Women in ancient Rome owned, managed, and enslaved people. Neither ancient sources nor modern scholarship deny this fact. And yet, no sustained investigation into the gendered nature of slaving practices in ancient Rome exists. While scholarship on women in ancient Rome has largely stayed away from investigating women’s participation in ... (Show more)
Women in ancient Rome owned, managed, and enslaved people. Neither ancient sources nor modern scholarship deny this fact. And yet, no sustained investigation into the gendered nature of slaving practices in ancient Rome exists. While scholarship on women in ancient Rome has largely stayed away from investigating women’s participation in the oppression of others, scholars of Roman slavery tend to imagine a male slave owner. At the same time, at the intersection of gender and slavery a whole host of research questions present themselves. To what extent was female slave ownership a unique bundle of rights? In what ways did social discourses shape the slaving strategies that women might pursue? How did gender norms and expectations influence the social power that women could claim vis-à-vis the people they enslaved? And just what specific challenges did female slaveowners face because of Roman sexual regimes? These questions lie at the core of our DFG-funded research project, which undertakes the first sustained investigation of women as slave owners in Roman society.
In our paper we will present the initial results of this project’s intersectional inquiry. More particularly, we will focus on the ways in which women were able to partake in the dual strategies of fear (violence) and hope (manumission), which, as the existing scholarship insists, lay at the core of the control strategies of (male) Roman slave owners. By drawing on literary, juridical, and epigraphical sources we will outline the gendered nature of women’s contribution to the maintenance of the Roman slave system between 200 BCE and 200 CE. This contribution, we contend, was both less and more than what their male slaveowners could accomplish. Women’s bodies, their ability to nurse, offered them unique possibilities while the legal and social norms very likely contributed to the (slightly) reduced effectiveness with which they might have been able to manipulate the lever of hope. By contrast, fear and the violence used to instill it seem to have been available to women in the same almost unrestrained fashion as they were to men. (Show less)