Research projects

Gender history

Prof. Dr. Elke Hartmann: Sempronia and her Sisters. Spheres of action of women of the elite in the late Roman Republic and the early Imperial period

The literary tradition of the 1st century B.C. mentions a number of women – all of them members of the senatorial upper class – who, according to the ancient authors, led a life which (for pre-modern conditions) appears to be extremely self-determined and liberal: there is talk of educated women, of their provocative participation in social and political life, of extramarital love affairs and considerable wealth. While bourgeois scholars of the 19th century were morally indignant about this freedom of movement and regarded it as a symptom of moral decline, more recent (Anglo-Saxon) research has described these women as “New Roman Women” in order to illustrate their emancipation from traditional role models. However, with the catchword emancipation, a concept of value from modernity is transferred to antiquity, which tends to conceal rather than illuminate the peculiarities of the Roman social order. Based on current cultural-historical research, the project investigates the time-specific characteristics of the aristocratic value system, the political relevance of public presence, family organization, and the modalities of property transfer in order to explain the fields of action and lifestyles of these women in a historical context.