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Game of Wrongs or defamation of Clio

Despite the fact that verbal thinking is dominant with adults, the best result in providing information to audience (whose mind is as slow-moving as the most slow-speed fleet escort ship) is achieved through its combination with visual thinking, which is typical for little kids. And so, a competent political or scientific functionary, who is desperate for publicity, never misses the chance to illustrate some points with vivid examples even if they are totally mismatching his message. Tasks to make complex ideas popular were once the responsibility of fine arts, the theatre and the sculptural arts. But, in the early 20th century, Lenin with his realistic view of potential terms of breadth and scope of cultural priorities which were typical for revolutionary masses said insightfully while speaking to the Soviet People’s Commissar for Education A. Lunacharsky that ‘of all the arts, for us the cinema is the most important’.

In the area of propaganda and creation of new social and political myths it is still true. And when President Reagan called the Soviet Union an ‘Evil Empire’ on 8 March 1983, he did not have to explain anything. Any tea-brained redneck from the very Oklahoma immediately gained the sense of it as George Lukas had supplied the Western ‘Free World’ with all the necessary illustrations ever since 1977. Thus, there is nothing unusual in the fact that such bright phenomenon in the world of high fantasy films as the TV serial Game of Thrones based on George Martin’s novels ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is not only a source of Internet memes but also is used to advance preferable views of history, policies and morality.

The examples are well-known. For instance, during his lecture in the course of the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum, Russia’s Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky explained why TV serial Game of Thrones could never be filmed in Russia. He said that ‘radicalness’ already exists in Russian cultural archetype, and the Russians seek to live ‘either their truth or lie’. It is certainly in spite of F. Dostoevsky with his ironic view that ‘man is broad, even too broad, I would narrow him down’, as well as, in a break with L. Tolstoy’s and common Russian literary tradition of soul-searching. But it is obvious that such trifles should not be of concern to Minister of Culture. He considers matters in terms of a historical perspective, “In the course of it, they asked me about the story of St. Prince Vladimir. Note how annals tell us his story: he was ‘the bad’ man until he accepted the Christian faith, but then he became ‘the good’ one. Here is our traditional way to look at the history. It is difficult for the Russian man to make such movie as ‘Game of Thrones’, because all its lead characters are neither good nor bad, they are just odd ones. But we can easily make a movie about Prince Vladimir.”

The Russian film ‘Viking’ (2016) that was advertised by ITAR-TASS News Agency as an analogue of the Game of Thrones and visualized Medinsky’s mosaic paradigm ‘the bad/the good’ with such a radical change in the Prince’s behavior as his taking up the Christian faith in Korsun, fully demonstrated our potential. However, with a sense of awe towards a future saint, the component, named ‘the bad’ has been so obscured that the Prince would rather deserve the attribute ‘the nihil’. But external outline of events is harmonized with a canonical version of Vladimir’s accepting Christianity, created by Greek clergy of the Dime’s Church and described in Nestor’s ‘Primary Chronicle’ that was officially approved in the late XI century or in the early XII century.

However, Vladimir Rostislavovich Medinsky is Ph. D. in not only Political, but also Historical Sciences. And such professional Russian historian must know that the chronological sequence of Prince Vladimir’s Acts, offered by Nestor, has been criticized by one of the major church historians Yevgeny Golubinsky, as well as, the founder of scientific research of ancient Russian annals Alexey Shakhmatov and other distinguished members of the academic community. Nestor claimed that Prince Vladimir converted to Christianity in Korsun that had been seized by him previously. But Jacob the Monk’s research work ‘Ode to Vladimir the Great’ indicates that the city of Korsun has been seized by Vladimir only three years after Vladimir’s accepting Christianity, which is also confirmed by Byzantine sources. It means that for at least three years prior to his marriage to ‘the Purple-born’ Anna, a new ‘servant of God’ Vasily continued to fornicate with multiple so-called ‘wives’ and concubines from his large harem, which is in complete conformity with the definition of the term ‘the greatest fornicator’ adopted by German chronicler Thietmar of Merseburg. So, any attempt to portray the Russians, based on the experience of Prince Vladimir, as the true Orthodox, who stick together through thick and thin (up to certain catharsis), is totally indefensible just from the point of view of historical criticism. The ‘Game of Thrones’ was played in Russia, and that all was very, very real. But it is really difficult to film it in current Russia, but because of other reasons altogether.

The speculation surrounding the Game of Thrones, that is to say, the fictitious and fantasy Dark Ages, has occurred in the West, too. The naked cruelty of the secondary, but recognizable world stuck in the craw of those who would like to entrench the values of the new aggressively tolerant West as much as possible within its historical past to prove that since its infancy Europe has been more liberal than the rest of our planet. For instance, a number of fictional violations in serial Game of Thrones have given rise to criticism among the Scandinavians, who were foresightedly trying to extend this fashion trend over the alternative Dark Ages.

“Consider Scandinavia, where we could not see anything, which indicated that in the Dark Ages there were more sexual assaults than in two other centuries after”, said a historian of Stockholm’s University Fredrik Charpentier Ljunqvist. “As any sexual assault was considered a serious crime in the Dark Ages, there’s little to suggest that it could be standard practice”, he added. A medievalist from Oslo’s University Hans Jacob Orning echoes Mr. Ljunqvist. In his words, “if sexual assaults would really become so prevalent, then researchers would find a lot more references to these facts in various literary sources that have come down to us from the Dark Ages”.

Well then, first things first. Let’s start with the fact that Scandinavia, because of specificities of its social and political development, is clearly not the most appropriate indicator for reviewing a situation that affected Europe’s medieval community. It is, in fact, extremely difficult to rape, without serious consequences, another man’s free woman living in the world of absolutely free Bondes (farmers), each of whom had weapons and knew how to use them. And what shall I say about such actively discussed issue now as domestic violence (just that scene has become the source of major scandal around the Game of Thrones)? No traditional society existed, including Scandinavian one, that could see in it any act of violence. So, it was not included in the sample made by above-mentioned scientists. As for the status of non-free women in the days of patriarchal slavery, the way of having women against their will was not considered a sexual offence at all and did not entail any consequences as had been evidenced in sagas. In quantitative terms, both types of these examples would give us some other statistics.

And what was going on in other countries that were building the ‘developed feudalism’ significantly faster than the descendants of the Vikings? Let’s just go through some references to it (although we can collect material even for a monograph).

And we start with the Scandinavian closest neighbors on the southern borders. For instance, the prior of the Cistercian monastery Heisterbach Abbey, Caesarius of Heisterbach (c. 1180–1240) tells us, “If a knight saw a beautiful girl, he abducted her in public right in the middle of the road and took her away. However, finding out that her name was Mary, he released the girl as he feared the anger of his most revered Virgin Mary.” So, we can only be glad that her name was not Martha or Gertrude. Otherwise, after meeting with such a cavalier, the way of the luckless girl would lay to the shop floor of sex workers patronizing the other biblical Mary called Magdalene. And this is not grounded on my speculation. Soviet and Russian medievalist Yuri Lvovich Bessmertny discovered in his dealing with French historical sources that ‘daughters of poor peasants and artisans, who were between the ages of 15-17 and 30, prevailed among prostitutes of those times. About half of them were victims of sexual violence, those, who had experienced violence in their early years and who had to be maintained by anybody or to seek refuge in a house of prostitution’. The research of the Honorable Caesarius is known as ‘Dialogue on Miracles’, seemingly hinting that the girl who had not been violated by the knight was a real miracle for her contemporaries.

Now I want to talk about references to sexual abuse which are contained in official sources of higher level, first of all, in materials to various courts. Even in our time a proportion of cases involving sexual violence and reaching the Courts is not based on the true statistics in the slightest. As for the Dark Ages, we can agree with the statements made by British historian Sean McGlynn in his book ‘By Sword and Fire: Cruelty and Atrocity in Medieval Warfare: The Savage Reality of Medieval Warfare’, ‘The absence of any traces and witnesses of the crime, a reluctance of court judges, who were only males, to impose a death sentence for the rape (such execution was carried out only in 1285 in England): all this resulted in liberalization of the criminal law. In counties of Central England the local courts did not find evidence of sexual assaults in any one of the 280 cases investigated, as well as, none of the alleged criminals were convicted during the period of 1400 to 1430. For the first three quarters of the XIII century, at national level, only 1 of the 142 judicial proceedings was resulted in a monetary penalty (two other cases involving clerics were considered by the church court which was more favorable to the accused)’.

French lawyer Philippe de Beaumanoir (XIII century) insisted that any woman’s statements should be held inadmissible if they are not supported by other statements made before the court; no man shall be sentenced to death or corporal punishment only on the basis of her statements. There is the definition of rape formulated by Beaumanoir, ‘Rape is an act of sexual intercourse committed by some male company whose members enjoy a woman against her will and without regard to that she does everything possible to defend herself’. It means that an outrage committed by a single male was not considered as rape. We also need to take into account the fact that according to the views prevailing at that time, a girl becoming pregnant through sexual intercourse found a pleasure, and thus, it is impossible to speak of any violence.

Basically, judicial proceedings were often decided not in favor of the victims. This is confirmed by such a case reaching the court as the case of Rose Savage who accused certain John de Clifford of rape. He abducted and took her to his home in Middleton, Oxfordshire, where she was raped and forcibly kept from January 1280 to November 1282. In the end, she managed to escape by jumping out of a window. But when Rose sought to put her rapist on trial, her allegations were found to be false, and she went to prison. Nevertheless John de Clifford was then found guilty by the jury, but a monetary penalty was all that happened to him.

However, this British rapist peer was more like the holy lamb of God in comparison with the lord of Rimini, Fano and Cesena whose name was Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, about whom Pope Pius II wrote, ‘Sigismund Malatesta was so lascivious in vicious practices that he raped even his daughters and son-in-law… marriage was never recognized by him as ‘hieros gamos’. He violated nuns, raped Jewesses. As for boys and girls who did not want to take his offers willingly, he put them to death or abused them cruelly’.

But what about religious leaders? They kept up with secular ones. Moreover, they could teach them a thing or two. Take, for instance, Pisan antipope John XXIII (born Baldassarre Cossa). Dietrich of Nieheim wrote this about him, ‘Cossa was doing absolutely unspeakable and unprecedented things during his visit to Rome. It was all there: debauch, incest, adultery, various abuses and other odious forms of sin at which the wrath of God was once directed… Married women, widows, girls and nuns living in nunneries were his inamoratas. Some of them were really in love with him and became his lovers, but others were brutally raped directly in their nunneries’ (at the Council of Constance, church leaders charged him with sexual assaults on 300 nuns).

Having such clear examples of deeds and behavior of their leaders, clergymen tried to keep up with them, too. So, for example, the novel of Italian novelist Franco Sacchetti (c. 1332-1400) tells us about a woman whose lazy daughter was assaulted by her priest under guise of such a disciplinary punishment as beating with stinging nettles. Was there a scandal? Had they a trial about him? No, not at all, the rapist wearing a cassock was only turned from the door. This again demonstrates how tolerant the medieval society was to such events. Sacchetti focuses on the following interesting facts, ‘For some reason, the city of Venice took an absolutely right decision: if one cannot get revenge for his wife or daughter, then anyone has the right to wound a cleric, but not mortally; and the man that so has wounded him should only pay a fine of 50 soldi. Those ones who have been to Venice have known this is true. There you can rarely see a clergyman without a single big scar on his face. It serves as a good check for clerics’ unconcerned and unbridled impudence’. In the latter part of the Dark Ages Venice’s situation had only worsened. A professor of the University of Miami Guido Ruggiero states that sexual offence has been considered a serious crime only involving children, old or upper-class people. Sexual violence against women having equal status was not classified as a grave crime, and sometimes, was even considered as a part of the courtship ritual. His findings and conclusions are supported by French researcher Jacques Rossiaud, who analyzed the situation in Dijon where groups of local batches carried out targeted attacks on girls and women. Such raids were made minimum 1-2 times a month, being an integral part of a rite de passage into manhood. Rossiaud believed that nearly half of young people living in Dijon had at least once committed such an offence.

The previously mentioned Russian historian Yuri Bessmertny thought the XV century was an apogee of violence against medieval women, which was related to the increase in number of single men.

In connection with the above, it is curious to note the views of German military engineer Konrad Kyeser contained in his tractate ‘Bellifortis’ (c. 1405). Kyeser offers such an illustrative example as the so-called ‘chastity belt’, saying that it has been worn by the Florentines and women who lived in other Italian cities and towns. Note that this source is silent on the wishes of their husbands. It only makes reference to their voluntary use of this absolutely uncomfortable piece of clothing. Most likely, Italian women tried to protect themselves from abuse in this way.

It should be noted that so far we have been speaking of violence against women in times of peace. As can be easily imagined, the situation has grown increasingly terrible for women in times of war and popular uprisings. Here is what Guillaume de Piloran says about the Jacquerie in his book ‘Chronicle’, ‘I shall merely mention that among other atrocities and injustices, they killed a knight, stabbed him with the spit and left him roasting on the fire in front of his wife and children. And after that, 10-12 villains assaulted her, and then forced the poor woman and her children to eat meat of the roasted knight’.

And these are just a few episodes, small fragments in the big mosaic of time imbued with a spirit of extreme violence. As we can see, the reality of the Dark Ages is even scarier than the fictional, fantasy world of the Game of Thrones. If a historian does not know it, he is certainly not a professional, he is a miserable sciolist. But if he knows and ignores the obvious things, then he is not a historian at all. He is a manipulator and speculator. In both cases we are dealing with severe abuse against the Muse of History, named Clio, who had already endured far too much over the past centuries.

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2 years ago

Informative article. The author appears to be a historian. Has Russia also begun to receive increased attention to the problem of violence against women?

Iwo Mazur
Iwo Mazur
2 years ago
Reply to  raiden

Indeed, saint russkie never, never ever committed such misdoings to their women. exception were their numerous bondwomen, who lived as slaves and didn’t count as human beings.

2 years ago
Reply to  raiden

Russian middle ages are in this respect no different from any other. In the article this topic is given in the context of Prince Vladimir and much is said about the ones who claim the opposite.

kennet olson
2 years ago

If someone asks me what do you know about the sexual abuse, I’ll tell him or her lots of interesting facts learnt from this text.

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