Category Archives: Ladies of the Empire

Boudica – Warrior Woman

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

About a month ago we shared a story Boudica: From Roman Client to Enemy of the StateNow we are going to share the show that inspired us to discuss this notable woman.

That is why today we bring you Warrior Women – Boudica!

In order to share the whole episode, we must break it up into 5 parts. Please enjoy the story of Boudica.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and visual presentation of a person deemed important by history. We look forward to you joining us again real soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Boudica: From Roman Client to Enemy of the State

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Whenever we can we like to share lives of Roman Women or women living in the Roman Empire. You may not think this is such a big deal, but history says otherwise.

Like many other people of the time, the Ancient Romans were a patriarchal society. Since Rome was a male dominated society not much attention was paid to women in general, so only those that stood out from the crowd received any acknowledgement (good or bad).

Keeping that in mind, today we are going to explore the life of the queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe – Boudica!1

Tacitus and Cassius Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio describes her as “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women.” He also describes her as tall, with tawny hair hanging down to below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. He notes that she habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a Torc), a colorful tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.

Boudicca’s husband, Prasutagus, was the king of the Iceni, a people who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. The Iceni initially voluntarily allied with Rome following Claudius’s conquest of Southern Britain AD 43.

They were proud of their independence, and had revolted in AD 47 when the then Roman Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula planned to disarm all the peoples in the area of Britannia under Roman control following a number of local uprisings. Ostorius defeated them and went on to put down other uprisings around Britain, but the Iceni remained independent.

Prasutagus CoinTacitus first mentioned Prasutagus when he wrote about Boudica’s rebellion. We do not know whether he became the king before or after the aforementioned defeat of the Iceni. We do not have any record as to whether the Iceni at that point were still Roman allies or had become a client kingdom.

We do know that Boudica’s husband Prasutagus ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome in Britannia. In his will, Prasutagus left his kingdom jointly to both his daughters and the Roman Emperor, who at the time was Nero.

However, when he died his will was ignored, and the kingdom was annexed solely to the Empire since women could not hold property according to Roman Law. Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.Demise

It was not explained why the Romans pillaged the kingdom, why they took the lands of the chiefs or why Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. All that history has recorded was the decision of the Procurator of Britannia (the Chief Financial Officer) and Seneca (an advisor of the Emperor Nero) to call in Prasutagus’ debts and that harsh measures were taken to collect them.

In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman GovernorGaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in the north of Wales, which was a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druids. It was at this point that the Iceni conspired with their neighbors the Trinovantes, amongst others, to revolt.

2Boudica was chosen as their leader. According to Tacitus, they drew inspiration from the example of Arminius, the prince of the Cherusci who had driven the Romans out of Germany in AD 9, and their own ancestors who had driven Julius Caesar from Britain.

Dio says that at the outset Boudica employed a form of divination, releasing a hare from the folds of her dress and interpreting the direction in which it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of Victory.

They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), earlier the capital of the Trinovantes but at that time a colonia. The Roman veterans who had been settled there mistreated the locals and a temple to the former Emperor Claudius had been erected there at local expense, making the city a focus for resentment.

The Roman inhabitants sought reinforcements from the Procurator, Catus Decianus, but he sent only 200 auxiliary troops. Boudica’s army fell on the poorly defended city and destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for 2 days before it fell.

boudica_camulodunumArchaeologists have shown that the city was methodically demolished. The future Governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but suffered an overwhelming defeat. His infantry was wiped out with only the commander and some of the cavalry having escaped.

Upon hearing of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (modern London). This 20-year-old commercial settlement that was the rebels’ next target.

The Romans, having concluded that they lacked sufficient numbers to defend the settlement, evacuated and abandoned Londinium. Boudica led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes, and others to fight the Legio IX Hispana, and burned and destroyed Londinium and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans).

Archaeology shows a thick red layer of burnt debris covering coins and pottery dating before AD 60 within the bounds of Roman Londinium. Roman-era skulls found in the Walbrook in 2013 were potentially linked to victims of the rebels.

While Boudica’s army continued their assault in Verulamium (St. Albans), Suetonius regrouped his forces. According to Tacitus, he amassed a force including his own Legio XIV Gemina, some vexillationes (detachments) of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries.

An estimated 70,000–80,000 Romans and British were killed in the three cities by those led by Boudica. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and, despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street.Battle of Watling Street

Dio says that, even if the Romans were lined up one deep, they would not have extended the length of Boudica’s line. By now the rebel forces were said to have numbered 230,000.

Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. Tacitus gives her a short speech in which she presents herself not as an aristocrat avenging her lost wealth, but as an ordinary person, avenging her lost freedom, her battered body, and the abused chastity of her daughters.Boadicea_and_her_army

She said their cause was just, and the deities were on their side; the one legion that had dared to face them had been destroyed. She, a woman, was resolved to win or die; if the men wanted to live in slavery, that was their choice.

According to Tacitus in his Annals, Boudica poisoned herself, though in the Agricola which was written almost 20 years prior he mentions nothing of suicide and attributes the end of the revolt to socordia (indolence). Dio says she fell sick and died and then was given a lavish burial, though this may be a convenient way to remove her from the story.

The location of Boudica’s defeat is unknown, though most historians favor a site somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street. A site close to High Cross in Leicestershire, on the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way, which would have allowed the Legio II Augusta, based at Exeter, to rendezvous with the rest of Suetonius’s forces, had they not failed to do so.

Manduessedum (Mancetter), near the modern town of Atherstone in Warwickshire, has also been suggested, as has “The Rampart” near Messing in Essex, according to legend. More recently, a discovery of Roman artefacts in Kings Norton close to Metchley Camp has suggested another possibility.

The crisis caused Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britannia, but Suetonius’ eventual victory over Boudica confirmed Roman control of the province. Boudica then either killed herself to avoid capture, or died of illness.

Gildas, in his 6th Century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, may have been alluding to Boudica when he wrote “A treacherous lioness boudica_by_dashinvainebutchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavors of Roman rule”.

By the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede‘s work, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s History of the Kings of Britain.

But the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Vergil to reintroduce her into British history as “Voadicea” in 1534. Raphael Holinshed also included her story in his Chronicles (1577), based on Tacitus and Dio, and inspired Shakespeare’s younger contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher to write a play, Bonduca, in 1610.

William Cowper‘s poem Boadicea, an ode (1782) popularized an alternative version of the name. From the 19th Century and much of the late 20th Century, Boadicea was the most common version of the name, which is probably derived from a mistranscription when a manuscript of Tacitus was copied in the Middle Ages.

Her name was clearly spelled Boudicca in the best manuscripts of Tacitus, but also several other variations in the later, and probably secondary, Epitome of Cassius Dio. The name is attested in inscriptions as Boudica in Lusitania, Boudiga in Bordeaux, and Bodicca in Algeria.

The closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the ow in “bow-and-arrow”. The modern English pronunciation is Bu-dika, and it has been suggested that the most comparable English name, in meaning only, would be “Victoria”.

It was in the Victorian era that Boudica’s fame took on legendary proportions as Queen Victoria came to be seen as Boudica’s “namesake”, their names being identical in meaning. Victoria’s Poet LaureateAlfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, “Boadicea”, and several ships were named after her.

She has also appeared in several comic book series, including:

  • Sláine, which featured two runs, titled “Demon Killer” and “Queen Boodikkaof Witches” giving a free interpretation of Boudica’s story;
  • Other comic appearances include Witchblade;
  • The DC Comics character Boodikka, a member of the Green Lantern Corps, was named after Boudica.

Boudica has been the subject of multiple films:

Civilization V - Gods & KingsA History Channel documentary was made in 2006 entitled Warrior Queen – Boudica. In the video games Civilization IICivilization IV: Beyond the Sword and Civilization V: Gods & Kings, Boudicca is leader of the Celtic tribe.

Boudica appears in in the heavily fictionalized 2013 video game Ryse: Son of Rome (2013), the mobile game Fate/Grand Order (2015), and the real-time strategy mobile game World of Warriors.

Boudicca is also a character in the animated series Gargoyles. She was the subject of a 1978 British TV series, Warrior Queen, starring Siân Phillips as Boudica.

The British television series Bonekickers, dedicated an hour to Boudica in the episode named “The Eternal Fire” (July 2008). Jennifer Ward-Lealand portrayed Boudica in an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess titled “The Deliverer” (1997).Bonekickers The Eternal Fire

Martha Howe-Douglas and Lorna Watson played Boudica in Horrible Histories. Kirsty Mitchell played Boudica in an episode of the History Channel’s Barbarians Rising series titled “Revenge” (2016).

boudicca statueA statue of Boudica with her daughters in her war chariot (a historically furnished with scythes after the Persian fashion) was executed by Thomas Thornycroft over the 1850s and 1860s with the encouragement of Prince Albert, who lent his horses for use as models. It was cast in bronze in 1902, 17 years after Thornycroft’s death, by his son Sir John, who presented it to the London County Council.Boudiccastatue

They erected it on a plinth on the Victoria Embankment next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, inscribed with the following lines from Cowper’s poem:

Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.

Ironically, the great anti-imperialist rebel was now identified with the head of the British Empire, and her statue stood guard over the city she razed to the ground.

ENG151196034  01Whether you look upon her as a hero to her people, or a villain of Rome, Boudica is part of Roman History. Her legacy, even as a woman, is known thanks to the Romans who chose to impart on her a lasting legacy.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again. Be sure to check us out again soon for we never know what’s in store for you, the reader.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Aldhouse-Green, M. Boudica Britannia: Rebel, War-Leader and Queen. Pearson Longman, 2006.

Böckl, Manfred. The Last Queen of the Celts. Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 2005.

Cassius Dio CocceianusDio’s Roman History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Collingridge, Vanessa. Boudica. London: Ebury, 2004.

de la Bédoyère, Guy. “Bleeding from the Roman Rods: Boudica”. Defying Rome: The Rebels of Roman Britain. Tempus: Stroud, 2003.

Dudley, Donald R; Webster, Graham. The Rebellion of Boudicca. London: Routledge, 1962.

Fraser, Antonia. The Warrior Queens. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988.

Godsell, Andrew. “Boadicea: A Woman’s Resolve”. Legends of British History. Wessex Publishing, 2008.

Hingley, Richard; Unwin, Christina. Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. Hambledon and London, 2004.

Roesch, Joseph E. Boudica, Queen of The Iceni. London: Robert Hale Ltd, 2006.

Tacitus, Cornelius. Tacitus on Britain and Germany. H. Mattingly trans. London: Penguin, 1948.

Tacitus, Cornelius. The Annals of Imperial Rome. M. Grant trans. London: Penguin, 1989.

Taylor, John. Tacitus and the Boudican Revolt. Dublin: Camvlos, 1998.

Webster, Graham. Boudica. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978.

Livia Augusta: First Lady of Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Much like many cultures from times past, Ancient Rome was a patriarchy. Men were the ones leading the Legio Romanus to battle, and men were the ones holding office.

Although freeborn women were cives, they could not vote nor hold public office. Believe it or not, Roman women were held in high regard.

Within this cloud of testosterone Roman women did find a way to be more than just a wife or mother. Even though records are sparse we want to share the Ladies of the Empire.

Today we are going to look at the First Lady of Rome, Livia Augusta!As Ceres

Livia Drusilla, also known as Julia Augusta after her formal adoption into the gens Iulia in AD 14, was the wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus throughout his reign, as well as his adviser. She was the mother of Emperor Tiberius, paternal grandmother of Emperor Claudius, paternal great-grandmother of Emperor Caligula, and maternal great-great-grandmother of Emperor Nero.

Livia Drusilla was born on 30 January 59 or 58 BC as the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus by his wife Aufidia, the daughter of the magistrate Marcus Aufidius Lurco. The suffix of “Little Drusilla” often found in her name suggests that she was a 2nd daughter. Sadly, Roman women didn’t get original names.

Per the Roman custom of daughters getting married between 12 and 16 years of age, Livia was probably married in 43 BC. Her father married her to Tiberius Claudius Nero, her Patricius cousin who was fighting with him on the side of Julius Caesar‘s assassins against her future husband Octavius (Caesar Augustus).

Her father committed suicide in the Battle of Philippi, but her husband continued fighting against Octavius, now on behalf of Mark Antony and his brother Lucius Antonius. Her first child, the future Emperor Tiberius, was born in 42 BC.

In 40 BC, the family was forced to flee Italy in order to avoid the Triumvirate of Octavius, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Mark Antony and the proscriptions they began. As did many of those proscribed, Livia with her husband and 2 year old son joined with Sextus Pompeius in Sicily before moving on to Greece.

After peace was established between the Triumvirate and the followers of Sextus Pompeius, a general amnesty was announced, and Livia returned to Rome, where she was personally introduced to Octavius in 39 BC. At this time, Livia already had a son and was pregnant with the second, Nero Claudius Drusus (also known as Drusus the Elder).

Legend said that Octavius fell immediately in love with her, despite the fact that he was still married to Scribonia (his 2nd wife). Octavius divorced Scribonia in 39 BC, on the very day that she gave birth to his daughter Julia the Elder.And Augustus

When Livia was around 6 months pregnant, Tiberius Claudius Nero was persuaded or forced by Octavius to divorce her. On 14 January, the child was born.

Augustus and Livia married on 17 January, waiving the traditional waiting period. Tiberius Claudius Nero was present at the wedding, giving her in marriage “just as a father would”.

The importance of the patrician Claudii to Octavius’s cause, and the political survival of the Claudii Nerones are probably more rational explanations for the tempestuous union. Nevertheless, Livia and Augustus remained married for the next 51 years, despite the fact that they had no children apart from a single miscarriage.

Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Emperor Augustus, Wife Livia and Fainting Sister, Octavia
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Emperor Augustus, Wife Livia and Fainting Sister, Octavia

She always enjoyed the status of privileged counselor to her husband, petitioning him on the behalf of others and influencing his policies. This was quite an unusual role for a Roman wife in a culture dominated by the pater familias but it seemed nothing but natural for Livia.

After Mark Antony’s suicide following the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavius had removed all obstacles to his power and henceforth ruled as Emperor, from 27 BC on, under the honorary title Augustus. He and Livia formed the role model for Roman households. Despite their wealth and power, Augustus’s family continued to live modestly in their house on the Palatine Hill.

Livia would set the pattern for the noble Roman matrona. She wore neither excessive jewelry nor pretentious costumes, she took care of the household and her husband (often making his clothes herself), always faithful and dedicated.

In 35 BC Octavius gave Livia the unprecedented honor of ruling her own finances and dedicated a public statue to her. She had her own circle of clients and pushed many protégés into political offices, including the grandfathers of the later Emperors Galba and Otho.3

With Augustus being the father of only one daughter (Julia the Elder by Scribonia), Livia revealed herself to be an ambitious mother and soon started to push her own sons Tiberius and Nero Claudius Drusus into power. Drusus was a trusted general and married Augustus’s favorite niece, Antonia Minor, and had 3 children: the popular General GermanicusLivilla, and the future Emperor Claudius. Tiberius married Augustus’s daughter Julia the Elder in 11 BC and was ultimately adopted by his stepfather in AD 4 and named as Augustus’s heir.

Rumor had it that when Marcellus, nephew of Augustus, died in 23 BC, it was no natural death, and that Livia was behind it. After the 2 elder sons of Julia by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, whom Augustus had adopted as sons and successors had died, the one remaining son Agrippa Postumus was adopted at the same time as Tiberius, but later Agrippa Postumus was sent to an island and finally killed.

Tacitus charges that Livia was not altogether innocent of these deaths and Cassius Dio also mentions such rumors. There are also rumors mentioned by Tacitus and Cassius Dio that Livia brought about Augustus’s death by poisoning fresh figs.

Augustus’s granddaughter was Julia the Younger. Sometime between 1 and 14 AD, her husband Paullus was executed as a conspirator in a revolt. Modern historians theorize that Julia’s exile was not actually for adultery but for involvement in Paulus’ revolt.

Livia Drusilla plotted against her stepdaughter’s family and ruined them. This led to open compassion for the fallen family.

Augustus died in AD 14, being deified by the Senate shortly afterwards. In his will, he left 1/3 of his property to Livia, and the other 2/3 to Tiberius.

In the will, he also adopted Livia into the Julian family and granted her the honorific title of Augusta. These dispositions permitted Livia to maintain her status and power after his death, under the new name of Julia Augusta. Upon her own death Livia was deified by Claudius who acknowledged her title of Augusta.

After the death of her husband, Livia’s son Tiberius became Emperor. For some time, Livia and the new Emperor appeared to get along with each other.

Speaking against Livia became treason in AD 20, and in AD 24 Emperor Tiberius granted his mother a theater seat among the Vestales. Livia exercised unofficial but very real power in Rome.

Livia Drusila - Paestum (M.A.N. Madrid) 01Eventually, Tiberius became resentful of his mother’s political status, particularly against the idea that it was she who had given him the throne. At the beginning of the reign he vetoed the unprecedented title Mater Patriae (Mother of the Fatherland) that the Senate wanted to bestow upon her, in the same manner in which Augustus had been named Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland).

The historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio depict an overweening, even domineering matriarch, ready to interfere in Tiberius’ decisions. A notice from AD 22 records that Julia Augusta (Livia) dedicated a statue to Augustus in the center of Rome, on which she placed her own name even before that of Tiberius.

Ancient historians give as a reason for Tiberius’ retirement to Capri his inability to endure her any longer. Until AD 22 there had, according to Tacitus, been “a genuine harmony between mother and son, or a hatred well concealed.”

Dio tells us that at the time of his accession already Tiberius heartily loathed her. In AD 22 she had fallen ill, and Tiberius had hastened back to Rome in order to be with her.Livia with Augustus Bust

But in AD 29 when she finally fell ill and died, he remained on Capri, pleading pressure of work and sending Caligula to deliver the funeral oration.

Suetonius adds the macabre detail that “when she died… after a delay of several days, during which he held out hope of his coming, [she was at last] buried because the condition of the corpse made it necessary…”

Tiberius also vetoed divine honors for Livia stating that this was in accord with her own instructions. Later he vetoed all the honors the Senate had granted her after her death and cancelled the fulfillment of her will.

It was not until 13 years later, in AD 42 during the reign of her grandson Claudius, which all her honors were restored and her deification finally completed. She was named Diva Augusta (The Divine Augusta), and an elephant-drawn chariot conveyed her image to all public games. A statue of her was set up in the Temple of Augustus along with her husband’s, races were held in her honor, and women were to invoke her name in their sacred oaths.

Villa_di_livia,_affreschi_di_giardino,_parete_corta_meridionaleHer Villa Ad Gallinas Albas north of Rome is currently being excavated. Many famous frescoes of imaginary garden views from the villa may be seen at National Museum of Rome. The Augustus of Prima Porta came from the grounds of the villa.

While reporting various, unsavory hearsay, the ancient sources generally portray Livia as a woman of proud and queenly attributes, faithful to her imperial husband, for whom she was a worthy consort, forever poised and dignified. With consummate skill she acted out the roles of consort, mother, widow and dowager.

Dio records 2 of her utterances: “Once, when some naked men met her and were to be put to death in consequence, she saved their lives by saying that to a chaste woman such men are in no way different from statues. When someone asked her how she had obtained such a commanding influence over Augustus, she answered that it was by being scrupulously chaste herself, doing gladly whatever pleased him, not meddling with any of his affairs, and, in particular, by pretending neither to hear nor to notice the favorites of his passion.”

Livia had always been a principal beneficiary of the climate of adulation that Augustus had done so much to create. An example of this was shown whenever she attended the theatre, a seat among the Vestals was reserved for Livia as an honor for the Vestales.

Livia’s image appears in ancient visual media such as coins and portraits. She was the first woman to appear on provincial coins in 16 BC and her portrait images can be chronologically identified partially from the progression of her hair designs, which represented more than keeping up with the fashions of the time as her depiction with such contemporary details translated into a political statement of representing the ideal Roman woman.Coins

Livia’s image evolves with different styles of portraiture that trace her effect on imperial propaganda that helped bridge the gap between her role as wife to the Emperor Augustus, to mother of the Emperor Tiberius. Becoming more than the “beautiful woman” she is described as in ancient texts, Livia serves as a public image for the idealization of Roman feminine qualities, a motherly figure, and eventually a goddess-like representation that alludes to her virtue.2

Livia’s power in symbolizing the renewal of the Republic with the female virtues Pietas and Concordia in public displays had a dramatic effect on the visual representation of future imperial women as ideal, honorable mothers and wives of Rome.

In the popular fictional work I, Claudius by Robert Graves, Livia is I, Claudiusportrayed as a thoroughly scheming political mastermind. Her character seemed determined never to allow republican governance to flower again and was devoted to bringing, and keeping, Tiberius in power. She is involved in nearly every death or disgrace in the Julio-Claudian family up to the time of her death.

HBO LiviaLivia was also dramatized in the HBO/BBC series Rome. Introduced in the 2007 episode “A Necessary Fiction“, Livia (Alice Henley) soon catches the eye of young OctavianRome does acknowledge the existence of Livia’s child, Tiberius, by her first husband, but not that she was pregnant with Nero Claudius Drusus when she met Octavian. Livia is portrayed as deceptively submissive in public, while in private she possesses an iron will, and a gift for political scheming that matches Atia’s.

In Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough, Livia is portrayed as a cunning and effective advisor to her husband, whom she loves passionately.

Although her marriage with Augustus produced only one pregnancy, which miscarried, through her sons by her first husband, Tiberius and Drusus, she is a direct ancestor of all of the Julio-Claudian emperors as well as most of the extended Julio-Claudian imperial family.

The line possibly continued for at least another century after the dynasty’s downfall through the son and grandson of Livia’s great-great-granddaughter Rubellia Bassa. It is unknown, however, whether or not this line was continued or if it became extinct.

Even though it was a male dominated society Roman women were not mere pushovers, and Livia Augustus was the perfect example of this strong will. Her example set the standards of what it meant to be a Roman woman, and how to conduct oneself, for future generations.Livia_Drusilla

We hope you enjoyed today’s look at one of the most, if not the most, influential women in the history of Rome. Come back again soon to see what we have in store.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Barrett, Antony A. Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome. Yale University Press, 2002.

Bartman, Elizabeth. Portraits of Livia: Imaging the Imperial Woman in Augustan Rome. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Fraschetti, A. Roman Women. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-26094-5.

Hurley, D. “Livia (Wife of Augustus)”. Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, 1999.

Cosmetics in Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! We’ve been around, checking out different spots, investigating various events, discussing people of interest, and even getting in an interview or two.

But now it’s time to get back to the ladies. The last article for our female audience was Clothing of Roman Women.

Like most things here, the accounts were done by men, but it’s the thought that counts. Today we are checking out Cosmetics in Ancient Rome!roman-cosmetics-display

In Ancient Rome, cosmetics were initially used only for ritual purposes. Over time cosmetics then became part of daily life for women, especially prostitutes and the wealthy.

Some fashionable cosmetics, such as those imported from ChinaGermania and Gallia, were so expensive that the Lex Oppia tried to limit their use in 189 BC. These original designer brands spawned cheap knock-offs that were sold to poorer women (sounds familiar).

Working-class women could afford the cheaper varieties, but may not have had the time (or slaves) to apply the makeup as the use of makeup was a time-consuming affair because cosmetics needed to be reapplied several times a day due to weather conditions and poor composition.

Cosmetics were applied in private, usually in a small room where men did not enter. Cosmetae, female slaves that adorned their mistresses, were especially praised for their skills. They would beautify their mistresses with cultus, the Latin word encompassing makeup, perfume and jewelry.Cosmetae

Scent was also an important factor of beauty. Women who smelled good were presumed to be healthy.

Due to the stench of many of the ingredients used in cosmetics at the time, women often drenched themselves in copious amounts of perfume.

Christian women tended to avoid cosmetics with the belief that they should praise what God gave them. Some men, especially cross-dressers, did use cosmetics, although it was viewed as effeminate and improper.

All cosmetic ingredients were also used as medicines to treat various ailments. Lead, although known to be poisonous, was still widely used.

Roman attitudes towards cosmetics evolved with the expansion of the Empire. The assortment of cosmetics available increased as trade borders expanded and the resulting influx of wealth granted women additional slaves and time to spend on beauty.

Ideas of beauty from conquered peoples, especially the Greeks and Egyptians, greatly influenced the Roman paradigm of beauty. Unlike their eastern trading partners however, the Romans felt that only the “preservation of beauty” was acceptable and not “unnatural embellishment”.

Despite exaggerating their makeup to make it appear in the poor lighting of the time, women still wanted to appear natural as a sign of chastity.

Artificiality denoted a desire to be seductive, which made men question for which exactly a woman was trying to appear attractive. This was why men generally viewed the use of cosmetics as deceitful and manipulative.

Vestal Virgins did not don makeup because they were supposed to look holy and chaste. Postumia, one of the Vestal Virgins, defied this convention and consequently, was accused of incestum.vestal-virgins

Of all the surviving texts mentioning cosmetics (all written by men, of course) Ovid is alone in his approval of their use. The consensus was that women who used cosmetics in excess were immoral and deceptive and were practicing a form of witchcraft.

Juvenal wrote that “a woman buys scents and lotions with adultery in mind” and mocked the need for cosmetics, believing that they were ineffective.

Use of perfumes was further looked down upon because they were thought to mask the smell of sex and alcohol. Seneca advised virtuous women to avoid cosmetics, as he believed their use to be a part of the decline of morality in Rome.

Stoics were also against the use of cosmetics, as they were opposed to the usage of all man-made luxuries. Although there are no surviving texts written by women expounding the attitude of women towards cosmetics, their widespread use indicates that women accepted and enjoyed these products.

Pure white skin, a demarcation of the leisure class, was the most important feature of Roman beauty. Native Roman women weren’t naturally fair-skinned and spent their time outside with oils on their faces, requiring whitening makeup to fit their model of beauty.

Women would often prepare their faces with beauty masks prior to applying makeup. One recipe called for the application of sweat from sheep’s wool (lanolin) to the face before bedtime, emitting a stench often criticized by men.ancient-cream

Other beauty mask ingredients included juice, seeds, horns, excrement, honey, plants, placenta, marrow, vinegar, bile, animal urine, sulfur, vinegar, eggs, myrrh, incense, frankincense, ground oyster shells, onions with poultry fat, white lead, and barley with vetch.

Bathing in asses’ milk was an expensive treatment that worked like a chemical peel and was used by wealthy women such as Cleopatra VII and Poppaea Sabina.

After their baths, they would then apply face whitener, such as chalk powder, white marl, crocodile dung and white lead. The Roman recognition that lead was, indeed, poisonous underscored their point of view on how important white skin was.

Other ingredients used in whiteners included beeswax and honey, olive oil, rosewater, saffron, animal fat, tin oxide, starch, arugula, cucumber, anise, mushrooms, rose leaves, poppies, myrrh, frankincense, almond oil, lily root, water parsnip and eggs.

The Romans disliked wrinkles, freckles, sunspots, skin flakes and blemishes. To soften wrinkles, they used swans’ fat, asses’ milk, gum Arabic and bean-meal. Sores and freckles were treated with the ashes of snails.

The Romans pasted soft leather patches of alum directly over blemishes to pretend that they were beauty marks. Criminals and freedmen used these leather patches, which came in both round and crescent shapes, to conceal brand marks.

With the exception of hair on her head, hair was considered to be unattractive on a Roman woman. Consequently, women removed hair by shaving, plucking, waxing using a resin paste, or scraping with a pumice stone. Older women faced ridicule for their depilation because it was viewed primarily as preparation for sex.

Although Romans esteemed pale faces, a light pink on the cheeks was considered to be attractive, signifying good health. Plutarch wrote that too much rouge made a woman look showy, while Martial mocked women, believing that rouge was in danger of melting in the sun.Palette

Sources of rouge included Tyrian vermillion, rose and poppy petals, fucus, red chalk, alkanet and crocodile dung. Red ochre, a more expensive blush, was imported from Gallia Belgica and ground against a stone into powder.

Despite a widespread knowledge that cinnabar and red lead was poisonous, they were both still used extensively. Cheap alternatives included mulberry juice and wine dregs.

The ideal eyes, from the Roman perspective, were large with long eyelashes. Pliny the Elder wrote that eyelashes fell out from excessive sex and so it was especially important for women to keep their eyelashes long to prove their chastity.

Kohl was the main ingredient in eye makeup, and was composed of ashes or soot and antimony, with saffron usually added to improve the smell. Kohl was applied using a rounded stick, made of ivory, glass, bone, or wood, that would be dipped in either oil or water first, before being used to apply the kohl.

The use of kohl as makeup came from the east. In addition to kohl, charred rose petals and date stones could be used to darken the eyes.

Colored eye shadow was also applied by women to accentuate their eyes. Green eye shadow came from poisonous malachite, while blue came from azurite.

The Romans preferred dark eyebrows that almost met in the center. This effect was achieved by darkening their eyebrows with antimony or soot and then extending them inward. Plucking began in the 1st Century BC to tidy their overall look.Case

Although evidence for the usage of lipstick appears in earlier civilizations, no such evidence has materialized to indicate that the Romans ever colored their lips. The only evidence for painting nails comes from a red dye they imported that was produced from an Indian insect.

Generally only the wealthy cut their nails, as they used barbers to clip their nails short, following the contemporary practice for good hygiene.

Although oral hygiene was nowhere near today’s standards, white teeth were prized by the Romans. So this caused false teeth, made from bone, ivory and paste, to be popular items.

Ovid shed light on the way white teeth were viewed in society when he wrote the statement, “You can do yourself untold damage when you laugh if your teeth are black, too long or irregular.” The Romans also sweetened their breath with powder and baking soda.

Perfumes were very popular in Ancient Rome. In fact, they were so heavily used that Cicero claimed that, “The right scent for a woman is none at all.”Perfume Bottles

They came in liquid, solid and sticky forms and were often created in a maceration process with flowers or herbs and oil. The technology for distillation originated in the East, along with most of the imported ingredients.

The most prominent perfume market in Italy was Seplasia in Capua. Perfumes were rubbed on or poured onto the user and were often believed to be helpful against different ailments, such as fever and indigestion.

Different scents were appropriate for different occasions, as well as for men and women. Deodorants made from alum, iris and rose petals were common.

In addition to personal use, perfumes were used in food and as household aromatics.

Makeup usually came in tablet or cake form, sold at marketplaces. Wealthy women bought expensive makeup that came in elaborate containers made from gold, wood, glass or bone.

Kohl came in compartmentalized tubes that could store more than one color of eye makeup. Glassblowing, invented in the 1st Century AD in Syria, lowered the price of containers.

The most common color for glass was teal. Gladiator sweat and fats of the animals fighting in the arena were sold in souvenir pots outside of the games to improve complexion.

Mirrors in Ancient Rome were mostly hand mirrors made from polished metal, or mercury behind glass. Spending too much time in front of a mirror was thought to denote that a woman was weak in character.

Cosmetics, and especially their overuse, were commonly associated with prostitutes, both being regarded as immoral and seductive. The Latin word lenocinium actually meant both “prostitution” and “makeup”.fresco-of-roman-woman

Women wearing too much makeup have been derogatorily called prostitutes, so this thought has held fast for a couple thousand years.

Due to their low income, prostitutes tended to use cheaper cosmetics, which emitted rather foul odors. The bad smell of cheap cosmetics, combined with the strong, exotic scents used to cover up the stench, made brothels smell especially rank.

The procuress of a brothel often used the promise of beauty to entice girls to enter the profession. As prostitutes aged, with their income dependent on their appearance, they opted for more copious amounts of makeup. Courtesans often received cosmetics and perfumes as gifts or partial payment.

Men are also known to have used cosmetics in Roman times, although it was frowned upon by society. Men seen carrying mirrors were viewed as effeminate, while those using face-whitening makeup were thought to be immoral because they were expected to be tanned from working outside.

Two of the more acceptable practices were the light use of certain perfumes and moderate hair removal. A man removing too much hair was viewed as effeminate, while removing too little made him seem unrefined.

The Romans found it especially inappropriate for an Emperor to be vain. This was especially the case with the Emperor Otho. The Emperor Elagabalus removed all of his body hair and often donned makeup, which caused the Romans much grief.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the origins and uses of cosmetics in Ancient Rome. Like most things Roman, some ingredients, applications or beauty ideals still hold true today.Kit

Please come back again soon to see what we have in store. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

AthenaeusDeipnosophistae.

Cassius DioRoman History.

JuvenalSatires.

Ovid. The Art of Love.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History.

Seneca. Controversiae.

Green, PeterArs Gratia Cultus: Ovid as Beautician. American Journal of Philology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.

Stewart, Susan. Cosmetics & Perfumes in the Roman World. Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2007.

History of Cosmetics: A Brief History of Cosmetics in Roman Times. Life in Italy.

Roman Cosmetic Secrets Revealed. BBC News.

Clothing of Roman Women

Hello and welcome to Rome Across Europe! In the past we have talked about Roman fashion.

Not shocking, it was from a male perspective and focused primarily for men. It was not too far off from the fashion industry these days.

Because we are trying to get more stories with Roman women as the focus, we found the women of Ancient Rome did indeed actually have clothes.

So today we bring to you the fashion of Roman women!Roman Matron

Palla

PallaThe palla was a woven rectangle made of wool that the Roman matron wore on top of her stola when she went outside. Palla is a traditional Ancient Roman mantle worn by women, fastened by brooches.

The palla is a single piece of material draped over the shoulders and around the body or over the head as well. It was similar to the pallium that a man would wear.

The palla was similar to a shawl that a woman of today would wear. The palla would come in many colors some including blue, green, and yellow.

A palla was like the toga in which both were a woven, not sewn, expanse of cloth that could be pulled over the head. The shape of the palla was rectangular instead of semi-circular as with the traditional toga.

Stola

StolaThe stola was a long, pleated dress, worn over an undergarment called a tunica intima (the Roman version of a slip). The stola was generally sleeveless but versions of it did have short or long sleeves.

These sleeves could belong to the stola itself or be a part of the tunica. The traditional sleeveless stola was fastened by clasps at the shoulder called fibulae.

The stola was typically girt with ribbons, and typically had 2 belts. The first was worn just below the breasts creating a great number of folds. The second and wider belt was worn around the waist.

Stolae were generally made of fabrics like linen or wool, but a wealthy woman could be seen wearing a stola made of silk. The stola was worn as a symbol and represented a woman’s marital status.

A wealthier woman might also have added a limbus to her stola. A limbus was a separate piece of fabric with many folds that was sewn into the hem of the stola creating the appearance of another gown being worn beneath. This created the illusion of layers, a symbol of wealth and status.

Stolae were made in a variety of colors including red, yellow, and blue. Decorations were also added to the neckline and hem.

For common women, these would be a simple band of color or pattern. For wealthier women, more details and embellishments were used.Rich

A wide ornamental border called an instita was often used around the neckline and hem as a display of wealth.

Originally, women wore togas as well. After the 2nd Century BC, however, the toga was worn exclusively by men, and women were expected to wear the stola.

At that point, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to wear a toga. Wearing the male garment was associated with prostitution and adultery, thusly adulterers and prostitutes were forbidden to wear the stola.

Although the stola was a Roman garment, it was inspired by the clothing of ancient Greece. It was a staple of fashion in Ancient Rome spanning from the early Res Publica Romana through the Imperium Rōmānum and Byzantine Empire into the 1st millennium.

A well-known image of the stola is the one worn by the Statue of Liberty in New York City.new-york-statue-of-liberty

Tunica

PlebeianTunicaAlthough not reserved for women, the tunica was part of the Roman costume for women. It was a simple rectangular piece that might have sleeves or might be sleeveless.

It was the basic garment that went on under the stola, palla or toga. It could also be worn alone.

The tunica or chiton was worn as a shirt or gown by both genders. The body garment was loose-fitting for males, usually beginning at the neck and ending above the knee. A woman’s garment could be either close fitting or loose, beginning at the neck and extending over a skirt or skirts.

While men might belt up the tunica, women were expected to have fabric extending to their feet. So if this was all she wore, a Roman woman would not belt it.

She may or may not have had some form of underwear under it.Chiton Originally, the tunica would have been woolen, and would have continued to be wool for those who couldn’t afford more luxurious fibers.

The Roman tunica was adopted from the Greek in the 3rd Century BC. It was worn by citizens and non-citizens alike. Citizens, though, might wear it under the toga, especially at formal occasions.

The length of the garment, the presence or lack of stripes, as well as their width and ornamentation, would indicate the wearer’s status in Roman society. Roman Senators, for example, used the Laticlavus, with broad purple stripes, and members of the equestrian class wore the Angusticlavia, with narrower stripes.

Soldiers, slaves and manual workers generally had tunics to a little above the knee. Those in more sedentary occupations had a length to about the ankle, unless they were expecting to ride a horse, when a shorter one would be worn.

Strophium and Subligaculum

BreastbandThe breast band for exercise shown in the picture is called a strophium, fascia, fasciola, taenia or mamillare. Its purpose was to hold the breasts and may also have been to compress them.

The breast band was a normal, if optional, item in a woman’s underwear.

Women in Ancient Rome adopted a form of the Greek apodesme, known as the strophium ormamillare. Since the Romans regarded large breasts as comical, or characteristic of aging or unattractive women, young girls wore breast bands secured tightly in the belief that doing so would prevent overly large, sagging breasts.

Observation of artifacts and experiments shows bands had to be wrapped several times around the breasts, largely to flatten them in a style popular with flappers in the 1920s. These Greco-Roman breastbands may have flattened big breasts and padded small breasts to look bigger.

Sometimes in the most sexually explicit Roman paintings, the breasts are kept covered by the strophium. The settings in which the paintings are found indicate that the women so depicted may be prostitutes, but it can be difficult to discern why an artist decides in a given scenario to portray the breasts covered by a strophium or exposed.

The so-called “Bikini Girls” mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale (4th Century AD) shows 10 women performing gymnastic or dance routines, weight-lifting, discus throwing, and running, while wearing a garment like a strapless bra and briefs.Strophium and Subligar

Other primitive iterations of a brassiere are depicted earlier in wall paintings preserved at Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

leather subligariaFor the lower half of the body Roman women wore a bikini-style bottom. It was a wrapped loincloth of cloth or leather, was called a subligar or subligaculum (little binding underneath).

The Bikini Girls from Piazza Armenia, some of whom sport the braless look of the late 20th Century, do not depict any propensity of such popularity in style. One bottom, made of leather, from Roman Britain was displayed at the Museum of London in 1998.

There has been no evidence that these bikinis were for swimming or sun-bathing.

The Kings of Naples discovered artifacts in Pompeii, including the one meter tall, almost unclothed statue of Venus painted in gold leaf with something like a modern bikini.Venus in bikini

Reportedly Theodora, the 6th Century Empress of the Byzantine Empire wore a bikini when she appeared as an actress before she captured the heart of Emperor Justinian I.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the clothing of Roman women. Maybe it’s something to look into for your own wardrobe, or maybe not.

In any event, come check us out again soon to see what we have in store for you. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Gill, N.S. Roman Dress for Women.

Huskinson, Janet. Experiencing Rome. Routledge (2000). ISBN 0-415-21284-7.

Judith Lynn Sebesta &, Larissa Bonfante, The World of Roman Costume. Wisconsin Press (1994). ISBN 0-299-13854-2.

McManus, Barbara F . Roman Clothing. The College of New Rochelle (2003).

McGinn, Thomas A. Prostitution, sexuality, and the law in ancient Rome. Oxford University Press (1998). ISBN 0-19-508785-2.

Helena – Mother. Empress. Saint.

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! Not too long ago we decided that it was time to get an idea of women in Ancient Rome.

We had some articles such as: Four Sisters in Ancient Rome, Women in Ancient Rome, and Messalina – A Woman of Interest. Having gotten off to a good start we thought it was time to focus on one of the most important, and our favorite, Lady of Rome.

Today we take a look at the life of Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta, known to most today as Saint Helena!Helena_of_Constantinople

Helena’s birth date and birthplace is not known with certainty. She is believed to have been born circa AD 250.

The Bishop and historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, states that she was about 80 years of age on her return from Palestine. Since that journey has been dated to AD 326–28, Helena was probably born in AD 248 or 250.

The 6th Century historian Procopius is the earliest authority for the statement that Helena was a native of Drepanum, in the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Her son, Emperor Constantine the Great, would rename the city of his mother’s birth Helenopolis after her death around AD 330, which supports the belief that the city was her birthplace.Helenopolis

The Byzantinist Cyril Mango has argued that Helenopolis was re-founded to strengthen the communication network around the Empire’s new capital in Constantinople, and was renamed simply to honor Helena, not to mark her birthplace.

There was also a Helenopolis in Palestine and a Helenopolis in Lydia. These cities, and the province of Helenopontus in the Diocese of Pontus, were probably both named after Constantine’s mother. Helena was considered a Briton by the British, a tradition noted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose 12th Century Historia Regum Britanniae reports that Helena was a daughter of the British King Coel.

Little is known of her early life. Fourth Century sources, following Eutropius‘ Breviarium, record that Helena came from a low background. Saint Ambrose was the first to call her a stabularia, a term translated as “stable-maid” or “inn-keeper”.

He makes this fact a virtue, calling Helena a bona stabularia, a “good stable-maid”. Other sources, especially those written after Constantine’s proclamation as Emperor, gloss over or ignore her background.

Const.chlorusIt is unknown where she originally met Constantius, the father of Constantine. The historian Timothy Barnes has suggested that Constantius, while serving under Emperor Aurelian, could have met her while stationed in Asia Minor for the campaign against Zenobia.

It is said that upon meeting they were wearing identical silver bracelets. Constantius saw her as his soul mate sent by God.

Barnes calls attention to an epitaph at Nicomedia of one of Aurelian’s protectors, which could indicate the Emperor’s presence in the Bithynian region soon after 270. The precise legal nature of the relationship between Helena and Constantius is also unknown.

The sources are equivocal on the point, sometimes calling Helena Constantius’ “wife”, and sometimes, following the dismissive propaganda of Constantine’s rival Maxentius, calling her his “concubine”. Jerome, perhaps confused by the vague terminology of his own sources, manages to do both.

Some scholars assert that Constantius and Helena were joined in a common-law marriage, a cohabitation recognized in fact but not in law. Others stress that Constantius and Helena were joined in an official marriage, on the grounds that the sources claiming an official marriage are more reliable.

Helena gave birth to the future emperor Constantine I on 27 February around AD 272 in Naissus. In order to obtain a wife more consonant with his rising status, Constantius divorced Helena some time before AD 289, when he married Theodora, Maximian’s daughter under his command.

Having to divorce Helena to marry another would thusly support the theory of the legal marriage between Constantius and Helena.

Helena and her son were dispatched to the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia, where Constantine grew to be a member of the inner circle. Helena never remarried and lived for a time in obscurity, though close to her only son, who had a deep regard and affection for her.

Constantine was proclaimed Augustus of the Imperium Rōmānum in AD 306 by Constantius’ troops after the latter had died. Following his elevation in AD 312, Helena returned to the Imperial Court where she was brought back to the public life.Follis-Helena-trier

She appears in the Eagle Cameo portraying Constantine’s family, probably commemorating the birth of Constantine’s son Constantine II in the summer of AD 316. In AD 325, Constantine appointed his mother as Augusta Imperatrix, and gave her unlimited access to the imperial treasury in order to locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition.

From AD 326-28 Helena undertook a trip to the Holy Places in Palestine. According to Eusebius of Caesarea she was responsible for the construction or beautification of 2 churches, the Church of the Nativity and the Church on the Mount of Olives, sites of Christ‘s birth and ascension, respectively.St_Helena_finding_the_true_cross

Local founding legend attributes to Helena’s orders the construction of a church in Egypt to identify the Burning Bush of Sinai. The chapel at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, often referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen, is dated to the year AD 330.

Jerusalem was still being rebuilt following the destruction caused by Emperor Hadrian. He had built a temple to Venus or Jupiter over the site of Jesus‘ tomb near Calvary, and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina.

According to tradition, Helena ordered the temple torn down and chose a site to begin excavating. This led to the recovery of 3 different crosses.

The legend is recounted in AmbroseOn the Death of Theodosius (died 395) and at length in Rufinus‘ chapters appended to his translation into Latin of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, the main body of which does not mention the event.

Rufinus relates the Empress refused to be swayed by anything short of solid proof and performed a test to confirm it was the cross on which Christ was crucified. Possibly through Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem, she had a woman who was near death brought from the city.

When the woman touched the 1st and 2nd crosses her condition did not change, but when she touched the final cross she suddenly recovered. Helena declared the cross with which the woman had been touched to be the True Cross.Finding-the-True-Cross-Saint-Helena-and-Saint-Macarius-of-Jerusalem

On the site of discovery, Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Churches were also built on other sites detected by Helena.

Sozomen and Theodoret claim that Helena also found the nails of the crucifixion. To use their miraculous power to aid her son, Helena allegedly had one placed in Constantine’s helmet, and another in the bridle of his horse.

Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces in AD 327 to return to Rome, bringing with her large parts of the True Cross and other relics. These relics were then stored in her palace’s private chapel, where they can be still seen today.

Helen’s palace was later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This has been maintained by Cistercian monks in the monastery which has been attached to the Church for centuries.

Tradition says that the site of the Vatican Gardens was spread with earth brought from Golgotha by Helena to symbolically unite the blood of Christ with that shed by thousands of early Christians, who died in the persecutions of Nero.

According to one tradition, Helena acquired the Holy Tunic on her trip to Jerusalem and sent it to Trier.

According to Byzantine tradition, Helena is responsible for the large population of cats in Cyprus. Local tradition holds that she imported hundreds of cats from Egypt or Palestine in the 4th Century AD to rid a monastery of snakes. The monastery is today known as “St. Nicholas of the Cats” and is located near Limassol.St. Nicholas of the Cats

Several relics purportedly discovered by Helena are now in Cyprus, where she spent some time. Among them are items believed to be part of Jesus Christ’s tunic, pieces of the holy cross, and pieces of the rope with which Jesus was tied on the Cross. The rope, considered to be the only relic of its kind, has been held at the Stavrovouni Monastery, which was also founded by Helena.

Helena’s search for Christian relics and the official establishment of these icons are viewed by some scholars to be the introduction of idolatry into the Church. Some centuries later, Emperor Leo III sought to remove such images from Christian worship, but Pope Gregory II and Gregory III, and a majority of the clergy, protested against the Emperor’s iconoclastic edicts.

The issue for the Catholic Church was settled at the Second Council of Nicaea.

Helena's sarcophagusHelena died around AD 330 with her son at her side. She was buried in what is now the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum.

Next to Helena is theCaputSHelenae_Trier sarcophagus of her granddaughter Saint Constantina (Saint Constance). The Empress’s skull is displayed in the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany.

Helena is considered by the Eastern OrthodoxOriental OrthodoxEastern and Latin Catholic churches, as well as by the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Churches as a Saint, famed for her piety. She is sometimes known as Helen of Constantinople to distinguish her from others with similar names.

Her feast day as a Saint of the Orthodox Christian Church is celebrated with her son on 21 May, the “Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles”. Likewise, Anglican churches and some Lutheran churches, keep the Eastern date.

Saint Helena’s feast day in the Roman Catholic Church falls on 18 August. Her feast day in the Coptic Orthodox Church is on 9 Pashons.Saint-Helen Orthodox

Eusebius records the details of her pilgrimage to Palestine and other eastern provinces. Saint Helena is the Patron Saint of New Discoveries.

Her discovery of the True Cross along with Constantine is dramatized in the Santacruzan, a ritual pageant in the Philippines held in May that bears elements of the month’s Marian devotions.

In Great Britain, Helena is quite revered. Legend claims that Helena was a daughter of the King of Britannia, Cole of Camulodunum, who allied with Constantius to avoid more war between the Britons and Rome.

It is further stated that Helena was brought up in the manner of a queen, as she had no brothers to inherit the throne of Britain. The source for this may have been Sozomen’s Historia Ecclesiastica, which however does not claim Helena was British but only that her son Constantine picked up his Christianity there.

Constantine was with his father when he died in Eboracum, but neither had spent much time in Britain.Constantine_York_Minster

The statement made by English chroniclers of the Middle Ages, according to which Helena was supposed to have been the daughter of a British prince, is entirely without historical foundation. It may arise from the similarly-named Welsh princess Saint Elen, alleged to have married Magnus Maximus and to have born a son named Constantine, or from the misinterpretation of a term used in the 4th chapter of the panegyric on Constantine’s marriage with Fausta.

The description of Constantine honoring Britain oriendo (from the outset) may have been taken as an allusion to his birth (from his beginning) although it was actually discussing the beginning of his reign.

At least 25 holy wells currently exist in the United Kingdom dedicated to a Saint Helena. She is also the patron saint of Abingdon and Colchester.

St Helen’s Chapel in Colchester was believed to have been founded by Helena herself. Since the 15th Century, the town’s coat of arms has shown a representation of the True Cross and 3 crowned nails in her honor.

Colchester Town HallColchester Town Hall has a Victorian statue of the Saint on top of its 160 ft high tower. The arms of Nottingham are almost identical because of the city’s connection with Cole, her supposed father.

It has been argued that Helena traveled to Nevern in Wales and hid the True Cross near the local Norman church of St Brynach, where a cross is carved into a rock formation. Named the Pilgrim’s Cross, religious pilgrims once came here to pray for visions.

Names of local places are abundant with cross imagery, including River of the Empress, Mountain of the Cross, Pass of the Cross, and others.

In medieval legend and chivalric romance, Helena appears as a persecuted heroine in the vein of such women as Emaré and Constance. Separated from her husband, Helena lives a quiet life, supporting herself on her embroidery, until such time as her son’s charm and grace wins her husband’s attention and so the revelation of their identities.

Helena is the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh‘s novel Helena. She is also the main character of Priestess of Avalon (2000), a fantasy novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson. She is given the name Eilan and depicted as a trained priestess of Avalon.

Helena is also the protagonist of Louis de Wohl‘s novel The Living Wood (1947) in which she is again the daughter of King Cole of Colchester.

Revered as a Saint, Helena is an important figure in the history of Christianity and the world. Because of her major influence on her son and her own contributions, Helena placed Christianity at the heart of Western Civilization.

Traditionally credited with a pilgrimage to Syria Palaestina, during which she is claimed to have discovered the True Cross, Saint Helena has been a major impact on the Roman Empire and Western World.In St. Peter's Basilica

We hope you enjoyed learning more about Helena and her impactful life. If you have any women from Ancient Rome you’d like to see here, let us know.

Come back soon to see what we have in store for you. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Barnes, Timothy D. The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1982). ISBN 0-7837-2221-4.

Burckhardt, Jacob. The Age of Constantine the Great. New York: Pantheon Books (1949).

Drijvers, Jan Willem. Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and her Finding of the True Cross. Leiden & New York: Brill Publishers (1992).

Elliott, T. G. The Christianity of Constantine the Great. Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press (1996). ISBN 0-940866-59-5.

Grant, Michael. Constantine the Great : The Man and His Times. New York: Scribner (1994). ISBN 0-684-19520-8.

Harbus, Antonia. Helena of Britain in Medieval Legend. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer (2002).

Jones, A.H.M. Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press (1978).

Hunt, E.D. Holy Land Pilgrimage in the Later Roman Empire: A.D. 312–460. Oxford: Clarendon Press (1982).

Lieu, Samuel N. C. and Dominic MontserratFrom Constantine to Julian: Pagan and Byzantine Views. New York: Routledge (1996).

Odahl, Charles Matson. Constantine and the Christian Empire. New York: Routledge (2004).

Pohlsander, Hans A. Helena: Empress and Saint. Chicago: Ares Publishers (1995).  ISBN 0-89005-562-9.

Messalina, venere imperatrice

Bonum mane and welcome to Rome Across Europe! Yesterday we discovered the quite infamous Valeria Messalina, which can be seen here.

If you don’t care to check it out, no problem. Here’s a brief synopsis.

Messalina was the 3rd wife of Roman Emperor Claudius. She couldn’t escape royalty if she tried for Messalina was a paternal cousin of the Emperor Nero, a second-cousin of the Emperor Caligula and a great-grandniece of the Emperor Augustus.

With looks thought to be divine, an influential personality and a reputation for promiscuity, this woman was not to be triffled with.

(Spoiler Alert) She allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot. Her notorious reputation has made her the focus of works of art and literature into modern times.

With that, today we take a look at Belinda Lee in the 1960 film Messalina, venere imperatrice!

https://youtu.be/wtwnteJ6B5w

(just click the link above if the video doesn’t automatically open)

This Italian-French peplum film directed by Vittorio Cottafavi was probably just what you thought: not 100% historically accurate and a bit campy. Neverthelesss, we hope you enjoyed it.

We hope to have you back again to see what we have in store. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Messalina – A Woman of Interest

Howdy and welcome to Rome Across Europe! If you’ve never been here before, then we’re glad you’ve stopped on by.

If you’ve visited us previously, thank you and we appreciate you coming back. Also if you’ve stopped by prior to now, then you know that our site has unfortunately not had many articles about ancient Roman ladies.

It’s not to say that there were not any women of Rome that had any significance only that not much has been written about them. Most Roman historians were men so most people that were recorded were of the same gender.

We are changing that now though. Today we are discussing Roman Empress Valeria Messalina!Cameo_Messalina_and Children

Messalina was the daughter of Domitia Lepida the Younger and her first cousin Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus. Her mother was the youngest child of Consul Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus  and Antonia Major.

Domitius had been the original husband of the future Empress Agrippina the Younger and the biological father of the future Emperor Nero, making Nero and Messalina’s 1st cousins. Messalina’s Grandmothers Claudia Marcella and Antonia Major were half sisters.

Claudia Marcella, Messalina’s paternal grandmother, was the daughter of Augustus’ sister Octavia the Younger by her marriage to Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor. Antonia Major, Messalina’s maternal grandmother, was the elder daughter of Octavia by her marriage to Mark Antony, and was Claudius’ maternal aunt.

So, there was a large amount of inbreeding in the family. It happens, maybe?

Messalina married (as his 3rd wife) the Roman Emperor Claudius. She was a paternal cousin of Nero, a 2nd-cousin of the Emperor Caligula, and a great-grandniece of the Emperor Augustus.

A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot.

Her notorious reputation arguably results from political bias (as we previously mentioned about women in general). But works of art and literature have perpetuated this bias into modern times.

Little is known about Messalina’s life prior to her marriage in AD 38 to Claudius, her first cousin once removed, who was then about 48 years old. Two children were born as a result of their union.

The kids were daughter Claudia Octavia a future Empress, stepsister and first wife to the Emperor Nero, and son Britannicus. When the Emperor Caligula was murdered in 41, the Praetorian Guard proclaimed Claudius the new Emperor and Messalina became Empress.Messalina and Britannicus

With her accession to power, Messalina enters history with a reputation as ruthless, predatory and sexually insatiable. Her husband is represented as easily led by her and unconscious of her many adulteries.

In 48 AD, Claudius went away on a trip and was informed when he returned that Messalina had gone so far as to marry her latest lover, the Senator Gaius Silius. While many would have ordered her death, the Emperor offered her another chance.

Seeing this as weakness, one of his head officers went behind the Emperor’s back and ordered Messalina’s death. Upon hearing the news, the Emperor did not react and simply asked for another chalice of wine.

The Roman Senate then ordered a damnatio memoriae so that Messalina’s name would be removed from all public and private places and all statues of her would be taken down.

The historians who relay these stories, principally Tacitus and Suetonius, wrote some 70 years after the events, in an environment hostile to the imperial line to which Messalina belonged. Suetonius’ history is largely scandal-mongering.

Tacitus claims to be transmitting “what was heard and written by my elders”, with the only source as the memoirs of Agrippina the Younger. This may not be a reliable source since Agrippina had arranged to displace Messalina’s children in the imperial succession, and was therefore particularly interested in blackening her predecessor’s name.

It has been argued that what passes for history is largely a result of the political sanctions that followed her death.

Accusations of sexual excess were a tried and tested smear tactic as well. Usually they came about as the result of politically motivated hostility.

Two accounts especially have added to Messalina’s notoriety. One is the story of her all-night sex competition with a prostitute in Book X of Pliny the Elder‘s Natural History, according to which the competition lasted for 24 hours and Messalina won with a score of 25 partners.

The poet Juvenal gives an equally well known description in his misogynistic Satire VI of how the Empress used to work clandestinely all night in a brothel under the name of the She-Wolf. He also alludes to the story of how she compelled Gaius Silius to divorce his wife and marry her in his Satire X.

To call a woman a “Messalina” indicates a devious and sexually voracious personality. The historical figure and her fate were often used in the arts to make a moral point, but underlying that there was often a prurient fascination with her sexually liberated behavior.

The ambivalent attitude to Messalina can be seen in the late mediaeval French prose work in the J. Paul Getty Museum illustrated by the Master of Boucicaut entitled Tiberius, Messalina, and Caligula reproach one another in the midst of flames.Tiberius,_Messalina,_and_Caligula_Reproach_One_Another

It recounts a dialogue that takes place in hell between these 3 characters from the same imperial line. Messalina wins the debate by demonstrating that their sins were far worse than hers and suggests that they repent of their own wickedness before reproaching her as they had done.

While Messalina’s wicked behavior towards others is given full emphasis, and even exaggerated in early works, her sexual activities have been treated more sympathetically. In the 1524 illustrations of 16 sexual positions known as I Modi, each was named after a couple from Classical history or myth, which included Messalina in the Booth of Lisisca.

Although early editions were destroyed by religious censorship, Agostino Caracci‘s later copies have survived.

One of the few avenues to drawing a moral lesson from the story of Messalina in painting was to picture her violent end. An early example was Francesco Solimena‘s The Death of Messalina.death-of-messalina-1704

In this scene of vigorous action, a Roman soldier pulls back his arm to stab the Empress while fending off her mother. A white-clad witness observes calmly from the shadows in the background.

Georges Rochegrosse‘s painting of 1916 is a reprise of the same scene. A mourning woman dressed in black leaves with her face covered as a soldier drags back Messalina’s head, watched by a courtier with the order for execution in his hand.

An earlier French treatment by Victor Biennoury makes the lesson plainer by specifically identifying the scene of her death as the garden which she had obtained by having its former owner executed on a false charge. She crouches at the foot of a wall carved with the name of Lucullus and is denounced by a dark-clothed figure as a soldier advances on her drawing his sword.

Other artists show scenes of debauchery like in When Claudius is away, Messalina will play in Federico Faruffini‘s The orgies of Messalina.the-orgies-of-messalina

A more private liaison is treated in Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida’s Messalina in the Arms of the Gladiator. This takes place in an interior, with the Empress reclining bare breasted against the knees of a naked gladiator.

Juvenal’s account of her nights spent in the brothel is commonly portrayed. Gustave Moreau paints her leading another man onto the bed while an exhausted prostitute sleeps in the background, while in Paul Rouffio’s painting of 1875 she reclines bare-breasted as a slave offers grapes.rouffio_paul-messalina

The Dane Peder Severin Krøyer depicts her standing, her full body apparent under the thin material of her dress. The ranks of her customers are just visible behind the curtain against which she stands.

Two drawings by Aubrey Beardsley were produced for a private printing of Juvenal’s satires. The one titled Messalina and her companion shows her on the way to the brothel, while a rejected drawing is usually titled Messalina returning from the bath.messalina-returning-from-the-bath

Alternatively, artists drew on Pliny’s account of her sex competition. The Brazilian Henrique Bernardelli shows her lying across the bed at the moment of exhaustion afterwards.

So also does Eugène Cyrille Brunet‘s dramatic marble sculpture, dating from 1884, while the Czech Jan Stursa‘s standing statue of 1912 shows her holding a last piece of clothing at her side at the outset.Eugène Cyrille Brunet

One of the earliest stage productions to feature the fall of the empress was The Tragedy of Messalina (1639) by Nathanael Richards, where she is depicted as a monster and used as a foil to attack the Roman Catholic wife of the English King Charles I.

She is treated as equally villainous in the Venetian Pietro Zaguri’s La Messalina. This was a 4-act prose tragedy with 4 songs, described as an opera scenica that revolved around the affair with Gaius Silius that brought about her death.

Carlo Pallavicino was to follow with a full blown Venetian opera in 1679 that combined eroticism with morality.

During the last quarter of the 19th Century the idea of the femme fatale came into prominence and encouraged many more works featuring Messalina. 1875 saw the German verse tragedy Arria und Messalina by Adolf Wilbrandt in which Charlotte Wolter starred as the Empress.

That year too Hans Makart painted her in the role. It was followed two years later in Italy by Pietro Cossa‘s tragedy, in which Messalina figures as a totally unrestrained woman in pursuit of love, and by Luigi Danesi’s ballet. In the USA there was a 5-act tragedy by Algernon Sydney Logan, who had liberal views on sex.Hans_Makart

Isidore de Lara‘s opera Messaline inspired Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to a series of paintings, including Messalina Seated and Messalina descending the staircase. In 1914 there was a 3-act German Expressionist tragedy by Hermann KesserKaiserin Messalina.

In 2009 the theme was updated by Benjamin Askew in his UK play In Bed with Messalina, which features her final hours.In-Bed-With-Messalina

Messalina has been portrayed many times in movies and television films or miniseries, played by these actresses:

An early fiction concerning the Empress, La Messalina by Francesco Pona, appeared in Venice in 1633. This managed to combine a high degree of eroticism with a demonstration of how private behavior has a profound effect on public affairs.

In 19th Century France, the story of Messalina is subject to literary transformation. It underlies La femme de Claude (Claudius’ wife, 1873), the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, where the hero is Claude Ruper, an embodiment of the French patriotic conscience after the country’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

In contrast, his wife Césarine (the female Caesar) is a creature totally corrupt at all levels, who sells her husband’s work to the enemy and is eventually shot by him. Alfred Jarry’s pataphysical” novel Messaline of 1901 (titled The Garden of Priapus in Louis Colman’s English translation), though lightly based on the historical account, is chiefly the product of the author’s fanciful and extravagant imagination and has been compared with the treatment of Classical themes by Art Nouveau artists.

A very early treatment in English of Messalina’s liaison with Gaius Silius and her subsequent death appears in the fictionalized story included in the American author Edward Maturin‘s Sejanus and Other Roman Tales (1839). But the part she plays in Robert Graves‘ novels I, Claudius, and Claudius the God (1934–35) is better known.I, Claudius

In it she is portrayed as a teenager at the time of her marriage but credited with all the actions mentioned in the ancient sources. An attempt to create a film based on them in 1937 failed, but they were adapted into a very successful TV series in 1976.

More sensational fictional treatments occur in Vivian Crockett’s Messalina, the wickedest woman in Rome and Jack Oleck‘s Messalina: a novel of imperial Rome. Oleck’s novel went through many editions and was later joined by Kevin Matthews’ The Pagan Empress.

More recently there has been the 2002 German novel by Siegfried ObermeierMessalina, die lasterhafte Kaiserin (The empress without principle).

So as you can see by all the works of art and film/TV characters about her, Messalina was at the very least infamous. Taking all of this with a grain of salt, we at least know she was a Roman woman worth noting.Messalina

We thank you for stopping by and hope you’ll join us again soon. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Barrett, Anthony A. Agrippina: Sex, Power and Politics in the Early Roman Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press (1996).

Klebs, E., H. Dessau, P. Von Rohden, ed. Prosopographia Imperii Romani. Berlin.

Levick, Barbara. Claudius. New Haven: Yale University Press (1990).

Mudd, Mary. I, Livia: The Counterfeit Criminal. The Story of a Much Maligned Woman. Trafford Publishing (2012).

Tatum, W. Jeffrey. The Patrician Tribune: Publius Clodius Pulcher. The University of North Carolina Press, (1999).

Roman Women – You’ve Got the Look

Hello and welcome to Rome Across Europe! I’ll be honest, Ancient Rome was a primarily male dominated society following the guidelines set by Ancient Greece.

That said it’s not very easy to find any information of quality specifically about the women of Rome. Almost all historians of the time were men, so the little that was written is also done from a male perspective and sometimes is not flattering.

In the past, we’ve brought you the following articles: Women in Ancient Rome, Naming Conventions for Roman Women, and Roman Women and the Law. We’re doing our best to bring about as much as there is to know about the ladies of the past.

In any case, today we are going to talk about women inside and out!tumblr_static

Women in Ancient Rome took great care in their appearance, though extravagance was frowned upon. They wore cosmetics and made different concoctions for their skin.

Ovid even wrote a poem about the correct application of makeup. Women used white chalk or arsenic to whiten their faces, or rouge made of lead or caramine to add color to their cheeks.

Lead, yes lead, was even used to highlight their eyes. Roman women spent much time arranging their hair and often dyed it black, red or blonde. They also wore wigs regularly.

Matrons usually wore 2 simple tunics for undergarments covered by a stola. The stola was a long white dress that was cinched at the waist and which fell to the wearer’s feet, secured by clasps at the shoulder.

Wealthier women would decorate their stola further. When going out a woman wore a palla over her stola, which was held by a clasp at the shoulder.Dress

Young women were not permitted to wear a stola, instead wearing tunics. Prostitutes and those caught committing adultery put on the male toga.

Wealthy women wore jewels such as emeralds, aquamarine, opal and pearls as earrings, necklaces and rings. Sometimes these jewels were sewn onto their shoes and clothing.

In the aftermath of Roman defeat at Cannae, economic crisis provoked the passing of the Lex Oppia (215 BC) to restrict personal and public extravagance. The law limited women’s possession and display of gold and silver (as money or personal ornament), expensive clothing and their “unnecessary” use of chariots and litters.

Victory over Carthage flooded Rome with wealth and in 195 BC the Lex Oppia was reviewed. Thank goodness, right?

The ruling ConsulCato the Censor argued for its retention. He championed that personal morality and self-restraint were self-evidently inadequate controls on indulgence and luxury.

Luxury provoked the envy and shame of those less well-off, and was therefore divisive. Roman women, in Cato’s view, had showed only too clearly that their appetites once corrupted knew no limits, and must be restrained.Venus

Large numbers of Roman matrons thought otherwise and made concerted public protest. In 193 BC the laws were abolished.

Cato’s opposition did not harm his political career. Later, in 42 BC, Roman women, led by Hortensia, successfully protested against laws designed to tax Roman women, by use of the argument of no taxation without representation.

Evidence of a lessening on luxury restrictions can be found though. One of the Letters of Pliny is addressed to the woman Pompeia Celerina praising the luxuries she keeps in her villa.

Based on Roman art and literature, small breasts and wide hips were the ideal body type for women. Again, this was considered alluring by Roman men.Roman-Lady-of-Leisure

Roman art from the Augustan period shows idealized women as substantial and fleshy, with a full abdomen and breasts that are rounded, not pendulous. Prostitutes depicted in Roman erotic art have fleshy bodies and wide hips, and often have their breasts covered by a strophium even when otherwise nude or performing sex acts.

Large breasts were mocked as humorous or a sign of old age. Young girls wore a strophium secured tightly in the belief that it would inhibit the growth of breasts.

A regimen of massaging the breasts with hemlock, begun while a woman was still a virgin, was thought to prevent sagging. Breasts receive relatively minimal attention in erotic art and literature as a sexual focus.

The breast was associated primarily with nursing infants and a woman’s role as a mother. In times of extreme emotional duress, such as mourning or captivity in wartime, women might bare their breasts as an apotropaic gesture.Nude

The practices and views in the Corpus Hippocraticum regarding women’s bodies and their perceived weaknesses were inadequate for addressing the needs of women in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. This was when women led active lives and more often engaged in family planning.

The physiology of women began to be seen as less alien to that of men. In the older tradition, intercourse, pregnancy and childbirth were not only central to women’s health, but the primary reason for female physiology.

By contrast, men were advised to exercise moderation in their sexual behavior, since hypersexuality  would cause disease and fatigue.

The Hippocratic view that amenorrhea was fatal became a specific issue of infertility, and was recognized by most Roman medical writers as a likely result when women engage in intensive physical regimens for extended periods of time.

Balancing food, exercise and sexual activity came to be regarded as a choice that women might make. The observation that intensive training was likely to result in amenorrhea implies that there were women who engaged in such regimens.Women

In the Roman era, medical writers saw a place for exercise in the lives of women in sickness and health. Soranus recommends playing ball, swimming, walking, reading aloud, riding in vehicles and travel as recreation.

This was thought to promote overall good health in women. In examining the causes of undesired childlessness, these later gynecological writers include information about sterility in men, rather than assuming some defect in the woman only.

Hypersexuality was to be avoided by women as well as men. An enlarged clitoris, like an oversized phallus, was considered a symptom of excessive sexuality.

Although Hellenistic and Roman medical and other writers refer to clitoridectomy as primarily an “Egyptian” custom, gynecological manuals under the Christian Empire in late antiquity propose that hypersexuality could be treated by surgery or repeated childbirth.

Oh how times have changed! Women no longer have to live under the guise of what men want, and are doing as they please.Ancient Women

It may have taken some time, but most things do. Thank you for stopping by and we encourage you to come back again to see what we have in store.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Assa, Janine. The Great Roman Ladies (New York, 1960).

Bonfante, Larissa. Naked Truths: Women, Sexuality, and Gender in Classical Art and Archaeology (Routledge, 1997, 2000).

Burns, Jasper. Great Women of Imperial Rome: Mothers and Wives of the Caesars (Routledge, 2007).

Culham, Phyllis. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Hallett, Judith P. Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society: Women and the Elite Family (Princeton University Press, 1984).

Rawson, Beryl. The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives (Cornell University Press, 1986).

Rawson, Beryl. Children and Childhood in Roman Italy (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Staples, Ariadne. From Good Goddess to Vestal Virgins: Sex and Category in Roman Religion (Routledge, 1998).

Roman Women and the Law

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! If this is your very first visit, thanks for finding us. If you’ve been following us for some time, glad to have you back.

As I’ve been listening to the radio (yes, talk radio) discuss various interpretations of different laws I got me thinking how long this variation has taken place. I realize that there are 2-sides to every coin, so there’s always to arguments to each opinion.

Further still, what (if any) were the differences with the law for men and women. That’s why today we’re taking a look at Roman women and the law!ancient-roman-women

Although the rights and status of women in the earliest period of Roman history were more restricted than in the late Republic and Imperium Rōmānum, as early as the 5th Century BC, Roman women could own land, write their own wills, and appear in court.

The historian Valerius Maximus devotes a section of his work On Memorable Deeds and Speeches to women who conducted cases on their own behalf, or on behalf of others. These women showed ability as orators in the courtroom, even though oratory was considered a defining pursuit of the most ambitious Roman men.

One of these, Maesia Sentinas, is identified by her origin in the town of Sentinum, and not, as was customary, by her relation to a man. The independent Maesia spoke in her own defense, and was acquitted almost unanimously after only a short trial because she spoke with such strength and effectiveness.Antonine_Woman

Since these characteristics were considered masculine, however, the historian opined that under her feminine appearance, she had a “virile spirit” and thereafter she was called the “Androgyne”. Maesia’s ability to present a case logically, carefully and vigorously suggests that while women didn’t regularly plead in open court, they had experience in private declamation and family court.

Afrania, the wife of a senator during the time of Sulla, appeared so frequently before the Praetor who presided over the court, even though she had male advocates who could have spoken for her, that she was accused of calumnia.

An edict was consequently enacted that prohibited women from bringing claims on behalf of others, on the grounds that it jeopardized their pudicitia, the modesty appropriate to one’s station.

It has been noted that while women were often impugned for their feeblemindedness and ignorance of the law, and thus in need of protection by male advocates, in reality actions were taken to restrict their influence and effectiveness.

Despite this specific restriction, there are numerous examples of women taking informed actions in legal matters in the Late Republic and Principate, including dictating legal strategy to their advocate behind the scenes.roman-women-2

An emancipated woman legally became sui iuris, or her own person, and could own property and dispose of it as she saw fit. If a pater familias died intestate, the law required the equal division of his estate amongst his children, regardless of their age and sex.

Having already previously discussed marriage, divorce, remarriage and concubinage there is no need to repeat these major legal states for women. So, let’s move on to some other major topics.

A will that did otherwise, or emancipated any family member without due process of law, could be challenged. From the late Republic onward, a woman who inherited a share equal with her brothers would have been independent of agnatic control.

Minors

As in the case of minors, an emancipated woman had a legal guardian or tutor appointed to her. She retained her powers of administration, however, and the guardian’s main if not sole purpose was to give formal consent to actions.tutor

The guardian had no say in her private life, and a woman sui iuris could marry as she pleased. A woman also had certain avenues of recourse if she wished to replace an obstructive tutor.

Under Augustus, a woman who had gained the ius liberorum, the legal right to certain privileges after bearing 3 children, was also released from guardianship, and the Emperor Claudius banned agnatic guardianship.

The role of guardianship as a legal institution gradually diminished, and by the 2nd Century BC the jurist Gaius said he saw no reason for it. The Christianization of the Empire, beginning with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th Century AD, eventually had consequences for the legal status of women.

Domestic Abuse

Classical Roman law did not allow any domestic abuse by a husband to his wife, but as with any other crime, laws against domestic abuse can be assumed to fail to prevent it. Cato the Elder said, according to his biographer Plutarch, “that the man who struck his wife or child, laid violent hands on the holiest of holy things.Domestic Abuse

It is said Cato thought it more praiseworthy to be a good husband than a good senator.” A man of status during the Roman Republic was expected to behave moderately toward his wife and to define himself as a good husband.

Wife beating was sufficient grounds for divorce or other legal action against the husband. Domestic abuse enters the historical record mainly when it involves the egregious excesses of the elite.

The Emperor Nero was alleged to have had his original wife (and stepsister) Claudia Octavia murdered, after subjecting her to torture and imprisonment. Nero then married his pregnant mistress Poppaea Sabina, whom he kicked to death for criticizing him.

Some modern historians believe that Poppaea died from a miscarriage or childbirth, and that the story was exaggerated to vilify Nero (as if he needed help in that subject).

The despised Commodus is supposed also to have killed his wife and his sister.

In Business

“One of the most curious characteristics of that age,” observed French classical scholar Gaston Boissier, “was that the women appear as much engaged in business and as interested in speculations as the men.

Money is their first care. They work their estates, invest their funds, lend and borrow.

We find one among Cicero‘s creditors, and a pair among his debtors.” Although Roman society did not allow women to gain official political power, it did allow them to enter business.Rome Wealth

Even women of wealth were not supposed to be idle ladies of leisure. Among the aristocracy, women as well as men lent money to their peers to avoid resorting to a moneylender.

When Pliny the Elder was considering buying an estate, he factored in a loan from his mother-in-law as a guarantee rather than an option. Women also joined in funding public works, as is frequently documented by inscriptions during the Imperial period.

The “lawless” Politta, who appears in the Martyrdom of Pionius, owned estates in the province of Asia. Inscriptions record her generosity in funding the renovation of the Sardis gymnasium.

Because women had the right to own property, they might engage in the same business transactions and management practices as any landowner. As with their male counterparts, their management of slaves appears to have varied from relative care to negligence and outright abuse.Business

During the First Servile War, Megallis and her husband Damophilus were both killed by their slaves on account of their brutality. Their daughter, however, was spared because of her kindness and granted safe passage out of Sicily, along with an armed escort.

Unlike landholding, industry was not considered an honorable profession for those of senatorial rank. Cicero suggested that in order to gain respectability a merchant should buy land.

Attitudes changed during the Empire, however, and Claudius created legislation to encourage the upper classes to engage in shipping. Women of the upper classes are documented as owning and running shipping corporations.

Trade and manufacturing are not well represented in Roman literature, which was produced for and largely by the elite, but funerary inscriptions sometimes record the profession of the deceased, including women.

Women are known to have owned and operated brick factories. A woman might develop skills to complement her husband’s trade, or manage aspects of his business.

Artemis the gilder was married to Dionysius the helmet maker, as indicated by a curse tablet asking for the destruction of their household, workshop, work, and livelihood. The status of ordinary women who owned a business seems to have been regarded as exceptional.

Laws during the Imperial period aimed at punishing women for adultery exempted those “who have charge of any business or shop” from prosecution.

Some typical occupations for a woman would be wet nurse, actress, dancer or acrobat, prostitute and midwife. Obviously, not all positions were of equal respectability.ancient roman actress

Prostitutes and performers such as actresses were stigmatized as infames, people who had recourse to few legal protections even if they were free. Inscriptions indicate that a woman who was a wet nurse (nutrix) would be quite proud of her occupation.

Women could also be scribes and secretaries, including “girls trained for beautiful writing,” that is, calligraphers. Pliny gives a list of female artists and their paintings.

Most Romans lived in insulae, and those housing the poorer plebian and non-citizen families usually lacked kitchens. The need to buy prepared food meant that takeaway food was a thriving business.

Most of the Roman poor, whether male or female, young or old, earned a living through their own labor.

In Politics

Women could neither hold political office nor serve in the Exercitus Romanus, but the mythology of the Republic recognized the patriotism, virtues, and self-sacrifice of women and censured self-serving and treacherous behavior. As for the political sway of women in the Late Republic, historian Ronald Syme has noted:

“Debarred from public life but enjoying the social prestige of family or husband, the daughters of the nobilitas could not be cheated of the real and secret power that comes from influence. They count for more than does the average senator, they might affect nothing less than an ex-consul achieved by the quiet exercise of auctoritas in the conclave of his peers — and they suitably foreshadow the redoubtable princesses in the dynasty of Julii and Claudii.”

Both survived the turbulence of the time to enjoy a long marriage. During the civil wars that ended the Republic, Appian reports the heroism of wives who saved their husbands. An epitaph known as the Laudatio Turiae preserves a husband’s eulogy for his wife, who during the civil war following the death of Julius Caesar endangered her own life and relinquished her jewelry to send support to her husband in exile.

Le_Suicide_de_PorciaPorcia, the daughter of Cato the Younger and wife of Brutus the assassin, came to a less fortunate but (in the eyes of her time) heroic end. She killed herself as the Republic collapsed, just as her father did.

The rise of Augustus to sole power in the last decades of the 1st Century BC diminished the power of political officeholders and the traditional oligarchy, but did nothing to diminish and arguably increased the opportunities for women, as well as slaves and freedmen, to exercise influence behind the scenes.

One notable woman was Livia Drusilla Augusta (58 BC – AD 29). TheLivia_Drusila wife of Augustus and the most powerful woman in the early Roman Empire, she acted several times as regent and being Augustus’ faithful advisor.

Several women of the Imperial family, such as Livia’s great-granddaughter and Caligula’s sister Agrippina the Younger, gained political influence as well as public prominence.

Women also participated in efforts to overthrow the emperors who abused their power. Shortly after Caligula‘s sister Drusilla died, her widower Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and her sisters Agrippina and Livilla conspired to overthrow Caligula.

The plot was discovered, and Lepidus was executed. Agrippina and Livilla were exiled, and returned from exile only when their paternal uncle Claudius came to power after Caligula’s assassination in 41 AD.

Women could also be motivated by less than noble causes. Claudius’s 3rd wife Valeria Messalina conspired with Gaius Silius to overthrow her husband in the hope of installing herself and her lover in power.

Tacitus immortalized the woman Epicharis for her part in the Pisonian conspiracy, where she attempted to gain the support of the Roman fleet and was instead arrested. Once the conspiracy was uncovered, she would reveal nothing even under torture, in contrast to the senators, who were not subjected to torture and yet raced to spill the details.

Tacitus also praises Egnatia Maximilla for sacrificing her fortune in order to stand by her innocent husband against Nero.

Women and the Military

Classical texts have little to say about women and the Roman Army. Emperor Augustus disallowed marriage by ordinary soldiers, a ban that lasted nearly 2 centuries.

However it has been suggested since the 1980s, that wives and children of Centuriōnēs lived with them at border and provincial forts. In the early 1990s, shoes in women’s and children’s sizes were found at Vindolanda, along with bronze plaques, awarded to provincial soldiers whose 25 years of service earned them Roman citizenship, that mention their wives and children.

Likewise, in Germania, further evidence of this practice was discovered in the form of brooches and shoes. Trajan’s Column  depicts 6 women amongst the soldiers who are attendants holding sacrificial offerings at a military religious ceremony.TC Reliefs

We hope you can come to your own conclusions as to how fairly women were treated in Ancient Rome as compared to modern times. Hopefully you’ll come back soon to see what we have in store for you.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Bradley, K.R. Remarriage and the Structure of the Upper-Class Roman Family. In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, eds. Beryl Rawson, 79-98. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814918-2.

Corbier, Mireille. Divorce and Adoption as Roman Familial Strategies. In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, eds. Beryl Rawson, 47-78. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814918-2.

Fantham, Elaine. Julia Augusti: the Emperor’s Daughter: Women in the Ancient World. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-33146-3.

Gardner, Jane F. Women in Roman Law and Society. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-20635-9.

Holland, Barbara, and Lane Yerkes. The long good-bye. Smithsonian 28, no. 12 (March 1998).

Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Fant, Maureen B. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-4474-6.

Lelis, Arnold A., Percy, William A. and Verstraete, Beert C.The Age of Marriage in Ancient Rome. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7734-6665-7.

Parkin, Tim G. Old Age in the Roman World: A Cultural and Social History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7128-X.

Saller, Richard P. Patriarchy, Property, and Death in the Roman Family. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32603-6.

Treggiari, Susan. Divorce Roman Style: How easy and how Frequent was it?. In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, eds. Beryl Rawson, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814918-2.

Treggiari, Susan. Roman Marriage. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-19-814890-9.