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Women in Antiquity: CLAS 330/HUM 330/WS 330 (3 units)
Presession, Summer 1995: Monday, May 15 - Saturday, June 3
9:00 -11:50 AM MTWTHF ML 312
Instructor: Marilyn B. Skinner (

Lecture 11: Women in Roman Law and Society

Pomeroy, chapter 8
Lefkowitz and Fant: 69, 71, 75, 168, 173, 176, 258, 260-61


  1. Dowry
  2. Rationale for marriage


  1. Ideal of the perfect mother (L&F 258): moral guardian
  2. Maternal role:
    1. physical attention to infant delegated to slaves
    2. parental function that of educator and strict supervisor
    3. maternal authority increases during the son's life cycle
    4. contrast between Greek and Roman constructions of mothering
  3. Cornelia as the paragon of motherhood (L&F 260)
  4. Seneca's expectations of his mother (L&F 261)


  1. Girls of elite classes provided with literary training
  2. Rationale for women's education linked to motherhood (L&F 75)
  3. Hostility to learned women (L&F 69)

Political Role of Elite Women

  1. Pivotal social role as representative of natal family in marriage: low expectations for husband-wife bond (L&F 69; but contrast L&F 168)
  2. Patronage networks as channel for exercise of informal power
    1. absence of clear distinction between political and social activities (cf. the "Washington hostess")
    2. patron-client relationships (amicitiae)
  3. "Order of matrons": married women of high birth, when acting in concert, were perceived as a distinct group with specific public functions
    1. Lex Oppia: women's sumptuary display as badge of civic status (L&F 173)
      • - example of Aemilia, wife of Scipio Africanus: "whenever Aemilia had left her house to take part in women's processions, it had been her habit to appear in great state, as befitted a woman who had shared the life of the great Africanus when he was at the height of his success" (Polybius 31.26)
      • - her nephew and heir Scipio Aemilianus passes trappings on to his impoverished mother--other women "moved with admiration for Scipio's goodness and generosity"
    2. Hortensia's speech: right of appeal to womenfolk of civic leaders (L&F 176)
    3. Augustan period: matrons assigned civic and ritual duties, e.g., supplications associated with Secular Games, in which selected matrons led by empress replicated rites performed by emperor, invoking Juno rather than Jupiter

Livia and Succeeding Empresses

  1. Special privileges to enable Livia to undertake public functions: removal of tutelage and sacrosanctity
  2. Political role of later empresses (princeps femina)
    1. intercede with emperor on behalf of particular groups
    2. priestesses of cults, often represented as divinities
    3. patronage of artists, social groups


  1. Satire (L&F 69)
  2. Cicero on Clodia (L&F 71)
    1. function of political invective
    2. exposed to such attacks due to patronage networks
    3. "theme of undue influence"
    4. hidden agenda of accusations of unchastity
    5. "fossilized invective" and subsequent historical record