WTF Fun Fact 13297 – Medieval Germany’s Marital Duels

Imagine fighting a duel with your spouse to “work things out.” Claims about what happened in the medieval period should be taken with a grain of salt when they come from non-scholars. Usually, someone cherry-picks a passage already translated (sometimes incorrectly) into English and runs with it. But the claim that marital duels existed in medieval Germany may be true – if embellished a bit.

The truth about medieval German marital duels

In 1985, religious studies scholar Allison Coudert published a paper about the duels that may have taken place between husbands and wives. The paper explores depictions that were found of marital duels between husbands and wives in the fifteenth- and sixteenth centuries. These pictures show combats where couples use sticks, stones, swords, and other weapons.

Coudert argues that, despite the illustrations, there is no record of such duels taking place after 1200. (Which presumably means that before 1200, you could challenge your spouse to a duel.) It is suggested that the images were copied from earlier manuscripts and included in treatises to provide a comprehensive historical overview of dueling practices.

Of course, the idea of medieval couples hurling stones at each other and hitting each other with sticks is the kind of thing that makes headlines on viral news sites. But it wasn’t so straightforward (and you need to know medieval German – as Coudert apparently does) to get to the bottom of things.

Justifying violence

The paper goes on to explain that, by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, societal, religious, and legal norms were against wives engaging in physical confrontations with their husbands. The duels were over – but wife-beating was apparently still ok.

Customary laws made it a crime for husbands to allow themselves to be beaten by their wives. In contrast, wife-beating was legal, and in some cases, encouraged. This brutal treatment was justified based on both scripture and law. Catholic and Protestant theologians agreed on the subordination of women. This belief even influenced opinions about sexual positions, with intercourse with the man on top and the woman below considered “natural.”

Changes in women’s status and position during the 12th century could explain the absence of marital duels after 1200. Before this time, women may have battled their husbands. The importance of their economic and administrative roles in the household was understood and defended.

However, by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the law, religion, and custom made such duels unthinkable. The depiction of these duels in illustrations may be a reflection of an earlier time.

So while it appears the duels are not a myth, most people are basing their stories on the wrong evidence.

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Source: “Judicial Duels Between Husbands and Wives” — Notes in the History of Art via JSTOR


WTF Fun Fact 13282 – The Ides of March

March 15th is known as the Ides of March. It’s a day that has become synonymous with betrayal and tragedy.

What is the Ides of March, and why is it infamous?

The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to March 15th.

After changing their calendar system multiple times, the ancient Romans eventually divided into three parts:

– The Kalends (the 1st day of all months).
– The Nones (the 7th of March, May, July, and October, and the 5th of other months).
– The Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months).

Today, we associate the Ides of March with Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE. Interestingly, they were also a day set aside for settling debts in ancient Rome.

On that day, a group of senators, including Brutus and Cassius, stabbed Caesar 23 times. He died on the steps of the Roman Senate.

The senators believed he had become too powerful and, as a result, posed a threat to Roman Republican rule. One of the “offenses” Casear committed was to further change the calendar. While he theoretically redesigned it to match up better with the seasons and moon cycles, it also benefitted him politically.

Why choose March 15th?

According to JSTOR Daily (cited below, and which provides more popularized accounts of academic articles):

“While it’s commonly believed that the date of Caesar’s assassination was one chosen based on expediency and proximity—he would be leaving three days later for a potentially long military campaign against Parthia, and the Senate would meet on the Ides, thus putting Caesar within reach of the conspirators—one scholar argues that the date was also one that held symbolic meaning for Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins, and that the calendar reform may have been a “last straw” for them, symbolizing the rejection of the sacred traditions of Rome, the mos maiorum, not unlike if a US president were to sit during the National Anthem.”

What is the legacy of March 15th, 44 BCE?

Julius Caesar’s assassination was certainly a turning point for Rome and changed its political future. It may remind us that even the most powerful leaders are not invincible. Or that ambition can lead to tragic outcomes. It has long served as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and the consequences of betraying one’s ideals.

You likely know that William Shakespeare immortalized the Ides in his play “Julius Caesar.” It famously warns us to “beware the Ides of March” and the danger they represent.

Of course, depending on how you look at it, the Ides of March can also represent the resilience of the human spirit. After all, despite the tragedy of Caesar’s assassination, Rome continued to grow.

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Source: “Beware the Ides of March. (But Why?)” — JSTOR Daily


WTF Fun Fact 13274 – The Ubiquitous AOL CDs

From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, America Online (AOL) CDs were a ubiquitous object in households across the country. These CDs were inescapable, as they seemed to arrive in the mail on a regular basis, and were even stocked in stores. At one point in the 1990s, around half of all CDs produced in the world were AOL CDs. For those too young to remember, this was many people’s only way to access the internet.

The history of AOL CDs

AOL, or America Online, was a pioneer of the internet in its early days. As one of the first internet service providers, it offered dial-up access to the World Wide Web through its proprietary software, which was distributed on CDs. Lots and lots of them.

AOL packaged the CDs in bright, attention-grabbing sleeves. They often came with enticing offers for free internet trials, exclusive content, and more.

The impact of AOL CDs on marketing and internet access was far-reaching. By the late 1990s, AOL began producing more than one million CDs per day, a testament to their effectiveness as a sales and marketing tool.

According to The Atlantic (cited below), AOL’s former chief marketing officer Jan Brandt told TechCrunch that the company spent over $300 million luring in customers with CD. “At one point, 50% of the CD’s produced worldwide had an AOL logo on it. We were logging in new subscribers at the rate of one every six seconds,” he said.

Copycats and landfills

These discs provide millions of Americans with access to the internet, but they were also a crucial instrument in the early days of online marketing. Companies could bundle their software, promotions, and products with the discs, providing them with unprecedented exposure to a growing audience.

Many companies followed suit, with other internet service providers conducting similar campaigns. Despite their success, AOL CDs eventually fell out of favor as the internet landscape evolved.

As broadband access became more widespread, the need for the inexpensive access provided by AOL diminished.

These compact discs were undeniably effective. But they were also an environmental nightmare since people discarded these CDs in landfills once they became obsolete.

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Source: “How Much Did All of Those AOL CDs Cost?” — The Atlantic