Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Hittite and Mycenaean Women "Did" (guest post by Judith Starkston)

Trojan Women: Women's Roles in Ancient Anatolia and Mycenaean Greece 
Part I

If you wish to read the introduction to this series on ancient women go to Trojan Women: Women's Roles in Ancient Anatolia and Mycenaean Greece Introduction

Hittite cuneiform court record with figures made with stamp or cylinder seal photo by Dick Osseman
Hittite cuneiform court record with figures made with stamp or cylinder seal, photo by Dick Osseman
Most of the information that survives the ravages of time tells us what upper class people did with their lives. It’s much harder to find out what the great majority of people did because no one writes that on monuments or treaties or the other sorts of documents that tend to survive. ("Document" is a bit misleading for this period—clay tablet is more accurate.) This article will look briefly at both lower and upper class women, Hittite and Mycenaean in the Bronze Age (roughly 1600 to 1200 BC), and the kinds of work they did, including work outside the home/farm for which they received reimbursement of various types.

Most lower class people led agricultural lives at a subsistence level. Among the Hittites we are told about periods of great famine and plague when the kings resettled huge numbers of conquered peoples within their lands to farm and feed the empire. Without these war captives—thousands and thousands of them—the Hittite empire would have starved. Farming was the essential way of life for the majority of people.

picture of ancient construction syle mud and stick hut in modern Turkey
Ancient construction style mud and stick hut in modern Turkey

You can still wander off the beaten track in Turkey and see mudbrick and stick huts within tiny villages that subsist on their agricultural products. For most ancient people, hard work and lots of it, early death, especially for child-bearing women, seems the most accurate description of the course of their lives. Within these farming communities, it is probably the case that a Hittite woman’s most important responsibility was to produce children since they were economically vital to a household for manpower. Children were also responsible for caring for their parents in old age and, after their deaths, for maintaining the worship of their parents’ spirits, a concept vital to Hittite life (Collins, 126).

photo Inandik Vase showing female and male musicians and dancers at a wedding from the period of the Old Hittite Kingdom about 1600 BC, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey © George Jansoone / Wikimedia Commons
Inandik vase showing female and male musicians and dancers at a wedding from the period of the Old Hittite Kingdom about 1600 BC, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey
Many Hittite women did, however, operate outside the domestic sphere. There are references to women as millers, cooks, weavers, fullers, doctors, innkeepers, cellar keepers, singers, musicians, and dancers (Collins, 126 and Imparati, 579). Frequently such positions would be financially attached to the palace or temple, which were the primary centers of production and finance in the Hittite and Mycenaean worlds. Palace complexes had extensive workshops for metalworking, textile production, and other manufacturing.

picture textile production woman spinning on a Greek vase from the British Museum
Textile production, Woman spinning on a Greek vase from the British Museum
 The linear B tablets list Mycenaean women working in such workshops. At the palace of Pylos for example, women numbered 1400, twice the number of male craftsmen, working in textiles and clothing, as well as grain-processing, leather working, and household attendants of various kinds (Billigmeier).

picture priestess pouring a libation Attic white ground lekythos ca. 460 B.C.from the British Museum Marie-Lan Nguyen
Priestess pouring a libation, Attic white ground lekythos ca. 460 BC, from the British Museum

 In both Hittite and Mycenaean contexts, there are also higher status jobs that women control. In Part III, I will go into depth about the Hittite hasawa, who served as a religious healer/priestess, employing a mixture of magic, ritual and medicine. (The distinctions are ours. The hasawa saw all these as a single healing work.) Women who served as priestesses had great independence in their work and carried out essential functions within Hittite society (Imparati, 579).

 In the linear B tablets priestesses and other female religious personnel appear to have possessed tracts of land and are of high aristocratic status. At Pylos one priestess named Erita is a wealthy land owner. She has her own assistants who also are prosperous landowners in their own right. We learn about Erita through a legal dispute over land-leases which suggests that priestly Mycenaean women were legally independent. During a military emergency other priestesses are recorded donating the temple’s bronze for military purposes, and hence seem to have control over the sacred treasury. While some scholars argue these women are slaves, that seems unlikely given the property they own and their financial and legal powers. Perieia, a woman of secular background, is mentioned elsewhere in the tablets as owning an orchard, so we can assume that financial independence was not peculiar to priestesses (Billimeier).

Wages are one way that we measure the value of women’s work in relation to men’s work in the modern world. In the Hittite context women were paid less than a man for roughly equivalent labor. In section 158 of the Hittite Law Code, for example, salaries are indicated for a man and a woman hired during the harvest. They are paid in measures of grain: the man receives ten measures per month of work; the woman either six or four depending on the interpretation of the text. In another section a man’s salary is twelve shekels of silver and a woman’s six shekels. The 2:1 ratio seems to be the norm (Imparati, 580).

photo linear B tablet from the Palace of Mycenae Greece copyright Gautier Poupeau
Linear B tablet from the Palace of Mycenae

 Many scholars interpret the Linear B tablets to indicate women receiving half as much for their work as men, but others, such as Jon-Christian Billigmeier and Judy Turner believe the evidence shows equal rations of wheat and other payments for men and women, which they note distinguishes Mycenaeans from the other Near Eastern peoples (such as the Hittites) where men clearly get higher portions.

Unequal wages would not have affected noble women who had the right to inherit and were granted large dowries (in essence their portion of inheritance). The evidence indicates that upper class women controlled their own property, kept it in the case of divorce, and chose whom to pass it on to when they died.  

Bibliography for this article

Billigmeier, Jon-Christian and Judy Turner. “The Socio-economic Roles of Women in Mycenaean Greece: A Brief Survey From Linear B Tablets.” In Reflections of Women in Antiquity, edited by Helene Foley, 1-18. New York: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1981.

Collins, Billie Jean. The Hittites and Their World. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.


Imparati, Fiorella. “Private Life Among the Hittites.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, edited by J.M. Sasson, K. Rubison, J. Baines, 571-585. New York: Scribner’s, 1995.

Judith's first guest post, Profile of Troy, appeared here two weeks ago, and she has kindly agreed to continue the discussion.  Last Sunday's post can be found here.  Judith, you will recall, is a novelist and book reviewer who sets her historical fiction and mysteries in the period of the Trojan War and the Hittite Empire.  She blogs on these and other topics, as well as reviewing books, here.  She can also be found on Twitter and on Facebook.  Thank you, Judith, for this fascinating history. 

Judith Starkston

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Trojan Women: Women's Roles in Ancient Anatolia and Mycenaean Greece (Guest Post by Judith Starkston)

Statuette of the Sun Goddess Alacahoyuk 14th-13th century BC

This is the introduction to a series of articles about women in the time period and geographical area that is traditionally ascribed to the Trojan War—that is western Anatolia (modern Turkey) in the Late Bronze Age and the Mycenaean kingdoms on the Greek mainland from which the invading army came. In the first piece I’ll look generally at women’s status and “jobs.” The second article will focus on the “top job” of queen, and the third on the particular “job” I’ve given Briseis in my novel, that of healing priestess—in Hittite hasawa. A fourth article will discuss Hittite marriage and what it reveals about women’s place in society. And a short addendum in part V will look at pronouncements about women in Hittite mythology. (If you’re not sure why I’m mentioning Hittites when discussing Troy, read Profile of Troy: the Hittite-Trojan Connection.)

When I started writing the story of Briseis, Achilles’s captive in the Iliad, I assumed that if I wanted to make her powerful, educated, and knowledgeable in the healing arts, I would have to make her a maverick in her time period, which I wasn’t particularly comfortable doing since I have a sturdy respect for historical facts. Fortunately, the evidence coming from the Hittite cuneiform libraries and Mycenaean Linear B tablets and other sources has gradually revealed powerful, educated, property-owning upper class women. So, if you have that falsely linear view of history—that somehow we are “progressing” toward greater human rights over time—welcome to the cyclical, “bumps and backtracks” way of seeing history. Given how many good ideas have been cast aside and forgotten over the course of time, reading history and rediscovering the lost bits are tremendously important. Both Hittite and Mycenaean women turn out to have had access to a wide array of occupations and shared in the political and legal power and protections of their day in ways that appear to be much less true of their classical Greek counterparts several centuries later, not to mention medieval and Victorian women of the “modern” age.

Marble relief of a Greek man and wife from the Athens National Museum

Trying to tease out “women’s history” from the male half of human history is a troublesome project. It’s probably best to see the context and interrelationships rather than setting up a false opposition between men and women. Through this process we can get a sense of what life might have been like for women. As much as possible, that’s how I’ve tried to think and research as I prepared these articles.


Judith's guest post, Profile of Troy, appeared here two weeks ago, and she has kindly agreed to continue the discussion with this and several more posts.  Judith, you will recall, is a novelist and book reviewer who sets her historical fiction and mysteries in the period of the Trojan War and the Hittite Empire.  She blogs on these and other topics, as well as reviewing books, here.  She can also be found on Twitter and on Facebook.  Thank you, Judith, for this fascinating history. 

Judith Starkston

Monday, February 18, 2013

Deleted Scene from ATD: Confession

Giotto di Bondone:  St. Francis and his followers before the Pope

Dear Readers:

Your dauntless blogger is feeling a bit - well, daunted.  Life has become rather busy for me of late, and I don't currently have time to keep feeding you ridiculously detailed historical tidbits in the style to which you've become accustomed.  So for a little while, until life calms down, I'm trying something different:  excerpts, outtakes, snippets, and other shards of things already written.   Plus, I hope, more wonderful guest posts like the one by Judith Starkston that I was able to share with you last week.

This first one is a scene that didn't make it into my book A Thing Done.  It has to do with a follower of Francis of Assisi, a man named Bartolo.  The situation, in brief, is that Corrado the Jester (my POV character) and his friend Neri, for different reasons, find themselves in a bit of a bind regarding making a pre-Easter confession.  A recent church council (November 1215, and it's now early 1216 [modern dating]) has proclaimed that such confessions must be made to one's parish priest.  This presents certain problems.

Here's the excerpt, and following it you'll find a brief explanation of why it didn't make it into the final version of the book.  Enjoy!


"Neri, there must be hundreds of people in this city committing adultery, or fornication, or sinning by wanting to."

He gave me a weak grin. "Well, if you're going to include wanting to, you're probably right," he said, sounding for a moment more like his old self. But then he grew serious again. "The thing is, I'm actually doing it. It's against God's law, and it's against the city's law. And the worst of it is, Ghisola could be punished for it. She's a good woman; she doesn't deserve that." True, I thought. Neither of you deserves that.

"And they could make me become a public penitent, like those people we just saw." Neri looked miserable.

I considered what he had said. "Well, yes, I suppose they could, but it isn't very likely, is it? I mean, nobody's denouncing you, or complaining, are they?" Had Marietta decided she wanted him back? 
"No. But I know I'm doing it, and if I confess it in my own parish, he'll have to tell me to repent and give her up. And I can't do it." His face crumpled. "I can't give up Ghisola. And I can't put her at risk, and I can't promise to repent if I'm not going to. So what can I do?"

This was a problem. Eventually I suspected things would settle into their usual patterns, but for this first year of the papal edict, things could get difficult, as the priests tried to figure out their new responsibilities to their parishes. Punishment for adultery could be barbaric, ruining people's lives and sometimes their bodies. I didn't want to see Ghisola and Neri used as an example, which was certainly one possible result of his confession, but on the other hand he was obviously going to feel terrible if he couldn't take Easter communion. 
"I'm sorry I was so unsympathetic about your confession before," he said. "I didn't think about how it would feel, to have something really serious on your soul."

"Do you think living with Ghisola is a serious sin?" A thought struck me. "You'd marry her if you were free to, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, of course I would, but I'm not free. Marietta hasn't died." Neri said it almost indignantly. Damned inconsiderate of her, I thought. She always was a self-centered little vixen. 
I punched my fist into my palm. "Neri, I've got it. Let's go find Father Bartolo, and we can both confess to him."

"But the law--"

"I know. But it's better than not confessing at all, isn't it?"

"Maybe," he said, sounding unconvinced. "But would he even take our confession now? Won't he get in trouble?"

"He won't care. He's a good soul, but he's not so fussy about the details. It's why I've always liked him."

"But the new law says if we don't confess to our parish priest, we're excommunicated."

"Did we have to do that last year?"


"Then why do you think we're going to endanger our immortal souls if we do it this year? Why is this year so different from last year?"

He didn't have a ready answer for that. 
"Besides," I said, "I'm not sure that's what it said, exactly. What I remember hearing when they announced it is that we have to confess to the parish priest, and if we don't confess we're excommunicated. So, if we don't confess to Father Pietro, but we do confess, then we messed up on the first part, but we still aren't excommunicated."

"I don't know--I don't think that works." Neri sounded skeptical, and I couldn't blame him. Theology was not my strength.

"Well, how about this, then," I said. "We confess the really bad things, the big sins, to Father Bartolo. Then we go confess everything else to Father Pietro. That covers everything."

Neri still looked dubious. "Father Pietro will ask us if we've made a full confession."

"And we will have! We'll confess everything we've got left. Even I will, even if it takes me all week!"

Neri chuckled at that, and I could see he was considering the idea. I didn't want to push too much, so I suggested we think about it for a while and then talk again in a few days. 
We left the subject for the time being and returned home, but Neri was noticeably more cheerful, and the next day, when Ghisola stopped in to bring us an eel pie, she wound up staying the night. I wondered how she felt about all of this, but we had no opportunity to talk out of Neri's hearing before the two of them withdrew to their alcove.
As it fell out, he and I both decided Father Bartolo was our best choice. Neri wanted to start with him and then move on to Father Pietro, as we had discussed; I privately thought I might both start and end with Bartolo, but I let Neri assume my plans were the same as his. And maybe I would eventually make confession to Father Pietro--I just didn't know.

I said I'd find Bartolo, which took me a while, because we weren't the only ones looking for a creative solution to our confession problems. We set up a time and place and then we purchased some dried fruit and good bread to take him, as thanks for his efforts. As a mendicant he would have none of our coins, though not all were so careful. Father Bartolo took his job as confessor seriously, impatient as he was with church rules. 
We met him just inside the city walls, in a stand of cherry trees whose former owner had been exiled. The cherries were everyone's now, at least until someone succeeded in claiming the land, which we all hoped would not happen before this year's crop ripened and could be harvested. Bartolo had tidied up a bit for the occasion, but even his best undyed robe was patched and snagged, and I suspected it had been a long time since he had removed the dirt from anything any better hidden than his hands and his face. He accepted Neri's bag of dried apricots and plums and heard him out while I waited, out of earshot, and he sent my friend away smiling. 
"All right?" I asked Neri, as I passed him on my way to Bartolo.

"Fine. He gave me a reasonable penance, and he said God recognizes that men are weak and can't always adhere to the law. That's why we have penance, he says."

I wasn't sure how theologically sound that was, but it was a joy to see Neri looking happy for the first time in weeks. I clasped his hand and went to the waiting preacher to take my turn.

After I knelt and murmured the preliminary formulae, I broke with tradition and simply told Father Bartolo, straight out, what the business was that I was entangled in. He listened with considerable interest, making an occasional comment and stroking his beard--and I couldn't help imagining fleas and other vermin hopping out of that tangled gray beard as he stroked it. When I was finished, he stood for a moment lost in thought. Finally he shook his head.

"Many in your story have sinned already, and others have yet to do so." 
"And what of my sin, Father?"

"You sinned, as you well know, by taking the second knight's money. In your defense, it's true you would have been in some danger had you not done so, but our Lord expects good Christians to be willing to martyr themselves when necessary."

That left me short of being a good Christian, I supposed, because I was a lot less than willing.

"As far as I can see, that act of greed was the extent of your sin, for all of the rest was beyond your control. And even that was under some duress. I don't say your sin is light, for much ill may come of it, but I do say that whatever happens, you mustn't think your own guilt the equal of those who intend harm to another."

That made sense, and I felt a weight lift from my shoulders upon hearing it. It was the sort of rationalization I might have made myself, but it was different, and more meaningful, hearing it from a man of the church. Even if the man was dirty, bedraggled, and fairly disreputable. I knew Father Bartolo to be a good man, if unconventional, and his judgment meant something to me.

He gave me a modest penance and absolved me. We went our separate ways, Father Bartolo carrying the bread and me carrying less guilt than I had in weeks. I did brood a little, though, on how my story would resolve, and I hoped Buondelmonte had an image of St. Christopher somewhere and he attended to it daily.

Why this didn't make the final cut:  it's anachronistic.  Not by much, as it turns out.  Francis, whose order had not even been made official yet at this date, did indeed have followers, and as of 1209 he had a priest among them (Sylvester, a cousin of Francis's follower Chiara, or Claire, who like Francis would become a saint after her lifetime).  Francis had probably even been to Florence by this time.  But his little flock still consisted of only a few men in 1216; history records all or most of their names, and I could find no evidence that they went off on their own, preaching in different cities, this early.  Thus, Bartolo, being my own invention and a solo mendicant,  was a man slightly ahead of his time, and he had to go.  A decade later, he would have been fine - and his scruffy description would probably have been about right.  
Sylvester casting demons out of Arezzo, per Francis's command

Images in this post are both frescos by Giotto; they are in the public domain by virtue of it having been way more than 100 years after the artist's death.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Profile of Troy: The Hittite-Trojan Connection (Guest post by Judith Starkston)

This week I'd like to introduce a guest blogger whose research fascinates me.  Judith Starkston, novelist and book reviewer, sets her historical fiction and mysteries in the period of the Trojan War and the Hittite Empire.  She blogs on these and other topics, as well as reviewing books, here.  She can also be found on Twitter and on Facebook.  She has graciously agreed to share some of her research with us this week.  A hearty welcome to Judith!

Judith Starkston

Who were the Trojans?

This turns out to be a very tricky question.

Picture of the Walls of Troy
The walls of Troy
Part I:  The Greek Assumption

Until the 19th century when German businessman Heinrich Schliemann followed his idiosyncratic dream and found Troy on the coast of Turkey near the Hellespont, many people thought “Troy” was the stuff of myth. We can now say with reasonable certainty that we know where Troy existed. A contemporary dig, begun under the leadership of the German archaeologist Manfred Korfmann, has confirmed the earlier identification and revealed a great deal more about the nature of this famous city.

Picture of Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann

However, knowing the city’s location doesn’t tell us what cultural/ethnic group the residents belonged to, what language they spoke, what their religious system was.

If you read the Iliad, you would think you had the answer—the Trojans were basically Greeks. Rather like Star Trek, heroes from the opposing sides in Homer’s poem can carry on conversations without any translators. In the Iliad the Trojans have temples to Apollo and Athena, who were also Greek gods. Based on Homer, scholars from past generations sometimes concluded that the residents of Troy were culturally the same as the Greeks who sailed across the Aegean to attack their city. When I started writing my novel about Briseis, a woman taken captive by the Greeks, I assumed the same thing.

Picture of Greek Temple of Apollo Smintheon near Troy
Temple of Apollo Smintheon near Troy

It’s true that Greeks in the Archaic period, well after the “Homeric” period of Troy, colonized the western coast of Anatolia (modern Turkey). It’s also true that the Greeks had powerful outposts there in the relevant period—the Late Bronze Age, such as at Miletus (Milawata in Hittite correspondence). Mycenaean Greek pottery and other signs of trade influence have been found at Troy. The Trojans interacted with the Greeks in ways both friendly and warlike.

Nonetheless, the assumption that the Trojans were a variety of Greek is wrong.

Part II: The Hittite Connection; The Trojans are Luwians

Scholarly opinion now leans toward identifying the Trojans as part of the Luwian peoples who occupied large swaths of what we now call Turkey, primarily in the Western and Southeastern portions, throughout the Bronze Ages.

map of Hittite Empire with Luwian region shown on western part of map
Map of the Hittite Empire, Luwian region shown on western part of map
My primary source for the rest of this discussion is The Luwians, ed. H. Craig Melchert.

So who were the Luwians and how does that connect the Trojans to the Hittites?

A key issue is that we know a lot about the Hittites from their written records, but no such libraries of clay tablets have been found in the western Luwian areas such as Troy. Most of what we know about the Luwians is found in the Hittite texts which include a lot of Luwian information in the Luwian language. It’s a lopsided filter through which to view a people, but it’s the best we can do at this point until tablets are found at a Luwian site. Hence the Hittite connection: If you want to understand the Trojans/Luwians, by necessity you must examine the Hittites. That is why so much of the information on this website is about Hittites.

cuneiform tablet Pictures, Images and Photos
Cuneiform tablet

Beyond the lack of extant tablets from Luwian sites, studying the Hittites to understand the Luwians/Trojans is useful because they are closely related culturally and religiously. If we could go back in time and watch the two cultures, we would no doubt realize that the two peoples did a number of things differently, but the similarities would probably outnumber the differences overall. So in the absence of a large body of information about the Luwians/Trojans, an historian or historical fiction writer can turn to the Hittites and extrapolate with a fair sense of being roughly on track.

Hittite bronze statue of a mother and child, possibly a goddess
Hittite bronze statue of a mother and child, possibly a goddess

Part III: A summary of who the Luwians were and the ways the Luwians and Hittites influenced each other

The Luwians and Hittites were Indo-European. Scholars are still debating at what time period these Indo-European groups arrived in the area of Anatolia and from what region they might have come, but they differ from their eastern neighbors such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. who have Semitic or other origins. Luwian, as a language, is part of a closely related group including Hittite, Palaic, Lycian, Lydian, and Carian. All of these languages of ancient Anatolia are derived from a prehistoric language we may call “Proto-Anatolian” which in turn derived from “Proto-Indo-European.” Indo-European encompasses most of the languages of Europe—so to that extent the Luwians’ language and the Luwians themselves are remote “cousins” of Greek, but they had separate developments from very early on. (For more on Indo-European)

Linguistically the Hittites and Luwians were close in many ways, and language is a significant cultural determinor. The Hittite language directly borrowed many Luwian words. Indeed by the height of the Hittite empire, a majority of the residents of Hattusa, the Hittite capital, spoke Luwian. The Hittite king and royal family spoke both Luwian and Hittite.

hieroglyphic seal, photo by Baris Askin
Hieroglyphic seal, photo by Baris Askin, The Troy Guide

We cannot be absolutely certain that Luwian, rather than Palaic or some other similar language, was spoken in the region around Troy, but it seems the most likely choice based on the evidence. The only piece of writing from Troy, a hieroglyphic seal, is written in Luwian. (Luwian was written in both cuneiform and hieroglyphics depending on the context.) Also the oldest form of the name for Troy known to the Hittites, Wilusiya-, is a Luwian formulation. The later Hittite name for Troy is Wilusa.

The Luwians as a people never formed one unified state. By the Late Bronze Age the western Luwian lands were roughly grouped into five states, Troy/Wilusa being one of them. They occasionally acted together in war. Treaties exist between these states and the huge Hittite empire to the east of these lands. The Hittites are dominant in these treaties and other correspondence between them. Although these Luwian areas are frequently not formally part of the Hittite empire, they are under its political influence.

Hittite King offering to God photo by Dick Osseman
Hittite king offering to a god, photo by Dick Osseman

A wide variety of religious influences between the Hittites and Luwians can be found in the written evidence. Luwian cultic texts were incorporated from an early period into the Hittite religious texts. That means the actual ritual practices of the Hittites would include Luwian elements.

In the Hittite law codes, there are mentions of separate penalties for Luwians as opposed to Hittites. This means that the two peoples interacted closely and constantly, but it also means that the Hittites viewed the Luwians as a people separate from themselves.

Interesting historical footnote:

Why did Hittite texts survive and not Luwian?

Only one piece of writing has been found at Troy, a hieroglyphic seal, so a logical assumption would seem at first to be that the Trojans didn’t write or read. However, the Hittite side of correspondence and treaties with the Trojans and others in this Luwian area are extant, so we know that the kings of Troy/Wilusa had scribes and written records.

So why haven’t tablets at Troy been found? You’d think clay tablets would survive—after all pottery shards pop up everywhere in archaeological sites.
Pots are fired, clay tablets are not. Clay tablets melt away into the dust unless a catastrophic fire burns so hot and long that the tablets are in essence fired. The absence of a “library” at Troy may perhaps be explained by something as simple and arbitrary as the lack of a hot-enough destructive fire in the correct buildings.

What about Greeks and writing? 

The Mycenaean Greeks were also literate—they wrote a form of Greek called Linear B and also corresponded with the Hittites. 

Linear B Tablet Pictures, Images and Photos
Linear B tablet and drawing

Unlike the Hittites, they did not use writing to record myths, laws, and other interesting cultural documents. They used writing primarily as financial record keeping.

Writing was lost to the Greek world after the Late Bronze Age and was rediscovered with a new alphabetic writing system around the 8th century BC. From that time on they used more or less the letters we are familiar with as Greek. Around the time of this rebirth of literacy, the oral poems we know as the Iliad and Odyssey were put into written form.


Many thanks to Judith, who I hope will be back with more guest posts talking about her research into these long-ago civilizations.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Women and Children Last: Peacemaking Marriage IV

In this last of four posts talking about Florentine peacemaking marriages in the 13th century, we will be discussing another couple joined together in the spate of peacemaking marriages between Guelfs and Ghibellines in the year 1267.

For a bit of background on the political environment that made these alliances seem desirable and useful at the time, see my first post on the subject.

For the fate of a couple joined in 1239, see this post.

For more on another couple also joined in 1267, see this post, which details the marriage of the sister of the husband in this post.

The Third Couple

For this post we will concentrate on the union of Ravenna Donati with messer Azzolino di Farinata degli Uberti.

First, the bride.  Ravenna Donati was the daughter of the prominent Guelf, Simone Donati, and she was sister to the soon-to-be-notorious Corso Donati and his brothers Sinibaldo, Maso, and Forese (the latter a poet and a friend of Dante's).  She was also sister (or possibly half-sister) to Piccarda, whose story we'll touch on briefly a bit later.

Messer Simone Donati was a knight, well respected throughout Tuscany.  He was, of course, among the Guelfs exiled after the battle of Montaperti, and in 1267 was only recently returned to his city.  He had lost property to the tune of 2,200 lire in that Ghibelline victory and its aftermath.

Simone served as podestà in Arezzo and other cities on several occasions - a prestigious and lucrative "guest mayor" position always given to an outsider, in the interest of finding someone nonbiased.  (Sometimes it worked.)  He spoke for the city (and for his party and his sesto or zone of the city) at the peace negotiations with Cardinal Latino beginning in 1279.  Much earlier, in 1261, he and Bonaccorso Adimari (see mention of him in the first post of this series) were ambassadors to Conradin, legitimate son and heir of the late Frederick II, trying unsuccessfully to persuade the young man to join them in taking up arms against his uncle Manfred.


Simone had a reputation for being ethically challenged.  He was entangled in legal issues in Florence and was ordered, in 1277, to stop interfering in the affairs of the Pinti hospital.  During one stint as podestà in Parma, it is said that he falsely accused a man of stealing horses and put him to the torture, the better to have his way with the unfortunate man's attractive daughter.

Some say this man was the Simone Donati who took part in the famous Gianni Schicchi swindle (see this post for more on the Gianni Schicchi story).

So that's Ravenna's daddy. What about messer Azzolino's?

The Ghibelline chief Farinata degli Uberti was discussed at some length in the previous post, so I won't describe him again here.  He died in 1264, so this marriage must have been negotiated by whoever was the new head of the Uberti family - possibly Azzolino himself - or by someone like the new leader of the Guelfs, Guido Novello (more about Guido in the first post of this series).

Farinata degli Uberti

In any case, Azzolino and Ravenna were wed.  At the same time, Azzolino's sister Beatrice married Guido Cavalcanti (see last post).  Soon afterwards the peace broke down, and Azzolino - and, presumably, his family - had to flee Florence.  Azzolino was among the Ghibellines plotting to re-take the city, and there was a price on his head.  He and Ravenna managed to produce two children before he was captured:  a son, Lapo, and a second child, Ytte or Itta, who some historians believe was a boy and some think was a girl.

But captured Azzolino was, along with his brothers Neracozzo and Conticino and another man, messer Bindo de' Grifoni da Fegghine.  The prisoners were held in Florence pending the advice of the podestà, messer Bernardo d'Ariano, who advised that they were to be treated as traitors to the crown (the relevant crown being on the august head of Charles of Anjou, by then King of Sicily).

Charles of Anjou (and crown)

This wasn't good news for the Uberti brothers.  (At least three other brothers, Lapo, Federigo, and Maghinardo, remained safe.  One, Maghinardo, was still alive in 1282.)
The youngest, Conticino, was spared because of his youth, but he died in prison a short time later.

Ravenna was said to have pleaded for her husband's life, but to no avail.  It's reported that as Azzolino and his brother Neracozzo were being led to their execution, Neracozzo asked his brother "Where are we going?"  Azzoline replied, "To pay a debt left to us by our fathers."

After her husband was decapitated in May of 1270, Ravenna returned to her father's house.  Her children were considered part of her husband's family and not hers, and they did not accompany her.  It seems doubtful that she ever saw them again.  The older child could not have been more than three at the time.

Simone promptly married her off again, this time to a wealthy banker named Bello Ferrantini (the Donati often married for money, being chronically short of that commodity).  To judge from his will, Bello was a generous and thoughtful man, providing well for his wife, his sister and her daughter, and many friends and relatives.

Unfortunately Bello's will had to be put into use fairly soon.  He died in 1277, leaving Ravenna with a son and two daughters.

Ravenna took the children and retired to a Dominican convent, San Iacopo at Ripoli.  Her brother Corso, his eye still on Bello's money, initiated a long and vitriolic dispute with the convent over the control of Ravenna's inheritance.

It isn't clear that Corso had any right to those funds, though he and his father Simone had been named among the children's guardians in Bello's will.  The legal imbroglio ended five years later with Corso and the convent splitting the money.

Meanwhile, Ravenna had at one point left the convent.  By this time her son, also named Simone, had died, and only the two girls, Mataleona and Margherita, were left.

It appears that the girls stayed in the convent, which probably suited Corso, who would have begrudged the money to dower them.  Their mother eventually joined them.  A historian describes her as "weak-willed," but her choices were limited.  ("Exasperated" comes to mind as a possibility.  It can't be fun to watch your abbess and your brother arm-wrestling over your children's future.)

Oddly, that was not Corso's only interaction with a convent concerning one of his sisters.  Another sister, Piccarda, had apparently made her vows and was living in the convent of Monticelli, when Corso forcibly removed her, so he could marry her to his ally Rossellino della Tosa.  She was wed against her wishes, and died soon afterwards.

Corso removing Piccarda from her convent

It was not a peacemaking marriage.  Rossellino was Corso's friend and ally - a friendship that survived the first eventual split in the Guelf party, though not the second.  By the time Rossellino and Corso were enemies, Piccarda had been dead for years.

Dante places Piccarda in the Paradiso, though at a relatively low level, because her vows (to become a nun) were in some respect unfulfilled, though not by her choice.  Dante causes Piccarda to proclaim her perfect happiness in her placement, because it is God's will, and she utters the famous phrase:  "E 'n la sua voluntade è la nostra pace:  ell' è quel mare al qual tutto si move ciò ch'ella cria o che natura face."  (And in his will is our peace:  he is that sea toward which all move that his will creates or Nature makes.)

Dante meets Piccarda in Paradise

One quick look back at Lapo, Ravenna's son by Azzolino.  Included in his grandfather's conviction for heresy in 1282, and condemned to die at the stake should he be taken in Florence, Lapo made his home elsewhere in Tuscany.  A poet, he later became friends with Dante during the great man's long exile from his troubled city.

And thus we end this series on peacemaking marriages, which seem to have resulted in very little peace.

May our own attachments fare better.

Images in this post are in the public domain by virtue of antiquity.