Rhinotomy is mutilation, usually amputation, of the nose. It was a means of judicial punishment throughout the world, particularly for sexual transgressions, but in the case of adultery often applied only to women.
The Code of Hammurabi contains references to amputation of bodily protrusions (such as lips, nose, breasts, etc.), as do the laws of ancient Egypt, and in Hindu medicine the writings of Charaka and the Sushruta Samhita.
Rhinotomy as a punishment for adultery was customary in early India, and practised by the Greeks and Romans, but only rarely; the practice was more prevalent in Byzantium and among the Arabs, where the unfaithful woman was subjected to it while the man could get away with a flogging—and "often the husband whose wife had been unfaithful was instructed to act as executioner".
Emperor of the Romans Justinian II, his nose removed by the general who deposed him, returned with an army of barbarians to reclaim his throne, becoming known as "Rhinotmetos" (ὁ Ῥινότμητος, "the slit-nosed"), before replacing it with a golden replica. In Western Europe, Merovingian king Childebert II, following the customs of his Byzantine allies, condemned conspirators to rhinotomy, according to Gregory of Tours, and exposing them to ridicule.
The 12th-century lay "Bisclavret" by Marie de France has a werewolf bite off his unfaithful wife's nose. Geoffroy IV de la Tour Landry's 14th-century manual The Book of the Knight of the Tower has an example of a knight breaking his wife's nose, as an injunction for women to obey their husbands.
Most known cases of self-inflicted rhinotomy concern nuns who mutilated their noses in hopes of avoiding rape. The nuns of the Saint-Cyr monastery in Marseille, in the 9th century, were spared rape but were all killed, and the nuns of the Saint Clare abbey in Acri suffered the same fate in 1291. Such a story is told also of Æbbe the Younger and her nuns at Coldingham, in the 9th century.
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