Tradizione Romana-2017






Discussion* of the book of Leo Peppe, Civis Romana**


* During the Annual Meeting on Christian Origins of the Italian Centre for Advanced Studies on Religions (CISSR), Bertinoro, FO, September 29, 2017.

** Leo Peppe, Civis Romana. Forme giuridiche e modelli sociali dell’appartenenza e dell’identità femminili in Roma antica, Lecce, Edizioni Grifo, 2016.




PeppeTessera2-1LEO PEPPE

University of Roma Tre


Initial Presentation

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I wish to thank the conference organizers for offering my book this important opportunity for presentation and discussion. I am also grateful to my illustrious colleagues who have agreed to come here and speak: they are scholars of Roman law with whom I have shared a long academic friendship. We have discussed our research on many occasions, we have had and have numerous interests in common and in fact their names account for a significant portion of the bibliography at the end.


I will start from the certainty that my book was born out of the convergence of different stages in my research, which I will list briefly.


I was invited to give a paper at the 17th Colloquium on Latin Linguistics[1] in 2013 and this led me to prepare a short file on citizenship as one possible topic to at least mention on this occasion. In the end, I did not use this file but it did represent a valuable opportunity to reconsider the issue: a fundamental issue in both the ancient world and in our own times.


At around the same time, the colleague Maria Bravo Bosch invited me to participate in a collective volume on women at the time of Augustus. I had been interested for some time in a key character in some parts of Cicero’s Against Verres, Chelidon: this forced me to carefully reread the entire corpus of these orations and I realized that it was full of female figures, of interest from every angle. As a consequence, this essay[2] became a general study of women in the Against Verres, in other words during the period around the first quarter of the 1st century BC. Duly rewritten, this article later became an important chapter of my book, chapter IV[3], since it allows us to present a fairly accurate legal and social cross-section of Roman society as a whole at this point in time.


Finally, and this was the crucial development, Evelyn Hobenreich asked me to participate with her, as scholars engaged with Roman law and the status of women in Rome, at a conference on women from antiquity until the present, held on 6 May 2014 at Özyeğin University in Istanbul and organized by Havva Karagöz[4]. Much of the conference was devoted to the status of women in Turkey: the Turkish women speakers included prominent figures in these legal and political struggles such as Nazan Moroğlu.  Given the current situation in Turkey, my thoughts are with these extraordinary women. To return to the conference, which was enormously interesting for us, the fact that it took place in Istanbul in front of this specific audience led me to go beyond the superficial understanding of this world that we all have and read up on it and more generally on the Islamic world and its many facets. These were the years of the so-called ‘Arab spring’. My book owes a great deal to this interest in the Islamic world and its culture, as I will discuss later on. Already then I approached the status of women in light of a broad notion of citizenship, leading me to entitle my lecture ‘What Citizenship for the Roman Woman?’[5].


At this point Evelyn Hobenreich, to whom I will remain eternally grateful, repeated a proposal already hinted at in previous years, that I should write a book on this topic for the series of which she was general editor, the Colección Leda belonging to the network of the same name for gender studies and the history of Roman studies. I accepted at once, for various reasons: Evelyn herself and the members of the network, the series’ orientation towards gender studies and above all the fact that there was room for a study within the context of the research that I have just outlined.


This was not a new research field for me; it originated with two studies dating as far back as the 1980s, followed by others in subsequent years. I will say a few words about these two research projects, because the underlying approach of the book presented here today actually dates back to those now distant years.


In the late 1970s I was asked to write the entry ‘Popolo (diritto romano)’ for the Enciclopedia del diritto[6], delivered to the publishers in 1982; examining the Roman sources on the concept of populus it became evident that, though the Roman woman was certainly a civis, her place in the populus was unclear given that women were excluded from all political roles. The question was therefore not, at least for me, whether or not women belonged to the populus, but how they belonged to it: in other words a problem of inclusion rather than exclusion. This was the starting point for my 1984 book, Posizione giuridica e ruolo sociale della donna romana in età repubblicana[7], words that in gender studies would be translated as ‘the place’. Initially this book had a mixed reception, outside Italy and – especially in academic environments – within Italy. Outside Italy, some reviews stressed what was missing or a number of statements that were considered insufficiently motivated;[8] these criticisms took a highly traditional approach and in any case failed to take into consideration that this was not a handbook but a book with a message, so to speak. In fact this was not immediately apparent for the very simple reason that the academic environment to which I belonged was highly traditional and espoused that continental European ‘formalistic legal approach’ that some exponents of more recent Anglo-Saxon historiography still continue[9] to criticise in scholars of Roman law from this geographical area. A masked message, but not a completely hidden one: Suzanne Dixon at least, who was starting to publish her first studies at around this time,[10] concluded her review in 1987 [11] by saying: “The author shows an unusually sound grasp of feminist analytic modes and of sophisticated economic and sociological lines of reasoning. He combines these with a thorough and intelligent knowledge of the law and the ancient sources (literary and juridic)”. Certainly I was guilty of some naïve mistakes and perhaps some approximations, but this was a time at which strictly technical and legal approaches to the status of women remained highly traditional and very few books attempted to depart from this methodology; I should mention first of all L'ambiguo malanno: condizione e immagine della donna nell'antichità greca e romana by Eva Cantarella, a legally trained scholar who covered both the Greek and the Roman worlds; L’ambiguo malanno, of 1981, was published in English to great acclaim in 1986 with the title Pandora’s Daughters. The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity[12]; also in 1986 Jane Gardner published her Women in Roman Law and Society[13]. Again in 1986, Joan Scott published her famous article[14] posing the question: “What is the relationship between the laws about women and the power of the state?”[15].

In the same1986, Ronald Syme published The Augustan Aristocracy[16], where the 13th chapter is the study Princesses and Court Ladies[17], which starts with a sentence that has become famous: “Women have their uses for historians”, even a “celebre battuta”[18], a well-known joke. To me the sentence is more significant if one makes a larger quotation, as in the case — for instance — of Takacs[19], who uses the sentence for the exergum of her book, in this form: “Women have their uses for historians. They offer relief from warfare, legislation, and the history of ideas; and they enrich the central theme of social history … Ladies of rank … are a seductive topic. Ronald Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy”[20].


In this context, my book was one of the first attempts at a primarily legal approach to the status of women in its more specific aspects, a fairly original attempt given that in 1992 Richard Bauman described it as “a pioneering work”[21].

In Italy, my book gradually established itself and it is now commonly viewed, alongside the publications of Eva Cantarella, as the start of Italian research on the legal status of women in Rome[22].

Over thirty years passed between 1984 and 2016, the year when Civis Romana was published and it would be true to say that in this field the world has truly changed. In 1984, second wave feminism was still relatively recent and had certainly produced important books in the historiography on the status of women in antiquity such as that by Kari Borresen of 1961 [23], which introduced the concept of androcentrism to our field[24], or that by Sarah Pomeroy of 1975 [25] However, we were still a long way from the surge of studies that has produced in-depth analyses in every field, using inscriptions in a far more broad and fruitful way, thanks in part to new information technologies.


Thirty years ago my starting point was the position of the Roman woman in the populus: today, in the globalized world, where people move around and their status is often uncertain, inclusion/exclusion seem to be interpreted primarily in terms of citizenship. But in the legal terminology, citizenship is actually a simple concept, as long as we restrict ourselves to describing the prerequisites for enjoying possession of it: a legally well-defined notion but restricted by reference to the content of the book, its legal and social aspects. Far more complex is the examination of the countless legal situations and social relations that may derive from being a citizen: the combination in a given individual of everything defining that individual’s civic identity.

Consequently, whilst in 1984 I chose for the title the formula ‘Posizione giuridica e ruolo sociale’, today – basically coherently – I decided to accompany the aspect of citizenship evident in the expression civis Romana[26], with both the legal forms most congenial to my background and the potential forms taken by the coexistence, its social models. However, I did not tackle legal forms and social models in their infinite potential forms, but with respect to two fundamental reference points that make up an individual in a society: belonging and identity. Belonging is – as a legal concept – the fundamental essence of the right to citizenship, but it is also a belonging to social structures; identity is what characterizes each of us as an individual, above all in the form of social identity. A belonging and identity specified as female, as characteristics of the civis Romana. So almost naturally the Roman terminology for the status of women was the fundamental starting point, as an indicator of the needs expressed by society.


As concerns the structure of the work, this was very different from the book of 1984, which went up to the end of the Republic, albeit with some mentions of later periods where necessary; the treatment now covered the entire sweep of Roman law, from its origins to late antiquity. Again, this was not a handbook, nor was it intended to be, but in contrast to 1984 it now covered the whole longue durée of Roman law, attempting to highlight continuities and changes in the status of women. In structuring the book, which covers a period of 1300 years, I made an unusual choice in discussions of this issue: I started not from the beginning, but from the time of Plautus, dealing with the earliest period in the final chapter. This is certainly not a customary choice, but is explained by the fact that on many occasions, starting from my first monograph of 1981 [27], I have tackled the problems of the monarchy and the earliest centuries of the Roman republic and am therefore aware of the extent to which these problems may lead to results that can be very interesting, but also highly questionable. I did not wish the shadow of uncertainty to be projected over everything that I said afterwards, so, after some general considerations, I began with the time of Plautus.

Certainly the most obvious novelty in the contents of the book compared to that of 1984 is the attention devoted to late antiquity and Christianity for its importance in this period. The status of woman in Christian thought and practice, starting from Jesus himself, was a fascinating theme and entirely new to me, since I had previously not dealt with it specifically and comprehensively[28] and I discovered a vast and extremely interesting bibliography. For this chapter I was extremely lucky: I found a text of the Ambrosiaster[29] in which the theological problem of the nature of women was resolved using the legal exclusions proper to pagan Roman law, thus providing a very helpful textual reference framework.


Q. 45.3: Quomodo enim potest de muliere dici, quia imago dei est, quam constat dominio viri subiectam et nullam auctoritatem habere? Nec docere enim potest nec testis esse neque fidem dicere nec iudicare: quanto magis imperare!


In conclusion, I will return to what I said at the start and the importance for this book of my readings on contemporary Islamic societies. The attempt of the Tunisian Islamic party in August 2012 to overturn the ongoing reform of the Tunisian constitution was enlightening for me in terms of its terminology: the proposed text (of art. 28) read: “the State ensures the protection of the rights of women, under the principle that they are complementary to men within the family and partners to men in building the nation”. I note that in Arabic ‘complementary to men’ means ‘adjunct to men’. In the conclusions of the book[30], this terminology led me to specify the notion of unequal complementarity as fundamental to understanding the status of women in the Roman world, in other words a form of necessary and encouraged social integration, but not of equality. Often, for antiquity, we use the notion of complementarity, but without pausing to specify which of many possible meanings is attributed to it. I think that the notion of unequal complementarity provides a good key to interpreting the entire history of the inclusion/exclusion of Roman women in law and in society.






[Un evento culturale, in quanto ampiamente pubblicizzato in precedenza, rende impossibile qualsiasi valutazione veramente anonima dei contributi ivi presentati. Per questa ragione, gli scritti di questa parte della sezione “Tradizione Romana” sono stati valutati “in chiaro” dalla direzione di Diritto @ Storia]


[1] Paper requested by the organizers on the topic ‘Concretezza e astrattezza nella lingua e nel diritto di Roma’ for the interdisciplinary round table ‘Temi di lingua e di diritto romano a confronto’ (21 maggio 2013): later published as L. PEPPE, “Concretezza ed astrattezza nella terminologia giuridica romana. Alcune riflessioni. Un tema interessante: la fiducia”, in (P. Poccetti ed.) Latinitatis rationes. Descriptive and Historical Accounts for the Latin Language, papers of the 17th Colloquium on Latin Linguistics (Roma 20-25 maggio 2013), Berlin/Boston, De Gruyter, 2016, 431-445 (=slightly enlarged and revised version in BIDR 108 [2014] 125-138).


[2] L. PEPPE, “Chelidone e Tertia. Donne, cortigiane e diritto effettivo nelle Verrine”, in (R. Rodríguez López-M.J. Bravo Bosch eds.) Mujeres en tiempos de Augusto. Realidad social e imposición legal, Valencia, Tirant lo Blanch, 2016, 61-98.


[3] Civis Romana, chap. IV (“Agli inizi del I sec. a.C.: le donne nelle ‘Verrine’ di Cicerone”) 253-299.


[4] Now dean of MEF Üniversitesi in Istanbul.


[5] The paper delivered in Istanbul resulted, as research progressed, in several publications: “La donna romana: quale cittadinanza?”, in (S. Corrêa Fattori, R. Corrêa Lofrano, J.L.N. Magalhães Serretti eds.) Estudos em homenagem a Luiz Fabiano Corrêa, São Paulo, Max Limonad, 2014, 197-217; “What Citizenship for the Roman Woman?”, in Scritti per Alessandro Corbino 5, Tricase, Libellula Edizioni, 2016, 447-47, studies used for Civis Romana. Since the publication of Civis Romana, I have returned to the topic with “Women and Civic Identity in Roman Antiquity”, Austrian Law Journal-ALJ 4 (2017) 23-38.


[6] Enc. Dir. 34 (1985[= but 1982]) 315-33.


[7] Milano, Giuffré, 1984.


[8] In a range of complex evaluations, including some positive ones: M. DUCOS, Latomus 45 (1986) 441-2; A. D’ORS,  Emerita 55 (1987) 173-5; J.F. GARDNER, JRS 78 (1988) 205-6 (the most critical); M.Th. RAEPSAET-CHARLIER, L’antiquité classique 58 (1989) 490; W. WALDSTEIN, ZSS 106 (1989) 654-660. Very different were the Italian reviews, by A. RUGGIERO, Labeo 31 (1985) 105; M.R. CIMMA, StudRom 34 (1986) 288-290; R. SCUDERI (the author of “Mutamenti della condizione femminile a Roma nell'ultima età repubblicana”, CCC 3 [1982] 41-84), Athenaeum 64 (1986) 261-2. Particularly engaged was the long Recensione by E. CANTARELLA, Iura 35 (1984) 136-143, who strongly stressed the subordinate status of Roman women.


[9] Civis Romana, 403.


[10] S. DIXON, “Family Finances: Tullia and Terentia”, Antichthon 18 (1984) 78-101; “Infirmitas Sexus: Womanly Weakness in Roman Law”, RHD 52 (1984) 343-371; “Polybius on  Roman Women and Property”, AJPh 106 (1985) 147-170; “The Marriage Alliance in The Roman Elite”, Journal of Family History 10 (1985) 353-378.


[11] S. DIXON, RHD 55 (1987) 397-99, 399.


[12] Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1986, enlarged and updated edition; this apt title was also used by J. ROBINSON, Pandora's Daughters. The Secret History of Enterprising Women, London, Constable & Robinson Limited, 2002.


[13] The book was barely preceded by two articles: J. GARDNER, “A Family and an Inheritance: the Problems of the Widow Petronilla”, Liverpool Classical Monthly 9 (1984) 132-3; “The Recovery of Dowry in Roman Law”, CQ 35 (1985) 449-453.


[14] J.W. SCOTT, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis”, The American Historical Review 91 (1986) 1053-1075 (= in J.W. SCOTT, Genere, politica, storia [I. Fazio ed.], Roma, Viella, 2013, 31-63).


[15] SCOTT, Gender, 1074.


[16] Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1986: in fact a collection of studies written during the decade before 1982, as can be seen from the Preface of 30 Sept. 1982 (the many-year delay in publishing the book is explained in the Addendum to Preface of 1 May 1985 by problems of editing). “Princesses and Court Ladies” has most likely to be near to 1982, because ivi, p. 187 nt. 123, is quoted R. SYME, “Princesses and Others in Tacitus”, Greece&Rome 28 (1981) 40-52 (= in R. SYME, Roman Papers, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1984, 1364-1375).


[17] Pp. 168-187.


[18] So Livia CAPPONI, in the “Review” of (F. Santangelo ed.) R. Syme, Approaching the Roman Revolution. Papers on Republican History, Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press, 2016, in Quaderni di storia 86 (2017) 241-249, 245. To E. O’GORMAN, Irony and Misreading in the Annals of Tacitus, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000, 122, Syme’s phrase is an “ironic statement”; perhaps more convincing (and perhaps more correct the way of the quotation, see successive nt. 20) is the interpretation of the phrase by R.J.A. TALBERT, “Review” (of M.-T. Raepsaet-Charlier, Prosopographie des femmes de l’aristocratie senatorial (Ier-IIe s.), Louvain, Peeters, 1987), APhJ 111 (1990) 123-127, 123: Chapter XIII of The Augustan Aristocracy “opens with such magnificent condescension: ‘Women have … available’ ”. More gracefully Marguerite YOURCENAR, in her Memorie di Adriano.  Seguite da Taccuini di appunti (It. tr. of Carnets de notes, Paris, Club des lib. de France, 1956), Torino, Einaudi, 287, wrote: “It is impossible to take a feminine figure as the central character, to give, for example, as axis to my tale, instead of Hadrian, Plotina. Women’s lives are much too limited, or else too secret. If a woman narrates herself, she is promptly reproached for being no longer truly feminine”. Indeed, only one woman of the Roman aristocracy, the shameless Agrippina Minor, has published some Commentarii (Tac. Ann. 4.53.1-2; Plin. N. H. 7, Praef. and 46; Cass. Dio 60. 33.1), Tacitus’ likely source (A. LAZZARETTI, “Riflessioni sull’opera autobiografica di Agrippina Minore”, Stud. hist., Ha antig. 18 [2000] 177-190, . But about the misogyny of M. Yourcenar now H. LEVILLAIN, Yourcenar. Carte d’identité, Paris, Fayard, 2016, 44-47.


[19] S.A. TAKÁCS, Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons. Women in Roman Religion, Austin, Univ. of Texas Press, 2008, 1.


[20] The … are of Takács. But the quotation should be really complete: “Women have their uses for historians.  They offer relief from warfare, legislation, and the history of ideas; and they enrich the central theme of social history, if and when enough evidence is available.  Ladies of rank under the first imperial dinasty are a seductive topic. In first place, betrothal and marriage, adultery and divorce. Next, licence and luxury, kinship and discord.  Finally, the enormous wealth accruing to widow or a daughter in families ancient or recent that benefited from civil war and the bounty of the victor”. In this new study (following “Princesses and Others in Tacitus”) Syme studies  the aristocratic women of the beginning of the Empire only from the social perspective, but surely with a deepening that trascends the anecdotal dimension, the limit of the proto-feminist book by Claudine Herrmann about the women of the nobilitas in the republican age (Cl. MOSSÉ, “Review” in AC 33 [1964] 546 of Cl. Herrmann, Le rôle judiciaire et politique des femmes sous la République romaine, Bruxelles-Berchem, Latomus, 1964).


[21] R.A. BAUMAN, Women and Politics in Ancient Rome, London, Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc., 1992, Preface XI.


[22] See for example G. RIZZELLI, “La violenza sessuale su donne nell’esperienza di Roma antica”, in (E. Höbenreich-V. Kühne-F. Lamberti eds.) El Cisne II. Violencia, proceso y discurso sobre género, Lecce, Edizioni Grifo, 2012, 295-377, 341 nt. 114; M. CASOLA, “Armatrici e marinaie nel diritto romano”, Quad. Dip. Jonico 1 (2015), (R. Pagano-F. Mastroberti eds.) La donna nel diritto, nella politica e nelle istituzioni, 3-18, 6.


[23] K. BØRRESEN, Subordination et équivalence. Nature et rôle de la femme d’après Augustin et Thomas d’Aquin, Oslo-Paris, Mame, 1968 (reprinted in 1995 alongside an interview with the A.); Italian translation Natura e ruolo della donna in Agostino e Tommaso d’Aquino, Assisi, Cittadella, 1979; Subordination and Equivalence. The Nature and Rôle of Woman in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Washington D.C., University Press of America, 1981 (=Kampen, Kok Pharos, 1995). Kari Børresen, who recently died (5 April 2016), was very fond of Italy.


[24] The term was coined in 1911 by Ch. PERKINS GILMAN, The Man-Made World: Or, Our Androcentric Culture, New York, T. Fisher Unwin.


[25] S.B. POMEROY, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves. Women in Classical Antiquity, New York, Schocken Books ,1975 (It. translation Donne in Atene e a Roma, Torino, Einaudi, 1978).


[26] Civis Romana is a common expression in the sources, legal and otherwise, from Cic. Pro Balbo 24.55 to the numerous occurrences in the Institutiones of Gaius, to Ulpian in D. 1.6.4; see the sources cited in PEPPE, Posizione, 14 f. I preferred to use civis Romana rather than civis femina (Plaut. Persa 475: a text that had struck me from my entry Popolo, 324 note 80) for the reasons set out in Civis Romana, 94 ff.


[27] L. PEPPE, Studi sull’esecuzione personale. I Debiti e debitori nei primi due secoli della Repubblica romana, Milano, Giuffré, 1981.


[28] On several occasions in specific contexts, but always incidentally, my attention fell on patristic sources. In my first book (Studi sull’esecuzione personale. I, 11 f.), in the essay “‘Jedem das Seine’, (uni)cuique suum, ‘a ciascuno il suo’”, in (L. Labruna dir., M.P. Baccari-C. Cascione eds.) Tradizione romanistica e Costituzione, Collana “Cinquanta anni della Corte costituzionale della Repubblica italiana” t. 2, Napoli, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2006, 1707-1748, 1727 ff.; “Riflessioni intorno all’esecuzione personale”, AUPA 53 (2009) in the Giornata di studio in onore di R. Santoro, 115-162, 121.


[29] Ambrosiaster, Quaestionis veteris et novi Testamenti 45.3, the focus of the entire chapter VI of Civis Romana, entitled “Le esclusioni nel tardo antico. Ambrosiaster Q. 45.3”.


[30] Civis Romana, 401.