Saturday, May 01, 2010

Sexual Crimes and Improprieties in Late Ottoman Greece

Evdoxios Doxiadis, Sexual Crimes and Improprieties in Late Ottoman Greece

Sexual crime and sexual improprieties in Ottoman Greece has been a neglected field of study, primarily due to the lack of sources. Unlike much of contemporary, and even earlier, Europe and much of the rest of the Ottoman world where such cases quickly found themselves in front of a judge or kadi, in Ottoman Greece cases of prostitution, adultery, unlawful fornication, or even rape have been rare thus far. By examining a variety of material, however, such as wills, dowry contracts, private correspondence, as well as the correspondence and decisions of the local authorities, we can at least extrapolate some idea regarding the concerns and behavior of the the notables in Ottoman Greece who often doubled as executive and judicial authorities.

The Ottoman judicial system, as well as the administrative one, was characterized by a remarkable diversity which allowed significant autonomy to religious and regional communities. In the Aegean, as in many other parts of Greece, this diversity led to the emergence, and often dominance, of communal executive bodies and courts, usually under the control of local notables. These bodies based their decisions upon customary laws that had their origins in the Byzantine-Roman tradition but which had evolved and changed significantly over the centuries. Few of these laws were codified before the late eighteenth century, thus allowing great flexibility in the rulings of the communal courts and councils. Sexual crime was of course clearly described by Canon as well as by Roman law and included nearly all acts not leading to procreating within a lawfully conducted marriage. The notables and even the population at large, however, do not appear very concerned with applying the penalties, or even persecuting many technically illegal activities. Practices like the infamous “kepinio”, a form of unlawful marriage of limited time duration, though denounced by the Orthodox Church, endured as did the institution of “syggria” in Mani, a form of bigamy. From the cases examined in this paper it becomes evident that the notables were quite willing to tolerate what was generally deemed as immoral behavior for years and even decades, allowing families to deal with such issues by themselves. Dowry contracts and especially wills show that illegitimate children were not rare, nor were cases of what could be prostitution or perhaps concubinage, despite the efforts of parents to control the sexual behavior of their offspring.

There were, however, occasions where the communal authorities asserted their authority over the sexual behavior of individuals in the community, and acted quickly and decisively in matters of sexual crime or sexual improprieties. These few cases present us with an insight into the concerns of these notables. Under certain circumstances sexual misbehavior could threaten the peace and even the cohesion of the community and in extreme cases it could invite the involvement of outside authorities, infringing upon the autonomy and power of the notables. As a result these notables, whether secular or religious, were quick to act in order to preempt such developments, but only when such behavior threatened to escalate and disrupt the community. When such behavior crossed the boundaries of private behavior and became a public concern, however, the notables were swift to act in order to diffuse the situation, and in order to assert their own authority and power over the community.
Dr. Evdoxios Doxiadis received his B.A. from Tufts University in History, Economics and Classics, and his M.A and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, where he also received the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor award in 2007. He has taught a number of courses on gender and on nationalism at U.C. Berkeley, and on Greece and the Balkans at San Francisco State University. He has been a post-doctoral research fellow at Princeton University, and is currently preparing his book "The Shackles of Modernity: Women, Property and the Law from Late Ottoman to Independent Greece".