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When Sexual Assaults Made History

October 9, 2018 in History

By History.com Staff

Incidents of sexual violence have long been a brutal part of the human story. Sometimes they’ve changed the course of history.

Nearly as long as people have been recording history, they have documented sexual assaults. From the writings of ancient Greece to the Bible to the letters of early explorers, sexual violence has long been a brutal part of the human story. Some assaults have even changed the course of history. And, like all history, what we know about sexual assaults of the past is generally what was told by the victors—mostly men.

“Women are erased,” says Sharon Block, professor of history at University of California, Irvine and the author of Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America. “The historic rapes that ‘mattered’ are the only ones where men saw themselves damaged.”

Wars, especially, have been linked to egregious sexual assaults, from mass rape committed by Soviet soldiers as they advanced into Germany during World War II to sexual violence amid the genocides in Rwanda in 1995. In fact, the ubiquity of sexual assault in wars makes those crimes a category unto themselves.

With the understanding that no list could ever be comprehensive, below are sexual assaults that have both influenced history and those that, notably, did not.

1. The rise of Alexander the Great

The assassination of King Philip II.

An act of sexual violence may have contributed to the rise of Alexander the Great, according to Greek historians Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch. Their accounts were written hundreds of years after the event was supposed to have taken place, but the story goes like this: In 336 B.C., Pausanias of Orestis, a member of the bodyguard of King Philip II of Macedonia (and possibly his lover), was invited to a banquet by Philip’s father-in-law, Attalus. There, he was raped by Attalus’s servants. When Philip refused to punish the attackers (he did give Pausanias a promotion), Pausanias murdered the king, paving the way for the ascension of Philip’s son, Alexander the Great.

2. The rape of the Sabine women


The Rape of the Sabine women.

The Roman historian Livy, writing during the first century, traces Rome’s origins to the mid-8th century B.C., when the warrior tribe was facing a shortage of women. “Population growth was the most difficult thing to achieve in antiquity,” says Thomas Martin, author of Ancient Rome: From Romulus …read more

Source: HISTORY

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