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Legal Status in the Roman World


155. A prostitute and her mother. Hermoupolis, Egypt, 4th-5th cent. A.D. (Berlin papyrus 1024.6-8, exc. G)

A transcript of a legal protocol recording the judge's decision in a murder case. Although the defendant was a senator, the judge recognises the rights of his female victims.

Case against a certain senator, Diodemus of Alexandria, who was in love with a public prostitute. He was dining with the prostitute at evening time. Diodemus killed the prostitute, and when Zephyrus learned about it, he ordered Diodemus to be put into prison ... The other senators ask that he be released, but Zephyrus insists that he must remain in prison

(7) Diodemus admits that he killed the prostitute. A certain Theodora, a old woman and a pauper, asks that Diodemus be compelled for her support to provide some small consolation for her daughter's life. For she said, 'this is why I gave my daughter to the pimp, so that I might have a means of support. Now that my daughter is dead I am deprived of my support, and on this account I ask that some small amount, appropriate for a woman, be given for my support.'

The prefect's decision

You killed this woman, Diodemus, in a disgraceful way, a woman who gives a bad impression of human fortune, because she spent her life in an unholy manner and in the end sold [some letters missing]. And indeed I pity the poor creature, who when she was alive was laid out for those who wanted her, like a dead body. The poverty of her lot was so insistent that she sold her body and brought dishonour upon her name and reputation and took on a prostitute's life with its many hardships ... (8). I order that because you have destroyed the honour of the city council with the sword that you be banished as a murderer. Theodora, the poor old mother of the dead woman, who because of her own poverty deprived her daughter of her chastity, and so also caused her death, is to receive as her share one tenth of Diodemus' property; this is what required by law, with humanitarian considerations supporting the law's authority.