Added: June 7, 2014 – Last updated: February 4, 2017


Author: Hiram Kümper

Title: Learned Men and Skilful Matrons

Subtitle: Medical Expertise and the Forensics of Rape in the Middle Ages

In: Medicine and the Law in the Middle Ages

Edited by: Wendy J. Turner and Sara M. Butler

Place: Leiden

Publisher: Brill

Year: 2014

Pages: 88-108

Series: Medieval Law and Its Practice 17

ISBN-13: 9789004269064 (hbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat | ISBN-13: 9789004269118 (ebk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: Medieval History: 12th Century | European History | Prosecution: Trials / Expert Testimonies


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Author: Hiram Kümper, Historisches Institut (Department of History), Universität Mannheim (University of Mannheim) –

Abstract: »Hiram Kümper's study of medical expertise in rape cases targets the ambiguous place of rape in the history of the law. Because Roman law employed the same terminology (raptus) to address sexual assault, abduction, and theft, medieval law essentially merged these categories: the medieval world inherited this perplexing fusion of terminology. The result is a blurring between rape and abduction (often played out as elopement), and an emphasis on the will of the family, rather than the victim's will. To date, studies of this phenomenon are highly regional and tend to take little notice of each other. Adopting a pan-European perspective, Kümper ties all of this together and pushes back the date of transmission to the period before the rediscovery of Roman law: he reveals that this ambiguity was present already in the early Germanic law codes. Looking specifically to how vocabulary in the law-books and treatises change over time, he tracks an important transition in the interpretation of raptus to assist scholars in better assessing the nature of the crime and its evolution. While rape law emerged as a legal remedy to compensate the family for the abduction of a woman against the will of her father, it eventually developed into a crime marked by sexual violence against the will of the victim of herself. Perhaps even more critical, while the historiography holds up "juries of matrons" as an early modern innovation, Kümper observes the presence of women as medical experts in the medieval legal forum. In this respect, his findings are truly path breaking. Not only did the courts eschew the expertise of midwives over the wisdom of "old women," they mandated physical examinations only when the victim was a virgin. Thus, when a court summoned the wise women, the crime was essentially one of child molestation, not simply rape.« (Source: Wendy J. Turner and Sara M. Butler. »Medicine and Law: The Confluence of Art and Science in the Middle Ages.« Medicine and the Law in the Middle Ages. Edited by Wendy J. Turner et al. Leiden 2014: 10-11)


  The "Invention" of Rape in the Twelfth Century (p. 89)
  Rape and Medical Experts in Court (p. 95)
  From Natural Philosophy to Medical Thought: Rape and Conception (p. 101)
  What Did Female Practitioners actually Testify in Rape Cases? (p. 105)
  Conclusion (p. 107)


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Wikipedia: History of Europe | Trial: Witness / Expert witness