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Female Agency in the Late Roman Republic: A Social Network Approach

Gregory Gilles

King's College London

In this paper I employ social network analysis to study female agency in the late Roman republican period. My project uses female centred networks to connect women, and men, during this period as visualisation enables an easier identification of different patterns of connectedness, whether they be social, familial and/or political. With the use of the Digital Prosopography of the Roman Republic created at KCL (, as well as various ancient sources, such as Cicero’s letters, Plutarch’s biographies and the histories of Livy, Polybius, Appian, Suetonius and Cassius Dio, I have created familial data sets so as to identify connections within four generations (one above and two below) of the various central female nodes. Through trial and error, focusing on four generations not only enables the identification of possible repeated familial connections, but also pinpoints new connections forged with powerful men or families in subsequent generations. There are, in total, 12 different female centred networks which include over 150 elite and equestrian women from Rome with dates ranging from c.250 B.C. to c.10 B.C.

The numerous female centred networks provide data to help answer four key questions: Were marriages mainly used to cement, or initiate, political alliances between powerful men and/or families? Findings indicate that certain elite families appeared to remarry into each other every second or third generation. Was the, often, great age disparity between spouses intentional and the norm, or was it simply due to the military and/or political careers that Roman men had to undertake before they could marry? The networks cannot definitively answer this, but analysis of first marriages correlate with findings by Richard Saller (Classical Philology 82 [1987] 21-34) and would indicate that men’s public careers took precedence over marrying at a young age. Was a rich widow or divorcée an attraction for politically aspiring new man/impoverished noblemen? The majority of networks demonstrate that this is not the case. Did stepmothers play an active role in the upbringing of their husband’s other children? The networks highlight that most stepmothers were of similar ages to their new stepchildren and so an active role would often not have been required.

This paper, therefore, showcases the networks that have been created from the analysis of literary materials and demonstrates how social networks can be used to answer these, or similar, historical questions. The issues with the data, and their impact on the creation of these networks, as well as their analyses, will also be discussed.

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Social Networks and Interconnections in Ancient and Medieval Contexts

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