This paper explores the expression of identity of non-Roman freedwomen in the funerary monuments from Roman Britain in the second and third centuries C.E. During these centuries, the visibility of women on funerary monuments increased, whereas in the first and second centuries C.E. funerary monuments, which are valued primarily by non-native Britons to define their identity and social standing in an area controlled by members outside of their own culture, displayed iconography lauding a male’s military career. The expression of female identity on these later funerary monuments shows a consumption of the iconography of the idealized Roman matrona in the remote provinces. This consumption and adoption of the Roman matrona iconography in Roman Britain emphasizes the disparity between how non-Roman freedwomen defined themselves and their place in society as opposed to how free Roman citizens defined these libertinae, who would have retained social stigma from previous slave status.
While much has been said about discrepant identity experiences of “native” Britons, soldiers in the Roman army, and non-Roman “resident aliens” in Britain, the identity and social status of non-Roman freedwomen in the province has been omitted from the discussion. As Allason-Jones, Hope, Mattingly, Pearce, Watts, and others have noted, the people of Britain began adopting Roman customs before Julius Caesar’s arrival on the island. Utilizing the traditional top-down approach to the “Romanization” of the non-Roman population in Britain, the consumption and display of the ideal Roman matrona on freedwomen’s tombstones is spectacular since these funerary monuments do not have a predecessor in expressing the identity or social standing of “native” civilians, resident aliens or freedmen/women in the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age in Britain. Furthermore, these freedwomen frequently had their ethnic identity expressed on their funerary monuments alongside the iconography of the Roman matrona. Allason-Jones notes that non-Roman female ethnic identity was considered separate and independent from the identity of a freedwoman’s husband, if she were married. The case for non-Roman libertinae, however, is not so clear especially if the husband was her previous owner. This paper explores these issues of identity in a provincial setting by quantifying the appearance of freedwomen’s ethnic identity, the appearance of the stola (an ideal Roman matron’s garment), the depiction of an individual freedwoman or family scene, and the commissioner of the funerary monument. A few of the well-known monuments discussed are the monuments of the non-Roman freedwomen, Regina, Volusia Faustina, and Titullinia Pussitta, who may have been born free.
The iconography of these funerary monuments emphasizes the freedwomen’s dress, matrimonial status, and offspring (if depicted) in terms of the Roman matrona. Contemporary laws on the manumission of slaves and their citizenship status within Rome itself suggest that the social stigma, which was still attached to those women who were freed, may have resulted in the libertinae attempting to validate their new status by appealing to Roman ideals of the matrona.
Provincial Women in the Roman Imagination