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The second chapter focuses on women's legal status and ethnicity grouping together the partly overlapping categories of female slaves, freedwomen and women of foreign (non-Roman) background on the basis of their funerary inscriptions. The first part starts with female slaves followed by the more abundant evidence for freedwomen and discusses their employment within large households, their relationship with their (former) masters, including marriages between owners and their (former) slaves, their relationships with their fellow slaves and freedpeople, and their achievements. It ends with issues of manumission and the benefits of Roman citizenship (such as the ius liberorum freeing female citizens with three of more children from guardianship). The second part on citizenship and ethnicity focuses on women in the regions along the northern and western frontiers of the Roman Empire, where we find non-Roman citizens adopting Roman burial customs but at the same time underlining their ethnic identity by their local dress or the record of their ethnic origin in the inscription. The chapter also includes local citizenhip and ends with the various relationships between local women and the Roman army.
The first chapter deals with women's various roles within their families and households and covers women of all classes indiscriminately (except for the imperial family). It starts with their central positions as wives, throwing light on the traditional wifely virtues and Roman marital ideals but also on marital problems, including divorce and even murder. The first part is followed by separate parts on women's roles as mothers, daughters, grandmothers, siblings and other relations such as aunts and nieces, and on women's roles in foster families and step families, thus presenting a lively overview of women's various familial roles in the course of their lives and the expectations that went with these different roles. The inscriptions and graffiti record feelings of joy at childbirth, love and praise for a happy marriage, attachment between mothers and children and mourning and anger at bereavement. Many epitaphs express the wish to have died first or the hope to be reunited in death.
This chapter deals with women’s roles in the religious life of their cities, both as cult officials and as devotees. Apart from the Vestals, Roman cities had priestesses of a few, mostly female, deities, such as Ceres, Venus, Tellus and Juno, but also Isis, Cybele and Bona Dea. Priestesses of the imperial cult are amply attested accross the Roman West (but not in Rome) serving both the living and the deified empresses. They were mostly from wealthy families of the local elite. Apart from priesthoods, a wide range of lesser religious functions were open to women of lower rank, most of them paid. For the performance of religious ceremonies, we find female musicians, dancers, basket-bearers and sacrificial attendants, as well as magistrae and ministrae, female temple-wardens and keepers of sacrificial animals. The last part of the chapter offers a sample of their dedications to male and female deities, both Roman and local, thus giving an impression of their religious allegiancies and their participation in rituals.
Women’s social relations and mobility are the main focus of the fourth chapter. Ties of friendship and love, but also enmity and hate, figure prominently in the first part of the chapter. It includes inscriptions mentioning women setting up a statue for, or receiving one from, a male or female friend, providing for a friend’s burial or including friends in their own tombs (and vice versa), but also curse tablets in which women figured both as commisioners and as targets. The second part deals with women’s involvement in patronage, their various engagements with the voluntary associations (collegia) that shaped social life in Roman cities and their presence in the main centres of social gathering: the baths, the theatre and amphitheatre. The final part of this chapter deals with inscriptions testifying to women’s travels and migration, showing that women travelled for various reasons, mostly with their families but sometimes on their own (with a retinue), over considerable distances. The chapter ends with foreign (non-Roman) women migrating to Rome and Italy.
This chapter selects some of the plentiful epigraphic evidence for women of the imperial family, ranging from the relatives of the emperor Augustus to the empresses of the Severan dynasty in the early third century AD. Starting with two prominent women of leading Republican families, who may be considered as forerunners of the women of the imperial family, the inscriptions are grouped together under three headings: life, death and deeds; titles and cult; wealth and staff. By throwing light on their public image, their public titles, such as mother of the army camps, their personal staff and their economic undertakings, inscriptions allow a more dispassionate view of imperial women vilified by the ancient literary authors, such as Livia, Messalina and Agrippina Minor, and shed some light on empresses neglected by the literary sources, such as the Matidias and Sabina. Inscriptions also attest to the friendship and benefactions of indivual empresses and the way they were presented as models for (female) citizens. In contrast to the deification and cult of some empresses, inscriptions also testify to the posthumous damnatio memoriae of other imperial women or their relatives.
The introduction sets out the aims and organisation of the book briefly overviewing women's representation in the various types of inscriptions and Roman burial customs. The introduction concludes by discussing practical issues on reading and interpreting inscriptions, on the PDF with the original texts and on women's traditional virtues, names and status indicators.
Inscriptions collected in this chapter demonstrate that women were employed in a wide range of occupations: not only were they engaged in gendered professions, as hairdressers, wet nurses and midwives, but they were also involved in more general vocations, for instance as physicians, albeit less frequently than men. Women were involved in trade and a limited number of crafts (primarily clothing and luxury production), and in education, entertainment and prostitution. Most working women we meet in inscriptions were freedwomen who had been trained as slaves. Their brief epitaphs advertise their professions as part of their social identity. Apart from funerary inscriptions, amphora stamps and painted messages on potsherds record the names of female ship owners and traders exporting wine and olive oil, brick stamps demonstrate their engagement as managers and owners of brick production and lead water pipes their management of lead workshops, graffiti advertise their services as prostitutes and wooden tablets their particpation in business transactions. Most testimonies are from Rome and the cities of Italy.
This chapter focuses on women’s roles as benefactresses section I), civic patronesses or ‘mothers’ section II) and on the public honours granted to them (parts III and IV), such as public statues and public funerals. Numerous women of wealth in the Roman West bestowed lavish donations on their cities from their own resources, thus acting as their cities' benefactresses. Some also provided other services, such as mediation between the city and men in power in Rome, and were officially co-opted as patronesses or ‘mothers’ of cities and civic associations (collegia). In recognition for their merits as civic patronesses, benefactresses (or priestesses, see Chapter 5) they could be granted public honours, such as public portrait statues and public funerals. The chapter closes with a sample of painted electoral programmata in Pompeii showing women publicly supporting a candidate for office section V).
By their social and material context as markers of graves, dedications and public signs of honour, inscriptions offer a distinct perspective on the social lives, occupations, family belonging, mobility, ethnicity, religious affiliations, public honour and legal status of Roman women ranging from slaves and freedwomen to women of the elite and the imperial family, both in Rome and in Italian and provincial towns. They thus shed light on women who are largely overlooked by the literary sources. The wide range of inscriptions and graffiti included in this book show women participating not only in their families and households but also in the social and professional life of their cities. Moreover, they offer us a glimpse of women's own voices. Marital ideals and problems, love and hate, friendship, birth and bereavement, joy and hardship all figure in inscriptions, revealing some of the richness and variety of life in the ancient world.