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Women of the Romance Countries By John R. Effinger Characters: 28197

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Condition of Spain before the Moorish Invasion

To one whose fancy roves to Spain in his dream of fair women there comes at once the picture of a dark-eyed beauty gazing out discreetly from behind her lattice window, listening to the tinkling sound of her lover's mandolin, and sighing at the ardor of his passion; or again, she may be going abroad, with lace mantilla about her shapely head, armed with her fan,-that article of comfort and coquetry, as it has been called,-which is at once a shield and an allurement as wielded by her deft fingers. With the thought of Spain there comes also the snap of the castanets and the flash of bright-colored skirts as they move in time to the tarantella. All in all, it is the poet's land of beauty and pleasure, music and the dance, with Dolce far niente as its motto, rose-entwined.

Free from the poet's spell, however, and under the guidance of the sterner muse of history, this picture of sweet content vanishes for a time as the more rugged outlines of another and an earlier age attract our attention. Fact and conjecture are somewhat intermingled as they concern the early history of Spain, but enough is known to give us a fairly clear idea of the general condition of the country. The original inhabitants of the peninsula-the Iberians-antedate authentic historical records, but some centuries before the Christian era it is certain that there was a Celtic invasion from the North which resulted in a mingling of these two races and the appearance of the Celtiberians. The life of these early inhabitants was rude and filled with privations, but they were brave and hardy, having no fear of pain or danger, and possessed by the love of liberty. In this primitive society the occupations of the men were almost exclusively those connected with the pursuit of war, and the wives and mothers were given a large measure of domestic responsibility and were treated with great respect. To them was intrusted not only the education of the younger children, but the care of the land as well, and there is nothing to show that they failed in either of these duties. They were more than good mothers and good husbandmen, however, for more than once, in case of need, these early Spanish women donned armor and fought side by side with their husbands and brothers, sword or lance in hand, nothing daunted by the fierceness of the struggle and always giving a good account of themselves in the thick of the battle.

Hannibal's wife was a woman of Spain, it is true, but it is to her less eminent sisters that we must turn in order to discover the most conspicuous cases of feminine bravery and heroism, which are accompanied in almost every instance by a similar record for the men, as the lot of men and women was cast along the same lines in those days, and the national traits are characteristic of either sex. A most fervid patriotism was inbred in these people, and throughout all the long years of Roman conquest and depredation these native Celtiberians, men and women, proved time and time again that they knew the full significance of the Latin phrase which came from the lips of their conquerors-Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori [It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country]. When Hannibal essayed to capture the stronghold of Saguntum, a fortified city on the eastern coast of Spain, and probably of Ph?nician origin, he found himself confronted by no easy task. On account of his early residence in Spain and his familiarity with the people and the country, he had found its conquest an affair of no great difficulty for the most part, but here at Saguntum all the conditions were changed. The resistance was most stubborn, in spite of the fact that the besieging force consisted of one hundred and fifty thousand men. Hannibal himself was wounded while fighting under the walls; and when the end came, the fall of Saguntum was due to famine rather than to the force of arms. Then the Saguntines, men, women, and children, were of the opinion that surrender was ignoble, and they all preferred death at the hands of the enemy to any timorous act of submission.

Some thirteen years later, in b. c. 206, the Romans, who were now making a systematic endeavor to subdue the whole country, laid siege to Ataspa; and although the details of the investment of the city are far from complete, the imperfect records of the event show that the force of the enemy was so overwhelming that the inhabitants of the ill-fated city saw at once the futility of a prolonged resistance and resolved to do or die without delay. Accordingly, a small guard was left behind to kill the women and children and set fire to the town, and the rest of the doughty little garrison, with banners waving and bugles sounding in defiance, sallied forth from the city gates, and each man went to his death with his face to the enemy. The thrilling tale of the final capture of the city of Numantia by Scipio Africanus furnishes but further proof of this indomitable courage of the early Spaniards. After a siege and blockade of sixteen months, the Numantians, threatened by famine, and unable to secure terms of honorable capitulation, decided that death was better than the horrors of Roman slavery; and so they killed each other in their patriotic zeal, wives and daughters perishing at the hands of their fathers and their husbands, and the last man, after setting fire to the town, threw himself into the flames. When the Roman conquerors marched through the stricken city they could discover nothing but "ruin, blood, solitude, and horror." By b. c. 72 practically all of Spain had submitted to the Romans, but Pompey found to his surprise that the old Spanish spirit was not entirely dead when he attempted to take possession of the town of Calahorra on the Ebro. The details of the affair almost pass belief. As usual, the defence was dogged; and when the town was threatened with famine, it is said that the men not only killed the women and children, but actually salted their flesh and stored it for future consumption! This was not mere savagery, it was fanatic devotion to a patriotic principle, and there is naught to show that the deed was done under protest from the victims.

The superior organization of the Romans was bound to conquer, however, in the end, and by the time of Julius C?sar the whole country had been subjected. This gradual supremacy of the Romans was accompanied by a gradual dying out of those early, sturdy virtues which had so marked the Spanish people. Life in that pre-Christian era had been rude and uncouth; there was little education or refinement; but there was a certain rugged nobility of character which cannot but command our admiration. The general manners and customs of the time are, for the most part, marked by great decency and purity; women justly merited the respect which was shown them, and the family was recognized as a necessary factor in national strength. As an interesting bit of information which will show, indirectly at least, that women were held in high regard, it may be noted that a number of old coins have been found, coming from this early day, which bear upon one side a woman's head.

The prosperity which came with the advent of the Romans was the result, in great part, of the unexampled peace which the whole peninsula now enjoyed. The mines were worked, the olive groves yielded a rich harvest of oil, the fields were tilled and much Spanish wheat was sent abroad, and, in everything but the mining, the women worked side by side with the men. Flax had been brought to Spain long before by the Ph?nicians, and no special attention had been given to its culture; but now matters were quite changed, and the finest linen to be found in all the Western world came from the dexterous hands of the Spanish women. This time of peace and comfort cannot be considered as an unmixed blessing, however; for with the decline of war the sterner virtues languished, and much of that primitive simplicity of an earlier day lost its freshness and na?veté and gave way to the subtle vices and corrupt influences which never failed to follow in the wake of Latin conquest. The strength and virility of the nation had been sapped by the Romans, as thousands of Spaniards were forced into the Roman legions and forced to fight their oppressors' battles in many distant lands, and very few of them came home even to die. With this enormous depletion of the male population, it was but natural that there should be a certain mixture of races which was not always an aid to public morals. Marriage between Roman citizens and the women of the so-called barbarian nations was rarely recognized by law; many of the Spanish women, as prisoners of war, were sold into slavery; and with such a social system imposed by the conquerors, it is easy to see that contamination was inevitable.

With the gradual decay of Roman power, the colonial dependencies of this great empire were more and more allowed to fall into the almost absolute control of unscrupulous governors, who did not miss an occasion to levy extortionate taxes and manage everything in their own interests. As the natural result of the raids of the barbarian hordes-the Alans, the Suevians, the Vandals, and the Goths-Spain was losing all that semblance of national unity which it had acquired under Roman rule, and was slowly resolving itself into its primitive autonomous towns. Finally, Euric the Goth, who had founded a strong government in what is now southern France, went south of the Pyrenees in the last part of the fifth century, defeated the Roman garrison at Tarragona, and succeeded in making a treaty with the emperor, whereby he was to rule all Spain with the exception of the Suevian territory in the northwest. Now begins that third process of amalgamation which was to aid in the further evolution of the national type. First, the native Iberians were blended with the early Celtic invaders to form the Celtiberian stock, then came the period of Roman control, to say nothing of the temporary Carthaginian occupancy, and now, finally, on the ruins of this Roman province, there rose a Gothic kingdom of power and might. The foundations of Roman social life were already tottering, for it had been established from the beginning upon the notion of family headship, and the individual had no natural rights which the government was bound to respect, and, all in all, it was little calculated to inspire the esteem and confidence of the proud Spaniard, who prized his personal liberty above all else. In literature and in art Roman influences were dominant and permanent, but, as Martin Hume says: "The centralizing governmental traditions which the Roman system had grafted upon the primitive town and village government of the Celtiberians had struck so little root in Spain during six centuries, that long before the last legionaries left the country the centralized government had fallen away, and the towns with their assembly of all free citizens survived with but little alteration from the pre-Roman period."

This being the case when the Goths appeared, it was easy for them to start out afresh on their own lines, and all the more so as many of their governmental ideas were peculiarly adapted to the Spanish temperament. The Goths at the time of their appearance in Spain were no longer barbarians, as their long contact with Rome had given them ample opportunity for education, and they deserve to be considered as disseminators of civilization. Their easy conquest of Spain can then be accounted for in two ways: first, there was not sufficient warlike spirit in the country to successfully oppose them; secondly, they were hailed as liberators rather than as conquerors, because at their coming the real barbarians, who were still threatening the country, were forced to leave. The central idea of the Gothic social system, which was soon established in all parts of the country, was its recognition of the independence of the individual, and especially of the women of the family. The head of the household did not consider himself as the sole possessor of all rights and privileges; the women and children were expected to do their share of fighting the enemy, and were given their share of food and plunder in all equity. The equality of the wife with her husband was strictly enjoined, not only in the marriage ceremony, but also by law, which gave her full control of her own property and a half-interest in the possessions held by them both in common.

Alaric II. caused to be published in 506 the code of laws which had been compiled by King Euric, but which was called the Breviarium Alaricianium, wherein, among various other matters, the rights of women are especially enforced. This code was intended only for the use of the Goths, who took position at once as a ruling and noble race, and the rest of the population was still governed by the old Roman code. For almost a hundred and fifty years this double system of legal procedure was maintained, and then its many disadvantages became so evident that a vigorous king sought to remedy the tottering fortunes of the Gothic realm by promulgating a single code, to which all should be subject and which should represent the better features of the two codes hitherto in vogue. Chindaswinth, who ruled from 642 to 654, was responsible for this new departure; and his son Recceswinth, who followed him upon the throne, was the first to administer the revised code, which is known as the Lex Visigothorum. Although the document is but an adaptation of the Roman law to the special needs of the country from the standpoint of Christianity, it shows at the same time the strong influence of the social traditions of the Goths, and especially with reference to its treatment of women.

It is evident from a perusal of these laws that the Goths had high ideals of family life, and that it was their most earnest endeavor to maintain, by means of legal enactment, a rather unusual state of social purity. Women were held in high esteem and occupi

ed a most respected and influential position, and C?sar's wife was their common model. The moral condition of the Romanized Spaniards fell far short of the Gothic standards, however, and it is evident that the new code endeavored to correct the numerous social evils which then afflicted the country. The loose habits of the Romans had been followed all too quickly, and the custom of keeping many slaves in a household had led to a domestic promiscuity which was appalling in some instances, so that the Gothic desire for reform is easily explained. It is interesting to note in this connection that the best account to be found of the moral status of the whole people at this time is contained by implication in the list of things which they are forbidden by law to do. So, the Lex Visigothorum is not only a tribute to the moral sense of its promulgators, but at the same time a storehouse of information with regard to a rather obscure period in Spanish history.

All things considered, one of the most startling things in the new code was a severe statute forbidding public prostitutes, for it is somewhat difficult to believe that the moral tone of society at that time would warrant so stringent a measure. A public flogging was prescribed as the penalty which would be inflicted upon all who failed to obey the statute, and it is altogether probable that the law was administered with the same Puritanic rigor which had brought it into existence. Other provisions there were, animated by this same spirit, which were levelled at the social evils incident to the practice of holding slaves. A woman who had intrigued with her own slave or who wished to marry him was condemned to death in the most summary fashion; and even if the man were a freedman, the penalty was just the same. What a glimpse this gives us of the life of the time, when the slaves were often more charming and more intelligent than their rough masters, and how clear it is that the Goths considered a household conducted with decency and with order as an important element in national prosperity and well-being!

As one might naturally expect, the laws relating to the subject of marriage and divorce are equally severe, even when the contracting parties belong to the same class in society. The equality between wife and husband was again provided for, as it had been in the earlier code, and the woman was again given full control of her own property and a half-interest in the things which had been common property. Once married, divorce was forbidden except in the case of adultery on the woman's part; and though it is clear to see that this was not equal justice for both man and wife, yet such was the fact. When infidelity was proved, the law provided that the wife and her paramour should be delivered up to the tender mercies of the injured husband, who had the right to punish them according to his own inclination. He was given the power of life and death even, under these circumstances, and too often it is to be feared that the punishment became a bloody revenge sanctioned by law. Marriage between Jews and Christians had long been forbidden, as it had been discovered by experience that such a union was bound to lead to proselyting in one form or another; and the death penalty was inflicted upon all who were not content to abide by the statute. Marriage between Goths and Romans had been legalized in 652, but for many years before that time the two races had been kept apart; for the Goths, as the ruling race, considered it prejudicial to their interests to ally themselves in this way with their subjects.

Woman's place in the criminal procedure of the time was unique. It appears that the punishment inflicted for any given crime depended not so much upon the importance of the offence as upon the importance of the criminal, and that almost every injury might be atoned for by the payment of a certain sum of money, the amount depending upon the rank of the person making the payment. Such money payments, wherever a woman was involved, were regulated according to the following scale of values: from her birth to the age of fifteen, she was valued at only one-half the price of a man of her own class; from fifteen to twenty, she was considered of equal value; from twenty to forty, she was rated as worth one-sixth less than a man; and after forty, at even less than half. Inasmuch as both men and women were amenable to the same laws with but this difference in the amount of the penalty in any given case, it would appear that women were recognized to possess a smaller money-earning power than the men; and such was undoubtedly the case, in spite of the fact that both men and women seemed to share alike the various daily tasks in the earlier and simpler days of Gothic rule in Spain. Such participation on the part of the women was by no means common among the Romans, and this fact, together with the spread of slavery, did much to put the women in this secondary position, so far as ability to work was concerned.

With all this apparent equality in fact and in the eyes of the law, it is somewhat doubtful whether or not the wives and mothers really enjoyed a high degree of personal liberty. Their legal rights were clearly defined, but it is certain that they were looked upon as inferior beings. The prevalent customs with regard to the marriage dower show in no uncertain fashion that the wife was considered to a certain extent as the chattel and property of her husband; for a woman could not marry without a dower, but it was paid not by but to her parents, and by her future husband. A marriage of that description may be likened to the sale of a bill of goods. In further proof of this dependent position of the women, and to show the care which was taken to protect them from contamination of any kind, one of the statutes regulating the practice of medicine presents certain interesting features. This law prohibited surgeons from bleeding any freewoman except in the presence of her husband, her nearest relative, or at least of some properly appointed witness. A Salic law dating from about the same period imposed a fine of fifteen pieces of gold upon anyone who should improperly press a woman's hand, but there seems to be nothing to show that the Goths considered legislation upon this important point necessary. Even under these conditions the physician's position was somewhat precarious, as it was provided that in case he should withdraw enough of the patient's blood to cause death, he became the slave of the patient's heir at law!

Spain was like the greater part of the rest of Europe at this time with regard to its intellectual atmosphere; Christianity and Roman civilization had not yet succeeded in stamping out the old pagan beliefs of the early inhabitants, and superstition and ignorance were for a long time characteristic traits of the majority of the people. The air was peopled with demons, the devil himself was no infrequent visitor, witches and fortune tellers were not without influence, and stealthily, by night, many mystic rites were celebrated. Many of the Christian beliefs of the time are likewise the result of ignorance and superstition, but at that time, naturally, only the pagan ideas were condemned. Accordingly, while the law of the Goths recognized trial by ordeal, wherein God is summoned to bear miraculous witness in favor of the innocent, the same law condemned belief in witchcraft! The favorite ordeal among the Goths was trial by red-hot iron. The Church took charge of this ceremony, which was accompanied by a most solemn ritual, and all this was legal and religious and approved by the highest authorities! But the poor witches had to go! It was charged that they were able to produce storm and ruin by means of their incantations, that they offered nightly sacrifices to devils, and that in general they were in league with the powers of darkness and productive of much disorder. Furthermore, soothsayers were not to be consulted concerning the death of a king; and any freeman disobeying this edict was soundly flogged, lost his property by confiscation, and was condemned to perpetual servitude. These mysterious and redoubtable old women who gathered simples upon the mountain side and dealt in the black art had formerly been very numerous, and, although they have always continued to exist in Spain, their number was much diminished by means of the enforcement of the new law.

In addition to the various social and political questions which were demanding settlement at this time, there was a matter of ecclesiastical difference which caused great trouble and confusion. The Goths, though Christians, belonged to the Arian branch of the Church, while the Spaniards were firm believers in the Athanasian or Latin form of Christianity, and the struggle for supremacy between the two went on for many years before either side was willing to submit. Near the beginning of the sixth century, Clothilda, daughter of the Frankish king, Clovis, was married to Amalaric, the Gothic king, whose capital was then in the old city of Narbonne. Political advantages were supposed to come from this international alliance, but the results were quite to the contrary. The queen was an Athanasian, and the king an Arian Catholic, and neither was willing to endure the heresy of the other. Amalaric used his most persuasive arts in his attempts to win over his wife to the Gothic point of view, but his endeavor was in vain, and she remained obstinately true to the God of her fathers. Finally, irritated beyond measure, the king ordered that Clothilda should no longer be allowed to make public profession of her religion, and the result was a merry war which led to the defeat and final death of the Arian sovereign. Late in this same sixth century there was in Spain another Frankish queen, who not only held steadfastly to her own faith, but was the indirect means whereby all the country was induced to abandon the Arian creed. The native Catholic clergy, under the leadership of Leander, a most noted churchman, and Bishop of Seville, had long urged the necessity of such a change, but the Goths were unwilling to submit; and so matters stood until Prince Hermenegild, urged on by Leander, and most of all by his wife Ingunda, led a revolt against his father, King Leovgild. The revolt was not a success, but the star of the Athanasian party was rising rapidly, and the open stand of the queen for the Latin doctrines gave great impetus and power to the whole movement. The triumph was complete when Leovgild's son and heir, Recared, saw that further opposition was useless and publicly announced his conversion to the faith of Rome.

In the early history of the Church in Spain there are many interesting references to women which are not generally known, but which reveal, on the whole, a condition of affairs similar to that which was to be found in other parts of Europe at the same time. Monasteries were probably unknown in the peninsula before the middle of the sixth century, but from a very early day it is certain that women as well as men were taking vows of perpetual chastity and devoting themselves to a life of holy works. Early in the fourth century the Council of Elvira prescribed penalties for professed nuns who might desire to re?nter the world, and the Council of Saragossa, in 380, declared that no virgin should be allowed to devote herself to a religious life until she had reached the mature age of forty years. That same Council of Elvira was the first in the history of the Church to ordain the celibacy of the secular clergy, and its thirty-third canon forbade the bishops, priests, and deacons of the peninsula to live as husbands with their wives. In the year 591, the first Synod of Toledo, over which Bishop Leander presided, enacted various canons which give some interesting sidelights on the times. It appears that ecclesiastics had already been forbidden to keep women servants in their houses, but the rule was so often disregarded that it was enacted that in the future, as a punishment for such intractable churchmen, their servants should be sold as slaves and the proceeds handed over to some charitable organization. In just what way this punishment was to affect the clergy, beyond causing them temporary annoyance, it is difficult to understand, but there is no doubt as to the fact.

In all of the seven centuries preceding the Moorish conquest of Spain there had been some little progress, so far as the position of women was concerned, but it cannot be said that the advance had been great. The original Gothic ideas on this subject had been far superior to those held by the Romans, but the rigor of the old ideas lost force in time, and, if the accounts of the Church historians be true, the last Goths to wield the sceptre were so corrupt and led such abandoned lives that God, in his vengeance, sent the Mohammedan horde upon them. In all these shifting times the conditions of life were such that few women were able to take any prominent part in public affairs; or if they did, the imperfect records of the epoch fail to make mention of it. At intervals there were queens, like Ingunda, possessed of a strong and decided character and ready to take a part in the control of affairs, but they were the exception and not the rule, as the education of women was so very limited that few of them knew enough to see beyond a very narrow horizon. Probably the most enlightened woman in all this period was the nun Florentina, sister of Bishop Leander of Seville, who was far-famed for her good works. At the time of her death in 603, she had risen to such distinction on account of her character and her ability that she was made the general director of a system of over forty convents, which were under her continual inspection and control. Such, in brief, is her story; further details are wanting, but even this is enough to impress us with the fact that she must have been a great woman and representative of all that was good and noble in her day.

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