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Aristotle and the Peripatetics on the Historiography of Martial Rape

Kathy L. Gaca

Aristotle and the Peripatetics changed Greek historiography for the better by researching the mores of martial rape used to enslave war-captive girls and women.  They did not change the genre for the worse by promoting sensationalist “tragic history” about this sexual aggression, despite scholarly views to this effect in light of Polybius 2.56.1-12 on Phylarchus (e.g., Kern 1999: 4-5, Walbank 1960: 216). 

Aristotle pioneered this historiographic innovation in support of an argument about sexually grounded social justice formulated by Plato.  As Plato argues in the Laws, socially normative “customs of mating” and procreation (γαμικοὶ νόμοι) constitute “first laws” of social order, because “so long as they are well set forth, in all probability their establishment will lead to social equity for every city” (720e10-21a8).  Aristotle accepts and extends this argument that appropriate crafts of “mating” (γαμική) and “child­making” (τεκνοποιητική, Pol. 1253b8-11) are pivotal to develop society rightly. 

While Plato offered extensive sexual and procreative reforms in the Republic and Laws to attain social justice, Aristotle and the Peripatetics went a different route toward this end.  In their inquiries into the governance norms (πολιτεῖαι) of Greek and other cities, they investigated a major but then little-discussed practice of sexually grounded social injustice:  The martial rape of war-captive girls and women through “andrapodizing” or “populace-ravaging” warfare (Gaca 2010, 2012), for martial rape constitutes a very harmful set of mating practices with far-reaching repercussions of injustice across generations, including slavery, forced concubinage and wifehood, and compulsory procreation.  Yet this behavior is promoted in the martial domain, for, as Aristotle observes (Pol. 1269b23-31), aggressor forces are mostly fixated on heterosexual copulation, a fixation stimulated with intense violence in such warfare. 

The Peripatetics were deliberately innovative in this historical research, as shown in the attention they call to martial rape and the sympathy they express for ravaged women and girls.  Their candid coverage of the topic resists the oblique and terse discourse about the practice by Greek historians prior to the Peripatetics, who indicate that captive girls and women are martially enslaved but never state how (e.g., Hdt. 6.32; Thuc. 4.48.4, 5.3.4, 5.32.1, 5.116.4; Xen. Anab. 4.1.14).  By contrast, a second-century CE compendium, P.Oxy. 10.1241, cites Aristotle and Peripatetic research into Pellene near Sicyon to state that when the city “was andrapodized by force” in about 600 BCE, “the women and daughters were treated completely as whores (καταπορνευ­θῆναι)” once they were seized “as war captives” (3.2–12).  So too, as noted by the Peripatetic historian Nicolaus of Damascus (b. ca 64 BCE), when early archaic Ionian forces overran villages around Orchomenus and took many young female captives, they “treated the women completely as concubines (καταπαλλακεύον­τες) and produced children from them” (FGrH 90.53).  The two compound verbs, both Peripatetic coinages, highlight the thoroughness in the forced whoring and concubining. 

The Peripatetic Clearchus (ca 340-250 BCE) sketches martial rape in his now fragmentary study of dissolute human lives and mores.  Once Tarentine forces overthrew the Apulian city of Carbina around 473 BCE, the aggressors, “after rounding up girls, virgins, and the women at their sexual peak” into the city’s sacred precincts, “staged the bodies of these captives naked for everyone to view.”  Then the Tarentine soldiers jumped as each wished on this “ill-fated herd,” and they sexually devoured “the youthful beauty of their bodies” (fr. 48). 

Thanks to this historiographic reform pioneered by Aristotle and his school, the coverage of martial rape increased more widely as a topic of recognized import in ensuing history and biography, such as Diodorus and his embedded sources (Diod. Sic. 13.58.1-3, 19.8.1-6), Tacitus (Hist. 3.33) Plutarch, Mulierum virtutes (258e-f, 259d-260d), and Ammianus (31.8.7-8).  As a result, it is now indisputably clear that war-captive girls and women clearly were enslaved through aggravated martial sexual assault; and this makes “complete whoring” an organized function of populace-ravaging warfare.  The enslaving sexual aggression was en masse, thorough, and stimulated by a libidinous wolf pack mentality. 

Session/Panel Title

Women, Sex, and Power

Session/Paper Number

47.1

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