Saturday, July 24, 2021

Mary T. Boatwright's "Imperial Women of Rome"

Mary T. Boatwright is Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Duke University. Her books include Peoples of the Roman World and (with Daniel J. Gargola, Noel Lenski, and Richard J. A. Talbert) A Brief History of the Romans.

Boatwright applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Imperial Women of Rome: Power, Gender, Context, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Imperial Women of Rome: Power, Gender, Context is near the end of “Imperial Women within the Imperial Family,” the chapter that assesses the traditional importance of family and procreation in ancient Rome, the enhancement and modification of these values by the first emperor Augustus both publicly and for his own extended family, and the developing distinction of the “imperial family” as divine. Page 99 concludes discussion of this last phenomenon by citing second- and third-century (AD) inscriptions; then, asking “What roles could women have within this within this “August” or “divine” household of the emperor, who was both paterfamilias and pater patriae?”, it turns directly to the imperial mother, one pronounced function of imperial women.

This test provides merely a partial idea of my book, since page 99 serves larger, interconnected arguments. It figures in one chapter of the assessment over time of the visibility and agency of Rome’s best documented women, those connected by blood or marriage to the emperor. The book regularly toggles between Livia, Agrippina, and other such elite women themselves, and the evolving institutions of the Roman empire shaping their lives and choices.

Page 99 reflects my goal of assessing change and continuity over time, my constant recourse to ancient evidence, and my insistence on showing women as participants in Roman history. The page also accurately reflects my focus on the systemic nature of the factors affecting the lives and history of Roman women, as well as their interconnection. On the other hand, I fear page 99 might mislead a browser to conclude that the book is dry factual history: the page does not include one of the book’s 40-some illustrations and maps, and it is not from one of the vignettes of an imperial woman that open each chapter and personalize its institutional subject (e.g., family; law; religion). The new section it begins is entitled “The imperial mother,” not something like “The criminality of Domitia Longina” that appears elsewhere. The page even lacks the name of an imperial woman! But this absence signals the challenges of exploring the history of Roman women, individuals severely restricted by law and custom and typically ignored, downplayed, or disparaged in the ancient sources that overwhelming reflect a bias towards Roman men and their perspectives.
Learn more about Imperial Women of Rome at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue