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Thread: Was Rape Common in the Middle Ages?

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    Was Rape Common in the Middle Ages?

    The Middle Ages have long had a bad reputation. That the Middle Ages were dark is a belief that was created by Renaissance people in Italy in the 15th century. They used the name medieval about the long period of time between the golden antiquity that ended with the fall of the Roman Empire around the year 500 - and its own time of the Renaissance (ie the rebirth of antiquity).

    Today, the same story of a thousand years of dark Middle Ages is still repeated in books and movies. To this picture of the Middle Ages, it is often heard that it was full of sexual abuse.


    Few traces of rape in the Middle Ages
    "If we look at Scandinavia, then there is nothing to indicate that rape was more common in the Middle Ages than in the two centuries that followed," says Fredrik Charpentier Ljunqvist. He is a historian at Stockholm University and, in two studies, has researched rape in the Middle Ages. The two centuries after the Middle Ages were the 16th and 17th centuries. At the University of Oslo, Hans Jacob Orning is an expert in the Middle Ages. He points out that the researchers would have found far more traces of rape in the extensive literature we have from the Middle Ages, if this were common at that time.

    - The culture of the Viking Age and the Middle Ages was an honor culture. Women were an essential part of this culture. Rape of a woman would not only have been an assault on her, but also on the community around her. Therefore, rape was punished with the law's strictest punishment at that time. Rapists were regarded as outlaws. If you raped a woman, anyone could kill you without risking punishment themselves, says Orning.

    Over 50 sexual assaults
    "Game of Thrones" is an American television series based on the books "A song about ice and fire" by author George R.R. Martin. Here in Norway the series is shown on HBO Nordic. The first season was shown in 2011 and by the time the fifth season ended in 2015, the female characters Sansa, Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Meera Reed, Gilly - as well as 24 other women - were subjected to rape or attempted rapes.

    "Game of Thrones" is a fantasy series. But the author of the books on which the series is based, George R.R. Martin, is quite clear that he is inspired by what he believes must have been a very brutal Middle Ages. A blogger who follows the series produced statistics on the number of rapes and attempted rapes she witnessed. It was she who in 2015 had counted over 50 such incidents. Only in the first five books of George R.R. Martin's series "A song about ice and fire" there are over 200 depictions of rape and rape attempts, according to the same blogger.

    "The Vikings" (Norwegian parody TV-show) now on season 2 on NRK, is a series of humor. But the humor in the show play several times on the notion that sexual abuse must have been very common in the medieval Norwegian Viking community.

    - Based on history
    George R.R. Martin has been criticized for all the rapes he uses as a literary tool in his books. He has also been criticized for using the sexual assaults almost exclusively to develop his male characters. The women are only victims. New York Times has asked Martin why he has so many rapes and other types of sexualized violence in his books.

    Martin replies by pointing out that it was like that in the Middle Ages. That he portrays reality. "An artist is committed to telling the truth. My novels are epic fantasy, but they are inspired by and based on the story," Martin says. "Excluding this from stories that are centered around war and power would have been totally false and dishonest. It would have undermined one of the topics in the books: That the truly dreadful thing in the history of humanity is not due to orcs or Dark Lords, but ourselves. We humans are monsters."

    Searching for sexual violence
    Ljungqvist, the historian at Stockholm University, can tell more about how society looked at sexual abuse in the Middle Ages: - "Since rape was such an extremely serious crime in the Middle Ages, there is little to suggest that it may have been commonplace. We must also remember that the Catholic Church had a strong grip on the communities in the Nordic countries most of the Middle Ages. It looked at all extramarital activity as something criminal."

    Ljungqvist has been looking for sexual assaults in the Icelandic saga literature, which we are so fortunate to have in the Nordic countries. The sagas from Iceland also speaks a lot about Norway. They often come close to the people of the Middle Ages and the relationship between them. - "In the Icelandic sagas, sexual abuse rarely occurs. When it occurs, it is in the context of feuds and war situations. Abuses are committed against enemy women as part of the warfare, to dishonor other men."

    Rapist were killed
    Hans Jacob Orning, the medieval historian at the University of Oslo, also sees that when written sources tell about sexual abuse in the Middle Ages, the abuses are largely related to men wishing to offend other men. - In Viking raids and in other contexts where one did not risk so much, rapes were probably also used to offend women's honor. But with the honor culture one had in the Viking Age and later in the Middle Ages, it would in practice be a terrible stupidity to rape a woman at home in Norway.

    In the 'Bagler saga' (Saga about a Norwegian civil war in the early 13th century) there is a story which includes an incident which the researchers believe may have been a rape. The 'Bagler saga' was written down shortly after the events took place and can more or less be considered eyewitness accounts. The man behind the rape is killed, even though he belonged to a high status group in society.

    What about slave women?
    Both Orning and Ljungqvist make a reservation that there are some medieval people's lives we know little about. - "Was it rape if you forced yourself onto a slave girl for sex in the Viking Age? Today, of course, we would answer 'yes'. But in the Viking Age one may have looked differently on this. Since a slave was owned by his master, it legally meant that he had the right to dispose of the slave as he saw fit, which logically includes sexual intercourse", Orning says. While adding that we today know little about whether or not this actually happened.

    Hans Jacob Orning also reminds us that there was not much slavery in the Nordic countries after the Viking Age. Slavery disappears in the Nordic countries early in the Middle Ages. But in the Middle Ages, parts of Europe are developing into feudal communities, primarily in countries such as France. This was society with a big difference between people. Whether Norway was a feudal society or not in the Middle Ages, has been debated among historians. Orning believes that most of his colleagues today will answer 'no'.

    From some places in the feudal Europe, one knows of brutal customs such as that the feudal lord, if two of his servants married, had the right of 'first night' with the woman. - "This is of course a very brutal custom seen with our eyes", says Orning. "But historians do not know that there may have been much of this in the Nordic countries."

    What about the concubines?
    - "Then you have such things as concubines. The kings, nobles and some other mighty men had an extra "wife", which we would have called a mistress today. This was, of course, an uneven relationship between woman and man. But it is a fact that these concubines were often resourceful women. The relationship which a powerful man engaged with a conncubine in the Middle Ages often entailed clear obligations also for the man", the medieval historian points out.


    Translated from Norwegian article
    A nation is an organic thing, historically defined.
    A wave of passionate energy which unites past, present and future generations

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    Just take a look at any small white town in the country. You have a rape or murder every 20 years tops.
    Most crime is kids getting drunk or being stupid. Or the one delinquent in the town.
    Maybe Vikings indulged in rape but vikings were pirates.

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    This has to be the most unflattering presentation regarding the daily lives of Vikings ever created:

    Aside from an ever increasing number of mortals who have willfully chosen to worship Satan and his minions, our battle has always been against the powers and principalities operating surreptitiously throughout this twisted world.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gareth Lee Hunter View Post
    This has to be the most unflattering presentation regarding the daily lives of Vikings ever created:
    It's probably based off of Ibn Fadlan's writings, a member of an Abbasid embassy, about the Vikings he encountered who traveled along the Volga river in the 10th century. The seance of washing and blowing one's nose into the same bowl of water has its origins in this tellings about the morning ritual of the Vikings. Hard to know if it's true. Water was never a rare commodity anywhere were the Vikings lived or traveled, and according to other written material from the time, seem to have been a lot more preoccupied with hygiene and grooming than other people at the time.

    Still, Ibn Fadlan also goes on to describe the Vikings he saw as "perfect specimens", and other flattering characteristics, so it doesn't seem like he had any inherit negative bias against them.

    The rape scene might also have been inspired by the same written record, where a funeral ceremony is described. A man of noble status dies, and his fellow Vikings arrange for him to be cremated in a ship, together with his priced possessions, including a slave girl who wanted to follow him into death. Before she is killed, the closest friends of her former master have their way with her, as a way to send their greetings into the afterlife.

    Still, the pointless and brutal rape that is shown in that episode of Vikings is little more than fantasy.
    A nation is an organic thing, historically defined.
    A wave of passionate energy which unites past, present and future generations

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    Up until just a few hundred years ago North Europeans held the Divine to be mostly feminine, with many Goddesses holding power over natural forces. The self-destructive, Judeo-inspired hatred of women had not yet appeared. To offend a woman would have been to offend the Goddess and thus incur wrath from the Other World. A much, much healthier psychology, conducive to racial survival and respectful relationships between men and women.
    "This World We Cannot Tolerate,
    It's Time To Seal All Preachers Fate,
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    From Odin's Tree!"
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    The celibacy enforced in the monasteries during the Middle Ages is responsible for the sexual overabundance in modern society. I side with Himmler on this aspect, that the monastic life was a scourge upon Europe.

    In pre-Christian antiquity, women enjoyed better social conditions. The people duped by the dogmatic corruption of Jesus' teachings would find that they weren't better off from before.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Terminus View Post
    The celibacy enforced in the monasteries during the Middle Ages is responsible for the sexual overabundance in modern society.
    How so?
    A nation is an organic thing, historically defined.
    A wave of passionate energy which unites past, present and future generations

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    Was Rape Common in the Middle Ages?
    Nobody will ever know! There are no records available so it's pure guesswork

    Look at all those medieval battles such as Hastings or Azincourt and see what figures they give you - they don't have a clue!

    Estimates can vary by a factor of 3 (..or more!) and these were history-changing events that were recorded by the chroniclers of the time, so how would anyone even begin to calculate the number of rapes that occurred during these periods

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    Quote Originally Posted by Žoreišar View Post
    The Middle Ages have long had a bad reputation...To this picture of the Middle Ages, it is often heard that it was full of sexual abuse.
    I think it's an undeserved reputation, and law and order really started breaking down with the advancement of the Industrial Revolution, partly due to migration and urbanization.

    Quote Originally Posted by Žoreišar View Post
    - The culture of the Viking Age and the Middle Ages was an honor culture. Women were an essential part of this culture. Rape of a woman would not only have been an assault on her, but also on the community around her. Therefore, rape was punished with the law's strictest punishment at that time. Rapists were regarded as outlaws. If you raped a woman, anyone could kill you without risking punishment themselves, says Orning.
    I agree with what was written above. Kinship ensures social cooperation and acts like a form of insurance; closely-knit societies police themselves to some degree.

    Quote Originally Posted by Žoreišar View Post
    Rapist were killed
    Hans Jacob Orning, the medieval historian at the University of Oslo, also sees that when written sources tell about sexual abuse in the Middle Ages, the abuses are largely related to men wishing to offend other men. - In Viking raids and in other contexts where one did not risk so much, rapes were probably also used to offend women's honor. But with the honor culture one had in the Viking Age and later in the Middle Ages, it would in practice be a terrible stupidity to rape a woman at home in Norway.
    Yes, and these killings probably improved social cohesion, because crimes of that nature were a threat to the very fabric of society.
    “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”
    ― Flannery O'Connor

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