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Urban Craftsmen and Traders in the Roman World$

Andrew Wilson and Miko Flohr

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198748489

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198748489.001.0001

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Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

(p.200) 9 Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy
Urban Craftsmen and Traders in the Roman World

Lena Larsson Lovén

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the position of women in urban professional networks. While female work tends often to remain much less visible in our textual and iconographic sources, there is sufficient evidence to make it clear that women played a crucial role in many sectors of urban economies. Often, however, they did so within a family business that, publicly, was mostly associated with their husbands. Thus, while men were often commemorated with reference to their occupational identity, their wives were not. The chapter suggests that many epigraphically attested working women were actually working in rather exceptional contexts, implying that occupations with which these women were commonly associated give a false impression of what women’s work was like.

Keywords:   Roman craftsmen, Roman traders, Roman economy, gender, women, textile production

This chapter discusses the involvement of women in production and trade in urban centres of Roman Italy and the possibilities of identifying women’s economic and professional roles in manufacturing and retail. For modern scholars, working women belong to the most invisible groups in the Roman world: literary texts do not offer detailed information about female workers and working lives and neither does archaeology. While there is epigraphic and iconographic evidence for female working lives, earlier studies have demonstrated very clearly that there is an extensive gap between the documentation of male work, on the one hand, and that of female work, on the other. The marginalization of women is obvious in any category of evidence for work and occupations in the Roman world. The scarcity of evidence has meant that female working lives were long understudied. Largely neglected by modern scholars, working women appear to us as a marginal group.1

The present chapter will focus primarily on how female occupations and professional identities were represented in funerary epigraphy, and discusses what this evidence can tell about female economic roles and gender structures in Roman society. The majority of the texts that will be discussed in this chapter come from the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, and there is a certain emphasis on the city of Rome, but evidence from some other Italian cities will be discussed as well. The intention here is not to discuss an extensive list of female jobs (as has been done by some in the past), but rather to analyse how female professional identities have been documented and represented, and how socio-economic roles of women can be interpreted in relation to overarching Roman gender hierarchies.

(p.201) Approaching the Working Lives of Women

Epigraphy has been used unevenly in studies on aspects of Roman economy and more rarely with the specific purpose of discussing the economic roles of women.2 Ground-breaking work was done by Susan Treggiari in the 1970s, when she published two articles focusing on female occupations.3 Both are based on epigraphic evidence from the city of Rome in the imperial period. Treggiari’s work can be seen as part of the 1970s trend towards greater interest in women’s history in general.4 She discussed an extensive number of female jobs in the imperial household and in the domestic staff of wealthy families in the city of Rome as well as among non-domestic craftspeople and traders. These studies showed how women’s work was represented in epigraphy, but they also made the gender imbalance in the documentation of male and female work in the epigraphic record very obvious: not surprisingly, the inscriptions commemorating men’s work comprised a much wider range of job titles than those commemorating female work. Treggiari made several important conclusions about male and female jobs, and her work was an eye-opener to many, but it did not engage in a wider discussion of the economic and social parameters of women’s work. However, Treggiari’s work is still a point of departure for further studies of the occupational roles of Roman women.

After the 1970s, the history of women was gradually and partly replaced by gender studies; in the search of women or ‘the female’ in history, new methodologies developed. These entailed new ways of reading ancient sources and started from the notion that gaps and silences are as significant as what is actually in the sources. For instance, Sandra Joshel, in her 1992 study on work, identity, and legal status in the city of Rome, raised the issue of ‘listening to silence’ right at the beginning of her argument.5 Suzanne Dixon made a similar point in her paper on the epigraphy of textile production aptly called ‘How do you count them if they’re not there?’ Dixon argued that, in addition to what is in the sources, it is also vital to look for what is not there.6 This methodological approach starts from the issue of exclusion.7 The exclusion of information, such as on women’s work, Dixon says, can be either deliberate or casual, but in both cases it is likely to have some significance.8 Recent work by (p.202) Roth, Groen-Vallinga, and Holleran builds further upon these observations, also emphasizing the gap between the picture suggested by the evidence and historical reality.9 In short, recent scholarship has emphasized the need for a deepened rereading of various genres and types of evidence, and for alertness to gaps, silences, and absent information. In this way, it becomes possible to reach not only a reliable, but also a more complex and nuanced, picture of female working lives, and to give women their due place in debates about craftsmen and traders in the Roman world.

Job Commemoration in the Imperial Household

In her paper on jobs in the household of Livia (1975), Treggiari used funerary inscriptions from the Monumentum Liviae, a columbarium on the Via Appia, as the basis for a discussion of jobs in the imperial household.10 The men and women buried here were slaves and freedmen and freedwomen of the early imperial city household; more than 1,100 persons are estimated to have been buried in this complex between the later part of the reign of Augustus and shortly after the deification of Livia in AD 41. It is named after Livia, who appeared most frequently as the owner of slaves in the inscriptions from this sepulchral complex. Some of the slaves and freed persons were commemorated with a job title, and this information reveals part of the structure of this extensive household in terms of job specializations and work hierarchies. It also gives an indication of the distribution of male and female jobs. Not all jobs that could be expected to occur in this type of household are represented in the inscriptions from the Monumentum Liviae, but the dissimilarities in the frequency of male and female jobs are still clear.11

The epigraphic evidence from the Monumentum Liviae showed a variety of professional specialists divided over several occupational sectors, including administrators, an extensive domestic staff, and craftsmen. Among the craftsmen of the imperial household was a shoemaker and a few occupations involved in dealing with luxury goods such as some goldsmiths (aurifices), a silversmith (argentarius), a margaritarius (a dealer or trader in pearls), and, (p.203) possibly, a gilder (inauratur) who belonged to one of Livia’s freedmen.12 One inscription documents a lanipendus, who would be responsible for weighing the wool for the spinners—who were normally women.13 The occurrence of a lanipendus may point to textile manufacturing, but, as there is only one single inscription, this does not in itself mean that textiles were produced in the imperial household: such a conclusion would require the presence of other occupational categories as well, such as spinners and weavers, who represent the central stages in the production chain. Yet no inscriptions mentioning these occupations are known from this columbarium.

In most job categories from the Monumentum Liviae, women are not attested, but some female workers appear in a group of inscriptions linked to textile work, as clothes-menders (sarcinatrices).14 Only a fifth of the women from the Monumentum Liviae are commemorated with a job title. Treggiari noted that, on the whole, ‘one striking factor in the job structure is the low proportion of women’.15 Thus, the sarcinatrix appears as one of the few female jobs documented by several texts from the household of Livia Some other attestations of sarcinatrices are known from Rome, but they come from outside the imperial household.16 A few examples come from other cities elsewhere in central and northern Italy.17 Some of the sarcinatrices from Monumentum Liviae had been manumitted, but the majority of the women commemorated with this job title were slaves.18

Women in the Production and Trade of Luxury Goods

Luxury products, such as jewellery, silk clothes, gems, pearls, gold, purple, perfumes, and more, were available in many Roman cities, and a number of occupational titles exist that reflect their manufacturing and retail. Some of (p.204) these appear in the inscriptions from the Monumentum Liviae, generally referring to male workers. In general, epigraphically attested dealers of luxury products are men, but women have been documented in this branch of the urban economy as well. Female perfume-sellers, unguentariae, have been attested both in Rome and in Puteoli.19 In Rome, luxury products were sold along the Via Sacra, as is attested by several inscriptions, including the combination of occupational titles and the name of the street.20 An example is an inscription listing a group of five persons who were jewellers (gemmarii). The first of these is a woman named Babbia Asia, while the others are male.21

Other inscriptions from the neighbourhood of the Via Sacra attest traders in purple, which was a symbol of status throughout antiquity.22 The most frequently recurring job title in epigraphy linked to purple products is the purpurarius, variously interpreted as either ‘producer or dealer of purple dyestuff’ or ‘producer or dealer of purple products’.23 Whatever its actual meaning, the term has a wide distribution in urban centres in Italy from the south to the northern regions. In addition to the evidence from Rome, purpurarii have been found in urban centres such as Puteoli, Capua, Parma, Chiusi, Sarsina, and Aquileia. Numerically, there is a male dominance.24

The most direct evidence that women were involved in purple trade and production is an inscription from Rome that documents a group of freedwomen who may all have been in the trade of purple products.25 In addition to this, there are several inscriptions from Rome mentioning purpurarii.26 In some of them, both men and women appear, but the occupational title is primarily linked to men. These inscriptions can be used to highlight the difficulties in reading the evidence concerning female involvement in Roman trade, production, and the Roman labour market in general.27 One example commemorates a couple from the Veturii family, well known for its involvement in the textile trade. The couple is a man named D. Veturius Atticus, described as purpurarius de Vico Iugario, and a woman Veturia Tryphea (Fig. 9.1).28 The inscription does (p.205)

Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

Fig. 9.1. Purple-dealers from the Vicus Iugarius (AE 1923, 59). Photo: Miko Flohr.

not specify whether the woman also worked in the purple trade, but it is possible that both the man and the woman worked in a shop in the Vicus Iugarius trading purple products. The same can be said about an inscription of three freed people, one man—another purpurarius, L. Plutius Eros, who worked in the Vicus Tuscus—and two women, named Plutia Auge and Veturia Attica.29 The man and one of the women are from the family of the Plutii, while the other woman is from the Veturii family. One of the women, Plutia Auge, commissioned the monument for all three of them, but the relationships between these individuals and between the two families are not altogether clear.30 In this case, too, the occupation of the women is not specified, but both women may have been involved in the trade of purple products.31 The inscriptions of purpurarii may serve as examples of how ‘reading the silence’ can work. When an occupational group of mixed sex occurs in an inscription with a job title in the masculine form, it is obvious that it refers to male work, but it does not exclude that women were involved in the business as well. If, in analysing the inscriptions with such job titles, women are more regularly considered, this still does not constitute direct evidence for female work, but it does offer a better understanding of women’s occupational possibilities and of their roles in urban economies and the labour market.

More luxury textiles were cloth and clothes made of silk, which was imported from the east. In the early imperial period, silk clothes became highly fashionable in Rome, not just for women but also for men, which probably caused an increasing demand for silk products.32 Most known (p.206) Latin inscriptions referring to people involved in the silk trade come from the city of Rome or urban centres in its vicinity.33 Again, most of these inscriptions document men, sericarii, but there is evidence for at least one female silk-worker, a woman named Thymele, who was commemorated as a sericaria.34

Further specialists in luxury production are attested by two funerary inscriptions from Rome. Dating to the fourth century AD, both commemorate women who appear to have been involved in highly specialized jobs related to the textile economy. One epitaph documents a girl who was an aurinetrix, a spinner of gold thread; the other records an aurivestrix.35 These are very specific job titles reflecting a high degree of specialization in the manufacturing economy of the Roman metropolis. However, as both are attested only once, it is hard to tell how common such jobs may have been, though it is significant that they come from the city of Rome, where demand for luxury products is likely to have been exceptionally high.36 Sellia Epyre, the aurivestrix from the Via Sacra, was possibly a specialist in gold embroidery; her case is another example of the trade of luxury products in the commercial district in and around the Via Sacra (Fig. 9.2). For the aurinetrix, the spinner of gold thread, there is no indication in the inscription of where her work took place, but it is worth noting that the inscription is an epitaph to the memory of a girl named Viccentia, dulcissima filia, who died at the age of only 9 years and 9 months.37 The girl was commemorated by her parents; while the occupation of these people is not mentioned in the text, it is possible that the girl worked in a family business where she was trained by her parents from an early age.38

As demonstrated by the examples discussed so far, inscriptions documenting the trade of luxury goods are found in cities throughout Roman Italy, but the lion’s share of the evidence is concentrated in the Roman metropolis and its vicinity. The variation in job titles related to luxury trades reflects the (p.207)

Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

Fig. 9.2. Sellia Epyre, aurivestrix from the Via Sacra, Rome (CIL 6.9214). Photo: Roger B. Ulrich.

variety of products that were traded and consumed mainly in the capital—the primary market for a conspicuous consumption—and the evidence clearly shows that women played a role in this process as well.

Women in the Production and Trade of Everyday Consumer Goods: The Case of Textiles

If one turns to the evidence for the production and trade of more mundane goods than pearls, perfumes, and silk clothes, the production of everyday textiles may be used as an example. Textile production formed a vital part of the Roman economy, with a large number of people involved as producers, traders, and consumers. Textiles were professionally manufactured and traded, not just in Roman Italy but all over the empire, but the evidence available nowadays is scattered and limited, and has until recently been studied only to a very limited extent.39 Nevertheless, the economic importance of textile production should not be underestimated. Through information in (p.208) some literary sources we can get a glimpse of the development and the scale of textile production already in the Republican period. Livy, for instance, reports that towards the end of the Second Punic War, in 204 BC, Tiberius Claudius Nero, who was praetor in Sardinia, had a cargo of 1,200 togas and 12,000 tunics—a huge amount of garments—sent to supply the Roman legions serving in North Africa under Scipio the Elder.40 Less than four decades later, in 169 BC, an even larger amount of garments, 6,000 togas and 30,000 tunics, was contracted by the urban praetor C. Sulpicius to be sent from Rome for army supply in Macedonia.41 Cato the Elder advised wealthy estate-owners to buy cheap clothing in Rome for their slaves, as this would be more economical than having clothes for slaves made on the estate.42 Cato does not specify the scale of the production, but his writings coincide well, chronologically, with the episodes mentioned by Livy and reflect the existence—by that time—of a market for ready-made clothes and possibly other textile products in Rome and other urban centres.

The scale of the textile economy as well as the involvement of female labour has been debated and variously interpreted over the years. In the episodes mentioned above, nothing is said about who produced the textiles contracted for the Roman army or the cheap clothing for slaves. Literary sources give us the names of various textile products, but, again, the best information comes from funerary epigraphy, where a range of occupations related to various stages of textile production and trade. The occupational inscriptions document both men and women in domestic service as well as non-domestic workers. The greatest concentration of textile-related occupations in the city of Rome comes from inscriptions of the families of the Statilii and the Veturii. In the sample of the Statilii family, there is, for example, evidence of a group of spinners, quasillariae, who were all women, and a couple of inscriptions of weavers: two male textores and one female textrix.43 If we consider that spinning and weaving were two of the central stages in the chain of textile production, the epigraphic evidence of these work moments is very modest. Some more wool-weighers, lanipendi, occur, and interestingly there are also some women in this supervisory position as lanipendae.44 As already mentioned, a lanipendus or lanipenda was primarily responsible for weighing the daily amount of wool to be given to the spinners. Yet this person could probably also have been in charge of the whole sequence of textile manufacturing in households where the entire process was performed. (p.209) It is unusual to find a woman in a position as manager or supervisor, and the position as lanipenda seems to have been restricted to households outside both the wealthiest families and the imperial circle.45 More clothes-menders, sarcinatrices, appear from wealthy Roman households, and, as in the case of the Monumentum Liviae, female workers dominate this occupation.

Occupations related to the stages in production of a finished textile product were the vestifici and vestarii. Finished cloth could be made into new garments by male and female tailors—vestifici and vestificae. These people are found among the household staff of private employers.46 Vestiarii were non-domestic traders, and evidence of male vestiarii is found in many urban centres of Roman Italy, though the majority comes from Rome.47 A possible female vestiaria appears in an inscription together with a group of men, all liberti who seem to have specialized in the business of delicate cloth/clothes: they are described as vestiarii tenuarii.48

The examples of women’s work discussed so far have been defined in epigraphy by a number of job titles, with inscriptions linking women to a job title either on an occupational basis or as part of a group. Most of the epigraphically attested female job titles have parallel titles for men, and, in most occupations, references to men outnumber those to women. One exception appears to be the clothes-menders, the sarcinatrices, where the majority consists of women. The only exclusively female group appears to be the spinners, the quasillariae, with no obvious equivalent male occupational title.

Outside the textile economy, the same pattern, with more men than women, can be found in most other areas of production as well.49 Shoe-making may be added as yet another example of an artisan’s job pursued by several men and by some women. Most inscriptions referring to sutores (cobblers) refer to men. From Milan comes an inscription mentioning a sutor caligarius, a specialist in making boots, and from Rome comes the well-known stele of the cobbler Gaius Julius Helius, with an inscription listing his occupation and a portrait showing his professional activities.50 However, a funerary monument from (p.210) Ostia commemorating a woman named Septimia Stratonice has a partially preserved inscription and an image representing a seated woman, dressed in a simple belted tunic and holding a shoe last in her right hand (Fig. 9.3).51 The preserved part of the inscription does not provide the job title (sutrix), but the image gives a clear but rare indication of a woman in her professional role as shoe-maker.52

Male and Female Job Titles in the Same Line of Business

A majority of those men and women who were commemorated with a job title were slaves and freed persons—people to whom work constituted a central part of their social identity. Sharing work for people in these groups was often a reason for commissioning a shared burial in the form of an epitaph or a memorial. In funerary epigraphy and iconography we meet various

Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

Fig. 9.3. The shoemaker Septimia Stratonice from Ostia (CIL 14.4698).

(p.211) constellations of people, such as legally married couples, contubernales—slave couples that were not legally married—family groups, slaves, and conliberti, who refer to their work in words, in iconography, or through both text and image. Artisans’ epitaphs including freedmen or freedwomen often indicate a working relation between them.53 However, only rarely does it occur that male and female workers are attested with the same job title in one inscription. Yet a few examples do exist, among them two from northern Italy.54 One example is an inscription from Milan that documents a man and a woman involved in the trade of linen textiles and explicitly mentions the occupation of both: linarius and linaria.55 While there is more evidence of linarii, this particular inscription represents the only known instance of the job title in the feminine form.56 The inscription was commissioned by the man, the linarius Gaius Cassius Sopater, and it commemorates not only the man himself but three freedwomen of his as well, all bearing the name Cassia. One of them, the linaria Cassia Domestica, was also his wife. From Turin is an inscription of nail-makers, a female clavaria (nail-maker), Cornelia Venusta, and a clavarius, a freeborn, P. Aebutius.57

Further examples of couples in the same line of business are from Rome. Two texts document producers of gold leaf, each explicitly mentioning a man and a woman as brattiarius and brattiaria.58 Both men and one of the women were clearly former slaves, since freed, while the other woman, Fulvia Melema, is of unclear status.59 A comparable form of closely related male and female work documented in inscriptions concerns men and women doing different jobs but in the same sector of production. An example is an inscription from Rome of a slave couple where both the man and the woman were involved in textile production. The woman, Musa, was a spinner (quasillaria), while the man, Cratinus, was a lanipendus.60

The examples discussed show women in a number of occupational roles among others as producers or traders of jewellery and perfume, dealers in purple, silk, or linens, as spinner, weaver, wool-weigher, clothes-mender, seamstress, tailor, shoe-maker, nail-maker, and more. Women also worked as salespersons of various goods, as is demonstrated by both epigraphy and iconography.61

(p.212) Women’s Work: Readings beyond Marginality

Discussing female work through epigraphic evidence where women have been commemorated by an occupational title will give an overview of jobs that were open to and pursued by Roman women. In several of the examples discussed, the link between the women and their work is clear and a combined female and occupational identity have been commemorated through a job title. However, many inscriptions with job titles concern a couple or a whole group of people, often both men and women. In such cases, the name of the job is normally in the masculine plural and often thought to refer to an occupation pursued by the men in the group. Readings of such inscriptions with the grammatical exclusion of women is an example of how women and female work are marginalized and more difficult to identify. Questions of women’s occupational roles in such epigraphic contexts have already been touched upon, concerning the evidence of purpurarii from Rome. Yet another example—also from Rome—is an inscription commemorating a man named Gaius Cafurnius Antiochus and his wife, Veturia Deuteria (Fig. 9.4).62 It includes the name of an occupation in connection to the man’s name, lanarius, but there is no job title linked to the woman’s name. Does this mean that the woman did not have a job? Did she perhaps work in the same trade as the husband? Or did she do something completely different? The exact meaning of lanarius is not altogether clear, but both ‘producer of wool’ and ‘dealer in wool’ have been suggested.63 Whatever its meaning, the job title has an obvious link with lana, wool, and there are more examples of lanarii from Rome and from other urban centres in Italy such as Gubbio and Pesaro.64 As an occupational title in epigraphy, lanarius exists only in the masculine. Should this be interpreted as implying that no women were involved in the work done by lanarii?

This particular instance, of C. Cafurnius Antiochus and Veturia Deuteria, is, furthermore, one of the few where an inscription with a job title is combined with an image including a possible occupational symbol—a sheep. The sheep is a unique symbol in the iconography of Roman textile production and underlines the close connection of this job to wool. Above the sheep is also depicted a pair of joined hands, one of them a woman’s arm with a bracelet. In Roman iconography a man and a woman clasping hands—the gesture of dextrarum iunctio—usually symbolizes a married couple.65 It was of particular (p.213)

Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

Fig. 9.4. Funerary plaque of the lanarius C. Cafurnius Antonchus and his wife Veturia Deuteria, Rome (CIL 6.9489). Photo: Lena Larsson-Lovén.

importance for people who had not always had the right of a legal marriage, such as ex-slaves, to demonstrate their acquired rights and new status. In this case, both the man, the lanarius, and the woman have clearly attested their status as former slaves, but they come from different households. The woman was an ex-slave from the Veturii family. As Holleran has recently argued, female slaves could learn a trade that could make them more useful to the household.66 After manumission, such training could become their professional basis and social identity. This may have been the case for a woman like Veturia Deutera. For a female ex-slave of the Veturii—who, as already mentioned, were known for their engagement in textiles and the dyeing trade—it does not seem unlikely that she had been engaged in some form of textile production. If one adds the evidence for marriages between people belonging to different families working in the same branch of the urban economy, it seems plausible that Veturia Deuteria was involved in a family-run textile business, first as a slave and later, in her marriage with the lanarius, perhaps together with her husband—but her work was not specified in the commemorative inscription.67

Epitaphs commemorating slaves and freed people were more inclined to document work than were those commemorating freeborn. This is particularly true for urban slaves; not all slaves and freed people were equally likely to be commemorated. A work position could influence the way people were remembered, and those with a higher position in the work hierarchy occur (p.214) more frequently in the epigraphic record than those with a job of a lower status. Thus, a supervisor such as a lanipenda/-us stood a better chance of being commemorated than someone who held a low-status position, such as a weaver or a spinner. This situation is clearly reflected in the inscriptions, where only a handful of weavers and spinners are documented, a very meagre body of evidence that does not accurately reflect this type of work, which must have involved an extensive number of workers.

Gender structure is another vital agency directing the modes of commemoration and of how female work was documented in the sources. The public identities of Roman women were usually not defined primarily by their work. However, the reluctance to document women at work, as we can see both in writing and in images, reflects gender roles more than a social reality. The above discussion of textile work can serve as an example of how gender structures affected the commemoration of men’s and women’s professional roles. Cloth production was considered to be the work of women; in an ideal world it took place in a domestic setting. In spite of the traditional view of a close link between textile production and women’s work, male jobs appear much more common in the epigraphic evidence of occupations related to textile production and trade than does the work of women. Instead of information of women’s professional and economic roles, the stress in ancient sources is more often on their traditional roles as wives and mothers than on their work.68

The absence of explicit information on female work makes the identification of women’s professional and economical roles more complex. To make it possible to identify the place and role of women in the Roman labour market beyond simply mapping jobs pursued by women, a reading of the sources needs to be seen in relation to overarching gender structures. This could be done by ‘listening to silence’ or reading gaps and absences, as discussed at the beginning of this chapter, in order to understand what may have been regularly excluded from the sources. An example of the exclusion of women’s work could be what Susan Treggiari has suggested to be a parallel between the absence of women’s work in modern evidence and in ancient sources. Treggiari used the signs of shops and businesses that mention a male name in combination with ‘and son(s)’ or ‘and co.’ to reinterpret ancient sources where women have been excluded.69 Does the absence of references to women in modern business signs mean that no women worked in there? From a present-day Western perspective most people would probably not be surprised to find women among the personnel in positions as secretaries, switchboard operators, or cleaning staff, and in other positions as well, in a business called ‘NN & son(s)’ or ‘NN & co.’, even without female names appearing in the signs (p.215) on public display. This forces us to think again about the information of female labour in Roman sources: in contrast to the impression the ancient sources may give, Roman women must have worked extensively in production and trade. They could work as professional partners of their husbands or in family businesses, and were allowed to make profits from their business. However, their contributions were rarely expressed in job titles on inscriptions.

Applying modern theoretical models to ancient sources may give a better understanding of female socio-economic roles, within the family and on the labour market, and by adding information from other types of evidence the picture may be more complex.70 Ulrike Roth has discussed in-depth methods and the uses of material culture to identify the work of female slaves in agriculture—the most silent and invisible women of all—to identify their work and to discuss their economic significance.71 Iconography is another source for the working lives of women that can add information, as has already been shown by Natalie Kampen in her pioneering study on images from Ostia of women at work.72 At Pompeii, the paintings from the facade of what is known as the felt shop of the vestiarius M. Vecilius Verecundus provide a key iconographic example of a woman at work.73 While we know the name and the job title of the man—they are written underneath his portrait on the facade of the workshop—there is no evidence specifying the name or the occupation of the woman who, in one of the paintings on the same facade, stands behind a desk to sell the products of the workshop (Fig. 9.5). The status

Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

Fig. 9.5. Pompeii, facade to the left of shop IX 7, 7: woman selling products in shop. Reproduced from Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità (1912: 179).

(p.216) of the woman is ambiguous, but she has been interpreted as the wife of Verecundus because of her prominent place in the iconographic representation of the workshop.74

Another example of a man and woman working in the same business is a funerary relief from Rome representing a scene in a butcher’s shop (Fig. 9.6). The right half depicts a man at work: dressed in a tunic, he is chopping meat behind a working table. Around him, a variety of meat products and work equipment is displayed. To the left is a woman seated in a high back chair with her feet resting on a stool. She is dressed in a foot-long garment, possibly a tunic, over which she wears a mantle. Her hair is carefully arranged in a style that came into fashion during the reign of Hadrian. She is holding a set of wax tablets that probably symbolize a book of accounts.75 By dress and pose the woman can be identified as a person of a higher status than the man, and she may actually have been the owner of the shop, the butcher being one of her workers rather than her husband. Women could take over the management of a business after the death of a husband; they could also own property and administer it themselves. They contributed to the commercial culture of Roman urban centres, but only rarely were they commemorated in their professional and economic roles; the woman in the butcher’s scene is a rare example.76 Women’s work opportunities were undoubtedly more limited than those for men in Roman society, especially for freeborn women, but still some were commemorated by an occupational or a professional identity and some were obviously financially successful in both smaller and larger businesses in

Women, Trade, and Production in Urban Centres of Roman Italy

Fig. 9.6. Funerary relief from Rome depicting a butcher at work and a woman doing accounting. Photo: Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen.

(p.217) various urban centres of Roman Italy. Women from Pompeii such as Eumachia, Naevoleia Tyche, and Julia Felix are often mentioned as examples of women’s successful involvement in business. From Ostia comes the example of a woman named Junia Libertas, who put up a long inscription telling that she left gardens, houses, and shops to her freedman/women. It is not clear what kind of business Junia Libertas was involved in, but she was obviously a wealthy woman who could afford a public legacy to be remembered by.77 Economically successful women or those from wealthy families could be made more visible in urban centres than women of lower social status. In the imperial period, it was common practice to honour these women with statues, as happened with Eumachia, who got a statue dedicated to her in the role of priestess by the fullones of Pompeii. Alternatively, women could pay for statues of themselves or of family members, or could donate publica munificentia to their city. Emily Hemelrijk has shown in a number of studies how women in cities of Roman Italy and the Latin West demonstrated wealth and social status by paying for public buildings, which were given their (family) name, by erecting lavish funerary monuments, and by becoming visible in the urban landscape by public statuary.78

Yet another example of a woman in business is a liberta named Trosia Hilaria from Aquileia in the north-east. She identified herself as lanifica circ(u)latrixs (= circulatrix).79 The woman had a funerary stele made to herself and to her freed male and female ex-slaves. There is no image on the stele to guide us further about the meaning of the unique job title, but it is quite clear that the expression lanifica in this case was used not as the customary praise of an industrious housewife, but rather as a job title. Trosia Hilaria, the lanifica circulatrix, may have been a spinner or weaver who worked on a professional basis as a pedlar in different households in the region of Aquileia, but it is also possible that she ran a small-scale business where some of her slaves worked.80 Trosia Hilaria, and her slaves may have been collecting wool from local households, processing it, and returned it for a fee in a sort of putting-out to cottage industry. The woman had been a slave herself, but at the time of commissioning the funerary stele she was a slave-owner as well, of both male and female slaves. We have no information of how many slaves she had, but at least some of them had been freed and were buried together with the former owner. The fact that she was a slave-owner indicates that Troisa Hilaria had some financial means, but on a more modest scale than, for instance, Naevoleia Tyche in Pompeii and Junia Libertas in Ostia. Trosia Hilaria was not without professional success or economic means, but commissioning a joint (p.218) funerary monument and grave with (some of) her manumitted slaves points more in the direction of shared work and a social identity with slaves and other manumitted persons rather than with the higher echelons in society.


Based on epigraphy, the general picture of women’s occupational roles is that they were frequent in domestic service jobs, in taking care of small children, in cloth production with partly highly specialized jobs, and in the trade of some goods such as luxury products, while they are completely absent from many other sections.81 A prima facie interpretation of the evidence could lead to the conclusion that this was the occupational realm of women and that most of the labour market was closed to them. Some past scholars have also fallen into this trap. For instance, A. H. M. Jones argued in his influential paper on the cloth industry under the Roman Empire that women’s role in the production of textiles appeared to be of no particular significance: their foremost task was spinning, which was done in an ‘entirely unorganised’ way and in their ‘spare time’.82 Weaving, on the other hand, was, according to Jones, mostly done by men and regularly organized on a large scale.

In all ancient media, we are presented with a stereotyped picture of women and their professional roles, which were more often excluded than included; instead, it was their traditional family roles such as wives and mothers that were regularly stressed. This situation reflects long-standing gender ideologies: for women of various social classes it was not an occupational life, but rather life as a traditional housewife, that remained the ideal. This leads to women being represented as persons who were supposed not to work outside the home but to be dutiful and industrious within the household. In reality, however, both men and women were part of a labour market, but Roman ideologies of work, of masculinity and femininity, had such an impact on the documentation of work that women workers and their economic roles have been strongly marginalized in ancient sources. Thus, the documentation of their professional roles is a result of social conventions and Roman gender ideologies, which encouraged female identities in their family roles rather than their professional roles.

The study of Roman women has developed in many directions since scholars began to address the issue in the 1970s: new theoretical models have been applied to ancient sources, which have led to new readings that have helped us better to understand women’s socio-economic roles. Reading (p.219) the evidence by trying to see not only what is there but also what is not there opens possibilities to see women as professionally active in more sectors than those that have been documented in epigraphy by a female job title. It is a way of looking beyond marginality and to see a more diversified and less stereotyped picture of women’s professional and economic roles in the labour market in Roman society as well as seeing both male and female craftsmen and traders as vital socio-economic agents in urban Roman communities.


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(1) For an overview of previous research on work and gender issues, from the last decades of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, see Salvaterra (2006); see Knapp (2011) for a recent study of marginal or invisible groups in the Roman world.

(2) Edmondson (2015: 671–3).

(3) Treggiari (1975, 1976).

(4) Treggiari’s paper on jobs in the household of Livia was published within a year of Sarah Pomeroy’s Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity.

(5) Joshel (1992: 3–23). ‘Listening to silence’ is again the argument in Amy Richlin’s recent monograph on women in the Roman world (Arguments with Silence). Richlin (2014: esp. 1–35).

(6) Dixon (2000–1).

(7) Dixon (2000–1: 10).

(8) In her 2001 study on Reading Roman Women, Dixon presented a wider methodological discussion of how to read ancient genres in general, not only epigraphic sources, and discussed how male and especially female social identities were constructed through work. Dixon (2001: 16–25, 113–33).

(9) Roth (2007: 1–24); Groen-Vallinga (2013: 309); Holleran (2013: 328).

(10) The Monumentum Liviae no longer exists but was excavated in the early eighteenth century: Treggiari (1975: 48–9).

(11) It is important to take into consideration that the inscriptions do not give a full picture but may be reflecting only part of the staff and that they do not record the entire staff at one moment. Cf. Treggiari (1975: 57). See also Joshel (1992: 100–5) for a discussion of slaves, freedmen/freedwomen, and occupational titles in the Monumentum Liviae.

(12) Shoemaker: CIL 6.3939; Treggiari (1975: 54); aurifices: CIL 6.3927, 3945, 3949; argentarius: CIL 6.8727; margaritarius: CIL 5.3981; gilder: CIL 6.3928.

(13) CIL 6.3976.

(14) CIL 6.3988, 4029–31, 5357, 8903, 9038. There is also a possible male mender (sarcinator): CIL 6.4028. In Rome, evidence for sarcinatrices is found outside the imperial household too (Treggiari 1976: 85). The majority of the sarcinatrices are female slaves.

(15) Treggiari (1975: 58). The total number of women in Monumentum Liviae will, however, be higher, as many were commemorated after being freed and married, with no mention of a job. See also Treggiari (1976: 94).

(16) See Treggiari (1976: 85) for inscriptions of sarcinatrices from Rome, from the household of Livia, other imperial women, and from the Statilii family. According to Eichenauer, the total number of inscriptions of sarcinatrices is 26; cf. Eichenauer (1988: 94).

(17) CIL 5.2542 (Este), 5.2881 (Padua), and 11.5437 (Assisi); Eichenauer (1988: 96).

(18) Eichenaurer (1988: 94, n. 4).

(19) CIL 6.10006 refers to a woman in Rome commemorated by her husband after thirty years of marriage; CIL 10.1965 refers to a woman from Puteoli who died at the age of 71; Treggiari (1979a: 71).

(20) For a more detailed discussion of the commercial activities in the Forum district, see Papi (2002); for shopping in Rome in general, see Holleran (2012).

(21) CIL 6.9435. All five persons were ex-slaves and two of them were manumitted by a woman, see Treggiari (1979a: 67); Papi (2002: 58); Holleran (2013: 314).

(22) For a detailed discussion of purple as a long-lasting symbol in antiquity, see Reinhold (1970).

(23) For a discussion and various interpretations of purpurarius see von Petrikovits (1981: 100); Gregori (1994: 742); Pelletier (1996: 133). See also Hughes on the discussion of purpurarii as producers/dealers of purple products other than textiles: Hughes (2007: 89–91).

(24) CIL 5.1044 (Aquileia); 10.1952 (Puteoli); 10.3973 (Capua); 11.1069a (Parma); 11.2136 (Chiusi); 11.6604 (Sarsina).

(25) CIL 6.9846, purpurar(ii).

(26) Gardner (1986: 238–9).

(27) Joshel (1992: esp. ch. 1); Dixon (2000–1).

(28) NSA 1922, 144 = AE 1923, 59; from the Via Praenestina; cf. Dixon (2001: 118–19).

(29) CIL 14.2433.

(30) Gardner (1986: 238).

(31) Eichenauer (1988: 98).

(32) See Hildebrandt (2013) for a recent chapter on silk clothing in Rome.

(33) Cf. two epigraphic instances from Tivoli commemorating the same man, M. Nummius Proculus, who was a sericarius; CIL 14.3711–12, and two from Gabii of Aulus Plutius Epaphroditus, a negotiator sericarius; CIL 14.2793 (= ILS 5449), CIL 14.2812 (= ILS 7601). A Greek inscription mentioning a silk specialist comes from Naples (IG 14.785). For examples from urban centres outside Italy, cf. also Athens (IG 3.3513).

(34) CIL 6.9892, Thymele was the slave of a woman named Marcella.

(35) Aurinetrix: CIL 6.9213. Aurivestrix: CIL 6.9214. The occupational title aurivestrix has also been interpreted as ‘dressmaker in gold’, see Lefkowitz and Fant (1992: 219, no. 321, n. 21); Gleba (2008: 63); Holleran (2013: 315).

(36) Edmondson (2015: 673).

(37) The age of death of the girl and the occupational title linked to her name raise questions about Roman child labour and at about what age a child might start specialist training for a job, but these are issues beyond the scope of the present chapter. Cf. Bradley (1991); Groen-Vallinga (2013: 305–6).

(38) On the informal training of craftsmen, see Freu, Chapter 8, this volume.

(39) See Roth (2007: 53–87) for a discussion of evidence for textile production and especially female slave labour.

(40) Livy 29.36. Two years later, in 202 BC, the same Tiberius Claudius Nero was elected as Roman consul.

(41) Livy 44.16.

(42) Cato Maior, De Agr. 1.135.

(43) Textile-workers from the Monumentum Statiliorum: quasillariae, CIL 6.6339–46; textores, CIL 6.6360–1, and a female weaver, textrix, CIL 6.6363.

(44) Lanipendii: CIL 6.3976–7, 6300, 8870, 9495, 37755. Lanipendae: CIL 6.9496–8, 34273, 37721, AE 1969–70, 49. From outside the city of Rome come CIL 9.3157 (Corfinio) and 4350 (Amiternum).

(45) Treggiari (1976: 83).

(46) Vestificae: CIL 6.5206, 9744, 9980. According to Treggiari, there are four vestifici in domestic service: CIL 6.7476, 8544, 9979, and 37724; Treggiari (1976: 85).

(47) A sample of inscriptions of vestiarii from Roman Italy shows the diffusion from southern urban centres to the north: CIL 4.3130 (Pompeii); 9.1712 (Benevento); 10.3959 (Capua); 1.1216; 6.4044, 4476, 7378, 7379, 9962–6, and 9970–6 (Rome), 11.6839 (Bologna), 11.869, 6962a (Modena), 5.3460 (Verona), 5.774 (Aquileia).

(48) CIL 6.33920. In addition to the women, and men, involved in the production of textiles in wealthy aristocratic households, there were also those who took care of the wardrobe of the master or the mistress, the vestiplica (vestipica). For vestipliciae, see CIL 6.9901, 33393, 33395, 37825. One example of a vestiplicia from outside Rome is found in CIL 9.3318, from Castelvecchio Subrego. For the male equivalent, a vestip(l)icius, see CIL 6.7301, 8558–60, 9981.

(49) Treggiari (1975, 1975, 1979a); Eichenauer (1988); Groen-Vallinga (2013).

(50) Milan: CIL 5.5919. Rome: CIL 6.33914. Cf. Zimmer (1982: 137–8).

(51) CIL 14.4698.

(52) Kampen (1981: 64–9, fig. 47). In the iconography of work the same tendency with fewer women commemorated at work is obvious. Holleran (2013: 218–19).

(53) Joshel (1992: 138).

(54) Huttunen (1974: 48–9); Treggiari (1976: 98); Dixon (2001: 118).

(55) CIL 5.5923.

(56) One inscription from Spain attests a possible linaria (lintearia) from Tarragona, Spain: CIL 2.4318a.

(57) CIL 5.7320; Holleran (2013: 315).

(58) CIL 6.9211 and 6939; Treggiari (1979a: 66–7).

(59) In CIL 6.9211 the man Gaius Fulcinius Hermeros was clearly a freedman, while there is no clear indication of manumitted status for the woman, Fulvia Melema; Holleran (2013: 315).

(60) CIL 6.9495. For more examples of other combinations of male and female occupations in the same inscription, although not always related jobs, see Treggiari (1976: 98).

(61) See Kampen (1982, 1985) for saleswomen in iconography; Holleran (2013: 321–5).

(62) CIL 6.9489; Zimmer (1982: no. 34), of late Republican date; Larsson Lovén (forthcoming: no. 1.1).

(63) Von Petrikovits (1981: 100); Frayn (1984: 151–2). More recently Suzanne Dixon has suggested it could be a male catch-all comparable to the female lanifica; see Dixon (2001: 119).

(64) Rome: CIL 6.94990–4, 31898, 33869; AE 1971, 49. Gubbio: CIL 11.5835. Pesaro: CIL 11.6367; this last inscription includes a group of men, among them two lanarii and two vestiarii.

(65) Larsson Lovén (2010), with further references.

(66) Holleran (2013: 315).

(67) For a discussion on this item, see Dixon (2001: 119–21).

(68) Saller (2007); Groen-Vallinga (2013: 297–9).

(69) Treggiari (1979a: 78–9).

(70) See Groen-Vallinga (2013) for women’s work.

(71) Roth (2007).

(72) Kampen (1981); see also Kampen (1982, 1985) for studies of saleswomen in iconography. For an overall study of work in Roman iconography, see Zimmer (1982).

(73) Pompeii, IX 7, 7. CIL 4.3130. See also Angelone (1986).

(74) Clarke (2003: 109); Flohr (2013: 282–4, figs 117–18); Holleran (2013: 316–17).

(75) Zimmer (1982: 94–5, n. 2).

(76) Dixon (2004: 65).

(77) AE 1940, 94; Dixon (1992).

(78) Hemelrijk (2012, 2013) with further references.

(79) Museo Archeologico di Aquileia, inv. no. 49941 (= AE 2003, 115). The stele is 1.10 m high and 0.59 m wide. The style of the writing points towards a late Republican date.

(80) See Holleran (2013: 322) for a discussion of circulatrix.

(81) Treggiari (1976); see also Holleran (2013).

(82) Jones (1960).