Androgynous Virgins and the Threat of Rape in the Fourth Century

  • Maud Burnett McInerney
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In Caesarea, in Palestine, in 308 or 309, a virgin from Gaza was arrested and publicly tortured, not for being a Christian, although she was one, but because, horrified by stories of women sexually abused by the Roman authorities, she had dared to suggest that any emperor who appointed such ministers was a tyrant. Her crime, in other words, was political and not religious; she had spoken treason. In the crowd that witnessed her torture stood another virgin named Valentina. She shouted out to the executioners, demanding to know how long her “sister” was to be brutalized. As she must have known would happen, she too was arrested and dragged up to the tribunal, where she kicked over the altar, scattering the coals from the brazier upon which Christians were invited to cast incense in honor of the emperor. Evidently, this gave the authorities an idea: Valentina and the woman from Gaza were burned to death together.1


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© Maud Burnett McInerney 2003

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  • Maud Burnett McInerney

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