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Ancient Gender Studies in Germany and Switzerland

Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer

Serious study of ancient Greco-Roman women, informed by feminist theory and the recognition of gender as an important analytical concept, took hold in Germany twenty years ago. Research in ancient history, archaeology and philology initially advanced at different paces. Wagner-Hasel's historiographical investigations into the ideas of matriarchy and oriental seclusion galvanized ancient historians into questioning the idea of public and private in antiquity. German translation in the early 1990s of the works of Loraux and the Histoire des femmes, vol. 1, ed.Schmitt Pantel, led to the privileging of Greek history. The foregrounding of gender in historicist studies by Anglo-American classicists, such as Hallett (1984) and Pomeroy (translated into German in 1985), as well as by the Italian Cantarella, also had an impact.

During the 1980's T. Spaeth, a specialist in the Roman world, broke pioneering ground by opening up debate on the construction of gender and introducing research on masculinity. Several essay collections on both topics, most notably those by Spaeth/Wagner-Hasel and Scheer, appeared from 2000 onward. Gender research, especially in Switzerland, simultaneously accorded ancient medicine more prominence through a productive dialogue between archaeology and medicine inaugurated by V. Dasen, and inspired by the studies of Helen King.

Before 2000, the few contributions to the study of gender by German classical philologists were nearly invisible within academic institutions. It warrants emphasis that Swiss and Austrian classicists  appointed to chairs of classics in Germany and Switzerland initiated Gender-Studies in den Alterwissenschaften, at conferences organized at Trier (2000), Zurich (2002), Basel (2005) nd Berlin (2009). Currently these conference are the heartbeat of the institutionalizd, and increasingly internationalized, activities on ancient gender studies in Germany and Switzerland, which include the series Iphis. Beitraege zur altertumswissenschaften Gernderforschung (Trier 2002).

Led by Latinists, this network seeks to strengthen discussion and dialogue among disciplines and to encourage engagement with various theoretical approaches. HIstorians and specialists in ancient religion still favor structuralist and anthropological perspectives. Philologists, most of them Latinists, look to the work on ancient pornography and sexuality by American scholars such as Hallett, RIchlin, and Skinner. While they often use deconstructivist paradigms, they also display a more pragmatic interest in the historical contexts of texts.

Initiatives to embrace "new turns"—efforts to focus on cultural, iconic, spatial and especially philological concerns in the study of classical antiquity—are integrating gender-related topics, such as the performance of gendered behavior, too. Both German and Swiss specialists in ancient gender studies have profited from participating in EuGeStA. It not only fosters collaborations with North American colleagues, but also sparks conversations among classicists in a globalized world, from different research traditions that result from particular historical experiences, and strongly shape thinking about ancient gender.

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EuGeStA [European Gender Studies in Antiquity] Workshop

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