Ancient Origins: Sexual Violence in Warfare, Part I


Vikman, Elisabeth. 2005. “Ancient Origins: Sexual Violence in Warfare, Part I.” Anthropology & Medicine 12 (1): 21–31. doi:10.1080/13648470500049826.

Author: Elisabeth Vikman


Sexual violence frequently occurs in warfare. The focus here is on its perpetration throughout history, beginning with ancient Greek, Roman and Israeli societies. Many references to sexual violence in modern literature appear in studies on siege warfare. Rape has also been discussed as a main topic. The current paper explores how violence is described by ancient authors—Homer, Herodotus, Livy, Hebrew prophets and others—and in which contexts it occurs. What contemporary attitudes to these actions are conveyed by the sources? Did violations follow patterns as to how and when they were executed or did they take place at random? Was individual, physical gratification the sole motive? Ancient historiography and prose was researched and modern theories applied for the purpose of interpreting cases in greater detail. This investigation showed that ancient sources held multiple, often contradictory attitudes to sexual violence. In addition, apparent chaos in the battlefield appears more structured than expected and physical satisfaction offers only a partial explanation to the violence. In conjunction with the second part where modern evidence is discussed, the current papers provide an historical, cultural and psychological insight into the persistence of sexual violence and its influences.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Sexual Violence, Rape

Year: 2005

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