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People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History

Section II Medieval Worlds

Editor: Paul Halsall


Section II: Medieval Worlds

Go to the following pages for other parts of People with a History

Chapter 5: Early Christianity

There is no area of discussion about homosexuality which is more contentious than the interrelationship of Christianity and homosexuality. The whole issue is irretrievably bound up with modern concerns because of Christianity's continued importance. On one hand there are conservative Christians who insist that modern Christian hostility to gays has a continuous tradition and that this is a good thing. On another hand the notion that Christianity caused homophobia was very important to early gay scholars working to explain gay oppression. But it has also turned out to be the case, in the United States at least, that the phenomenon of gay churches has been so successful that in almost every area they are the largest GLB organizations. LGB Christians have been unwilling to surrender the comforts of their faith and LGB Christian scholars, seeking to find a space for themselves in their past have challenged the orthodoxies of both conservative Christians and radical gays.

There is no doubt that Christian writers in every century have voiced criticism, sometimes virulent and obscene criticism, of homosexual activity and of "homosexuals" or other gender transgressive groups. The counter to this has not been to deny such voices, but to seek for more positive aspects of Christian history. And there is little doubt that this positive history also exists: even in the virulently anti-homosexual polemic of John Chrysostom, for instance, one finds evidence of entire Christian communities [in Antioch] which were unworried about homosexuality. Even the Bible itself, it turns out, contains "pro-gay" texts.

How much one reads such discussions as "history" and how much as modern theological discussion is an interesting question.

The discussion is now, however, moving beyond these fairly fixed positions. There is now increasing exploration of gender, both homosexual and heterosexual, as an important metaphor in Christian discourse. The person of Christ, a forgiving deity, who bleeds in order to nourish, and whose body is quite literally penetrated on the cross often ends up being described in a variety of "queer" ways: as a mother hen, as a eunuch, as a lover. When Christian writers tried to discuss female sanctity, they repeatedly end up by transgendering, or "queering" as a modern literary "theorist" might say, the holy woman in question: there is no higher praise for a Christian saint than that she has a "male soul in a female body", as Gregory of Nyssa says about his sister Makrina. Startling indeed to those who recognize this as a term for modern lesbianism. And when Christian authors tried to make sense of males in love with a male God, they end up asserting that the male soul is feminine (as indeed it is grammatically in both Greek and Latin), and that it is penetrated by God to bring forth the child of salvation.

These sorts of discussions are not comfortable for either religious conservatives, gay radicals, or even gay Christians looking for gay ancestors. What the discussions are doing is opening up new pathways to an appreciation of the "queerness" of the world's most popular religion.


  • Bernadette Brooten: Early Church Responses to Lesbian Sex, The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Volume III, No. 4, Fall, 1996.
  • Homosexuality in the New Testament [At Upenn]
    An extended and very informative collection of scholarly Internet discussions.
  • Thomas B. Dozeman, Creation and Procreation the Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality, Union Seminary Quarterly Review 49:3-4
  • Christopher T. Lee, Paul's Malakos: Its Evolution from Classical Greece Through the Roman World [At Internet Archive, from Upenn]
  • Nonna Verna Harrison , The Feminine Man in Late Antique Ascetic Piety, Union Seminary Quarterly Review 48:3-4

Texts: Biblical

  • Biblical Texts, listing of all texts. [At Internet Archive, from Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]
  • Full text of all Bible texts. KJV. [At Internet Archive, from Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]
  • Pro-Gay Bible Texts - Introduction, [At Internet Archive, from Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]
  • All the Pro-Gay Texts, [At Internet Archive, from Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]
  • All the Eunuchs of the Bible, [At Internet Archive, from Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]
    There is some evidence that the major sexual minority of Biblical times was eunuchs - yet on the whole the Bible is pro- eunuch, It certainly has a lot of them.

Texts: Patristic

  • The Didache (1st C. CE), or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, [At]
    One of the earliest Christian texts to condemn pederasty
  • The Secret Gospel of Mark
    References, and some of the text, of this "special edition" of The Gospel of Mark were included in a letter of Clement of Alexandria. Some have argued that the text is witness to intense homoeroticism among early Christians, including - controversially - Jesus.
  • Letter of Barnabas, [At Early Christian Writings]
    Chapter 10 attempts a "spiritual" explanation of the food codes of the Mosaic Law. It connects the forbidding of hares with a prohibition against "unnatural lusts", apparently, according to John Boswell, because the hare was supposed to grow a new anus each year.
  • Apocalypse of Peter [1st half 2nd C.]
    Discusses male and female homosexuals being tortured in Hell.
  • Acts of Thomas excerpts, [Early 3rd C.]. The full text is available at the Non-Canonical Homepage
    Discusses male and female homosexuals being tortured in Hell.
  • Apocalypse of Paul [Also known as the Vision of Paul] [3rd C.]
    Discusses male and female homosexuals being tortured in Hell.
  • Conciliar Legislation
  • Passion of SS. Sergius and Bacchus (3rd C. CE) [At CMU]
    The story of the martyrdom of two soldier saints. In this version, the earliest, they are clearly indicated as emotionally tied. In the later "Metaphrastic" version they are referred to as erotic "lovers"
  • Church Fathers on Gender Variance, [At Aztriad]
    This is an interesting compilation of comments, especially from Tatian, on gender variance. Unfortunately no citations are given. Moreover, the page is devoted to showing Christian hostility to gender variance, but the historical reality was considerably more complex. There is an interesting reference to Lesbian marriage as well!
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 2:10 - On Hares, Hyenas and Homosexuality
    Unfortunately the most interesting parts here are in Latin.
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 3:3 - On Effeminate Men and Masculine Women
    A very interesting text which includes some suggestion of Lesbian marriage in Egypt.
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 3:4 - On Women and Effeminate Men
    Clement seems to describe "fag-hags" in the Third century.
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Paidogogus 3:5 - On Behavior in Bathhouses
  • Clement of Alexandria (d.c.215 CE): Stromateis 4:8 - On Equality and Inequality of the Sexes
    The "effeminates" are lower than men and women.
  • St. Paulinus of Nola (353-431 CE): To Ausonius
    A beautiful love poem by Paulinus.
  • St. Augustine (354-430 CE): from the Confessions
    On his relationship with another man.
  • St. Augustine (354-430 CE): Confessions, (full text) [At Stoa]
  • St. Augustine (354-430 CE): Confessions, (full text - more modern translation) [At Medieval Sourcebook]
  • St. Jerome (c.347-420 CE), Letter LV, [At CCEL]
    A woman may not divorce her husband on account of his vices, even if he is a sodomite!


Back to Contents

Chapter 6: Byzantium

One of the oddities Byzantine studies is that it has long attracted homosexual scholars, but virtually none of them have written about Byzantine homosexuality. There may be reason for this - in comparison with the mass of information about Ancient Greek and Roman homosexuality, the thousand years of Byzantine culture is poorly served. Entire classical genres disappeared - plays, satires, secular philosophy. There has been, instead, a legal tradition to explore; rather a lot of monastic regulation; and the occasional comments in elite historiography on homosexual activity by some emperors. John Boswell's Same Sex Unions rather surprisingly (to Byzantinists at least) for a time has made Byzantine liturgical manuscripts a focus of much interest.

But there is considerable room for further exploration. A number of saints lives reveal diverse opinions, and relatively little shock, about homosexuality (usually "andromania" in these sources), but they have not been fully exploited. Some saints lives also discuss homoerotic pairings with little comment. Although certainly not sexually active, it is also common to find Byzantine saints paired with each other in relationships which can be analyzed from the perspective of desire - "friendship" hardly begins to describe what they are about.

Other texts which may yield more are the small number of Byzantine romances now coming under increased scrutiny. It may be thought that hey are about "heterosexuality", but much current scholarship in western literature suggests that this will not be a satisfactory way in which to evaluate them.

Byzantium also supported an important sexual category not common in modern life - the eunuchs who rose to prominence in Church and state. There was even a monastery specifically for eunuchs. Comments on this group, as with any liminal group, help explain a society's gender expectations.

Finally, it cannot be overlooked that ancient texts tend to survive in Byzantine made copies. Which texts were copied, how often, and where are all answerable questions which may yield insight into Byzantine mores. While they did not write much homoerotic literature, they did copy it and, presumably, read it. Why?


  • Claudine Dauphin, Brothels, Baths and Babes Prostitution in the Byzantine Holy Land, Classics Ireland 3, 1996
  • Mikhail Min: On Homosexuality [At CoptNet]
    A remarkably misinformed discussion of homosexuality in Coptic thought, but useful enough for its patristic references. Its discussion of "sodomy" should entertain anyone who has read Mark Jordan's book on the subject.


  • Coptic Spell: For a Man to Obtain a Male Lover, Egypt, [poss. 6th C.]
  • John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE): Sermon on Romans 1:26-27, = Homily 4 [At CCEL]
  • John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE): Against the Opponents of Monastic Life 3
    No friend of homosexuals, Chrysostom nevertheless reveals apparent acceptance of homosexual activity among Antiochene Christians.
  • Justinian I: Novel 77, [538 CE] and Novel 141, [544 CE]
    Includes texts of earlier Roman legislation.
  • Procopius (c.500- d. after 562 CE): The Secret History, (complete text) [At Medieval Sourcebook]
    Includes a sympathetic account of Justinian's attacks on homosexuals
  • John Malalas: World History 18:18, (excerpt)
    On two bishops tortured for homosexual activity
  • John Nesteutes ("the Faster") (d.595 CE): Penitential, Migne PG 88, 1893C
    Distinguishes between three kinds of homosexual acts - giving, getting, doing both. Unlike ancient Greek views, it was more acceptable to be "passive".
  • The Ecloga on Sexual Crimes (8th Cent.), [Eclogues 17.33][At Medieval Sourcebook]
  • Theophanes: Chronographia, 443.15
    On Nicephorus I
  • Theodore of Studium (late 8th/early 9th C. CE): Reform Rules, [At Medieval Sourcebook]
  • Arethas: Scholia
    Apparently Arethas was the first to use "Lesbian" in its modern sense (although Lucian did connect female homosexuality with the island).
  • Two Versions of Rite of Adelphopoiia [At Medieval Sourcebook]
  • The Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon (7th Cent.), Chapters 134-135.
    An adelphopoiia relationship is established between St. Theodore and Patriarch Thomas of Constantinople.
  • Chin Bratotvoreniyu [At QRD]
    Old Church Slavonic text of the Rite of Brotherhood, abbreviated, with standard liturgical prayers (most of Litany, Antiphons, etc.) omitted. Cf. Jacobus Goar, Euchologion (1st ed., Paris 1647; 2nd ed., Venice 1730), pp. 706-709, s.v. "Akolouthia eis Adelphopoiian Pneumatiken." From: Velikii Potrebnik, printed by Edinovertsii in Moscow (Now called Belokrinitsky Hierarchy of Old Rite), in the year 1904. Transcribed by Nikita Syrnikov. Translated by Fr. Basil Isaacks April 1, 1995.
  • Church of Greece on Adelphopoiia [At QRD]
  • Life of Andrew Salos
  • Life of Basil the Younger
  • Life of Mary the Younger (10-11th C )
  • Michael Psellus (11th C.): On Basil II
  • Michael Psellus (11th C.): On Constantine VIII
  • Michael Psellus (11th C.): On Constantine IX Monomachus


  • Byzantium: Byzantine Studies on the Internet
  • Roz Moz
    This is a site on modern Greek Gays and Lesbians. Extensive bibliographical guides.
  • Kaliarda: The Gay Greek Dialect [At QRD]
    Not clear how far back this patois goes back. It contains between 3000-5000 words. This site contains examples, and .WAV files and is based on Elias' Petropoulos, Kaliarda, an Etymological Dictionary of Greek Homosexuals' Slang, (Athens: Nefeli, Athens, 1980)

Back to Contents

Chapter 7: Latin Christian Middle Ages



  • Keith Busby: John Baldwin, The Language of Sex [Review at The Medieval Review] John W. Baldwin. The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200. Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1994.
  • Elaine E. Whitaker: Gender Rhetorics [Review at The Medieval Review] Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History. Ed. Richard C. Trexler. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 113. Binghamton, NY: CEMERS, 1994.
  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen: Feminist Approaches to the Body [Review at The Medieval Review] Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, edited by Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
  • Alison Taufer: Louise Mirrer: Women, Jews, and Muslims ... Reconquest Castile[Review at The Medieval Review] Louise Mirrer, Women, Jews, and Muslims in the Texts of Reconquest Castile. Series: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Civilization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996
  • Paul Pascal: Gaisser: Catullus and His Renaissance Readers [Review at The Medieval Review] Julia Haig Gaisser. Catullus and His Renaissance Readers. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993
    On the reconstruction of Catullus' text after its medieval mauling.
  • Penelope Rainey: Walsh, ed.: Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana [Review at The Medieval Review] P.G. Walsh (ed.), Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, l993.
  • Michael Rocke: Forbidden Friendships - summary [At OUP]
    Short summary of Rocke's important book on sexuality in Renaissance Florence.

Texts: Religious

Texts: Historical

Texts: Literary


  • None as yet

Back to Contents

Chapter 8: Islam

Islam was the last of the great world cultures to emerge. With regard to homosexuality there are polar contrasts. On the one hand The Qur'an seems to condemn homosexuality unequivocally, on the other Muslim societies have shown a great deal of tolerance. From the sexually explicit poems of Al-Andulus [Muslim Spain], to the sexual comedy of The Arabian Nights, to the ecstatic loving of Sufi mystics, to modern Morocco and Tunisia - the Islamic world looked benevolently on men who love [usually younger] men. In India, according to Richard Burton, it was among Muslims, not Hindus, that homosexual eros was most accepted.

The first thing to note is that in some respects Islam has been the most sex-positive of the great world religions: the Christ and the Buddha were both sexually abstinent, but Muhammad was sexually active with a number of wives, and had children. Sex itself was not a bad thing, nor was abstinence desirable.

This sex-positivity of Islam is a starting point for further consideration. So far, until very recently at least, research does not seem to have gone beyond the basics, nor to have escaped the colonialist gaze. The situation is likely to change.


  • Richard Burton: Terminal Essay, from his edition of the Arabian Nights.
    Burton' compilation of data on variety of societies was meant to explain some of the stories in The Nights. In doing so, he provided first overview of Islamic homosexuality.
  • Edward Carpenter (1884-1929): Iolaus: An Anthology of Friendship [chapter on Arabia and Persia], with extracts from Rumi, Hafiz and Saadi.
  • Islam and Homosexuality [At Geocities]
    An extremely homophobic article which claims Islam never tolerated homosexuality.



  • Islam Homepage
    One of the best Islamic sites, but not sympathetic to gays.

Chapter 9: Ancient and Medieval Jews



  • Medieval Spanish Jewish Homoerotic Poetry: Selection


Back to Contents

This page is part of  People with a History. People with a History is a www site presenting history relevant to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people, through primary sources, secondary discussions, and images.. People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project.

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