Cornell College Classical Studies
About Cornell Academics Admissions Alumni Athletics Offices Library

Women in Antiquity

Related Topics


Ariadne: Resources for Athenaze
Let's Review Greek!
Roman Portraits
Scriba Software
VRoma Project

Questions for Feb 26th

  • What are the problems associated with defining categories of class in Roman culture? How did the class structures differ from our own? Was there such a thing as the middle class? How was the issue of class complicated by the cultural and religious diversity as the empire grew? How did economic level and degree of Romanization combine with status (slave, freed, freeborn) to affect women's lives? Were women such as Panthia (L&F 373), Pythias (L&F 169) or Abudia Megiste (Fantham et al. pg. 378) any more or less "Other" than elite women such as Zenobia or Cleopatra?

  • What kind of work did female slaves do? Did their work differ from that done by freedwomen or freeborn women? How were their circumstances different? How might the conditions of urban slaves differ from those in the countryside? How did manumission work in Roman society? Why would it make sense to free a slave? Why would it make sense to free slaves posthumously? What happened to a slave in terms of her legal and social position if she managed to be freed?

  • It has been argued that because of the frequency of manumission, slavery functioned as a way of incorporating outsiders into Rome, which was far more open and less exclusive than the Greek city-state. How convincing is this argument? Were freed slaves immediately on the same footing as freeborn citizens? Did they still suffer economic and social disabilities?

  • What were some of the Roman attitudes toward foreign women? How well were they incorporated into Roman society? Do you see any parallels to the ways Roman sources depict foreign women of various classes: wet nurses, female rulers, witches? How might ethnicity affect the way female slaves, freedwomen, and elite women were treated?

  • What were Roman attitudes toward midwives and female healers? Why do you think women in these occupations were liable to accusations of witchcraft? Where else have you seen this trend in European history?

  • We spent some time talking about the nature of women's separate communities in Greece in our discussions of Sappho, religious festivals, and women's work within the oikos. To what extent were there parallel communities in Rome?

  • Finally, as we approach the end of the course, I'll ask each of you if studying women in antiquity has complicated or clarified your understanding of women's history, ancient Greece and Rome, the origins of patriarchy, women's resistance to patriarchal structures, and the impact of each of these things on our own culture. Berkin has said that "looking at gender challenges assumptions, reveals new questions an forces reinterpretation of historical issues." To what extent has focusing on gender in this course challenged your assumptions or revealed new questions about ancient Greek and Roman cultures?

  • I also want to revisit some questions that we started out with. How have you tried to overcome some of the challenges to studying women in antiquity? What methodological approaches have you found most useful (Lerner, Johnstone, Stehle and Day, King, Synder, Fantham et al.)? Would you classify yourself as an epistemological optimist or pessimist, a chronological dualist, or something else? What is your model of viewing history? Do you tend to focus on how the stratification of society has created hierarchies that have positioned women at the bottom, or do you believe in the "complementary model" which argues that although society has become stratified, women have a different kind of power and occupy a separate, but equally important, position in society? Has your position changed from the beginning of the block? Have you found a way to resolve the ethnographer's dilemma as it pertains to women in antiquity? How did you go about recovering the history and voice of your woman for your final project? What were your considerations in the process of reconstructing her history and giving her a voice?

Cornell College
600 First Street West
Mt Vernon, IA 52314

John Gruber-Miller
(319) 895-4326

Maintained by: Classical Studies
600 First Street West, Mt. Vernon, Iowa, 52314 ©2003 Cornell College; All Rights Reserved