Effeminate natives of Asia

August 8 2007

Judith Weingarten has this interesting post about hair and effeminacy in the ancient world – and I have found another effeminate Syrian with a moustache at the Capitoline Museum: Alexander Severus.

Before going any further, here he is:

alexander-severus.jpg

For my own previous posts on Elagabalus, work back from here, and for The Dying Gaul, go here.

Gibbon is obsessed with effeminacy and, amusing as it is to line up his references (one or two of the effeminate are not Asian or African), they, in the end, rather irritate one. The idea of the effeminate Oriental is, of course, not confined to him. It goes back to antiquity.

“Slothful effeminacy of the [natives of Syria]

Effeminate natives of Asia

Effeminate luxury of Oriental despotism

[Alexander Severus’s] virtues, as well as the vices of Elagabalus, contracted a tincture of weakness and effeminacy from the soft climate of Syria

We may observe that the use and value of those effeminate slaves [eunuchs] gradually rose with the decline of the empire

Honour taught [Maximinus Thrax] to decline the effeminate insults of Elagabalus

An effeminate Syrian [Alexander Severus], the timid slave of his mother and of the senate

[Artaxerxes] obtained some easy victories over the wild Scythians and the effeminate Indians

Gallienus, a youth whose effeminate vices had been hitherto concealed by the obscurity of a private station

The removal of an effeminate tyrant [Gallienus] made way for a succession of heroes

Herod, the son of Odenathus, though not of Zenobia, a young man of a soft and effeminate temper

Effeminate troops of Egypt and Syria

The officers of experience and ability, who had served under the banners of Maximian, were at length compelled to inform his effeminate son of the imminent danger to which he was reduced

The Asiatic pomp, which had been adopted by the pride of Diocletian, assumed an air of softness and effeminacy in the person of Constantine

Constantius, at the head of the effeminate troops of Asia, was left to sustain the weight of the Persian war

Florentius, praetorian praefect of Gaul, an effeminate tyrant

Effeminate Syrians

The effeminate priests of the Nile were abolished

The splendid and effeminate dress of the Asiatics, the curls and paint, the collars and bracelets, which had appeared so ridiculous in the person of Constantine, were consistently rejected by his philosophic successor

One of the orations of Julian is consecrated to the honour of Cybele, the mother of the gods, who required from her effeminate priests the bloody sacrifice, so rashly performed by the madness of the Phrygian boy

The effeminate Constantine

Effeminate Orientals

The licentious and effeminate manners of Antioch

An historian, perpetually adverse to the fame of Theodosius, has exaggerated his vices, and their pernicious effects; he boldly asserts, that every rank of subjects imitated the effeminate manners of their sovereign

The effeminate luxury, which infected the manners of courts and cities

The natives of Italy affected to despise the servile and effeminate Greeks of Byzantium

The servile temper of the Asiatics, and the dissolute, effeminate prostitution of the Syrians

But the Tragic and Comic Muse of the Romans, who seldom aspired beyond the imitation of Attic genius, had been almost totally silent since the fall of the republic; and their place was unworthily occupied by licentious farce, effeminate music, and splendid pageantry

[Alaric] encouraged his troops boldly to seize the rewards of valour, and to enrich themselves with the spoils of a wealthy and effeminate people

Eutropius was the first of his artificial sex, who dared to assume the character of a Roman magistrate and general […] The effeminate consul was rejected by the West, as an indelible stain to the annals of the republic

The streets of Carthage were polluted by effeminate wretches, who publicly assumed the countenance, the dress, and the character of women

The soft, effeminate modes of music

The sacred indolence of the monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age

Two hundred years after the age of Pliny, the use of pure, or even of mixed silks, was confined to the female sex, till the opulent citizens of Rome and the provinces were insensibly familiarized with the example of Elagabalus, the first who, by this effeminate habit, had sullied the dignity of an emperor and a man

The trophies of martial or effeminate luxury

By this law, the rape, perhaps the seduction, of an ingenuous youth, was compensated, as a personal injury, by the poor damages of ten thousand sesterces, or fourscore pounds; the ravisher might be slain by the resistance or revenge of chastity; and I wish to believe, that at Rome, as in Athens, the voluntary and effeminate deserter of his sex was degraded from the honors and the rights of a citizen

When the legions of Lucullus and Pompey first passed the Euphrates, they blushed at their easy victory over the natives of Armenia. But the long experience of war had hardened the minds and bodies of that effeminate people

The soldiers had served with reluctant loyalty a series of effeminate masters

But the most singular feature in the character of Manuel, is the contrast and vicissitude of labour and sloth, of hardiness and effeminacy

The fruitful land which was oppressed by effeminate tyrants

The sloth and effeminacy of the natives of Egypt

The number and character of the strangers was an object of terror to the effeminate Greeks

His report of the riches of the land, the effeminacy of the natives, and the disorders of the government, revived the hopes of Noureddin

Such soldiers must be sought, not in effeminate Asia, but among the hardy and warlike natives of Europe”

8 Responses to “Effeminate natives of Asia”


  1. Gibbon does have a bee in his bonnet. Two comments, if I may.

    First, I think that the moustache worn alone is what unmakes the man, not when he wears it together with a beard. Shaving (or plucking) off the beard is the fatal sign of effeminacy. If so, Alexander Severus’ moustache passes muster and he can’t be called a ‘sissy’ for that reason.

    Second, I was wondering why Gallienus fell into such unRoman company? I turned to that unfailing book of nonsense, the Historiae Augustae for enlightenment: of course! it’s not that Gallienus refused to rescue his father from Persian captivity (though that was held against him too) but because its author, Trebellius Pollio, was writing just after Constantius was named Caesar in 293. Now, Constantius claimed that his family descended from the Emperor Claudius (268-270) — who just happened to be one of the generals who had murdered Gallienus. That murder couldn’t be covered up but it could be justified, and even made into a patriotic act, by thoroughly defaming Gallienus: how he scandalously neglected the Empire and was devoted only to foolish amusements and debauchery. When that doesn’t quite cut the mustard, Pollio simply claimed that Claudius had nothing to do with the murder … but he did.

    I’m surprised that Gibbon hadn’t worked it out. Swallowing all that propaganda ‘effeminacy’, too, must come from an overdose of the Historiae Augustae.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Judith, Thank you. Very interesting. I had also wondered about Gallienus in passing, as he seemed too Roman to be effeminate.

    Greeks, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Syrians, even Armenians, Indians. The only Orientals who are not called effeminate are the Persians, who you would imagine were the most effeminate of all. One isn’t supposed to criticise Gibbon, but making every allowance for over-reliance on the Historiae Augustae and for the literary conventions of his time, isn’t this all a bit second rate?

    Gibbon sometimes sacrifices weight and even sense in a sentence to such conventions, and he is then stucco, not stone, rococo, not Roman. In a word – effeminate.


  3. […] Effeminate natives of Asia […]


  4. […] The crudeness of the pattern that some Late Modern historians are subconsciously following is indicated by the crudeness of the fragments of it that rise to the level of their consciousness like the flotsam that rises to the surface of the sea from a hulk that has gone to the bottom. Samples of these uncritically accepted intellectual clichés are the conventional terms “Europe”; “the European heritage from Israel, Greece, and Rome”; “a cycle of Cathay” (perhaps, after all, not worse than a recent “fifty years of Europe” that Tennyson did not live to experience) [the phrases are from Tennyson, Locksley Hall: “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.”]; and “Oriental” as a standing epithet for the pejorative abstract nouns decadence, stagnation, corruption, despotism, fanaticism, superstition, and irrationality [Gibbon passim]. […]


  5. […] and that Toynbee did inherit part of that historical view. See pre-Victorian Gibbon passim on effeminate Asians. But a retreat into the self could (I suppose) have co-existed with what Cicero is saying here. I […]

  6. R. A. Tetegisti Says:

    I find it amusing and also mildly irritating that you seem to be fighting in favour of effeminacy; I assume that you believe yourself the judge of Gibbon and his people…I suppose you also believe yourself in the superior position?

    Amusing, yes! Effeminacy, the new virtue! ;:^)>


  7. […] about Edward Gibbon’s many references to this in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire here, or you can just giggle at the thought of scandalized physically uncomfortable European ambassadors […]


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