Deviance in pre-modern society

Deviance in pre-modern society
Definitions of deviance
What is deviance?
How defined in pre-modern
(c.1750) period?
Broad definition – religious,
sexual, social
Transgression of Church’s moral
How much concealed from the
historian’s view?
Dante’s hierarchy of deviance
(from The Divine Comedy early C14th)
Identification of deviant behaviour
common to all societies
• Suspect and threatening
• Appearance, beliefs and/or lifestyle
• Marginalisation, ostracisation, persecution
of individuals or groups
• Common stereotypes: sexual depravity,
criminality, anti-social behaviour
• Metaphors of sin, pollution, disease
• Cf ‘terrorists’ (Dillinger, 2004)
Accusations vs Deviant Groups
(from Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy (1992), p. 166)
Extreme: blood libel/ritual
murder accusation vs Jews
Role of the courts/legislation
auto da fe = show trial
Official treatment of
• Fluctuations
• Ecclesiastical e.g.
Spanish Inquisition
• Secular courts often
harsher (will execute)
• Could be surprisingly
• Social relations >
heightened tension in
post 1500 period
Treatment of the ‘Other’
• Diverse societies:
minorities integrated
• Expulsions > mobile
• Refugees/diaspora
especially by early
modern period (post
1500) e.g. moriscos,
• Scapegoating
Socially marginal and mobile
Gypsies by Callot c. 1621
C16th and C17th
• Fear of vagrants on
• Criminal gangs imagined
• Gypsy/Roma people
• Social stability and
hierarchy central
Social stigmatisation
Dishonourable trades
Executioner (C16th)
• Played important socioeconomic role
• Ostracised from polite
• Excluded from citizenship
• Physically and socially
• Developed own
• Definition of ‘margins’?
Medieval bath house:
often frequented by prostitutes
Treatment of diseased
Fear of contamination:
• Leprosy
• Plague
• Syphilis
• Mental illness
• Lunacy
• Also strong
metaphorical use re
deviant groups
The court dwarf: Spain and Italy
Monstrous births:
source of fascination & horror
‘Monk calf’
(C16th Germany)
‘Barking monster’
(C18th England)
SIN: a sinful and virtuous
• In what way group defined as deviant?
• What form did marginalisation take?
• Was persecution systematic or sporadic,
official or popular?
• Are there geographical & chronological
distinctions to be made?
• What do local studies add?
• What does it tell us about wider society?