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GENDER IDENTITIES IN ITALY IN THE 1ST MILLENNIUM BC

Institute of Classical Studies
University of London

20th- 21st June 2006

 


Abstracts


Ethnicity and the Costume of the Roman Bride
Karen K. Hersch (Temple University)

 From Virgil’s account of the merger of Trojan and Latin blood in the Aeneid to Livy’s moving tale of the Sabine women and the contributions of the Roman kings, the role of gender in the formation of Roman ethnic identity has remained a topic of interest to classical scholars.  Less well appreciated, however, are the ways in which the blending of cultures was commemorated by the Romans in their daily lives.  In  this paper, I explore the ways in which one example of Roman costume, the costume of the Roman bride, was an important expression of a national ethnic identity.

The Romans viewed their modes of dress as a means by which to distinguish themselves from outsiders.   They primarily distinguished themselves from foreigners by means of male dress: a man wearing the toga would be immediately recognizable as a free adult Roman citizen.  Virgil famously identifies the toga as the national emblem of the Romans par excellence when in the first book of the Aeneid, as Jupiter gives empire without end to the “masters of the human race, the people who wear the toga” (Aen. 1.282).  While Jupiter’s pronouncement prophesies not only the future might of the Romans, but also the future emblem of that might, his words neatly cut from this inheritance of power half of the adult Roman people, the ones who do not wear the toga, adult Roman women.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Roman authors attached little historical significance to--and left little information about the origins of--the stola, palla, and vittae, the components of the free adult married Roman woman’s everyday attire.  It is true that Roman literature makes clear that this costume of the Roman matron was immediately recognizable to other Romans (one thinks immediately of Ovid’s notorious cries for the matron’s garb to be at a distance from his lovemaking: Ars Am. 1.31-32).   The head covering and long dress marked the matron as chaste while at the same time were meant to protect and conceal her chastity.   In contrast, Roman historians and antiquarians (ca. 200 BCE-200 CE) took pains to connect the costume of the Roman bride to the very “foremothers” of the Romans, placing particular emphasis on the ways in which the bride’s costume and the events surrounding her reflected the blend of ancient Italian cultures which would merge to become the Roman people.  The spear which parted the bride’s hair (Plutarch, Rom. 15, QR 87; Festus s.v caelibari hasta), the wedding-cry Talassio (Livy 1.9.11; Plutarch QR 31), and the torches which accompanied her (Pliny, HN 16.75) were said to be of Sabine origin, as was the ritual by which the bride was helped over of the threshold of her new home (Plutarch QR 29).  The first tunica recta, the bride’s dress, was woven by the great Etruscan queen Tanaquil (Pliny, HN 8.194).  The bride’s veil (flammeum) and hairstyle (sex crines) were the daily accoutrements of the two best-known priestesses of the city of Rome, the Flaminica Dialis and the Vestal Virgins, respectively  (Festus s.v. flammeo, senis crinibus).   This heavy-handed emphasis on the great antiquity and Italian provenance of the garments and events of the Roman wedding seems at times a determined effort by Roman authors to preempt even the suggestion that any part of the Roman wedding owed its origin to Greek wedding ritual, although some similarities are too obvious to be ignored (the color of the bridal veil, the use of torches in the procession).

The costume of the groom, the toga, stands in contrast to the elaborate symbolism of the bride’s.   We might wonder why, while Virgil tells us that the Trojan blood brought to Italian shores was almost exclusively brought by men, the groom’s garments did not commemorate Trojan contributions to Roman blood.  If the antiquarians were right, the Roman bride on her wedding day wore garments that represented the blending of Etruscan, Sabellian and Roman cultures as well as highlighted the unique role of women in the combining of these three cultures.  The wedding-day was the one day on which the average  Roman woman was expected to be the center of public attention.  The wedding was for the Roman girl the analogy of the assumption of the toga virilis for the Roman boy; in this respect,  a Roman girl was first considered a functioning adult and a Roman citizen on her wedding day.  As the bride walked forth carrying the symbols of great Roman women of past and present,  she also proclaimed her role in creating, and her share of, the imperium sine fine Virgil insists that Jupiter promised to her people.


Expression of gender through dress in Latial Iron Age mortuary contexts

 Lisa Cougle (Australian National University)

In this paper I will explore the construction of gender in Latial Iron Age burials through dress and personal ornament, and argue that a traditional dichotomous concept of gender is insufficient to explain material patterning in Iron Age mortuary culture.  Gender structures defy a simple division based on biological sex, and evolve in line with broader structural trends.  I will discuss the methodological challenges of materially distinguishing gender from other aspects of the social persona, and explore how dress and personal ornament reflect and reinforce Latial Iron Age gender structures.


 The Irregular Career of Rhea Silvia / Ilia in the First Millenium BC

 Brenda Haack Fineberg (Knox College, Illinois)

This study surveys the career of Rhea Silvia / Ilia, with particular attention to what seems to be a discrepancy between her continuous presence in literary texts and her waning presence in visual accounts of the founding story, especially in state sanctioned art of the Augustan period. The public art of the early principate tends to redraw the family portrait with Mars and Venus as the first couple. Is this just a matter of Venus’ offering the princeps a more prestigious ancestry, or is Rhea Silvia a bit embarrassing to Augustus as he implements his moral legislation?


In search of the emperor’s wife: what’s behind the different identities of Agrippina Minor?

Lien Foubert (Radboud University Nijmegen)

From this moment it was a changed state, and all things moved at the fiat of a woman (…). It was a tight-drawn, almost masculine tyranny: in public there was austerity and not infrequently arrogance, at home, no trace of unchastity, unless it might contribute to power. [Tac. Ann. 12, 7]

This is how Tacitus describes the influence that Agrippina Minor, as Claudius’ new bride, had on the history of the Roman Empire. His reasoning deals partly with her character: she was severa, superba and inpudica. This passage in the Annales stands in great contrast to the words which the young senator Vitellius was said to have spoken on behalf of Agrippina: … her moral excellences harmonized with the rest [Tac.Ann. 12, 6]. Were they talking about one and the same woman? According to the latter, Agrippina behaved like a Roman matrona should: she was pure of character and fulfilled her duties as a moral mother par excellence. According to the former, however, she neglected her tasks as a truthful and devoted woman and used everything within her power to gain influence for her own profit. This paper intends to explore this dualism. It will try to place Vitellius’ statement within the broader propagandistic programme of the Julio-Claudian emperors. In this way, it will aim to demonstrate how gender plays an important role in the formation of female identity, also at the highest level, that of a ruling dynasty. Attention will go to archeological evidence which demonstrates how Rome’s central authority used references to the ideal matrona to construct a public identity for the emperor’s wife. This ‘artificial’ image is, for the most part, rejected by the literary sources. Especially Tacitus did his best to show that Agrippina Minor was anything but a perfect matrona. Finally, the paper will try to provide a framework with which the role of gender aspects in ancient sources could be read, in the process suggesting an explanation for the motives behind the creation of two different identities for Agrippina Minor.


Textile Implements in the Early Iron Age burials: First Female Professionals of Italy?

Margarita Gleba (University of Copenhagen)

Textile production is one of the oldest specialized crafts that were gender specific. Archaeological, representational and literary evidence indicates that, in many societies, spinning and weaving was practiced primarily by women. In Early Iron Age Italy, the textile craft became a symbol of the female sphere of life, and women’s contribution to the community as textile workers was expressed by the deposition of spinning and weaving implements in their burials. Spinning tools in precious materials, such as bronze, silver, amber, and bone, support the notion that these implements were important symbols of femininity across different social classes. Anna Maria Bietti Sestieri and other scholars have proposed a differentiation between spinners, defined by a single spindle whorl, and weavers, whose burial assemblages included several spindle whorls and numerous spools. I suggest rather that the whorl defines the deceased as female, while spools signify that their owner was a specialist textile worker. I will argue on the basis of the archaeological evidence that the spool was utilized as a kind of weight for the making of highly complex tablet-woven garment borders known from archaeological textiles such as the mantles from Tomb 89 at Verucchio. During the Orientalizing and Archaic period, large numbers of spools excavated at habitation sites, like Poggio Civitate and Acquarossa, indicate the existence of specialized textile workshops. Deposition of the spools in a burial therefore may have expressed the deceased’s specialization in textile craft. All women practiced textile craft, but only professionals brought all their tools into the afterlife.


Women and Cult in the Sanctuaries of Hellenistic Central Italy

Fay Glinister (UCL)

This paper looks at anatomical terracottas, a popular form of votive between the fourth and first centuries BC, as evidence for the role played by women in society and cult in Hellenistic central Italy.  In contrast to the literary and epigraphic sources, this copious material reveals the prominence in religious ritual of females, human and divine.


The lex Voconia and the rhetoric of Empire

 Bronwyn Hopwood (University of New England, NSW)

 The lex Voconia, introduced in 169 BC, prohibited anyone registered in the first census class from instituting a woman as heir or from leaving more to a legatee than they left to their heir or heirs (Gaius 2.226, 274).  Many questions have been asked of this law including: what was its purpose; why did it only target female heirs; and, what does the lex Voconia reveal about the status of women and Roman attitudes towards women’s property in the second century BC?  This study of the lex Voconia is a review of the lively rhetoric of women’s property rights, the demands that the empire made upon those rights, and of the flexibility and ingenuity the Romans displayed in adapting both law and custom to balancing the needs of the state against the rights of its citizens.


The cults of Demeter, Kore, and Persephone/Proserpina in Sicily and Italy (5th – 1st century BC)

 Marietta Horster (University of Rostock)

The cults of Demeter, Kore, and Persephone/Proserpina are often called female rituals and festivals because of their emphasis on fertility and motherhood, their prayers for children, the healing aspects, the mysteries and thesmophoria thought to be acts of gender-separations etc. The paper will offer a survey of the known evidence of the literary, inscriptional and archaeological evidence for the ritual practices and cults of the Demeter and Kore, Persephone/Proserpina cults in classical and Hellenistic times in Italy and Sicily. It will be argued that there are distinctive gender-specific aspects of these cult activities which are not reduced to activities of women, and that even sometimes men dominate cult and ritual. Moreover, the religious roles and involvement of women and men in these rituals and cults esp. as priests and priestesses and cult professionals will be presented in few examples. Finally, it will be (only cursory) referred to differences between the (mainly) Greek traditions of Magna Graecia in the South of Italy and in Sicily on the one hand and traditions of cultic activities to the same (or similar) goddesses of other Italian regions and ethne.


Women and the Romanisation of Etruria

Vedia Izzet (University of Southampton)

This paper explores the role that women’s bodies played in the process commonly called Romanization. Using embodiment theory, it will examine the ways in which the bodies of individual women were brought into a dialogue about what it was to be Etruscan or Roman during the second half of the first millennium BC in Etruria. Using the objects of personal adornment, it will argue that changing attitudes towards the identity of the body were part of wider debates about gender and cultural identities.


Isn’t S/he Lovely? An Investigation of Androgyny in Etruscan Art

Bridget Sandhoff (Iowa State University)

Discussions of androgyny in the ancient Mediterranean have long been dominated by Greece and Rome.  And more often than not, the figures examined are primarily male.  The Etruscans, however, were an equally vital civilization that remains to have this phenomenon explored more thoroughly.  Usually overlooked, a closer inspection into Etruscan art reveals that women were an essential component of this culture and their androgynous imagery too.  Both men and women were depicted wearing the guise of the opposite sex, challenging the boundaries of masculinity and femininity.  Etruscan objects particularly noted for this type of imagery were their cistae.  These engraved bronze receptacles were storage containers for the beauty items of an aristocratic lady.  Solid cast bronze figures decorated the lids, and also acted as the handle.  Most often, nude or semi-nude male/female pairs adorned the lids.  The curious aspect about these couples is that they mimic their partner’s body; the male looks effeminate with small breasts, womanly pose and hairstyle while the female exudes masculinity with her muscular body and virile facial features.  The principal question facing Etruscan scholars is why this type of gender-bending occurs on these cistae.  Instead of a typically curvaceous and beautifully adorned woman, sexually ambiguous couples dominate these cistae, in fact, suppressing conventional gender-specific appearances.  Unfortunately, the reason behind this swapping of sex is still unknown.  This paper will investigate possible reasons for the popularity of androgynous imagery on these Etruscan cistae.  Could an androgynous appearance be a type of protective “suit” for the deceased or for females during their reproductive years?  Or does the use of androgyny signal a change in fashion/trends in Etruscan society?  These questions will be explored more thoroughly throughout the course of this paper.


Sallust’s Sexual Revolution: Manly Women in the Bellum Catilinae

Kelli Stanley (San Francisco State University)

 This paper will examine how Sallust’s narratological use of women in the Bellum Catilinae, particularly the roles played by specifically named characters like Sempronia, reimagines the characteristics traditionally associated with Roman manhood as defining the conspirators, both female and male.  Though Sallust begins with a typical trope—ancient Roman virtus effeminized through intercourse with the decadent luxuries of the East—his gender-blurred females and ultimately heroic male conspirators pose a marked contrast to Cicero’s portrait of Catiline and his cohorts.  The historian thus reinvents what it means to be a Roman and a man, and not only divorces moral or immoral actions and relationships to the Republic from an ideal of manhood, but attributes positive, heretofore “masculine” attributes to women, thus severing male qualities from the male body. 

Scholarship has often condemned the lengthy portrait of Sempronia, as a “grave structural fault” (McGushin, 1978, 303), or has claimed that it “had nothing to do with the plot at all.” (Waters, Historia, 1070, 206).  Though Syme nobly attempted a historical justification for her prominence (1964, 193-4), she has been most profitably interpreted as a literary device by Boyd (TaPhA, 1987) and Wilkins (1994, 94-95).  This paper builds on these predecessors by examining Sempronia, not as a singular excursus, but rather in the context of the odd prominence women as a whole are given in the Bellum Catilinae and how, in turn, Sallust’s females narratively upend the traditional Roman portrait of masculinity.

Aurelia Orestilla, who is the first of three women specifically named, serves to underscore the perverse, antithetical nature of Catiline, conspiracy, and the particularly crucial subordination of animus to corpus.  Sallust was particularly fond of this theme, and established it in 1.1-3, though it recurs vividly in 2.7-9 and 4.1-2, 9, 13.5 and 26.16-17. Fulvia further illustrates this trope in an ironic fashion, as she, unlike Aurelia and Catiline himself, does not subordinate her mind to her body—it is precisely through her prompt intelligence that the Republic is saved.  By awarding the credit for salvation to the quick thinking of a harlot, Sallust seems to be minimizing Cicero’s self-promoted heroism, particularly through his insistent “per Fulviam” (26.2, 28.2), and is endowing a prostitute with the virtus of a Roman hero. Unnamed women, capable of inciting slave revolts and conflagrations, appear shortly after Fulvia makes an entrance (24.3-4).  They, too, are upper-class prostitutes, and though historians have rightly objected to Sallust’s hyperbolic fancies (Waters, Historia, 1970, 199), the crucial element here is their context: women—sexually aggressive women—are situated narratologically between Fulvia and Sempronia, and provide Sallust an emotional climax of fearful anticipation.  The women’s plans are mentioned in later passages as intrinsic to the conspiracy (30.6-7, 43.2, 48).  Sempronia helps sustain the vision of socially inverted terror that the unnamed women plan.  The conjunctive “sed in eis erat Sempronia” (25.1) clearly introduces her as one of the aging whores.  She embodies a marked internal antithesis—she is manly (virilis) (25.1), and is defined by both by the allure of the feminine (25.2) and the audacity, education, and aggression of the masculine (25.2-4). In fact, she represents the most gender-blurred character in the BC.  Curiously, while Sallust initially employs more traditional imagery of feminine avaritia softening the manly body (11.3, 11.5), and attacks male homosexuality and heterosexual male passivity in 13.3, he retreats from condemning Catiline for such behavior (15.1-2).  Moreover, he subsequently employs gender-blurring imagery only when describing masculine women, not effeminate men. With this motif, he dramatically departs from Cicero, whose Second Catilinarian is replete with references to dissolute pederasts and mincing catamites (5, 7, 23, 24).  Sallust converts Cicero’s images of feminized boys into portraits of assertive women. This was a conscious choice mandated not only by Sallust’s belittling of Ciceronian bombast, but by his desire to allow the conspirators a moving, even tragic, Roman death.  As the monograph progresses, Catiline and his followers are no longer demonized, but rather are depicted as proper military men—until, with their deaths, they are recognized as friends, guests and relatives (61.8), a recognition that would not be possible if they were depicted as the prancing boy-toys of Cicero’s rhetoric.

Thus, women—anonymous and infamous, named and unnamed—are fundamental to Sallust’s themes and rhetorical structure, and this paper will demonstrate not only how crucial they are to his narrative strategy, but how their possession of “male” characteristics forever redefines masculinity in the waning days of the Republic.


Gender identities in the Veneto: iconography, writing and ritual in the 1st millennium BC

 Kathryn Lomas (UCL)

This paper will explore the construction of gender identities in the pre-Roman Veneto through both the iconography of votives and funerary monuments, and through the pre-Roman inscriptions of the region.  Female imagery is particularly prominent in the iconography of both votives and some grave markers, and seems to be closely associated with specific cults and sanctuaries.  In particular, finds from the sanctuary of the goddess Reitia at Baratella (Este), one of the most important cult-sites in the region, indicate complex gender identities within the cult and a prominent role for women.  The unusually high number of female inscriptions, and the close connections between writing and the cult of Reita further suggest that women may have been closely involved in the development of literacy in north-east Italy.  All of these factors suggest that women occupied a high status in Venetic society, but there have bee few attempts to examine this in detail. This paper aims to critically evaluate the evidence for the role and status of women in the region in the pre-Roman period, and variations in this in different parts of the Veneto, as well as examining the ways in which the transition to Roman rule impacted on gender identities and the social role of women.


Archaic Central Italy: the non-Greek female body and the crystallization of ethnic identity

Corinna Riva (University of Glasgow)

This paper attempts to understand the ways in which ideas of ‘difference’ were expressed through objects in the interaction between different groups, and how these ideas were then exploited in defining identities and eventually constructing ethnicity in the Archaic Central Mediterranean.  Difference may be played out in a whole variety of ways, depending upon the cultural context in which the objects were used. Drawing from recent studies on ethnicity, it will be argued that in a situation of affirming identity ethnic identification is fluid, and that other types of identities, including gender identities or identities marked by social distinction, may intersect ethnic identification and blur its boundaries. In certain situations, ethnic identity may have equal weight as other types of identity, but it may also play with these other types of identity in defining itself. I will explore these arguments by turning to the encounter and interaction between different groups and Greek and Italic communities in the Central Mediterranean of the Archaic period. I will argue that overlap and mixture are key concepts for understanding the early encounter, but that in this context ideas of difference were expressed in burial through objects which are gender-specific. These very ideas were subsequently exploited in defining collective identities that were eventually constructed on ethnic grounds by both Greek and non-Greek communities. Fibulae are perhaps the most observable gender-specific objects. Besides these, however, I will also consider chariots, as well as other types of material (e.g. textiles and dress) that reveal the role of an individual bodily mise-en-scčne in constructing a personal, not simply gender, identity. Lastly, my analysis will highlight the non-
Greek perspective of the Greek/non-Greek encounter in the Central Mediterranean by focusing on non-Greek cultural and archaeological contexts that include Etruria and Picenum.


Where have all the men gone? Sex, gender and Women’s Studies

Ruth D. Whitehouse (UCL)

This paper addresses the current status of gender studies in archaeology and related disciplines. It identifies a worrying trend to equate ‘gender’ with ‘women’, creating a field which is largely about women and is dominated by women scholars. This leads to a ghettoisation of the study of gender – which ought to be central to any discipline concerned with human society – as part of ‘Women’s Studies’, assumed to be of interest only to women. The recent development of ‘Men’s Studies’ as a parallel academic field has only exacerbated the problem. While both Women’s Studies and Men’s Studies are concerned with gender, they are not the same as Gender Studies. In any society the categories of women and men (as well as any non-gendered or intermediately gendered categories) are incorporated into a unitary sex/gender classificatory system, the members of which are defined in relation to each other. The classificatory system may take different forms – a traditional binary opposition, a division into a larger number of discrete types, or a spectrum from one extreme to the other – but in all cases we need to study the system as a whole to make sense of any part of it. Of course, a concentration on women is an understandable response to the historical neglect of women in earlier studies, but in the long run we need to resist the temptation to divide gendered persons into separate groups to be studied in isolation. If gender is to be considered a major, and perhaps universal, parameter of human societies and take its proper place as a central theme of mainstream archaeology, it needs to be studied in a holistic manner, including those of all genders, and none.


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