July 19, 2024

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How a cuckolded husband in Ancient Greece paid for his wife’s betrayal and what does the donkey have to do with it?

In Ancient Greece, there was a custom to punish treason by riding a donkey backwards. Such an unseemly journey doomed the rider to dishonor forever: the man began to be considered a woman, but if punishment was applied to a woman, then her honor remained tarnished for the rest of her life.

Even the stone on which she stood was bypassed by the tenth road. Punishment was also applied to deposed emperors and clergy in order to further humiliate them. The tradition turned out to be tenacious, existing until the Renaissance; even at the beginning of the 20th century there were rare occurrences of its use.

Punishment by riding a donkey in the Middle Ages for adultery in marriage


The punishment for treason was to ride a donkey backwards.

Judging by the chronicles, donkey riding was used as a judicial decision for the crime of treason against one’s life partner. Nicholas of Damascus wrote (1st century BC) that in the cities of Pisidia they rode men on donkeys, often seating them backwards. In some cases, if the court agreed that two people were guilty, then the woman was seated next to each other.

Adultery was never welcomed and was always condemned by society. Therefore, there were different methods of punishment. Riding a donkey can be called humane, considering that at the same time, in another place, they could have beaten to death, cut off body parts, or committed other violent measures. The so-called walk was more painless, but after it the person lost any respect for himself and gained civil death.

The ritual consisted in the fact that when punishing a man, he was first shaved off the hair from his body, he could put on a woman’s dress, and then he was seated on a donkey facing the tail. He had to hold on to it. In people's minds, this is a kind of intercourse, so such punishment forever left a stain on the cheater.

A woman for treason was taken to the square, placed on a stone so that everyone could see, and then sat on a donkey backwards. After riding around the city, she was returned to the same stone again. From that time on, she was considered dishonored and was called “onobatis,” and the stone was bypassed, considering even it unclean.

Political treason was punishable by riding an animal backwards


Constantine the Great. / Photo: hiskingdom.us

The punishment of riding a donkey was later applied to political criminals. Procopius of Caesarea described the punishment of a rival carried out by Emperor Valentinian III in the 5th century. Captured John was first deprived of his hand, and then seated on a donkey and carried in front of people who sent multiple insults. After he was executed, Valentinian gained power over the West.

Emperor Constantine V punished the false patriarch Anastasius in a similar manner. But then he could not even predict that he would have to go through this humiliation himself. After 26 years, Constantine V was dishonored at the hippodrome: first they tore out all the hair on his face and head, right down to his eyelashes, and then they put him in a silk bag and put him on a donkey backwards. At this time the people spat on him and laughed.

Punishment for adultery in France


Cheating on my husband. / Photo: www.goodfon.ru

The tradition in France existed on the personal initiative of citizens, and not as an official court decision, although it was in demand. Punishment could be used by people in any city or town if they knew about someone who had been found guilty of treason. In this case, it was not the lover who got it, but the husband of the unfaithful woman, who knew but tried to hide the fact of adultery. Another reason for punishment is if the wife beat her husband, and he did not make any attempts to defend himself or stop this violence against himself. The culprit was placed on a donkey backwards and rode through the local streets.

The decision to punish usually came from concerned citizens, and the neighbors of the disgraced man had to become witnesses and guarantors of its implementation, and they had to lead the donkey by the bridle. If the culprit did not give in to persuasion to fulfill the tradition, one of the neighbors could take his place. In this case, a conflict arose, and it was so hot that it led to fights, and several times ended in the killing of the one who was supposed to lead the donkey. There was another case when a married couple simply ran away from those who were going to commit “justice.”


French caricature. / Photo: polymerh.ru

Accidents did not become a reason to refuse shameful punishment. In France, it turned out to be very tenacious, because it was remembered in the 18th and 19th centuries, and for the last time during the German occupation in 1942. For comparison, in Italy donkey riding existed until the 15th century.

Unequal marriage and husband's inaction, equating to adultery


An unequal marriage was equated with treason. / Photo: www.goodfon.ru

Treason can take different forms, but the guardians of morality were ready to find it even where it was presented as honest motives. Punishment fell not only to the lover, but also to the husband, if he did not try to rein in and punish his wife. In this case, the husband could be deprived of his civil rights, making him an outcast from society.

A ritual of similar meaning, Sharivari, was applied to an elderly man if he remarried, but not to a woman of his age, but to a young girl. Such a marriage was considered hidden adultery, because the age did not allow having children. The culprit was ridden on a donkey face to tail according to established tradition.

Donkey riding as a punishment for clergy


Riding backwards on an animal was used as punishment for treason. / Photo: stihi.ru

Ivan the Terrible punished Metropolitan Philip and Archbishop Pimen of Novgorod, suspecting them of treason. The Metropolitan openly opposed the Tsar and criticized the oprichnina, which is why he became objectionable. Fulfilling the will of the tsar, they tore his robe, sat him on a log and sent him into exile in Tver. They carried the dead on firewood, and this was how they wanted to humiliate the metropolitan. But if you believe the words of Andrei Kurbsky, then Philip was placed on an ox backwards, and taken out in this form.

Pimen was accused of wanting to give Novgorod and Pskov to the Lithuanians. The archbishop was tied to a mare, which they called Pimen’s “wife,” and sent to Moscow. The appearance of unusual punishment in Rus' may not have been connected with the traditions of Byzantium or Ancient Greece.

Antipope Gregory VIII suffered a similar punishment, but only on a camel, who was thrown off by Calixtus II. The antipope's resourcefulness was compared to the resourcefulness of the animal on which he was laid across his back. And before that, they wrapped him in still-damp goat skins to give him as much shame as possible. In this form he was taken to the mountains of Campania for eternal imprisonment.

Riding a donkey has become a popular punishment for clergy, holy fools, and martyrs. The massacre was carried out against Antipope John XVI, over Saint Giovanni Colombini, who independently sat on a donkey more than once, and forced his followers to do this. And heretics sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition were transported to the place of execution on donkeys backwards.

The method of humiliation – riding a donkey – was applied to overthrown enemies


Andronikos I – punishment by riding a donkey.

Emperor Andronikos I had a turbulent life, when he was able to manifest himself in different guises: now a favorite of the capital's population, now a prisoner, and then an enemy of the empire. He took the throne by force, killing the emperor's widow and her son. He introduced the reforms that the people had been waiting for for so long, but subsequently the country came under his strongest pressure. Andronicus proved himself to be a great tyrant, and suffered appropriate punishment for this.

The emperor was overthrown by the inhabitants of Constantinople and handed over the throne to Isaac II Angel. He did not know what punishment to choose for the former ruler, and decided to submit him to the judgment of the people. Any punishment seemed small for his actions, and could not satisfy the thirst for revenge of every offended resident.

People suggested throwing Andronik into a cauldron boiling with oil, tearing him apart, dragging him through the streets of the city, and other tortures. Then the elder came forward with a speech that he knew the best way to act so that everyone could vent their anger. He said that you need to take a camel, which is considered the most foul-smelling animal, and undress Andronikos, lay him on the animal, face to tail. In this form, carry it throughout the city, along all the streets, until the residents vent their grievances. The former emperor died a painful death.

The image of a donkey in punishment: why it causes shame and humiliation


The donkey acted as a symbol of fertility and reproduction. / Photo: wiki-org.ru

The primary meaning of riding a donkey still relates to punishment for treason. And the Greek meaning of “walking on a donkey” should rather be perceived not as an ordinary walk, but as intercourse with him. In addition, in many cultures he is a phallic animal, about which there were obscene legends, and a participant in masquerades in honor of the god Dionysus, famous for his excessive fun.

Political treason was put on a par with family treason, because the union was violated, and it didn’t matter with whom it was concluded – with a partner, the state, the church, but the fact of adultery was obvious. In this situation, the donkey simply turned out to be an assistant in the execution of the sentence, because in most cases the image of a donkey is associated with pleasant moments. Since ancient times, he has been a symbol of fertility in general: on the earth, in the garden, in the vineyards, and he was also the first assistant to women in labor.

If riding a donkey was more reserved for men for treason, then women suffered physical punishment. They were raised with rods, gagged, had their noses cut off for treason, and were subjected to other methods of retribution for misbehavior.
Source: kulturologia.ru

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