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Women in the Treason Trials of Tacitus' Annales

Laura Van Abbema

While most monographs that touch on women and Roman law in the Early Empire tend to treat those subjects in separate spheres, i.e. either analyses of Roman laws that rarely deal with women or examinations of Roman women vis-à-vis only those laws that pertain to their sex (e.g. marriage), we must not lose sight of the wider political implications concerning women, adultery and treason under the Julio-Claudian emperors.  Using Tacitus’ Annales as my main text, I plan to examine the role of women in the treason trials, not the women of the imperial family per se but rather, more importantly, those women who were charged with adultery, magic/astrology and/or treason.  While the Julian and Papia-Poppaean laws signal the restoration of virtue under Augustus, Tacitus himself indicates that these laws entailed more than an offense against marriage: “Calling, as he [Augustus] did, a vice [adultery] so habitual among men and women by the awful name of sacrilege and treason, he went far beyond the indulgent spirit of our ancestors, beyond indeed his own legislation” (3.24).  By examining some illustrative examples (e.g. the cases of Appuleia Varilla, Aemilia Lepida, Sosia Galla, Acutia and Albucilla), I will outline the various roles of these women, mostly as wives but also as individuals, and will emphasize the wider political and social significance of the trials themselves (cf. Juvenal and Ammianus).

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Women of the Roman Empire

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