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Rape in the Icelandic Sagas: An Insight in the Perceptions about Sexual Assaults on Women in the Old Norse World
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of History.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0220-3947
2015 (English)In: Journal of Family History, ISSN 0363-1990, E-ISSN 1552-5473, Vol. 40, no 4, 431-447 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article examines the perceptions of rape and other sexual assaults against women in the Old Norse world based on the medieval Icelandic saga literature. A key starting point is the fact that the Old Norse society was an honor culture, in which honor and dishonor were concepts of supreme social importance. The Icelandic saga literature devotes very little attention to women’s own experiences of sexual assault or to how such assault affected their personal honor, despite clear indications that rape was perceived as a violation of a woman’s bodily integrity and was dishonorable to the victim. Conversely, the central theme in the depictions of rape in the saga literature is that sexual assault was regarded as highly defamatory to the woman’s male relatives, demanding blood vengeance in return. Thus, rape was considered primarily an offense against the woman’s male relatives and only secondly against the woman herself. Since sexual assaults against women could be used to dishonor men, it follows that there are examples in the sagas of how rape is used as a “weapon” during feuds. It is quite clear, however, that this was regarded as a feud crime, and rape, in most cases, was socially unacceptable and denounced.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 40, no 4, 431-447 p.
Keyword [en]
rape, sexual assaults, honor, feud, middle ages, Icelandic sagas, Old Norse
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Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-119931DOI: 10.1177/0363199015599520ISI: 000361530900001OAI: diva2:849432
Available from: 2015-08-28 Created: 2015-08-28 Last updated: 2015-10-26Bibliographically approved

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Charpentier Ljungqvist, Fredrik
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