Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook

Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook

Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook

Women's Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook


Praise for the first edition:

'It is difficult to imagine another book in which one could find all this diverse material, and no doubt Amt's collection, in its richness, and in its genuine clarity and simplicity will takes prominent place in our expanded, diversified medieval curriculum, a curriculum that takes class, gender, and ethnicity as central to an understanding of world cultural history.' - The Medieval Review

Long considered to be a definitive and truly groundbreaking collection of sources, Women's Lives in Medieval Europeuniquely presents the everyday lives and experiences of women in the Middle Ages. This indispensible text has now been thoroughly updated and expanded to reflect new research, and includes previously unavailable source material.

This new edition includes expanded sections on marriage and sexuality, and on peasant women and townswomen, as well as a new section on women and the law. There are brief introductions both to the period and to the individual documents, study questions to accompany each reading, a glossary of terms and a fully updated bibliography. Working within a multi-cultural framework, the book focuses not just on the Christian majority, but also present material about women in minority groups in Europe, such as Jews, Muslims, and those considered to be heretics. Incorporating both the laws, regulations and religious texts that shaped the way women lived their lives, and personal narratives by and about medieval women, the book is unique in examining women's lives through the lens of daily activities, and in doing so as far as possible through the voices of women themselves.


Numbers in parentheses refer to the documents in the book.

This book is a collection of primary sources for the study of women’s lives in Europe during the Middle Ages, from about 500 to about 1500 AD Its purpose is to present firsthand information about women’s everyday lives and activities and the conditions in which they lived, and to show the reader on what sorts of evidence historians base their conclusions about these aspects of history. For readers who have little background in medieval history, some general information about medieval Europe may be helpful.

Until the fifth century AD, much of western Europe lay within the Roman Empire, a vast collection of territories including parts of the Middle East and North Africa. In Europe itself during the centuries of Roman rule, much of the native Celtic population had become highly Romanized in its culture (6–7), political allegiance and legal practices. But in the last few centuries of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes which had long lived on the eastern fringes of the European provinces moved into the Romanized lands in large numbers. This wave of “barbarian” invasions, along with severe political and economic problems, gradually killed off the Roman Empire, which was replaced by a number of Germanic successor kingdoms, including those of the Franks in Gaul (modern France), the Visigoths in Spain, the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Burgundians in and around what is now Switzerland, and the Anglo-Saxons in England.

The Germanic tribes brought with them a very different society from that of Rome (9). Whereas Roman civilization was highly urbanized, for example, the Germans had until then seldom settled even in villages. The Romans had a long history of written legislation; the Germans used a system of customary law which had not yet been written down. Different practices regarding marriage and family can be seen in the extracts from Roman and Germanic law in this book (8, 10). Centuries of contact between the Germans and the empire, however, had wrought changes on both sides, and now, as the Germans settled in what had long been Roman territory, further mingling of the two cultures occurred. The Germanic kingdoms which were established inside the old boundaries of the now defunct empire were by no means entirely Germanic in their ethnic makeup or their culture.

Even more influential than Roman tradition in this process of change was the religion of the late Roman Empire. Christianity had originated in Palestine, where a small group of Jews believed that the wandering Jewish preacher, Jesus, who had been executed by the Roman authorities early in the first century AD, was the “Christ,” the son of God and savior of humanity. They based their faith in part on the sacred books of the Jewish religion (1) but also created their own new Scriptures as they recorded the events of Jesus’ life and wrote letters to each other (2–3). Although Christians were persecuted at first by both the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman government, their religion survived and spread. In the year 313 it received approval from the Roman emperor Constantine, and in the late . . .

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