Studies in Honor-Shame: Sichar and Chramnesind in the late 6th century

Note: As part of the book I am writing provisionally subtitled: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century, I have a chapter on honor-shame culture. The following is an excerpt from it looking closely at one particularly revealing example of what went on in post-imperial Europe. -rl

NB. One commenter noted that I use the word feud loosely here. I have added the Latin term everytime the translater (O. Dalton, Penguin edition) used feud.

In order to understand the dynamics of honor-shame warrior values, there are few better passages than Gregory of Tours’ description of a feud that occurred in his own bishopric towards the end of the 6th century. I’ll present it with running comments:

[Historia francorum, VII, 47] A cruel feud [bella civilia] now arose between citizens of Tours. While Sichar, the son of one John, deceased, was celebrating the feast of Christmas in the village of Manthelan, with Austregisel and other people of the district, the local priest sent a servant [puer = lad] to invite several persons to drink wine with him at his house. When the servant came, one of the invited drew his sword and did not hesitate to strike, so that the lad fell dead upon the spot.

Note the near randomness (and anonymity) of the violence. Gregory does not even try to explain it or identify the killer. Probably the slayer was drunk; perhaps the servant was insolent; perhaps he resisted advances. His companions may well have thought his “prank” hilarious. In any case, the difference in social status meant that killing him seemed like a matter of little consequence (which, it turns out, was a mistaken/drunken assessment). Such – to us, random – violence from weapons-bearers meant that warriors dominated public space, and their unarmed social inferiors had to tread very carefully, showing all the necessary deference not to provoke their sudden wrath.

Sichar was bound by ties of friendship [amicitia] to the priest; and as soon as he heard of the servant’s murder he seized his weapons and went to the church to wait for Austregisel. He in his turn, hearing of this, took up his arms and equipment and went out against him. There was an encounter between the two parties; in the general confusion Sichar was brought safely away by some clerics, and escaped to his country estate, leaving behind in the priest’s house money and raiment, with four wounded servants. After his flight, Austregisel burst into the house, slew the servants, and carried off the gold and silver and other property.

Sichar’s ties of amicitia to the priest meant that he was/felt obligated to revenge an attack on his “friend’s” servant, and the fact that Austregisel is his foe suggests that either Austregisel killed the servant or one of his men did. Gregory does not tell us any detail of the battle, but apparently it went badly for Sichar, whose loss inspires Austregisel to bloodlust and he breaks into a priest’s house, kills his foe’s wounded servants and steels his goods. Plunder or be plundered. Losers, continue to lose.

The two parties afterwards appeared before a tribunal of citizens, who found Austregisel guilty as a homicide who had murdered the servants, and without any right or sanction seized the property.

Things having gotten out of hand, a tribunal tries to resolve the problem. They find Austregisel guilty of homicide (and presumably fine him accordingly). Since he only killed servants, whose wergeld is low, the costs were probably not serious, but the tribunal probably also ordered the return of the stolen goods, whose theft was not justified by the battle over the dead lad.

A few days after the case had been before the court, Sichar heard that the stolen effects were in the hands of Auno, his son, and his brother Eberulf. He set the tribunal at naught, and taking Audinus with him, lawlessly attacked these men by night with an armed party. The house where they were sleeping was forced open, the father, brother, and son were slain, the slaves murdered, and the movable property and herds carried off.

If the tribunal had commanded Austregisel to return what he had stolen, Sichar felt he was procrastinating. He impatiently dismisses the (impotent) tribunal, takes an ally and attacks a man of substance, at night, kills him and his family, all their servants, and plunders everything. Bloodlust and the thirst for revenge lead to deeds that Gregory considers “lawless” and, by most warrior standards, would be considered cowardly (nighttime attack). And the circle of injured parties seeking revenge widens.

The matter coming to my ears, I was sore troubled, and acting in conjunction with the judge, sent messengers bidding them come before us to see if the matter could be reasonably settled so that the parties might separate in amity and the quarrel go no farther. They came, and the citizens assembled, whereupon I said: ‘Desist, O men, from further crime, lest the evil spread more widely. We have already lost sons of the Church, and now we fear that by this same feud [intencio] we may be bereft of others. Be ye peacemakers, I beseech you; let him who did the wrong make composition for the sake of brotherly love, that ye be children of peace, and worthy, by the Lord’s grace, to possess the kingdom of heaven. For He Himself hath said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” And behold, now, if he who is liable to the penalty have not the means of paying, the Church shall redeem the debt from her own moneys; meanwhile let no man’s soul perish. Saying thus, I offered money belonging to the Church. But the party of Chramnesind, who demanded justice for the death of his father and his uncle, refused to accept it.

Now even the Bishop intervenes. We get an excerpt from a sermon of exhortation that probably went on for considerably longer. It clearly marks off the immense distance between what the Church preached and what (real) men did and felt — “blessed are the peacemakers… let no man perish…” Gregory tries to sweeten the pot by offering to give the guilty party the means to pay the blood money. But the injured party, Chramnesind rejects it. Obviously. To accept blood money for the vicious death of his father and uncle (and brother) would be bad enough, to have it supplied to Sichar by the Church, so that he didn’t even pay from his own estate would be unbearable. (One can well imagine the sneer on Sichar’s face as he hands over money that is not even his.) Gregory is not engaged in rendering justice here; he’s merely offering a(n ineffective) bribe.

When they were gone, Sichar made preparations for a journey, intending to proceed to the king, and with this in mind set out for Poitiers to see his wife first. But while he was there admonishing a slave to work, he struck him several times with a rod, whereupon the man drew the sword from his master’s baldric and did not fear to wound him with it. He fell to the ground; but friends ran up and caught the slave, whom they first beat cruelly; then they cut off his hands and feet and condemned him to the gibbet.

Sichar goes to the king to get protection. That alone can keep Chramnesind, now clearly bent on revenge, from striking him. The incident in Poitiers gives us further insight into Sichar’s character. On the run from a deadly enemy, he beats a slave to the point where the slave tries to kill him. The slave’s predictable fate — mutilation then execution — illustrates what desperation he must have felt so to act.

Meanwhile the rumour reached Tours that Sichar was dead. As soon as Chramnesind heard it, he warned his relations and friends, and went with all speed to Sichar’s house. He plundered it and slew some of the slaves, burned down all the houses, not only that of Sichar, but also those belonging to other landholders on the estate. He then took off with him the cattle, and all the movable effects.

As we already saw with Austregisel’s attack on the priest’s house, weakness invites aggression. Chramnesind takes his family and friends to avenge his father’s death by plundering his (and his neighbors’) cattle, burning their buildings, killing their slaves. Chramnesind and his party had at least drawn blood. Was it enough?

The parties were now summoned by the count to the city, and pleaded their own causes. The judges decided that he who had already refused a composition and then burned houses down should forfeit half of the sum formerly awarded to him, wherein they acted illegally, to ensure the restoration of peace; they further ordered that Sichar should pay the other half of the composition. The Church then provided the sum named in the judgement; the parties gave security, and the composition was paid, both sides promising each other upon oath that they would never make further trouble against each other. So the feud [altercatio] came to an end.

Apparently, the thirst for blood revenge had been slacked by the raid. Granted, it cost Chramnesind and his clan half of the blood money awarded to them in the earlier settlement, but a small price to pay for honor. The church supplies Sichar with the money; the two parties swear oaths to put an end to the spiraling violence, thus restoring peace… or so Gregory thought.

There is, after all, something unsettling about taking money provided by a third party from the murderer of one’s father, uncle and brother… Two books later (about five years later), Gregory returns to the unfinished tale.

[IX, 19] The feud [bellum] between the citizens of Tours, which I above described as ended, broke out afresh with revived fury. After the murder of the kinsfolk of Chramnesind, Sichar formed a great friendship with him; so fond of one another did they grow that often they shared each other’s meals and slept in the same bed.

It’s not clear how seriously to take this account of reconciliation. Gregory would probably like us to think that his mediation and earnest exhortations, and the men’s love of Christ brought them together. But he doesn’t even mention that they exchanged a kiss of peace. It may, on the other hand, have been the wealth – and boozy lifestyle it supported – that overrode the code of a warrior’s honor. As the Arab poetess commented derisively: “You have been diverted from avenging your brother by a bite of minced meat, a lick of meager milk.” That they shared meals together, and collapsed in a drunken stupor on occasion, perhaps (not even John Boswell suggested a homosexual relationship). It is hard to imagine them becoming devoted and affectionate friends, but even that may have happened. In any case, they were close enough so that, with the help of some heavy drinking, Sichar let his guard down.

One evening Chramnesind made ready a supper, and invited Sichar. His friend, came, and they sat down together to the feast. But Sichar, letting the, wine go to his head, kept making boastful remarks against Chramnesind, and is reported at last to have said: ‘Sweet brother, you owe me great thanks for the slaying of thy relations; for the composition made to you for their death has caused gold and sliver to abound in your house. But for this cause, which established you not a little, you, would this day be poor and destitute.’

Sichar didn’t just drop that bombshell, he was needling Chramnesind for a while. Was he trying to humiliate Chramnesind… to complete his mastery over the man whose father, uncle and brother he had killed and who, inebriated with sudden wealth and its attendant wine, was behaving shamelessly? (As we know from other details, Sichar has a mean character.) In any case, in vino veritas [truth is in wine], this remark brings to the surface the unspoken tension of the feud’s “resolution.” In taking blood money, Chramnesind had dishonored himself, especially by sharing it with the murderer of his kin who didn’t even take the money from his own resources.

Chramnesind heard these words with bitterness of heart, and said within himself: ‘If I avenge not the death of my kinsmen, I deserve to lose the name of man, and to be called weak woman.’ And straightway he put out the lights and cleft the head of Sichar with his dagger. The man fell and died, uttering but a faint sound as the last breath left him. The servants who had accompanied him fled away. Chramnesind stripped the body of its garments, and hung it from a post of his fence; he then rode away to the king.

The comment breaks the spell of the negotiated resolution and the feasting it had allowed. All of a sudden, inside his head, Chramnesind hears the voices of his fellow citizens of Tours, imagines their contemptuous remarks behind his back about his behavior – not taking vengeance, indeed befriending his family’s murderer, makes him a woman! In a flash, Chramnesind realizes that, in the eyes of his peers, he has lost all honor. So he cleaves Sichar’s head with his dagger, strips his body and hangs it on the fence for all to see, and goes to seek protection from the king. In a moment, the laborious efforts to get men to transcend the blood feud and resolve disputes in a spirit of fairness and mutuality, vanishes. Honor trumps all.

45 Responses to Studies in Honor-Shame: Sichar and Chramnesind in the late 6th century

  1. E.G. says:

    In a previous post on another thread I argued that the same aggressive tendencies are present today. What changed are the social norms that make us use violence in a more symbolic way, and the rules that organise disputes, conflicts, and their resolution. Some parts of Humanity got civilised, i.e., learned to channel their acts into more abstract forms. There’s also been a slight revision of the code of honour (the meaning of honour).

    Interestingly, the leftist view of society still uses the “dominant armed” vs. “dominated unarmed” dichotomy, and its discourse resembles much
    warriors dominated public space, and their unarmed social inferiors … when speaking about the “capitalist model”. I’ve been intrigued by the liberal approach, assuming that people change as the situation changes (situationalist view), while finding all and any argument (excuse) to explain that despite many changes, people still have some dispositions that just won’t go away.

  2. Ray in Seattle says:

    EG: Dispositions that won’t go away are likely predispositions – that is, emotional drivers of behavior choice that are encoded in genes, inherited.

    I think much of what RL writes about above is just that – tendencies encoded as human nature – for entirely understandable reasons.

    Your first paragraph above makes much sense in that light – which is what I was getting at in another thread. Much if this is human nature producing different behaviors of violence and/or accommodation depending on what is permitted / demanded to maintain male honor in that society at that time.

    I might take up the defense of the leftist view of society you seem to disparage in para-2, just for the sport . . but I don’t really understand your complaint well enough. Are you doing nature / nurture – as a right / left thing? If you’d like a friendly joust – fire a shot I can see.

  3. E.G. says:

    Hi Ray,

    I refrained from using “instincts”, preferring “tendencies”, precisely so as not to drop into the genetic issue. I’m far from sure it’s something encoded, though behavioural patterns that can be interpreted in honour/shame terms have been observed in animals and monkeys.

    My note about the Left was expressing puzzlement, not complaint.

    For situationalists, the same person will act according to the situation: different situations call for different behaviours. In this view, it’s wrong to assume that criminals commit their acts because they’re evil. It’s their life conditions and some conjecture that happens to drive them into a criminal activity. Dispositionalists otoh hold it that people have some inherent dispositions that will drive them to act in similar manners in different situations. Generous people will behave generously in whatever conditions. (again, dispositions are not necessarily genetic; they can become a person’s characteristics through e.g., upbringing that reinforces some trait while hindering another)
    It’s not exactly nature/nurture.

    Well, the progressive line of thought always favoured (actually promoted) the situationalist view. But it never actually provided a satisfactory reply to cases where changing the situation was not followed by behaviour changes and when some dispositions became quite obvious.

    Not sure I’m interested in a joust (friendly or not) on this: imho, there’s a mix of both at work because we need to adapt our behaviour to the moment’s environment. We’re more or less successful about it and, at times one also needs to keep some inflexibility (e.g., the King’s new clothes).

  4. E.G. says:

    The Emperor, not the King (apologies to His Majesty).

  5. nelson says:

    “randomness (and anonimity) of the violence”

    Does anyone remember when, in “Te Goodfellas”, Joe Pesci first shoots the foot of a waiter and, then, when the waiter’s recovering, he kilss him?

  6. nelson says:

    If there has ever been a writer who knew a thing of two about this kind of violence, that was Heinrich von Kleist. His “Michael Kolhaas” is the best story I know about a small, individual revenge that keeps growing and growing until it practically engulfs a whole country.

  7. Ray in Seattle says:

    EG siad: I refrained from using “instincts”, preferring “tendencies”, precisely so as not to drop into the genetic issue. I’m far from sure it’s something encoded, though behavioural patterns that can be interpreted in honour/shame terms have been observed in animals and monkeys.

    I think there many tendencies that are inherited – many if them vestiges of what was no doubt a human past that was more instinctively driven and less qualified by intellectual activity. I call those pre-dispositions. Learned tendencies I’d call dispositions. But in my view the emotional forces for behavior can come from either or both – depending on which beliefs get triggered by the context and setting.

    Not sure I’m interested in a joust (friendly or not) on this: imho, there’s a mix of both at work because we need to adapt our behaviour to the moment’s environment. We’re more or less successful about it and, at times one also needs to keep some inflexibility (e.g., the King’s new clothes).

    See, you’re too damned reasonable. I’d only be interested in the friendly kind and you’re one of the few here who could manage it ;-)

  8. E.G. says:

    Ray,

    Don’t you worry. I’m pre-disposed ;-) to friendly jousts and am sure we’ll have one, on one of my less reasonable moments.

    No comment on your triggered belief comment (hypothesis). Because that’s really out of my best educated guess realm.

  9. Ray in Seattle says:

    No comment on your triggered belief comment (hypothesis). Because that’s really out of my best educated guess realm.

    Technically it’s an hypothesis but I’m fine with view. Within that view, however, (I believe) it exists in my mind as a set of related beliefs that mostly arouse low-level intellectual type emotions. But as a product of my thinking I also experience stronger proprietary (identity) emotions if they are attacked. That’s OK though because I expect that and accepted the risk by discussing them here. New ideas are subject to attack by nature. I also understand the futility of ideological contests online so it usually doesn’t faze me.

    I would not tell anyone that I was right and they were wrong about it – but in a discussion I would not be inhibited to offer evidence of its validity. For example, it does seem to account for both the situationalist and disposionalist views you point out in #3.

    But, you do not wish to discuss it so I won’t say that ;-)

  10. E.G. says:

    Ray,

    I wouldn’t like to offend you by commenting on something (your production) that I honestly don’t get. [wouldn't that be a totally gratuitous blow to your honour? And to mine too!]

    As for the situationalist-dispositionalist positions – I’ve already clarified that I think (but it’s the consensus view) it’s an “alchemy” of both, with variable proportions of either (but I don’t know of any theory specifying when/which such proportions happen or change – if only because I haven’t studied the issue).

  11. Ray in Seattle says:

    EG said: I wouldn’t like to offend you by commenting on something (your production) that I honestly don’t get.

    I do appreciate your caution. Even saying that you “don’t get it” is helpful. “Incomprehensible” seems better to me than “violates known science”.

  12. E.G. says:

    “Incomprehensible” seems better to me than “violates known science”.

    Thank goodness we’re past the Inquisition and Galileo!

  13. Ray in Seattle says:

    EG said: Thank goodness we’re past the Inquisition and Galileo!

    Are we? I think at least one member here would like to see me recant ;-)

  14. E.G. says:

    No, he doesn’t.
    I’m sure he too will be glad to “get it” first.
    Our tones are different but we share the same problem.

  15. Simon says:

    I think you have to separate honour/shame behaviour from human/animal behaviour. Honour shame has specific built in rules.Just as strict as current laws. It is totally separate from random acts and as in the story has entirely predictable consequences. An ongoing revenge cycle and appeals to higher powers the church and state, who obviously tacitly allow this. Many human actions are entirely unpredictable and are not predicated on rules and consequences. For example let a dictator loose e.g. a Kim, Stalin,Hitler, and there are no rules. If you have ever worked in the prison system many of our jails are filled with people who can’t understand the consequences of their actions.

  16. Rich Rostrom says:

    It’s not clear how seriously to take this account of reconciliation.

    I remember something from the ’70s, after Polaroid’s SX-70 camera came out, and one could take instant self-developing color pictures. Drug dealers were fond of them: they would pose brandishing guns, or in front of their fancy cars, or sitting on a bed covered with money, often pairs or groups.

    One cop said that he always searched a murdered dealer for such pictures – it was usually the other guy in the pictures who had killed him.

  17. E.G. says:

    Simon,

    From what you write I fail to understand why one would have to separate honour/shame behaviour from human/animal behaviour.

    Weren’t those 6th century characters human? Aren’t those who live today by an honour/shame code human?
    Behaving according to a specific set of rules is entirely human behaviour. Even the pathological case you designate.

    Or do you mean honour/shame is a sub-set of human behaviour?

  18. Richard Landes says:

    from the Medieval List at which I posted an invitation to come comment. -rl

    Bishop Gregory of Tours has little interest in the ordinary or typical. What attracts his attention are events that he and his readers will find wicked, outrageous, incredibly criminal, and arouses their moral indignation. The appetite to read about sensational scandals was just as alive then as now. The tabloid press has built an industry on it. It still happens that certain types of people will go to crazy lengths to avenge perceived or real slights or insults to their dignity. The tendency of such people to fly off the handle is exemplified in our time by such phenomena as road rage. But beyond that, crimes of violence including murder are committed daily. The criminal justice system that we have is not always effective in dealing with them. Gregory makes it clear that the murders he describes were criminal and penalties were assessed, but they were not effective. To take this kind of universal experience, which happens from time to time in all societies, and make it the basis for describing a former society in negative terms, is not good history.

  19. Richard Landes says:

    to which another responded:

    But some societies are better than others at dealing with public violence and murder. For example in Jacksonville Florida there are perhaps 300+ gun murders each year, which in Great Manchester, where now live, with an area roughly the same size as Duval county, and three times as many people, there were 3 gun crimes murders last year, and perhaps 5 the year before.

    These are both modern Western cities with largely Christian populations and significant numbers of non-white ethnic minorities.

    But there are clearly reasons that can be given for the massive difference in levels of public violence in each city.

    Examining those difference in the present its perhaps the domain of sociologists or political scientists (although I am not really that impressed by either).

    But examining such societies in the past, and explaining differences, is part of the job of a historian.

    I see nothing wrong with what Dr. Landes is trying to do.

  20. Richard Landes says:

    and one last substantive comment:

    Your analysis of the feud is quite good. The initial murder of the servant was a direct insult to the priest. The insult, rather than the murder, was the issue. I think you picked up on this.

    I am not sure that comments such as ‘plunder or be plundered’ and ‘losers continue to lose’ are entirely accurate. A feud was not all-out war between two parties; rather it was tit-for-tat. When one engaged in all-out war, one exceeded the societal limits for the conduct of feud. In this case study, plundering the home would have been an acceptable action in the feud; killing the father, son and brother may have exceeded the norms of feuding. The social norms are quite society-specific, and should be checked against other sources and societies.

    In terms of bibliography, I think one must begin with Walter Goffart’s Narrators of Barbarian History (Princeton, 1988) — his analysis of context and purpose is brilliant.

    Paul Hyams has done quite a bit on feud, though usually focused later (I’m thinking of Hyams, P. R., ‘Nastiness and Wrong, Rancor and Reconciliation’, Conflict in Medieval Europe: Changing Perspectives on Society and Culture, eds. W. C. Brown and P. Górecki (Aldershot, 2003), pp. 195 – 218
    For a look at the complexities of lordship and kinship in feuds, see White, S. D., ‘Kinship and Lordship in Early Medieval England: The Story of Sigeberht, Cynewulf, and Cyneheard’, Viator 20 (1989), 1-18, repr. in his Re-thinking Kinship and Feudalism in Early Medieval Europe, Variorum Collected Studies Series 823 (Aldershot, 2005).

    There’s a lot out there, with which you are probably familiar. I might also add a number of works by Gerd Althoff as they relate to Ottonian and Salian Germany. His analysis of rituals and demonstrative behaviour is compelling.

    Overall, nice analysis.

    Ross Smythe
    Darwin College, Cambridge

  21. Richard Landes says:

    a note on the use of “feud”:

    I found it interesting that it was though necessary to explain the Latin “puer”. However, the reader is not told what Latin word in being translated a “feud”. Why not?

  22. Richard Landes says:

    my response on feud:

    thanks for pointing that out. Gregory opens by using civil war (bella civilia) which would hardly correspond to our use of that term. later he uses intencione, altercatio, bellum. i’ll add the latin to the translation (which i took with only slight changes from Dalton).

    do you see a problem with calling this a feud. certainly in terms of the anthropological literature that defines feud or blood feud, this one fits pretty nicely. (e.g. Christopher Boehm, Blood Revenge).

  23. Simon says:

    To E.G. Or do you mean honour/shame is a sub-set of human behaviour?

    No I meant honour/shame is more a stage in the evolution of civilization, than specific to certain human behaviour. There is a linear progression with a few off-shoots from family groups to patriarchal tribes to some sort of mass civilization with honour/shame somewhere along the route. An evolution of civil society. However I think dismissing honour/shame is giving Western society too much credence, witness enlightened Europe pre-WWII. Our Western civilization is a nice facade, but just another method of controlling human behaviour, we are always the same animal. Different societies have different restraints.

  24. E.G. says:

    Simon,

    It seems we agree. Honour/shame is still present in today’s Western civilization, behaviourally under a somewhat different form (i.e., same principle, differently acted upon), and perhaps playing a less central role. But it’s our heritage.

    Other societies regulate the application of this principle differently (e.g., Japan, Arab countries).

    But I still don’t understand why honour/shame should be separated from human/animal behaviour.

  25. Simon says:

    E.G,

    You don’t have to separate honour/shame from human/animal behaviour. But is the point of the excerpt to point out the ills of such a society? While the fault is really within us, and fairly immutable.

  26. E.G. says:

    Simon,

    What fault? Has anyone evoked a moral judgement of the honour/shame principle?

  27. Simon says:

    E.G. Is not the question of a moral difference Landes’ point?

    27. “Okay, this is the core of the issue for me. My sense is that you’re engaged in a kind of “protection” of the Middle Ages from negative stereotypes, which end up making a kind of “moral equivalence” between us and them. As a result, if I suggest there is a difference — a perfectly legitimate, even appropriate procedure for an historian — you say I’m doing bad history. So let’s try again, and I’m really interested in what you and other medievalists have to say.”

    If the question is of the moral differences of comparative rights and freedoms between them and us, I agree they are present. Especially for the poor serf.

  28. E.G. says:

    Simon,

    I think the moral difference is about applying the honour/shame principle (i.e., behaviours considered legitimate), not the principle itself.

  29. Richard Landes says:

    my response to the first comment on my posting from a medievalist, in italic -rl

    Bishop Gregory of Tours has little interest in the ordinary or typical. What attracts his attention are events that he and his readers will find wicked, outrageous, incredibly criminal, and arouses their moral indignation. The appetite to read about sensational scandals was just as alive then as now. The tabloid press has built an industry on it.

    I’m not so sure about this. Certainly Auerbach’s point in his essay on this passage was that this kind of thing was far too ordinary to have detained the attention of a Roman historian. As for “typical”, I think a good case can be made that Gregory chose his stories to communicate what life was like, not to write an early medieval version of National Inquirer. Thus, his focus on weird prophets and miracle workers is less in the genre of “Four horsemen of the apocalypse seen in Arizona,” or “I had sex with aliens” than it is at once a “sign of the times,” and a warning against falling for their tricks. I don’t think we should interpret their presence to be a sign that they were not illustrative of the times.

    It still happens that certain types of people will go to crazy lengths to avenge perceived or real slights or insults to their dignity. The tendency of such people to fly off the handle is exemplified in our time by such phenomena as road rage. But beyond that, crimes of violence including murder are committed daily. The criminal justice system that we have is not always effective in dealing with them.

    I agree, although I do not think that pointing that out means that Gregory’s day and ours are more or less on the same continuum, a little bit more or less violent. There are cultures, and I think Gregory’s was one of them, in which the armed alpha male had rights and privileges that a) far surpass anything we would agree to in modern societies, and b) that were only held in check by the retaliation of other armed alpha males, not the police. Now you may think the police doesn’t work, but i’m willing to bet that anyone in Tours ca. 585, given a chance to have the kind of protections we have in public space today, would jump at the possibility (except, of course, the armed alpha males).

    Gregory makes it clear that the murders he describes were criminal and penalties were assessed, but they were not effective. To take this kind of universal experience, which happens from time to time in all societies, and make it the basis for describing a former society in negative terms, is not good history.

    Okay, this is the core of the issue for me. My sense is that you’re engaged in a kind of “protection” of the Middle Ages from negative stereotypes, which end up making a kind of “moral equivalence” between us and them. As a result, if I suggest there is a difference — a perfectly legitimate, even appropriate procedure for an historian — you say I’m doing bad history. So let’s try again, and I’m really interested in what you and other medievalists have to say.

    My impression is that after the “Fall” of the Roman Empire, during the period of the “barbarian successor states” there was a distinct rise in the domination of public space by armed men whose only restraints were the fear of retaliation according to a self-help system of justice. That this represents a regression from the perspective both of a Roman culture with a highly developed law and court system (granted going down hill for centuries, but not as rapidly as, say, from the 5th century onwards), and from our point of view. Sorry to be “modernocentric” here, but I really don’t think many of us would chose to live in the Tours of Gregory’s day for very long, and certainly not to raise our families there.

    Please feel free to disagree.

  30. Richard Landes says:

    another comment

    BB: If we translate the various Latin terms used by Gregory, who is using sermo humilis, in terms of modern anthro lit. are we not imposing a modern concept on what Gregory is describing. This quibble goes back to the Urargument regarding if THEY do not have a word for what we want to say about them can we say what we want to say. Do the Merovingians have “soldiers”, to they have a “state”, etc.? It seems to me that some scholars start with the notion that the Merovingians were “primitive” and as a result we can use ideas and terms turned up by anthropologists for other primitives when discussing the Merovingians. However, if we start with the notion that the Merovingians are heirs of the Romans, literate, christians, etc. then what is the warrant for using antrho-primitiivism to describe them?

    I would also suggest that the puer at issue here is a member of the priest’s military household and likely had sworn an oath of faithfulness to the priest. This relationship was an analogue of the relationship of an ANTRUSTIO and the king.

  31. Richard Landes says:

    my response to BB

    If we translate the various Latin terms used by Gregory, who is using sermo humilis, in terms of modern anthro lit. are we not imposing a modern concept on what Gregory is describing. This quibble goes back to the Urargument regarding if THEY do not have a word for what we want to say about them can we say what we want to say. Do the Merovingians have “soldiers”, to they have a “state”, etc.?

    rl: a) i think that when you have an anthropological term like feud, which has been given a definition that covers phenomena in many different cultures that, despite their variants, share critical aspects — eg the workings of self-help justice — then it’s possible to use it usefully. otherwise you end up being an antiquarian splitter with nothing but details. blake may have said “to generalize is to be an idiot,” but that’s a generalization.

    bb: It seems to me that some scholars start with the notion that the Merovingians were “primitive” and as a result we can use ideas and terms turned up by anthropologists for other primitives when discussing the Merovingians. However, if we start with the notion that the Merovingians are heirs of the Romans, literate, christians, etc. then what is the warrant for using antrho-primitiivism to describe them?

    rl: you can be the heirs to people without being able to sustain what they did. i think it’s pretty clear that the 6th cn is not like the 4th, and that when the germanic tribes took over the scene changed quite dramatically. i see far fewer reasons to assume that the merovingians were “heirs of the Romans, literate, christians, etc.” than to argue that they carried lots of their “tribal warrior” ethic with them into the roman world.

    as for the idea that calling any ethnic group back then “christian” means anything cultural of substance in daily interaction strikes me as perilous terminological generalization indeed. there were plenty of people back then who were, as bede said, christian in name only.”

    bb: > I would also suggest that the puer at issue here is a member of the priest’s military household and likely had sworn an oath of faithfulness to the priest. This relationship was an analogue of the relationship of an ANTRUSTIO and the king.

    rl: bb, why is *everything* military for you? cdn’t he just be a servant? not everyone back then walked around with a sword on their thigh.

  32. Richard Landes says:

    LL responds to my comment to BB:

    rl: you can be the heirs to people without being able to sustain what they did. i think it’s pretty clear that the 6th cn is not like the 4th, and that when the germanic tribes took over the scene changed quite dramatically. i see far fewer reasons to assume that the merovingians were “heirs of the Romans, literate, christians, etc.” than to argue that they carried lots of their “tribal warrior” ethic with them into the roman world.

    LL: I think that this view is on the verge of becoming completely out of date. There is nothing in Gregory of Tours that suggests tribal society. There is a dynasty founded by latin-speaking leaders who had non-Roman ancestry, presiding late Roman society. Look at something like wergild. It is a matter of cash compensation. It implies a monetized society. How can you wrap your head around a concept like a tribe with a mint?

    Tribal warrior ethic is horsefeathers. Don’t you appreciate that their best general, Mummolus, was a Gallo-Roman?

  33. Richard Landes says:

    my response to LL

    LL: I think that this view is on the verge of becoming completely out of date.

    RL: or on the verge of a return. i personally find much of the discussion of the non-fall of the roman empire — which i went over with grad students this year most recently — to be unconvincing to say the least. i esp think that the archeological observations of ward-perkins make a strong case for a significant collapse in the workings of roman culture and a steep drop in quality of life for the “middle class”. there is a significant difference btw the “limited good” of self-help socieites that stabilize at subsistence, and urban cultures that significantly increase the production and wealth in a society. if i’m wrong, i’d be interested in the arguments. these days all one hears is the “oh, that’s so passé.”

    LL: There is nothing in Gregory of Tours that suggests tribal society.

    i think there’s plenty, including this story. maybe the problem is, we see what makes our case and ignore the rest. there’s the story of the revolt in the nunnery, which combines the same kind of ferocious honor-driven violence with protection from the king or queen that we see in this “civil war” in tours.

    LL: There is a dynasty founded by latin-speaking leaders who had non-Roman ancestry, presiding late Roman society. Look at something like wergild. It is a matter of cash compensation. It implies a monetized society. How can you wrap your head around a concept like a tribe with a mint?

    no problem. you think that as soon as you create a mint, it’s the end of tribal attitudes and mentalities? as the story i’ve analyzed shows, no “man” (sorry ph, no “alpha male”) accepts money instead of drawing blood. the wergeld is for resolving disputes that get out of hand, not as a first resort. this is not a tidy place, and certainly not a place that cicero wd have recognized.

    LL: Tribal warrior ethic is horsefeathers. Don’t you appreciate that their best general, Mummolus, was a Gallo-Roman?

    horse feathers? is that a euphemism? is it an argument? Duby’s warrior mentality of “plunder and distribute” is horse-feathers? honor-shame culture is the longue duree of human social life. the idea that it vanishes with books (fewer all the time) and coins is, i’d argue, the delusion.

  34. Richard Landes says:

    BB joins the discussion with me and LL

    Latching on to Ward Perkins recent book is a mistake. To take just one area, field walking, at least in Gaul, has been thoroughly discredited. Most archaeologists now argue that the population of the URBES of Gaul did not decline. The relig. sources, e.g. Jerome and Salvian are simply “opinion” pieces driven by their theology–no reliable facts of significance.

  35. Richard Landes says:

    PH2 comments on the problem of using the word feud:

    – I agree with BB [comment #30] that it is foolish and overly presentist to expect a one to one match with current anthropological terms. This is one of the reasons I have found it so hard myself to pin down the meaning and even the currency of a notion of feud. The position I have now reached is to appear in a volume on Medieval Vengeance — another one! — edited by Susanna Throop and me and to be published real soon now by Ashgate. In it, I show myself prepared to take seriously the filiation of our feud words from early medieval vernacular terms, and doge the definition question with the help of Pierre Bourdieu (yesterday’s man). If anybody is keen enough to e-mail me privately, I could send a text in advance of publication. But it is a good volume, very largely due to my co-editor who will shortly be taking up a tenure track post at Ursinus College.

    i now have that draft -rl

  36. E.G. says:

    An interesting insight into processes that are now taking place within a “traditional Middle-Eastern” civilization in an Occidental-oriented context (Israel).

    On May 23 this year, an Israeli Druze from the village of Beit Jan, working at the prison administration (hence possessing a gun), presented himself at a police station, confessing to have shot his daughter, whose body was in his car. The reason he invoked for murdering her was “family honour”. Apparently, he didn’t approve/like her boyfriend.

    On May 1st, Reda Mansour, Israel’s consul in Atlanta, a Druze, published an opinion article titled The distance between murder and honour on Ynet (in Hebrew), arguing that “honour killings” should end.

    Translated excerpts:

    “The girl from Beit-Jan is her father’s victim, but her father is a victim of a traditional society which educated him that murder can get one honour. Yet there are no 2 words as distant from one another as murder and honour.[...]
    These days, in all minority villages in the country, extra marital relations between men and women are common. This is why such murder cases have become exceptional, but that’s no consolation. Because the traditional society keeps accepting the link between honour and having sex, and the idea that only women should pay the price of dishonour. ”

    “It’s a fool’s consolation to keep classifying women murderings under mysterious names: Arabs murder for family honour, Ethiopians murder due to emigration difficulties, Russians murder because of family violence. It sells newspapers but it’s not true.

    Murder is murder is murder, and we need to say good-bye to all the headlines that contain some cultural interpretation of murder and thus, a certain acceptance of such acts.”

    “Nothing in my religion or my education permits me to even imagine how a father or a brother murders his dearest for that hypocritical fake honour. Today, it’s more important for me to go back to one of the most conspicuous values of my society and [this value] is courage. It’s not a value that should be reserved only for battles and wars [led under] uniform. It’s time we behave courageously and end this horrendous phenomenon of murdering women. Because our silence is infused in blood.”

    The article triggered quite a few interesting comments.

    #48 by Hassan from Beit-Jan
    On honour… and murder…

    First let me thank you for the interest… haha.
    As a Druze that was brought up in a civilized society, [one] whose values and customs are somewhat limited, but [is] as good as any other one, let me tell you brother that you’re right on some things. It’s forbidden for us to kill for what determines a human being’s fate is God. But don’t blame a father or a brother for killing his daughter or sister for family honour reasons, because in our case it’s not a matter of revenge but of continuity. Not only for him, but, for his children, and grandchildren.
    We’re not Jews who don’t care about rumours.
    We were brought up brother on respectable values and on honour!
    And we don’t have women equality, and despite all progress we won’t have it.
    But in a case of a girl who betrays, she doesn’t do it out of pleasure but out of contempt and revenge for the family and our respectable community. Just to cross the borders, she goes wild!!!
    We’re all little creatures in a cruel world full of hindrances and temptations. World got into us a seed from Satan and let us astray from the respectable track we had. Kill!!! It’s forbidden for us but not keep silence. A girl [who] betrays should not remain normal. At least on a wheel chair or in a vegetative state for the rest of her life, without hurting her face because the face is God’s look.
    And I request each and every one of you to analyse my case as a Druuuuze and not as what our big lousy society has produced.

    That’s my opinion.
    And if you wish to fight this phenomenon of murder?! Not like this, folks!! Workshops and discussions… all this B-S only increases the value of the phenomenon. Any phenomenon we wish to fight we’d better devote less attention to it [and prevent] it [from] increasing [its] value. We should increase the value of its opposite. And this is what we inherited from our parents values!! Let’s increase the value of the values and behaviours. And then… the phenomenon of family honour killings will be reduced.

    #36 by Mag from Julis, North
    To Mr. Rida

    Your article is too general and too beautifying and too far from our reality in the country. What would you do Mr. Rida if, say, you see your sister in a unknown vehicle in Haifa??? What would you do if, say, you see a foreign man entering your house at an unreasonable hour??? I absolutely don’t justify the murder and further in my opinion preventive education for values and sexual openness and sex instruction can prevent such cases. I agree with you that the dignitary are judged less severely on these matters and am sorry about it. The term family honour is misleading and is a product of the media and the establishment because it’s their way of restricting the issue and it’s a haughty attitude because any murder has its motives and its figures. A message to all the Jews here: it happens for you too and I know men who murdered their wives when they caught them betraying them so there’s no difference between us. I want to remind you have not people been murdered in your place (society) because of an argument on a girl? It sure happened only there it’s called murder due to a row on a girl’s heart and for us the given denomination is murder for family honour .

    #35 by A Druze
    To the point article – btw the author is Druze not Moslem

    Perhaps I don’t agree with all the article but I very much agree with the author on the issue of double morality in the society about the wealthy and high status holders, that if their daughters have sexual relationships outside marriage they can go on and the society will disregard and won’t raise a brow. It’s time to reveal the real face of those dignitaries.
    About the specific case indeed it’s a sorry case of a hard living man, from a small family in Beit Jan.

    #21 by Druze
    To all the Druze

    Honour killing is the same as a terror attack or a nationalistic ideological murder. It’s all in the observer’s eye, same result only the circumstances change. From personal knowledge, there are among us many young non-virgin (girls), one or another murder won’t change anything. If we really want to conserve the values and tradition, we should work on education, openness and preaching on sticking to the roots, and as long as any man myself included has the right to have a fling outside and inside the community, we have no moral right to claim anything from women. Today women much better than the males in the community and nothing will prevent them from progressing and flourishing, even if this is accompanied with deviations here and there. We need to cope and not by the bullet or the knife.
    If we don’t internelize this and try with the majority to repair our way, we’ll very quickly lose the way and we’ll all get lost.

  37. Cynic says:

    E.G.,

    One of the comments is completely oblivious to the hypocrisy and double morality at play in society.

    #36 A message to all the Jews here: it happens for you too and I know men who murdered their wives when they caught them betraying them so there’s no difference between us.

    & #48 We’re not Jews who don’t care about rumours.
    We were brought up brother on respectable values and on honour!

    are shamed at being reminded of the duplicitous morality that they have to take a shy at Jews to try and assuage their subconcious shame and squeeze some honour out of it all.

    They have a long way to go before there are a majority thinking like Reda Mansour.

    I hope you noticed #35 To the point article – btw the author is Druze not Moslem

    What is he trying to say? Is he trying to distance himself from standard Muslim behaviour?

  38. E.G. says:

    More comments:

    #31 by an Arab girl
    The writer is a Druze from Ussafiye.. and each word of his is right

    The main fault is the administration’s and the police’s who know of such cases, of the dangers and threats, and just stand by like a public on a football game between the “family honour” team vs. the “poor miserable girl” team.
    Let the police implement already their rule of law in all the Arab and Druze towns and villages.. Because now there is no such thing.. and it’s not because of the Arabs and the Druze but because the police is not interested and unwilling.

    In reply, by Amit from Romem
    Suddenly you want police?

    Shalom indeed – of course it’s all the Yahud’s fault!
    The govt., the police, the occupation?!!
    The Israeli police has not been operating in the minorities villages and towns for some years, especially after the Oct. 2000 events and the following Or commission (darkening eyes). [Or=light]
    During the clashes in Beit Jan too, when Jewish property was burnt a policewoman was kidnapped and policemen were shot at, the police didn’t operate – afraid to confront the sector – and rightly, the policemen know what Aleyhum awaits them from the media and the Left.
    Even to get my own stolen vehicle they wouldn’t enter the villages.
    So you got what you wanted state towns nearly free of the occupying Zionist police…
    All of a sudden you cry that nobody comes to save you from your sexually frustrated brother (or father) who must liberate the family’s honour with your blood – that’s your problem! Eat the dish that you and your community have cooked. There’s no half a job – impossible to say “we don’t want any tie with the Jews or with your police and except social security actually nothing” but protect us in such and such cases.
    You want the rule of law in your villages and towns?
    Me too.
    And I’ll remind you that you said it…

    #32 by Faras S. from Ussafiye
    Oy Hussam. It would have been better to shut up and be considered a fool

    rather than talk and prove it!

    How hundreds of years of living honourably, an egalitarian religion, a sumptuous history, sacrifice, land life, the love of land and the other… all this summed up with our honour found between our women’s legs?!!!
    Whoever murders his mother, sister, cousin or any other woman because she “sinned” or “betrayed” or because “she loved someone” should be castrated.
    There’s nothing in our religion that permits it, nothing in our history that legitimizes it and there’s no part in our culture that respects it… If that’s your honour then you’re not fit to be called a Druze, certainly not the mean stupid guy from Beuit Jan.
    You are, like him, a shame to our society that took from the Moslem one in which we lived all the years only the bad things and now it collects the negative things from the Israeli society and adopts them instead of looking at the modern Western enlightened Israeli society (parts of it- as a big part has turned into a nationalistic mad one) and to adopt the good in it and integrate it in the Druze tradition and values!
    A shame and a disgrace to generations!

  39. Cynic says:

    E.G.,

    With regard to:
    The main fault is the administration’s and the police’s who know of such cases, of the dangers and threats, and just stand by like a public on a football game between the “family honour” team vs. the “poor miserable girl” team.
    Let the police implement already their rule of law in all the Arab and Druze towns and villages.. Because now there is no such thing.. and it’s not because of the Arabs and the Druze but because the police is not interested and unwilling.

    Surprise! Shock! So now it is the fault of the authorities?
    All the while any implementation of civil law has been harangued by the those who see it as an imposition against the culture and way of life and the discrimination by Jews of Arabs!
    If you followed the Millennium Church/Mosque battle in Nazareth where Muslims and the Vatican attacked the State because it did not initially come to their subjective point of view, given that those religions have autonomy/freedom and are not supposed to suffer any interference from the Jews in their politico/religious intrigues, you will see the incongruous and contradictory states are combined in an oxymoronic “belief”.

    Anyway a large number of those police will be Arabs, who no doubt sympathize with family honour.
    Oh dear. So there in the demanded democratic multiculti diversity dictated by today’s world we have Druze being confronted by not just Jewish civil law but Arab policemen as well.
    Will Sotomayer outdo Solomon?

  40. obsy says:

    #18:
    Bishop Gregory of Tours has little interest in the ordinary or typical. What attracts his attention are events that he and his readers will find wicked, outrageous, incredibly criminal, and arouses their moral indignation.

    This looks like a valid point. After all Gregory says himself that this story is not ordinary:

    The matter coming to my ears, I was sore troubled, and acting in conjunction with the judge …

    That doesn’t sound like an every day issue.

    But maybe it is just the connection to the church that made this case special:

    the local priest sent a servant … When the servant came, one of the invited drew his sword and did not hesitate to strike, so that the lad fell dead upon the spot. … Sichar was bound by ties of friendship [amicitia] to the priest

  41. E.G. says:

    obsy,

    It’s a case study and, like all cases, has its specificities and singularities. But it’s not a unique one. It just illustrates a class of events characterized by honour-shame considerations presiding over people’s acts.

  42. E.G. says:

    Regarding Reda Mansour’s article and the comments.

    It’s interesting to see members of a traditional, non-Jewish community reading and reacting in Hebrew, on an Israeli newspaper online site. Minority groups in Israel are entitled to their own sectorial schools (i.e., including linguistic and programme specificities), and – see – indeed benefit from affirmative action into higher “education” (inverted commas for oao), usually in Hebrew.

    Although most of them choose to live in their ethnically homogenous villages and towns (or neighbourhoods in some cities), it’s obvious that the majority population’s lifestyle influences the minorities’ ones.

    So here’s commentator 32, Faras from Ussefiye, a large Druze village, who advocates evolution from tribal customs to societal “Western” norms. While a few others divert the issue into “why is it only at us that (accusing/condescending) fingers are pointed?” True, the author too claims that specifying “honour killings” is inappropriate, that any murder should be equally condemned and punished. But I don’t think Israeli courts are particularly lenient vis-à-vis “honour killers”.

    My impression is that the Israeli Druze community in particular is experiencing an internal conflict between tribal customs and hierarchy of values (“we’re not like the Jews who don’t care about rumours”); and a more modern conception of society, one that manages singularities (e.g., religion, tradition) and historically more recent values orders and their subsequent patterns of behaviour.

    The Jewish and Christian transitions didn’t happen brusquely, nor were there on the net. And furthermore, neither had another model of society to take example from. But I suppose that the conflict existed and was perhaps documented.

  43. obsy says:

    This comment is most interesting:

    A feud was not all-out war between two parties; rather it was tit-for-tat. When one engaged in all-out war, one exceeded the societal limits for the conduct of feud. … The social norms are quite society-specific, and should be checked against other sources and societies.

    If I take the title “A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century” seriously, I must extent this comment to 21st century Arabic honor/shame culture. Though even more “civilized” cultures can find themselves in all-out war without (or with hardly visible) societal limits under certain conditions.

    Assigning no artificial limits might be better than assigning wrong limits. We will naturally project limits anyway and will be surprised when those are not respected — “I should have know better” or “I wouldn’t have thought this possible”.

    One last thought:
    Because abstract honor/shame zero-sum behavior can give rice to all-out war quickly, this type of culture has higher demands for strong limits than others.
    (Anarchy left aside.)

  44. [...] response to a previous post here on Honor-Shame culture, EG, one of our regular discussants, left the following comment about a Druze [...]

  45. [...] This is another analysis of an early medieval text which reveals (I think) the dynamics of honor-shame culture, written as part of my book in the works: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. (Previous one about the feud between Sichar and Chramnesind.) [...]

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