that we still use today, like the square root, and the additive-multiplicative method. He published multiple mathematics textbooks. No one knows what Jia Xian looks like, and there are no portraits of him that exist. But his math is still left behind as his legacy. However, few people ever remember who Jia Xian is, or ever give him credit for the work he devoted his life to.


These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
This statue of Zheng He still stands in his honor. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

6. Zheng He Was a Famous Explorer

Born into a Muslim family, Zheng He was originally born with the name “Ma He”, and he was ethnically Mongolian and Arab. His name was changed to sound more Chinese at a later date. He was very open-minded to all religions and cultures. The stories about how he became a eunuch vary, and no one is sure if he was 10, or 16 years old when it happened. At that time, China and Mongolia were constantly at war with one another over territory, so he was captured and called a “Mongol pretender”, which is when they castrated him as a punishment and forced him into becoming a slave.

Even though he went through that horrific event as a child, he he still went on grow up to be a trusted advisor to the prince, because he was seen as having insider knowledge about the cultures and customs of other lands. He was able to go on epic adventures as a sea mariner, explorer, and international diplomat. They even erected a statue in his honor, which is still standing in China to this day.


These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Painting of Bagoas pleading to Alexander to spare the life of another man. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

5. Bagoas Was a Snazzy Dancer Who Hung Out With Alexander the Great.

Bagoas lived in the 4th Century B.C. Persian Empire. He came from a noble family, but he was captured into slavery, where they castrated him. He later became a trusted courtier to Alexander the Great, and was known for giving him advice and having a lot of sway in his decision-making. After successfully crossing the Gedrosian Desert, Alexander threw a party, and held a dance contest. Normally, women were usually far better dancers than men, but Bogoas blew everyone away with his skills.

The Macedonian troops were at the party, and they told Alexander the Great that he needed to kiss the winner, so he gave Bagoas a smooch in front of the crowd. Bagoas and Alexander the Great became lovers. In artwork of Bagoas, he is dressed like a woman. This is similar to the story of Sporus, where he was also made to wear a dress and treated like a woman while in royal court.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Ly Thuong Kiet agreed to be castrated in order to become the head of the royal guard. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

4. Lý Thường Kiệt Was an Accomplished Vietnamese General

Born 11th century Vietnam, Ly Thuong Kiet was the son of a military officer. He grew up showing his loyalty for the Vietnamese armed forces, and he was considered to be very intelligent and skilled at a young age. When he was 23 years old, Kiet was promoted to become a general, and he was allowed to take a title that would bring him into the upper class of society. Anyone who wanted to rise to the ranks of the Head of the Royal Guard had to be castrated, because they had access to the palace both day and night.

In the year 1076, Kiet lead over 100,000 troops through China in order to protect their country from the Song Dynasty invasion. The battle lasted for 40 days. Kiet had brilliant ideas, like planting sharp spikes hidden in a river, which killed over 1,000 Chinese troops very quickly. This made the Chinese retreat out of pure terror. He eventually wrote the document that is now considered to be Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence. Even to this day, he is still considered to be one of the national heroes of Vietnam.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Julius Caesar was ready to handle the situation when Ganymedes he tried to steal his throne. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

3. Ganymedes Was on Cleopatra’s Court and Lead an Army

Ganymedes was the eunuch tutor to Cleopatra VII’s young half-sister. He spent a lot of time around the royal court. He was intelligent, wealthy, and well-connected, so he raised his own army and navy. One day, Caesar and his men had sailed away. Ganymedes knew that by the time the men came back, they would have run out of fresh water on the boat. They would be desperate for supplies, and would need them quickly before they started to get sick and die in the summer heat.

When Caesar’s navy tried to return to Alexandria, they were met with Ganymedes’ navy guarding the access to the freshwater river. They threatening not to allow them access to any of the water unless Julius Caesar gave up his throne to Ganymedes. However, Julius Caesar knew that the nearby land was built on limestone, which meant that they could easily dig into the ground and make wells. So they turned around and got their fresh water without having to go anywhere near the river. After feeling fully satisfied and refreshed, Caesar returned, and they completely obliterated Ganymedes’ navy.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Scarlo Scalzi posing in one of his elaborate opera costumes. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2. Carlo Scalzi Sang Songs For Royalty

The famous opera singer Carlo Scalzi was castrated before puberty so that he could hit high notes when he sang. He was called a “very unique singer” in his style, and people often compared him to yet another eunuch singer we already mentioned on this list, Farinelli. Carlo Scalzi traveled all around Europe in the early 1700’s playing leading roles in operas, and he would give private performances to members of the royal family. He even sang for the wedding of Philip IV, Prince of Orange.

One of his most iconic roles was in the original cast of George Frideric Handel’s opera called” Arianna in Creta”. He played a character named Alceste, who is one of the main male love interests in the story. The opening show was performed in the King’s Theater in London, and it became such a famous opera, it it still performed to this day. He stopped performing in his late 30’s, and records of his life stop after that point. It’s always possible that he retired after aging out of the roles he was getting for leading man.

These Influential Figures in History Were Actually Eunuchs
Origen teaching theology to a group of students. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1. Origen Castrated Himself Because He Believed That Jesus Christ Was a Eunuch

Born in the year 184, Origen was a Christian teacher, scholar, and theologian living in the ancient city of Alexandria. He was considered to be a genius, because of his philosophical revelations about the Bible. He was a vegetarian, never drank alcohol, and generally tried to live a very clean and pious lifestyle. There is a line in the Bible Matthew 19:12 that says; “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

According to a fellow scholar named Eusebius, Origen read this line and believed that Jesus had castrated himself in order to abstain from having sex and be as clean and holy as humanly possible. After all, there is no evidence that Jesus had a wife or children. So, in a way, it actually makes a lot of sense. Apparently, Origen paid a surgeon to perform the surgery. Other versions of the story depict Origen doing this castration to himself with a knife. However, some historians believe that there is no actual basis for this theory, and that Eusebius may have made it all up to mock Origen, since they were academic rivals.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Famous and Powerful Eunuchs of the Ancient World. Valdar. Ancient Origins. 2016.

Eunuch. Wikipedia.

Cai Lun The Inventor of Paper. YouTube. 2010.