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“Convenient to the Piety of Our Signoria and to the Honor of the Lord God”: Gender and Institutional Honor on the Early Modern Dalmatian Frontier

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Conversion was a common phenomenon in the early modern Mediterranean, and in most instances, individual apostasies from Islam or Christianity warranted minimal response. The conversion of women, however, and particularly women of status, elicited a more significant reaction. Both Ottoman and Venetian ruling elites attributed particular significance to female spiritual peril, partly because of cultural assumptions about women’s weakness and lack of spiritual fortitude, but also because of the sexual peril that was assumed to accompany conversion. As a result, rulers responded to such threats institutionally in a much more determined fashion, in order to defend the woman’s virtue and the honor of her family, but also to preserve the reputation of the state and the honor of its male rulers. A close reading of a case from the Veneto-Ottoman frontier in Dalmatia demonstrates that just as the protection of wives and daughters was an essential measure of the honor of a family’s men, so too, the honor of the state, its institutions, and its rulers was uniquely bound to the defense of the faith and virtue of its female subjects.

Affiliations: 1: Brigham Young University

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