The Gay Male as Byzantine Monster: Civil Legislation and Punishment for Same-Sex Behaviour

In: The Horrid Looking Glass: Reflections on Monstrosity
Stephen Morris
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Same-sex behaviour among men was punishable by burning at the stake in Byzantine civil law but this was rarely, if ever, enforced. Why was this particular form of execution chosen and what did it say about society’s view of such behaviour? What other acts were to be punished with execution by fire? Why was this never enforced? Instead, most men convicted of this behaviour were subject to tortures and fines (similar to a wide variety of other illegal behaviours). On close examination, it seems that same-sex behaviours was infamous (a technical legal category), a basic betrayal of society and animal-like, transgressing boundaries between human and bestial, male and female, and therefore ‘demonic’ and ‘monstrous’ in several ways. Simply by ordering that sexually penetrated men be burnt to death, the Byzantine law code revealed that society’s deep antipathy to such behaviour (continuing the ancient Roman antipathy for such behaviour) and manifested just how far outside the human community the perpetrator placed himself: he had become a demon, a monster that could not be allowed a place in the community from either side of the grave. Such a view of penetrated men as demonic monsters only further complicates our view of ‘gay men’ in Byzantium.

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