Gender, Domesticity, and the Age of Augustus: Inventing Private Life

By Kristina Milnor | Go to book overview

Introduction

There is a paradox evident in the ideals and ideologies of gender which prevailed in early imperial Rome. On the one hand, Roman society (like many ancient societies) had long believed that women belonged to the domestic sphere, that their highest tasks lay within the household, and that their most praiseworthy roles were those of wife and mother. Yet it is also clear that, building on the social and political prominence which certain elite women had achieved during the final decades of the Roman Republic, early imperial culture opened up new spaces for femininity: women emerge into public discourse as builders and benefactors, patrons and property-owners, authors and important actors on the stage of history. In the Augustan period, we find women—far from being invisible and silent, locked behind the doors of their houses—who are able to take on real and important roles in the civic sphere, without compromising their perceived performance of ‘traditional’ domestic virtues. This book is about the creation and consequences of this paradox, about how and why the early Empire developed new ways of articulating ‘correct’ female behaviour, and what those new articulations had to do with the larger cultural transformations of the early Empire.

This study is by no means the first to identify the conflicts and contradictions which adhere to the position of elite Roman women during the first years of Julio-Claudian rule. The question has been approached from two different, and equally productive, angles: first, as an historical issue, pursued through a discussion of individual women whose names survive to us—Livia, Octavia, Plancina,

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