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Female Abduction, Family Honor, and Women’s Agency in Early Modern Venetian Istria

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Drawing upon archival sources detailing abduction for marriage, this article explores the nature and extent of women’s agency in the formation of the family in the honor-based culture of early modern Istria. This area’s numerous sources present a diversity of situations. There were instances in which women were forcibly abducted and raped; other instances in which women consented to follow their “abductor” against the will of their parents; in other instances, women—usually widows or orphans—were compelled by imminent danger to move in with a man (a consensual abduction, perhaps, but brought about under adverse conditions). Despite the diversity of these situations, these cases share a common cultural feature: the importance of female and family honor. Whether a woman lost her sexual honor forcibly or willingly, marriage usually followed in order to restore the honor of both the woman and her family. Considering the overriding importance of honor and the limitations it imposed on women, I address the nature and extent of women’s agency. I explore how women negotiated their place in abduction-based conflicts, and I propose that women’s agency was rooted in the reparable and negotiable nature of honor in Istria; this picture was complicated by the greater assertion of state and church jurisdictions. Although situated at the periphery of the Venetian state, Istria was far from being uninfluenced by the sway of central institutions. The Catholic Church was particularly influential in Istria. Therefore, I argue that the nature and extent of women’s agency in abductions is fully understood only by also exploring central institutions’ rationales and modalities of power assertion over abduction-based conflicts and their resolutions.

Affiliations: 1: Pennsylvania State University


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