It stands to reason that humans have a variety of reasons for any action they take — after all, we’ve evolved a number of complex societies over millennia, many of which have fallen but were later used as the foundation for even stronger (or sometimes weaker) societies. Have you ever wondered how America’s democracy was born? How about why we use the bald eagle as a strong symbol of our society? Easy answer: it’s because Rome used the eagle as a strong symbol of its society, and we fashioned our own government after theirs (although our founding fathers certainly hope they built something better).
In any case, humans commit murder for a variety of reasons. Honor killings may not be common in the United States, but they occur routinely overseas even as authorities begin to crack down on this strange custom. The family unit is an adaptation that humans have evolved in order to build society from the ground up — so how is it that some societies commit murder against members of their own families? We’ll explore the reasons by poring through the history of honor killings.
You probably wondered why we mentioned Ancient Roman society. Well, it’s because this is the first piece of historical context available to us.
Honor killings first began in Rome. The head of a household — always the oldest paternal unit called the pater familias — had the legal right to slaughter a sexually active daughter or a wife who cheated. The “right” to kill for honor runs out as soon as a daughter is married and leaves the household.
We see these instances echoed in Roman literature. The story of Lucretia results in the titular character’s suicide when she was raped. The story of Verginia ends when her father kills her — because she was raped. You can imagine that the stories because even more disturbing when the victim chose to have sex. To the Romans, these stories were romantic (and we’re not just being punny there). But we’ll continue the Roman history of honor killings in part two of our series.