Homosexuality in medieval Europe
Homosexuality in medieval Europe was treated differently depending on era and region, but generally, by at least the twelfth century, homosexuality was considered sodomy and was punishable by death. Before the medieval period early Romans tolerated alternative sexual practices such as masturbation in males and females and homosexuality. For males however, homosexuality was more accepted than lesbianism; male elites were able to recruit slaves or hire household boys for their sexual pleasures, while for females, males saw lesbianism as a threat to their manhood or sexual-esteem. Although it was persecuted, records of homosexual relationships during the period exist. Persecutions reached their height during the Medieval Inquisitions, when the sects of Cathars and Waldensians were accused of fornication and sodomy, alongside accusations of satanism. In 1307, accusations of sodomy and homosexuality were major charges leveled during the Trial of the Knights Templar. The theologian Thomas Aquinas was influential in linking condemnations of homosexuality with the idea of natural law, arguing that "special sins are against nature, as, for instance, those that run counter to the intercourse of male and female natural to animals, and so are peculiarly qualified as unnatural vices."
Although homosexuality was not considered a major offense during the early Roman Empire, the raise of Catholisism condemned not only homosexual encounters but also homosexual behavior. The Old Testament (Leviticus 1822, 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:5) and the New Testament (Romans 1:26) condemned females who wore male attire, males who wore female attires, and males and females that engaged in homosexual behavior or intercourse. The theologian Thomas Aquinas was influential in linking condemnations of homosexuality with the idea of natural law, arguing that "special sins are against nature, as, for instance, those that run counter to the intercourse of male and female natural to animals, and so are peculiarly qualified as unnatural vices." This view points from the natural to the Divine, because (following Aristotle) he said all people seek happiness; but according to Aquinas, happiness can only finally be attained through the Beatific Vision. Therefore all sins are also against the natural law. But the natural law of many aspects of life is knowable apart from special revelation by examining the forms and purposes of those aspects. It is in this sense that Aquinas considered homosexuality unnatural, since it involves a kind of partner other than the kind to which the purpose of sexuality points. Indeed, he considered it second only to bestiality as an abuse of sexuality.
An earlier Doctor of the Church, St. Peter Damian, wrote the Liber Gomorrhianus, an extended attack on both homosexuality and masturbation. He portrayed homosexuality as a counter-rational force undermining morality, religion, and society itself,[dead link] and in need of strong suppression lest it spread even and especially among clergy.
Hildegard of Bingen, born seven years after the death of St. Peter Damian, reported seeing visions and recorded them in Scivias (short for Scito vias Domini, "Know the Ways of the Lord"). In Book II Vision Six, she quotes God as condemning same-sex intercourse, including lesbianism; "a woman who takes up devilish ways and plays a male role in coupling with another woman is most vile in My sight, and so is she who subjects herself to such a one in this evil deed".
Greco-Roman secular views 
In Mediterranean city states of the old world, (ca. 40BC to 400AD) the norms by which a person carried out their private and public life were social and behavioral, instead of being psychological, spiritual or such. Standards on human action were measured and focused by how they fulfilled their social expectations (being a good citizen by joining the army or civil service or donating resources or labor to the state, being a good parent and spouse, be loyal to friends and family, take care of your elder parents, be a good child, bring honor to the family, etc.) Sexual orientation did not play much of a role on the standards and the degree by which they were judged. Even as they developed their role as parent or spouse, since marriage and parenthood were not believed to be related to whom a person was sexually attracted to.
For the Roman citizens, marriage was a duty. Marriage though, was not for the purpose of fulfilling erotic needs. Therefore, for a male to look for someone outside marriage to meet their sexual needs was viewed as normal. Females though, did not have such liberty. Presumably, the main Greco-Roman moral view on human sexuality was that sexuality was good, as long as it did not interfere with a person's obligations to the state or family, and as long as it did not involve the abuse of free children or married women. Other views stated that sexuality was dangerous and should be limited. People that held such believes, would usually commit themselves to celibacy, limit their sexual desires to marriage, or would just limit their sexual acts for procreation purposes. Such views though, did not preclude homosexual acts; they were just aimed at reducing promiscuous heterosexual activity.
Sexual orientation in Roman society was neither a questioned nor a judged matter. How a person expressed their sexuality was based and limited to class, age, and marital status rather than gender. Although there were a few exceptions, the higher a person's social status, the more limits a person would have. This included limitations on sexual acts and fewer sexual partners. For example, a high status male could penetrate another person, male or female, without damaging their social status; but for him to be penetrated by any person, could result in loss of status. On the other hand, a slave's social status, or any other free male that was of a similar class status, would not be affected if he was to be penetrated or if he performed any other sexual act as long as the intercourse did not with another person the slave's owner allowed him to, or as long as it did not happen with an adult male citizen.
Penetration and power were highly correlated with the rights of the ruling elite in Roman society. It was acceptable for members of the less powerful group to surrender to penetration by members of a more powerful group. Thus, to be penetrated was associated with a man's power and authority rather than being associated and regarded as a homosexual or heterosexual act. Lesbianism was no different matter. Even though some scholars state the opposite, there is evidence that states that lesbianism was not viewed as a problem. There were no laws or such restricting it. Romans, perhaps because it was such a male-centered society, did not mention much about women in their historical literature, especially lesbians.
Early Christian Medieval views 
Around 400A.D, Christianity started introducing a new sexual code focused on religious concepts of "holiness" and "purity". The early church had two main approaches to Christian sexuality. One of them, just like their Greco-Roman predecessors, did not view nor judged sexuality in terms of heterosexual or homosexual acts. Instead, it only judged the act itself of having sex. They believed in limiting and having a responsible sexual life. It focused on the fidelity and permanence of erotic relationships. It was common in the church's early days for homosexual unions to be performed. For instance, the Roman tradition of forming a legal union with another male by declaring a "brother" persisted during the early medieval years. Also, within religious communities, even though there was no official marriage, long lasting relationships or bonds were made. For example, in the twelfth century, St. Aelred of Rievauxl was involved in such relationships with his Cistercian abbey. Also, there are many poems from that century that suggest permanent lesbian relationships between them. Even in areas in which homosexual relationships were not recognized, through the end twelfth century, there was a strong tradition in Christian believes that viewed and judged homosexuality and heterosexuality with the same standards.
The other main approach to Christian sexuality, held opposing concepts. Under this approach sex was only meant to be had for procreation purposes. Any sort of sexual activity that not for procreation reasons, this included heterosexual acts as well, was viewed and judged as sinful. Such view was inherited from aspects of late antique pagan ethics and was at first limited to abstinent Christian writers that were deeply inspired by Hellenistic philosophy. Eventually, it would be this approach to Christian sexuality that would become favored and spread throughout the Christian world because it limited sexual activity the most and it appealed to an already understood principle. Ultimately, this approach would become the standard of Catholic orthodoxy.
Punishment in Medieval times 
By the end of the Middle Ages, most of the Catholic churchmen and states accepted and lived with the believe that sexual behavior was just for procreation purposes, making any sort non-procreative sex a serious sin, especially in marriage (this regarded oral and anal sex, as well as masturbation). Most civil law codes had punishments for such "unnatural acts", especially regions which were heavily influenced by the church's teachings.
In its early medieval years, homosexuality was given no particular penance; it was viewed like all the other sins. For example, penitential of Pope Gregory III, during the eighth century, gave penances of 160 days for having lesbian-like acts and usually one year for males who committed homosexual acts. During the inquisition itself, it is not very likely that people were brought up for homosexual behavior only. People were usually brought up for publicly standing up against the church for their norms which looked down upon homosexuality. If the person did not back down, then they would be severely punished.
As time went on though, punishments for homosexual behavior became harsher. In the thirteenth century, in areas such as France, homosexual behavior in men resulted in male castration for men on the first offense, dismemberment for the second, and burning for the third. In women, lesbian behavior was punished with specific dismemberments for the first two offenses, and for the burning for the third as well. In many cities of Italy, by the mid-fourteenth century, it was common for there to exist civil laws against homosexuality. If a person was found to be homosexual, the government of the respective city was entitled to confiscate the offender's property.
The depiction of homosexuality in art saw a rise in the Late Middle Ages, beginning with the Renaissance of the twelfth century, when Latin and Greek influences were revitalized in Europe. Influenced by Roman depictions of romantic love, these "neo-Latin" poets portrayed male love in a positive light, while avoiding explicitly mentioning homosexuality, which was still a taboo topic. An example is the poet Marbodius of Rennes, who wrote of male beauty and desire:
A handsome face demands a good mind and a yielding one... this flesh is so smooth, so milky, so unblemished, so good, so slippery, so handsome, so tender. Yet the time will come... when this flesh, dear boyish flesh, with be worthless... be not slow to yield to an eager lover"
Poetry about homosexual acts in medieval Europe was not very widespread. One piece of writing that did describe homosexual acts was Le Livre de Manieres. Written by Etinne de Fougeres between 1173 and 1178, his poems contrasted the "beauty" of heterosexual sex to the "vile" unnatural homosexual sex. However, one of this poems focuses specifically on lesbian sex acts. De Fourgeres writes: "They do their jousting act in couples and go at it full tilt; at the game of thigh-fencing they lewdly share their expenses.
They're not all from the same mold: one lies still and the other makes busy, one plays the cock and the other the hen and each one plays her role. This poem explains the manner of lesbian sexual activity in which lesbians do not need a penis to have sexual intercourse. De Fougeres also demonstrates the knowledge that lesbians did not need to imitate heterosexual intercourse but that there are alternative sexual methods. This example helps us to see in what light literature of a homosexual nature was readily available and known about to society.
Sexuality in the Middle Ages was male-centered and revolved around the idea that a man's penis was required to have fulfilling sexual activity. The neglect of notice about lesbianism in the Middle Ages can stem from this belief and as long as a dildo or other penis-shaped object was not used in lesbian relationships, then the relationship was not fully sexual. Much of the discussion on homosexuality in medieval Europe revolves around male homosexuality and any discussion done on lesbianism is relegated to minor mentions. Research done on lesbian and lesbian relationships in the Middle Ages is not widely known and the few sources that discuss lesbianism in medieval Europe are religious and intellectual sources.
Many of the writings that deal with lesbianism in medieval Europe come from religious texts. The earliest text that shows the Church's disapproval of lesbianism comes from the writings of St. Paul to the Romans. In his letters, he states: "women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another…and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error."
While Paul does not explicitly describe lesbian relations between women, he does state that this is an unholy choice made and that women who commit these "unnatural" acts will be punished, presumably by God's will. This is one of the earliest descriptions of lesbianism that details how early Church leaders felt about what were described as "unnatural" relations. The mentality of the church regarding lesbianism was also seen in the rise of penitentials. Penitentials were guides used by religious leaders and laypersons in dealing with issues in a broader community. While discussion of dealing with lesbianism was not mentioned in these penitentials, it was an overall concept that lesbian relations was a smaller sin than male sexuality.
One such penitential that mentions the consequences for lesbian activity was The Pentential of Theodore, written by Theodore of Tarsus (the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury). There are three main cannons that are mention in regards to female homosexuality: 12. If a woman practices vice with a woman, she shall do penance for three years. 13. If she practices solitary vice, she shall do penance for the same period. 14. The penance of a widow and of a girl is the same She who has a husband deserves a greater penalty if she commits fornication.
According to his canons, Theodore sees lesbian activities as a minor sin, as fornication is considered, rather than a more serious sexual sin like adultery. Unmarried women and girls were judged less severely because they had a single status and did not have another other form of sexual release. Married women, who had a willing sexual partner in their husband, were judged more harshly because they sought sexual satisfaction through an "unnatural" form. Religious figures throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries continued to ignore the concept of lesbianism but in St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae discusses in his subject of lust that female homosexuality falls under one of the four categories of unnatural acts.
Medicine and science 
There were two medical situations that were linked to lesbianism in medieval Europe. Once such condition was that the womb of a woman had a build up of her seed and due to lack of sexual intercourse, this cause the suffocation of the womb. The cure for this suffocation was for a midwife to place hot items on the woman and bring her to orgasm. This would help her to retain the seed of a man. The idea of one woman bringing another woman to orgasm was considered morally wrong by religious leaders and in the thirteenth century, it was urged that marriage was a solution for this problem rather than manual stimulation. The second ailment was ragadia of the womb, in which fleshy growths grew as a result of intercourse or childbirth and these growths could sometimes grow on the outside of the vagina. These growths resembled penises and it was thought that women with these would be able to have heterosexual sex with other women because a penis was needed to have intercourse. Eventually the practice of masturbating women and the idea that women with the ragadiae would have sex with other women disappeared over time, further masking lesbian activities in medieval Europe.
Secular laws 
Laws against lesbianism in medieval Europe were not as mainstreamed as laws for male homosexuality. While not as serious, lesbianism still posed a threat to male-centered social order. It was often ignored in secular law but there is one known exception. Written around 1260, the French laws Li Livres de jostice et de plet, stated that if convicted of sodomy: "The woman who does this shall undergo mutilation (on the first and second) offense and on her third must be burnt." This is one of the only laws that has been known to specify what the consequences were for women who engaged in lesbian sexual activity. By the thirteenth century, lesbianism was equated to sodomy and therefore carried a similar sentence. However, secular courts did not prosecute cases of lesbianism mainly because laws that would cause it to be brought to court barely existed.
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