English, Department of


Date of this Version

Winter 1981


Published in Journal of Homosexuality Vol. 6(1/2), Fall/Winter 1980/81. Copyright © 1981 by The Haworth Press. Used by permission.


The standard history of antihomosexual legislation states that lesbian acts were not punished by medieval or later laws. This essay challenges this view by documenting capital laws since 1270 in Europe and America. A major influence was Paul's condemnation in Romans I, 26. By 1400, the lex foedissimam, an edict of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximianus, issued in 287, was interpreted to justify the death penalty. Executions took place in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain. A brief survey of presently known male deaths in Europe and the Americas, which number about 400, also is included. This study draws on canon law and the commentaries of such jurists as Cino da Pistoia, Saliceto, Lopez, Gomez, Farinacio, Cotton, Carpzow, Sinistrari, de Vouglans, and Jousse. It also discusses the records of a German trial of 1721, published elsewhere in this issue, that also led to the execution of a woman.