Modern discourses and practices of migration are highly gendered: from gender-specific labour migration to the question of who is perceived as a legitimate refugee, the gender of movers and migrants is one of their defining features. With regard to Graeco-Roman antiquity, gender has not only substantially shaped ancient discourses of ... (Show more)
Modern discourses and practices of migration are highly gendered: from gender-specific labour migration to the question of who is perceived as a legitimate refugee, the gender of movers and migrants is one of their defining features. With regard to Graeco-Roman antiquity, gender has not only substantially shaped ancient discourses of migration (Lo Cascio and Tacoma 2016), but also contemporary scholars' perception of who migrated how for what reason, often conceptualising ancient migration as an overwhelmingly male phenomenon, given that women migrants are rather scarce in ancient texts, papyri and inscriptions (Woolf 2013).
While written records give us a unique perspective into the reasons for individuals and small groups to migrate, the best evidence for actual migration are the physical remains of migrants themselves. Human remains, while also problematic in some respects, are not easily influenced by the cultural superstructure, even though socio-cultural attitudes and notions as well as diet have a significant potential to physically alter skeletal remains. Thus, bioarchaeological approaches, particularly isotope analyses of bones and dental enamel, provide valuable insight into whether an individual was born in the vicinity of where they died, or had moved there at some time during their life (Killgrove 2018, Leppard et al. 2020).
In my paper, I present the results of a wide-ranging meta-analysis of bioarchaeological studies focusing on migration in the western Roman Empire. Having analysed more than 60 studies with a total sample size of more than 2000 individuals, covering a broad range of time, space, site-types, body parts analysed, and isotopes used for analysis, it seems that women were in fact about as likely to move as men, given that the proportion of women among the entire sample population is virtually the same as among the migrant population. What is more, the gender ratio remains roughly the same no matter how the data was grouped, with most cases falling within one standard deviation from the mean. While there are some outliers (e.g. the city of Rome, where there are indeed much fewer migrant women than men), they do not influence the overall result in a statistically significant way.
In sum, while there seem to have been slightly more men migrating than women, the difference is much smaller than previously thought, albeit with significant regional differences.
Killgrove, Kristina (2018). ‘Bioarchaeology in the Roman Empire’. In: Smith, Claire (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Global Archaeology. Second Edition, New York NY: Springer, pp. 876–882.
Leppard, Thomas P. et al. (2020). ‘The Bioarchaeology of Migration in the Ancient Mediterranean: Meta-Analysis of Radiogenic (87Sr/86Sr) Isotope Ratios’. In: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 33/2, pp. 211–241.
Lo Cascio, Elio and Tacoma, Laurens E. (2016). ‘Writing Migration’. In: Lo Cascio, Elio and Tacoma, Laurens E. (Eds.), The Impact of Mobility and Migration in the Roman Empire. Leiden: Brill, pp. 1–24.
Woolf, Greg (2013). ‘Female Mobility in the Roman West’. In: Hemelrijk, Emily and Woolf, Greg (Eds.), Women and the Roman City in the Latin West. Leiden and Boston MA: Brill, pp. 351–368. (Show less)