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Textual evidence from Festus (72.10P) and Plutarch (Quaest. Rom. 60, 85) has long been used to argue for the absence of Roman women from animal sacrifice (Scheid 1991). In fact, the argument has been so widely accepted that most of women’s religious roles have been interpreted as marginal. In recent years, the absence of women from religious life in general and from sacrifice in particular has been successfully challenged, primarily on the basis of texts, in reinterpretations of key parts of the relevant passages by Flemming 2007 and in the wider overview offered for the period of the Republic by Schultz 2006. My paper investigates the relation of literary evidence to what the epigraphic and archaeological evidence reveals about female participation in sacrifice in the imperial era. First, I discuss the relative silence of texts against art historical depictions that imply the exemplary role of the empress at sacrifice (in outline, first with Livia only accompanying Augustus in sacrifice to the lares compitales on a marble altar now in the Uffizi, but more clearly on the Julio-Claudian image of a young woman, depicted capite velato, making an offering, clearly on the example of Livia, in a statue from the British Museum, and finally, clearly on the panel of the Porta Argentariorum on which Septimius Severus and Julia Domna are sacrificing). Epigraphic evidence here is more consonant with the archaeological in securing the participation of women in sacrifice (e.g. Julia Domna and over one hundred matronae in the Secular Games of 204 in CIL VI 32329). In my presentation I discuss these examples from the theoretical perspective of how such representations construct gender and others social relations as well as ideas of morality (most recently Langlands 2006, Tzanetou 2007, Kampen 2009 and Nasrallah 2010). To conclude, I discuss the methodological difficulties and potential biases in interpreting and comparing textual and material evidence related to female participation in sacrifice.


  • Flemming 2007: R. Flemming, “Festus and the role of women in Roman religion,” in: F. Glinister et al. (eds.) Verrius, Festus and Paul: Lexicography, Scholarship and Society. London: Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 87-108.
  • Kampen 2009: N. B. Kampen, Family fictions in Roman art Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Langlands 2006: R. Langlands, Sexual morality in ancient Rome. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Nasrallah 2010: L. S. Nasrallah, Christian responses to Roman art and architecture: the second-century church amid the spaces of empire. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Scheid 1991: “D'indispensables étrangères. Les rôles religieux des femmes à Rome,” in: G. Duby, M. Perrot (eds.), Histoire des femmes en Occident. I. L'Antiquité, (ed. P. Schmitt-Pantel), Paris: Plon, 405-437.
  • Schultz 2006: C. E. Schultz, Women's religious activity in the Roman Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Tzanetou 2007: A. Tzanetou, “Ritual and gender: critical perspectives,” in: M. Parca, A. Tzanetou (eds.), Finding Persephone: Women’s rituals in the ancient Mediterranean. Bloomington-Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1-23.

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