Prostitution in Urban Brothels in Late Medieval Austria
By Michael M. Hammer
Same Bodies, Different Women: ‘Other’ Women in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, eds. Christopher Mielke and Andrea-Bianka Znorovszky (Trivent, 2019)
Abstract: Municipal authorities officially established urban brothels in late medieval Austria as a necessary evil in order to control the lust of unmarried men and thus protect women from sexual abuse. During the course of the fifteenth century, brothels began to flourish in cities all over Austria until their abolition during the period of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in the sixteenth century.
This paper focuses in particular on four Tyrolean brothels (Bolzano, Hall, Innsbruck and Merano) and on the relevant sources of late medieval brothels in general, taking into account both their potential as well as their limitations. Certain sources allow a closer look into the daily life of both the prostitutes and the brothel keepers. Court cases sometimes provide information about the names of people and their daily business.
Second, it concentrates on everyday life in these brothels. Prostitution was handled as a “safety valve” to provide a sexual outlet for unmarried men; they are, therefore, an instrument to guarantee the pax urbana. Furthermore, the brothels provided the possibility of controlling extramarital sexuality. For this reason, the municipal authorities also tried to prohibit clandestine types of prostitution – no doubt to also protect their own financial interests.
Top Image: View of Innsbruck by Albrecht Dürer, 1495