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Reading between the lines: Old Germanic and early Christian views on abortion

Marianne Elsakkers

PhD Dissertation, University of Amsterdam, 2010

The subject of this research is early medieval abortion. The object of my studies was to determine whether women in the early medieval Germanic West (could have) committed abortion, when confronted with an unwanted or inconvenient pregnancy. My main source was Old Germanic law, that is, the laws of the Germanic or ‘barbarian’ tribes that settled in Western Europe: the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, the Salian and Ripuarian Franks, the Burgundians, Anglo-Saxons, Lombards, Alamans, Bavarians and the gentes ultra Rhenum, the tribes that settled just outside the Roman limes (the Frisians, Saxons, Thuringians and the Chamavi or Hamaland Franks). Early medieval Christian texts, classical medicine and early medieval medicine were studied in a supplementary capacity and chosen for their ‘practicality’. Like the Old Germanic laws, sermons, penitentials and recipe books, have to do with every day life. Many of these texts were probably written down or devised as a result of concrete situations or because they were considered to be useful. They might therefore contain clues as to whether and how abortion was practiced in early medieval Western Europe. The method of research used was ‘close reading’, because this method helps us to more easily pick up signals of textual change, modification, confusion, or distortion, and focus on the words used to describe the fetus, methods, motives and actors in the prohibitions and condemnations of abortion. I tried to discover what the texts themselves have to tell us about women and abortion in the early medieval West, as it were, to ‘read between the lines’.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Amsterdam

(via Medievalists)