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«Two Lost Souls»: Infanticide in the Republic of Dubrovnik (1667-1808)

Nella Lonza

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 175 Kb

str. 261-303

preuzimanja: 1.259



This article examines the social, anthropological, and legal aspects of infanticide in the Republic of Dubrovnik (1667-1808) and sheds light more generally on attitudes towards unwanted parenthood (contraception, abortion, foundling homes, adoption, etc.). The women who committed infanticide were not particularly young and were usually misled in their belief that their sexual relationship would eventually be crowned with marriage. Almost half of them were domestic servants who resided with master’s household. The basic motives underlying infanticide were shame and fear, caused by the conditions prevailing in an extended family with a dominant male household head and fairly limited prospects within the community (especially when it was rural). The family’s reaction to a child born out of wedlock was often extremely severe (and went as far as banishment from the household or even murder), for the reputation of other members was at stake, markedly the men who were responsible for keeping the women’s sexual behavior in conformity with established moral codes and customs. The village community strictly controlled individual moral behavior, particularly in the period following the Council of Trent. There were a number of closely knit systems of social control (fraternities, parishes, territorial units kaznačine, etc.), along with more informal networks such as women’s mutual surveillance. The realm of one’s privacy was practically non-existent. The village kept an eye out for any signs of pregnancy; warned and reprimanded; investigated cases of infanticide; and imposed sanctions, often acting completely independently of the legal authorities. The general attitude towards infanticide was additionally permeated with the belief that infants who died unbaptized possessed supernatural abilities. In Dubrovnik the crime of infanticide was not regulated by law but through judicial practice, primarily because of the specific procedural features (difficulty in establishing proof, the importance of medical expertise). The bulk of female offenders were on the run and were prosecuted in absence. For this reason capital punishment usually could not be executed, and over the years, the Ragusan authorities gradually showed their readiness for a compromise with the felon through pardon.

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