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Imperial Mothers and Daughters in Second-Century Rome

Mary Boatwright

Duke University

This illustrated paper explores the unusual emphasis on imperial mothers and daughters in second-century Rome. With the inception of the dynastic Principate women became key players in Roman politics (e.g., Severy 2003; Milnor 2005), and throughout the first century imperial women’s depiction in arts, documents, and literature predominantly stressed their relationship to men, especially sons. Their roles as carriers and nurturers of sons and “princes” was foremost: for instance, on a coin of 13 BCE Julia I appears flanked by her sons Gaius and Lucius (BMC 1, no. 106), and on the slightly later Ara Pacis women hover protectively over the four children on the historical frieze (only one whom may be a girl). Tiberius’ accession whilehis mother Livia still lived intensified the imperial mother-son emphasis: in the SCPP of 20 CE Julia Augusta is “most deserving” because she birthed “our princeps” (lines 115-16), and her role as mother of (potential) male emperors is stressed throughout the (probably Tiberian) Consolatio ad Liviam (Jenkins 2009). The imperial mother-son tie, most notorious with Agrippina II and Nero, carried through to the Flavians (e.g., Domitia celebrated in 81 as DIVI CAESARIS MATER for her earlier deceased son with Domitian, BMC 2, nos. 62-63, 501-3, and *p. 414). In the second century CE, however, more attention is paid to imperial mothers and daughters in a phenomenon that fades in the Severan period. Examination of 2nd-c. imperial mother-daughter ties in literature, inscriptions, and other media helps humanize imperial women even while illuminating changing concepts of the imperial family and of Roman ideology.


Marciana and Matidia I, Matidia I and her daughters Sabina and Matidia II, Faustina I and Faustina II, and Faustina II and Lucilla stand out as close mothers and daughters in the second century. Pliny notes the uncommon harmony of the Trajanic women (e.g., Pan. 83-84). Inscriptions reveal that the two Matidiae together supported an endowment (CIL V 3112=ILS 501). In the inscription claiming her reconstruction of Suessa Aurunca’s theater, Matidia the Younger identified herself by (in order) her mother Matidia, her grandmother Marciana, her sister Sabina, and then finally her “nephew” Antoninus Pius (e.g., CIL X 4745; see Chausson 2008). Imperial women also feature in affective or nurturing relationships with girls not their own: Matidia the Younger hosts Marcus Aurelius’ daughters (Fronto, ad Ant. imp. 4.1, p. 105 VDH), and both Faustinae were publicly connected with assistance for girls in Rome (the puellae Faustinianae: HA, Pius 8.1, HA, Marc. 26.6; RIC 3, Pius 397-99; ILS 6065). The mother- daughter bond underwrites even some 2nd-c. imperial male-female relations, notably Hadrian and his mother-in-law Matidia the Elder as witnessed (e.g.) in the Temple of Matidia and in his eulogizing speech for her (see now Jones 2004). The prominence of mothers and daughters in this period is not due simply to the happenstance of imperial women bearing girls who survived infancy, to judge from the near silence about mother-daughter ties relating to Julia I, Julia II, Agrippina I and other early imperial women.

The 2nd-c. imperial mother-daughter emphasis sometimes forms part of larger arguments about imperial policy promoting the family (e.g., Weiss 2008), imperial women’s visibility (e.g., Boatwright 1991), or the traditional importance of family and ancestors for acceptance of the imperial house (Hekster 2015). At times it appears to draw attention to associated men, or in biographies of individual women (e.g., Wood 2015; Levick 2014; Priwitzer 2008). Such interpretations help contextualize and explain the phenomenon in second-century Rome. Just as importantly, however, evaluating the relatively plentiful and emotionally revealing evidence for imperial mothers and daughters also lets us glimpse these women as sympathetic humans, a quality too often denied them in the literature.

Session/Panel Title

Mothers and Daughters in Antiquity

Session/Paper Number

23.6

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