Historical story

Middle Ages - the era of rape

Duels for the hearts of beautiful ladies, platonic feelings and poems about unfulfilled love? Such things are only in fairy tales. A thousand years ago, a knight did not ask for permission. The law of war was also the law of rape. And if a crown was worn, even a war was not needed.

The first Polish chronicler, Gall Anonymous, was no prude. He could even turn the story of the abuse of a defenseless woman into a joke. He told eloquently that when the famous Bolesław the Brave took Kyiv in 1018, he immediately enlisted one of the sisters of the Russian prince to the lodge. The woman's name was Przedsławawa, and historians confuse her shameful fate to this day.

From the perspective of the millennium, it is difficult to share the ostentatious insensitivity with which Gall described the fate of Rurykowiczówna. After all, the monk wrote directly that the ruler raped Przedsława in the same way as he had previously dented the gate leading to Kiev with his sword. On the other hand, it is also difficult to apply today's morality to the reality of the 11th century. Scientists, caught between these two extremes, look for the strangest solutions.

Great Brave ... sword

Some people deny that there has been any rape. In their opinion, the source is unclear, and it may well be ... a completely voluntary relationship. Well, apparently pounding a gate with a sword is the best metaphor for consensual sex! There are also those who treat Gall Anonym's text as a fairy tale, forgetting that the story of Presław was known to other authors. After all, one reflection is permanent. Regardless of whether a given specialist believes that the Pre-Slava was taken by force or not, the story itself is treated as a peculiar sensation. A unique event, marked by special symbolism.

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Already in the 19th century, Ernest Sulimczyk-Świeżawski was excited about the fact that from the very dawn of Poland, "the sword of our warrior kings has a phallic meaning". Another historian, quite recently, concluded that by raping Kiev with the sword, Bolesław deprived the city of its virtue.

Researchers like to emphasize that the Polish prince committed an act that did not meet the standards of conduct, neither today nor in his era. He has sinned. It sounds as if Bolesław's behavior requires some explanation under the pen of a court chronicler, or maybe even a kind of apology.

The sad truth was quite different. Rape was neither rare nor unusual a thousand years ago. Even the best-born, wealthy and politically empowered ladies could not delude themselves that in the event of war they would remain safe. Their bodies were a reward for the invaders, as was the gold stored in the chests.

The virtuous rapist

The universality of the phenomenon, and the fact that tens of thousands of women of this era had to deal with the disgrace of their bodies, is evidenced by the sheer popularity of the stories about high-profile rapists and famous rapes. Even the immaculate ascetic, the imperial boy Otto III, was considered a rapist. A colorful report circulated in Europe about the suppression of the Roman rebellion in 998. It was said that Otto not only had the head of the rebellion beheaded, but also gave his wife over to the soldiers.

Rape in wars has been the order of the day for centuries. Konstantin Makowski, "Bulgarian Martyrs", 1877

In one version of the story, the rapists were ordinary soldiers; in another, it was Otto himself who enslaved the unfortunate woman. There were also rumors that another raped maid poisoned the emperor in 1002 and this, not tuberculosis or malaria, was the cause of his death.

The story of a certain Romilda was also circulating in Italy. She was the Duchess of Friuli, a city invaded by a pack of Avar barbarians. Her husband was killed in battle, and the stronghold fell into the hands of the savage chieftain Kakanus. Terrified, Romilda decided to play for everything. To save the skin, she offered to marry the winner.

Kakanus agreed eagerly. First - claiming the rights due to the groom - he raped the aristocrat. Then he handed it over to his soldiers. They abused Romilda for the rest of the night, venting their wildest desires. Finally, when dawn broke, Kakanus ordered the stake to be sharpened and impaled alive on the unfortunate, repeatedly raped, beaten and abused woman.

"Rape - it's family with us"

Rogneda was only slightly more fortunate. Daughter of the ruler of Połack and the chosen one of whom the best knights of Russia dreamed of. Among others, a young ruler, Vladimir of Nowogród, fought for her hand. The year was 980 when a man sent matchmakers to Polotsk. The hosts put it out very quickly. He heard the answer not even from the Polotsk prince, but from Rognedy herself. The girl said in disgust, "I will not take my slave son's shoes off!".

Włodzimierz before Rogneda… it didn't look so nice. Picture by Anton Łosienko, 1700, Russian Museum in Saint-Petersburg

Such an insult could not be ignored. In the oldest Ruthenian chronicle, Tales of Bygone Years , it was noted that Vladimir had gathered great forces. He drew mercenaries from the north, won over many tribes. And he struck Polotsk without mercy. He broke through the gates of the castle, slaughtered the crew, and finally entered the ducal palace. His fighters captured his father and Rognedy brothers. They were all herded into one chamber. The princess herself was also there.

We do not know what the exchange of views between them was about. Perhaps Włodzimierz remembered the words about taking off his shoes or even - he pushed the girl to the ground and ordered her to untie the smelly, sweaty onuce. Or he could just walk over to her without saying a word, slap her face, and tear her gown. Then - this is a detail described in Russian chronicles - brutally raped her in front of the whole family. Then he ordered each of the witnesses to be killed because a man who allowed his daughter or sister to be treated that way did not deserve to be borne by the earth.

Like it or not, Rogneda became the wife of Włodzimierz. She bore him several children ... including princess Przedsława. The stigma of rape was passed down from generation to generation. And in this brutal, contemptuous era of women, no one was surprised.


Tarquinius the Delicious raping Lucretia

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The article was based on materials collected by the author during the work on the book "Damy z skazą. The women who crowned Poland " .