chapter  1
25 Pages

Sexuality in Late Lombard Italy, c.700–c.800 AD

In most histories of Western sexuality there exists what might be termed an “early medieval missing link.” The normal trajectory of such histories passes from ancient Greece and Rome via the “great” theologians of Late Antiquity, nearly always the atypical Augustine of Hippo, to the repressions of the later Middle Ages and the subsequent emergence of “identities” in modern times. Michel Foucault in his overly influential History of Sexuality omitted the early medieval period entirely because he argued that sexuality-in its sense as self-conscious sexual identity-was a creation of the late nineteenth century.1 Most authors who approach the history of sexuality from the modern period have followed Foucault’s path, a typical example being Stephen Garton’s excellent overview, Histories of Sexuality: Antiquity to Sexual Revolution (London: Equinox, 2004). The “missing link” is still in evidence in works ostensibly designed to fill the gap, such as Ruth Mazo Karras’s impressive survey, Sexuality in the Medieval World: Doing Unto Others (New York: Routledge, 2005), which concentrates heavily on the period after 1000 AD. In general histories, omissions of this sort seem to imply that nothing of any great significance happened in the early medieval centuries, at least when these are viewed as part of the longer-term history of sexuality. But viewed on their own terms by specialists in the history of early medieval sexuality-such as Pierre Payer, Allen Frantzen and many others-the opposite conclusions have been reached.2 For these scholars, the Early Middle Ages were, in fact, a crucial time for the transmission of Late Antique Christian sexual morality to later generations, and also for the institutionalization of this morality so that it became deeply embedded within Western European culture. One of the reasons why this important period has been left out of general accounts may be that the surviving evidence is difficult to handle, or at least is perceived as such by non-specialists. But equally important, in my view, are the ways in which

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course, to keep their ideas within the specialist field of the history of sexuality rather than try to explain how the results of their researches form an essential part of any understanding of how early medieval societies actually worked. Much can be learnt in this regard from recent work in the field of gender history, especially from the researches of Janet Nelson, Julia Smith and others who have quite properly argued that gender relations are such a fundamental aspect of human social relations that they cannot be left out of any history worth the name.3