Slovenski etnografski muzej

Številka revije 
Etnolog 11 (2001)
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Udeležba žena v kazenskih procesih (Piran, 1302-1325)

The first part of the article describes the possible involvement of women in criminal offences according to the provisions of the town statutes of Piran. The author then presents original records of criminal proceedings in Piran from the 1302-1325 period in which women are mentioned as perpetrators, victims or merely accidentally.

Women in criminal proceedings (Piran, 1302-1325)

In the Middle Ages life in the coastal towns was determined by rules laid down in special codes of law, called statutes. These comprise theoretical principles about criminal offences which a (man or) woman may commit or (in particular women) may be the victim of. Criminal offences which involved women and which are listed in the statutes of Piran refer to women as possible perpetrators or, more often, potential victims of criminal offences. Criminal offences as listed by the Piran statutes in relation to women can be divided as follows: offences which were detrimental to the urban environment and the town`s safety, and offences related to the property and person of other citizens.

The following prohibition, for instance, was aimed at the safety of the town and its economy: from St. Michael`s Day to St. Martin`s Day (September 29 - November 11) the men and women of Piran were forbidden to cut fruit trees or vines and take them home, or to make a fire in the small woods around Piran or in Savudria without the permission of the podestat. Women, men and animals were forbidden to cause damage in Piran and its environs. The proceeds of the salt trade were of major importance to the town. The Piran saltworkers and owners of the saltworks were allowed to present, dispose of or transport salt only in the presence of tax officers.

The statutes of Piran also mention offences that were a threat to the urban community: they list sentences for men and women who would climb the town`s towers to resist or fight the municipal community.

On the level of relationships between the citizens women are referred to in the statutes as possible perpetrators of minor moral offences the like of cursing and swearing. It was also an offence in Piran for a woman to lure a man into falling in love with her (and vice versa).

Several decrees prohibit causing damage to private property and private interests by theft or deceit. The men and women of Piran were forbidden to take plants from gardens without the permission of the owners. Women who baked bread for selling it were allowed to use exclusively the town`s communal grain. They also had to respect the prescribed weights.

Physical threats to the citizens of Piran included, for instance, herbal potions which a women would prepare to harm somebody. The punishment was to be burnt at the stake, while men committing the same offence were to be hanged.

Persons of the female sex also appear as the subject or victim of offences and crimes. Rape is one of the physical crimes against women mentioned in the statutes.

What crimes were actually committed is reflected in the original archives of the town. The bundle of criminal proceedings from the 1302-1367 period describes 31 proceedings related to major offences like brawls or malice - which often had tragic consequences - thefts and damages to the municipal property. Individual proceedings refer to women - sometimes mentioned only in passing, as relatives, owners of stolen objects, real estate and the like, and in one case a woman is the perpetrator, while several women were the victims of criminal offences.

The record of the criminal proceedings from October 27, 1308 refers to a woman as the perpetrator of a criminal offence. A Slav woman from Tare had stolen a sheet at the foot of the Piran fortress. She was convicted and sentenced to be put in the pillory, to be caned and to be expelled from the town.

In three cases women are mentioned as the victims of rape. In two of them the same woman was involved as the victim of rape committed by two perpetrators near Pontes. The first one was tried in his absence and sentenced to be expelled from the town; in case he returned to the town, his eyes were to be gouged out. His accomplice was sentenced to a pecuniary penalty and a fine for failing to comply with the court`s summons.

On the third of December 1302 the judges dealt with a similar case. The perpetrator had entered a house under a pretext, threatened the housewife with a knife and beaten her to force her into copulation. The court sentenced him to a high pecuniary penalty. In this case too the perpetrator failed to appear in court.

In both cases the women, victims of the crimes, died as a result of the violence committed.

On November 15, 1311, the podestat of Piran and the judges examined a case in which a woman was deadly injured at her home. In the cellar of her home she had climbed on a barrel to make a coop for her chicken. The accused had put a pitchfork to her breast and made her fall down. The woman broke her left forearm and two left ribs of her spine. She later died of these injuries. The perpetrator was sentenced in his absence as a murderer to expulsion for life from Piran and its environs. Some of the houses he owned were to be destroyed. The municipality confiscated one half of the remaining property and the other half went to those who were legally entitled to the property. If the convicted perpetrator were to appear in Piran, he would either be beheaded or hanged.

Another case that appeared before the court in Piran on July 26, 1325, also dealt with a lethal incident. In Savudria a violent criminal had stabbed his victim twice in the back with a knife. The perpetrator was sentenced in his absence to death by hanging and if he was not caught, he would be expelled from the town for life.

There are not records on how the sentences were carried out nor on the mutilations or executions of the convicted. The original texts enable us to merely determine which acts were considered criminal offences and what their consequences were. We have to be aware, however, that every period has its own rules of behaviour and ways to assert them.