By Judith Herrin
Toleration and repression in the Middle Ages (2002)
Introduction: While the topic of this conference poses a fascinating and challenging task for comparative study, I have to say that in relation to issues of gender and the family it seems to be exceptionally hard. Since these problems are not much studied by Byzantinists, I have been looking for guidance to methodologies and analysis by modern historians, sociologists and anthropologists, but immediately a big gap opens up: in the context of the family, tolerance and repression seem to be concepts which barely apply before our own times.
Issues of child abuse and wife beating are probably universal, but they have not been identified as suppressive and intolerable until quite recently. The individual human rights of women and children have only slowly been recognised, over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and there is no way we can project such notions back into the medieval past.
I have therefore tried to find a type of analysis which will draw attention to some of the most interesting material relevant to this topic, while acknowledging that the Byzantine understanding of family and gender is quite unlike ours.