I'm going to visit my parents in France for just about two weeks, so this blog will be on hiatus for that period of time. I should be back to posting things around April 9th or so. Have a good two weeks!
In 203 CE,* Roman authorities in Carthage arrested and put to death four Christians, two women and two men. This particular incident was minor enough that it probably would have gone largely unmentioned even by Christian sources except for one thing: one of the women, Viba Perpetua, left a journal of her experiences leading up to her martyrdom. This document, known as Perpetua’s Passio provided a record of this particular event.**
[Perpetua & Felicitas, source: Concordia and Koinonia]
As a result, Perpetua and her fellows were among those martyrs who were particularly venerated by Christians of the time and afterwards. Two things affected the way they were venerated: the early Christian tendency to put saints in pairs and the production of two abridged versions of the journal (the Acta). The two women in the group, the upper class matron Perpetua and the slave Felicitas (who has her own notable moments in the Passio), were paired together as saints, while the men in the group were known only as their companions. To depict one of these women in art was usually to depict the other. Even now they are known as “Perpetua and Felicity” even when the subsequent discussion almost leaves the slave woman out entirely.
[Stained glass window of St. Perpetua & St. Felicity of Carthage, 19th century]
[Church of Notre Dame of Vierzon, France, Source: Wikimedia Commons]
The Acta took a different route. In these Saturus, one of the men in the group, takes center stage. Perpetua becomes proud and entirely sure of herself, more an ideal than a person, while Felicitas becomes little more than a name. The Acta rapidly became more popular than the Passio, probably in part because they didn’t leave open any uncomfortable questions and played down the fact virginity was entirely unimportant to either of the women. Despite all of this, the women continued to be known as a pair. Throughout the Middle Ages the western Church venerated them as SS Perpetua and Felicitas on 7 March.***
[Mosaics of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, 6th cent, Archiepiscopal Chapel, Ravenna]
[Photographed by Nick Thompson, source: Flickr]
*Some sources say 202. Most, but not all, of the more reliable ones I’ve found use 203.
**It’s also the only surviving autobiographical text from antiquity that was written by a woman.
***In 1908 the date was brought forward to 6 March so that they would have a feast day separate from that of Thomas Aquinas. The 1969 reform of the Calendar of Saints returned their feast to the 7th and moved Aquinas to 28 January.
The Passion of Perpetua (translated by W.H. Shewring) - Internet History Sourcebooks Project
Kleinberg, Aviad. Flesh Made Word: Saints' Stories and the Western Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2008.
Perpetua and Felicity - Wikipedia
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity - Catholic Online
Perpetua and Felicity and their Companions - Concordia and Koinonia
The period between the 7th and 11th centuries was a time of transition in many ways, not the least of which was a shift in accessibility of divorce. In the 7th century, the ending of a marriage by mutual consent was perfectly acceptable.* By the 11th century, divorce had become permissible only in extreme circumstances. The transition between the two was marked by political and religious tension and strife.
The shift itself happened gradually. The first thing to go was divorce by mutual consent. One had to have a “serious” reason like adultery, incest, impotence, or the desire to take religious vows in order to end a marriage. Then came the restrictions on remarriage after divorce. A big part of Lothar II’s problem was that he needed a divorce that would allow him to marry again. By the 10th century, only incest, non-consummation, prior marriage, or prior religious vows were valid reasons to end a marriage.
On a very general level, one could say that there were two sides in this: the Church and the nobility. The Church tended to push for the idea that marriage was permanent and entirely under its jurisdiction. The nobility, on the other hand, wanted to keep their right to divorce as suited their political needs.**
Charles the Bald is particularly notable for taking whichever side in this debate suited his political aims in the moment.
[Carlo Calvo, 10th century, Psalter, source: Wikimedia Commons]
The thing is, it wasn’t actually so clear-cut as that. While each of these groups tended towards one opinion or the other, individuals tended to make their arguments based on immediate political necessity. Alcuin, who lived in Charlemagne’s court, strongly admonished the nobles of Northumbria for divorcing their wives and said nothing about the Holy Roman Emperor doing the same. Charles the Bald condemned Lothar II’s wish for a divorce at the same time as he forced his son to leave his own wife and marry someone else. While this debate had a lot of theology and ideology behind it, politics were what defined changing restrictions on divorce in these centuries.
*This doesn’t mean there weren’t obstacles to it, but these lay more in the will of one’s family and one’s spouse rather than the culture and the Church.
** We almost never hear about the opinions of anyone outside these groups in large part because this was such a political debate. This possibly also meant that the lower classes in any given area were more likely the freedom to divorce for longer, since those most strongly pushing for reform were less interested in them.
Coontz, Stephanie. Marriage, a HIstory: How Love Conquered Marriage. New York: Penguin, 2005.
Stafford, Pauline. Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers: the King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Lena Heady played Gorgo in 300. From what I've heard, they expanded her role beyond what we know from the historical evidence.
[Gorgo, Source: About.com]
Gorgo (early 5th century BCE) was the only daughter of Cleomenes I, King of Sparta. From an early age she was known for her intelligence and the sources we have on her show her advising her male family members and taking part in Spartan politics. For all of that we don’t actually have a lot of information on her life and it’s rather remarkable that we know anything about her. Greek historians, after all, were of the opinion that women should remain unmentioned.
According to Herodotus, her father valued her insight and judgment. The one glimpse we have of her life before her marriage shows him refusing to send her out of a diplomatic meeting. It turns out the diplomat was right to want her to leave. She saw through his attempt bribe her father into joining a doomed rebellion and prevented it.*
When her father died, she married his half-brother, King Leonidas I,** and continued to act as king’s advisor. There is some evidence that she traveled with him on at least one of his visits to Athens. One of the quotes Plutarch attributes to her shows that she knew something about Athenian theater, likely through having gone to see it. When an Attic woman made a comment about Spartan women lording it over men, Gorgo is said to have replied that only Spartan women were mothers of men.
When news arrived of the Persian king’s plan to invade Greece, it did not come in the regular way. A blank wax tablet was sent to Sparta, much to everyone’s confusion. It was Gorgo who figured out the trick of it and ordered someone to scrape away the wax. The message was written on the wood underneath to keep it from being intercepted.
We know nothing of her life after her husband died in the Battle of Thermopylae. Her underage son took the throne with his uncle (her brother-in-law) as his regent. To be honest, it would be surprising if she didn’t continue to act as king’s advisor.
*Herodotus says she was eight or nine at this point, but it’s entirely possible he made this assumption based on the fact that she was unmarried and ignored the fact that Spartan women married much later than women in other Greek city-states.
**Yes, that Leonidas.
Herodotus, Histories Book 5, 5th century BCE - Sacred Texts Archive
Herodotus, Histories Book 7, 5th Century BCE - Internet History Sourcebooks Project
Plutarch, "Gorgo," Sayings of Spartan Women, 1st century CE - Lacus Curtius
Gorgo, Queen of Sparta - Wikipedia
Cleomenes I - Wikipedia
Leonidas I - Wikipeda
A double monastery is a single monastery containing both monks and nuns under one superior. One of the primary benefits of having a double community was that it solved the problem of providing the nuns with a priest, as there would be at least one or two already within the monastery.
The origins of this type of monasticism date all the way back to the 4th century beginnings of monasticism in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. One of the earliest of these was a community founded by Macrina the Younger at Annesi.* Double monasteries are known to have existed in the Byzantine Empire until its fall to the Turks in 1453.
[Macrina the Younger, 11th century, Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev]
[source: Wikimedia Commons]
The earliest double monasteries in Western Europe date to the 6th century. They spread quickly in the Frankish kingdoms, in what is now Ireland.** Anglo-Saxon England had several double monasteries with quite powerful abbesses.*** Double monasteries remained a common form of monasticism in Western Europe until the Second Council of Nicea banned them in 787, largely due to incidents and suspicion of inappropriate behaviour between monks and nuns.
Barking Abbey started out as double monastery.
[Barking Abbey Curfew Tower, photographed by MRSC, source: Wikimedia Commons]
This was not the end. Double monasticism experienced several revivals across Western Europe, especially in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Order of Fontevrault in France and the Gilbertine Order in England were both founded as orders of double monasteries. Several Benedictine male communities became unofficial double monasteries after the anchoress they had given a cell ended up with a community of nuns around her.
The early double monasteries were almost uniformly headed by an abbess rather than an abbot, as were the Byzantine communities and the Order of Fontevrault. Other double houses were generally headed by an abbot. They also differed in how much contact was allowed between monks and nuns. In all cases the two groups lived separately, but some communities allowed them to intermingle in the church, while others forbade all contact except through a small window in a dividing wall. Though communities differed widely, they share a history of prestige and suspicion.
* Her brother Basil the Great would go on to write a rule for double monasteries and has since receive most of the credit for this type of monasticism. This left Macrina’s foundation to be mostly forgotten and double monasticism in the Byzantine Empire to be known as “Basilian monasticism.”
**There seems to be some connection between the two given the activity of Irish missionaries in Frankish territories at the time, but just how strong the influence was is unclear.
***An example of this would be Hilda of Whitby, whose double monastery hosted the Synod of Whitby, one of the more important church councils of the 7th century.
Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism. London: Longman, 1984.
Stalley, Roger. Early Medieval Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Stramara, Daniel F. “Double Monasticism in the Greek East, Fourth through Eighth Centuries.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 18, no. 1 (2010): 269-312.
Double Monastery - Wikipedia
Galen of Pergamon (2nd century CE) was a physician, surgeon, and philosopher. He wrote a number of medical works, seven of which we still have in their entirety. A lot of his theories have long since been debunked, though did make significant contributions to the methods of diagnosis and prognosis. Among the things he is best known for, however, are his theories* on the causes of sex differences between men and women.
Galen believed that the two sexes were essentially parallel. For him, women were defective men. Using his dissections of animals as evidence (Rome had banned human dissection), he concluded that male and female genitalia were actually exactly the same organs, just inverted. More specifically, he wrote that female reproductive organs were simply defective male reproductive organs that had remained inside the body.**
This defect was a matter of heat. The male body was perfect and had the perfect amount of heat, which the female lacked. It was as a result of this lack that reproductive organs of a female fetus did not emerge from her body when she was in the uterus. The coldness of the female also meant that her testes (ovaries) produced scantier, colder semen, which would, of course, be useless in producing a child. Only the man’s semen contributed to the substance of the child. The woman provided the space for them to grow.
There was another important aspect of the difference in warmth. Galen believed that the reproductive organs on the right side of the body were warmer than those on the left. According to this theory, semen from the right testicle produced a male child, while semen from the left produced a female child.
These days his theories seem patently ridiculous, but for several centuries Galen was cited as one of several authorities on the subject before largely being discredited.
*He’s not the first person to have come up with them, but he wrote about them very clearly and is consequently cited more frequently than anybody else.
**A result of this theory was the idea that if a woman was or became masculine and active enough, her body would make up for the deficiency in warmth, her uterus would fall out from inside her body and she would suddenly become a man.
For once we have an image of the lady, even if it was produced more than 600 years after she died.
[Judith daughter of the Welf counts, 1510, Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Judith of Bavaria (d. 843) was born into the noble Welf clan sometime between 795 and 805. In 819 she married King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious as his second wife, gaining him some powerful allies in her brothers.* This union, however, would turn out to cause far more problems than it solved.
For a while things remained relatively tranquil for Judith. She performed her duties in managing the court, patronized several poets, and produced a daughter. It wasn’t until she got pregnant again, this time with a son who would later be known as Charles the Bald,** that things got messy. This was not a kingdom where the first son inherited automatically. Instead, lands and titles were divided between the king’s heirs. Louis had three sons already, and these had every reason to think Charles threatened their inheritance.
They focused their attack on Judith for several reasons. First, she was the king’s wife, his consecrated queen,*** and had his ear. Second, she was Charles’ greatest supporter. Third, if they could prove her an unfit wife, this would discredit Charles as well. On several occasions they rose against Louis and Judith, using many of the usual accusations leveled against women against her, calling her lustful, greedy, and overambitious. They claimed she had committed adultery with her husband’s godson, which also amounted to incest. Each time, Judith was able to prevail and return to court as queen. When Louis died in 841, his territories were divided up between all of his sons, with Charles taking the title of King of the Franks. Judith continued her support of her son in the civil war that erupted with Lothar on one side and Louis the German and Charles on the other. When Charles married, however, his wife Ermentrude forced her mother-in-law out of politics, taking over her power and position. Judith died shortly thereafter in 843.
* Interestingly enough, this union came about not so much through political negotiations as most noble marriages of the time were, but as a result of a bridal show. This seems rather out of character for Louis the Pious. For one thing, bridal shows were a Byzantine practice, not Frankish. For another, such a thing would have been seen as very, well, not terribly pious.
***The fact that she had been crowned and consecrated was actually a fairly important point and something of an obstacle to their attempt to get rid of her. Crowning the king’s wife as queen was not standard practice at this point (though Louis had had it done for both of his wives) and gave her authority and power she wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Stafford, Pauline. Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers: The King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Judith of Bavaria, Empress - Epistolae (This page includes several letters written to Judith, though none written by her.)
Judith of Bavaria - Wikipedia
Hetairai were the courtesans of the ancient Greek world. They were known for their beauty, intelligence, and wit as well as being some of the only women in most Greek city-states to be highly educated. Of course, their ability to function outside the rules circumscribing the lives of respectable women* came at a cost: the commodification of their sexuality. In Athens, women were either respectable wives and daughters or they were considered prostitutes of one sort or another.
That said, it’s important to note that they were considered a distinct group, separate from prostitutes. The expectations were different. These were women who were expected to be well educated enough to actively participate in the discussions at symposia and sometimes to advise their lovers. Indeed, Aspasia was claimed to have heavily influenced Socrates.** At the very least, she is known to have guided Pericles well. Many of them were also well versed in the arts of music and dance. They tended to have a fair amount of money in their own right and generally had independent control of it. Many sources claim that they were shrewd, grasping, and greedy. I suspect such authors would have used similar, much more complimentary words had they been talking about men.
Are those two wearing some really weird hats or is that just their hair?
[Teracotta group of hetaera and young man at a symposium, 4th century BCE]
[photographed by MatthiasKabel, source: Wikimedia Commons]
The usage of the word “hetaira” is, however, a bit complicated. The root of the word, “hetair-,“ means simply “companion.” Scholars frequently assume the word only had sexual connotations in its simplest feminine form. The masculine form, “hetairos,” is said to mean “close friend” and to have no sexual connotation. While that may have been the general rule, it seems unlikely to me that the masculine form was never sexual. It’s also worth noting that use of the feminine form of the word did not necessarily imply sexuality. Both Sappho 124/29 and an Athenian funerary inscription refer to one woman as “hetaira” to another and in the former at least, the implication is not sexual. Regardless of the usage of the word, however, calling these women “companions” extended to these women some implication of equality with men while simultaneously leaving them at risk because they weren’t “respectable.”
*Read: women considered fit to be wives by Greek (mostly Athenian, since the overwhelming majority of our sources come from there) standards.
**Whether or not this was merely satire is uncertain. However, even if it was satire, it’s important to note that after a certain point, people took the claim seriously.
Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Maureen B. Fant. Women's Life in Greece and Rome. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Roberts, Nickie. Whores in History: Prostitution in Western Society. London: Harper Collins, 1992.
Hetaira - Wikipedia
When Lothar II became king of Lotharingia in 855, he had the noblewoman Waldrada as his concubine. However, Lothar was well aware that his two uncles, Charles the Bald and Louis the German, wanted his lands and he needed help if he wanted to stop them. So he put Waldrada aside and married Theutberga, whose brother Hubert was head of the Bosonide family and could be a powerful ally.
This would be the area in question. The red dotted line is the language line.
[Lotharingia after 959, created by Joostik, Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Unfortunately for Lothar, things didn’t work out the way he’d hoped. Two years after getting married, Lothar had neither a legitimate heir nor any help from Hubert. He decided to go back to Waldrada, who had already produced a son. To do that, he had to figure out a way to get rid of Theutberga. He couldn’t simply divorce her for adultery, he would not be allowed to remarry afterwards. So he claimed that she had committed incest with her brother before her marriage. Theutberga and Hubert fled to the protection of Charles the Bald.
And this is the guy in question. As usual, we don't have any images of the women.
[Seal of Lothar II, 9th century, source: Wikimedia Commons]
The actual truth of Lothar’s claim soon ceased to matter, if it even mattered in the first place. Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims wrote a treatise on why marriage could not be dissolved* which was immediately seized on by Charles the Bald, who used it to force Lothar to take Theutberga back as his wife. Lothar found a church council to support his own claims,** which were eventually overturned by the Pope. Things continued in a back and forth for several years, with both women being crowned Queen and staying in monasteries at different times. Things were still unresolved when Lothar died in 869 on the way back from the papal court.*** Both women relocated to monasteries, while Charles the Bald and Louis the German divided up Lotharingia between themselves. The dispute had consequences beyond these, however. In part because of these events the Church began to take an even stronger stance against divorce than it previously had.
*Hincmar’s views on the subject are not as certain as this document makes them out to be. Politics, more than anything, governed his views on any given subject at any given time. He seems to have tended to oppose divorce in general, but the strength of his protest depended heavily on political convenience. Additionally, he had fairly strong ties to Charles the Bald, and therefore strong reasons to protest the divorce.
**Quite possibly with the help of his sister-in-law, Angelberga.
***Why he was there is somewhat unclear. Some claim he was there to beg forgiveness for the whole affair, others say he was making one final plea for the dissolution of his marriage to Theutberga.
Coontz, Stephanie. Marriage, a HIstory: How Love Conquered Marriage. New York: Penguin, 2005.
Stafford, Pauline. Queens, Concubines, and Dowagers: the King's Wife in the Early Middle Ages. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Lothar (II) - Encyclopaedia Brittanica
Lothar II - Wikipedia
Theutberga - Wikipedia
(Waldrada does not have her own Wikipedia page)
Lotharingia - Wikipedia
As happens so frequently, we have no images of Caenis. Instead of the usual picture of the guy she was associated with, have an image of the woman she worked for.
["Hera Ludovisi," actually an image of Antonia Minor, 1st century CE]
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Antonia Caenis (d. 74 CE) rose to prominence as concubine of the Emperor Vespasian. She was known for her intelligence, competence, loyalty, and wit, as well as her influence over the emperor. Interestingly enough, none of the primary sources we have accuse her of abusing that power, as they do so many other women. This could be due to her intelligence, but it could also be a matter of politics.
Not much is known of her life. She was the secretary and former slave of Antonia Minor (daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia), though whether she took up with Vespasian before or after her manumission is unknown. She seems to have been Vespasian’s mistress long before the death of Flavia Domitilla, his wife, though whether or not they continued the relationship while he was married is unknown. She officially became his concubine after he became a widower.*
We do know that she was literate, highly intelligent, and had an excellent memory. She successfully navigated the intrigues of Imperial politics long before Vespasian took power and used her skills to greatest effect, first as Antonia’s secretary and only later as Vespasian’s concubine. According to Cassius Dio, she once told her mistress, “I carry everything that you have written and anything else you tell me in my mind and no one can ever erase them.”** Once Vespasian became emperor, she used her intelligence and ambition to further both of their interests and gained quite a lot of power for herself. He delegated to her the selling of government offices, priesthoods, etc. Anytime anyone had reason to give money to the Emperor, it went through her and she used the position wisely, making both the Empire and herself as an individual quite wealthy. She died in 74 CE a wealthy, and by all accounts, happy woman.
Well, we do have her gravestone, if not an image of her.
[Funerary Inscription for Antonia Caenis, CIL 6.12037, 1st century CE]
[Source: Online Companion to The Worlds of Roman Women]
*It is possible she was his concubine or at least cohabited with him before he married and then continued the relationship as his mistress. It is also entirely possible that they broke off the relationship for the duration of his marriage. Suetonius seems to suggest the latter, but his is the only evidence we have either way. At the very least, she did not and could not hold the position of concubine while he was married. Also, since she was a freedwoman and not freeborn, they could not have gotten married whether or not either of them wanted to. The question of his intent, however, is an entirely separate, and fairly complicated one.
**Cassius Dio, History of Rome 65.14, translated by Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: a Sourcebook in Translation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Translation of the above: where I post the interesting things I find researching the Classical and Medieval periods in my free time.