With Her Own Money: Female Benefactions, Urban Space, and Power Relationships in Ancient Rome

  • Author / Creator
    Tate, Karin S
  • While it is generally accepted that monumental public buildings in the ancient world communicated the power and wealth of their benefactors, whether and how this equation worked when the person funding the construction was female is a matter of current debate. Studies of this phenomenon have understood women’s building benefactions as primarily about promoting the careers of their male relatives and/or as a substitute for their own political career. Often, it is assumed that women’s choice of building type was circumscribed by tradition so that they built only “appropriate” structures, like temples. While not denying that these dynamics may have played a part in women’s choices, the current study seeks a more nuanced and culturally meaningful discussion by placing the female benefactors themselves at the centre of the discussion and by parsing the urban landscape in terms that aid a deeper understanding of their project(s). Starting from the surviving epigraphic data for women’s public building benefactions, this study is comprised of six case studies—five in Italy and one in Roman North Africa—that examine eleven excavated structures paid for by elite women between the first and third centuries CE. To understand better the social dynamics at play in the ancient world, these six studies take a close look at the benefactors in question and their familial connection to the cities where they built. Each study also explores the historical context, urban setting, and decorative programs of the buildings in question including debates concerning the scope and meaning of each benefaction. Contrary to scholars who assume a gendered aspect to building, this study argues that the available evidence does not support the assumption that women were restricted to the construction of certain types of public structures, nor that women’s public buildings should be understood as concerned with the careers of male relatives. Rather, this study argues that the evidence points to the existence of a female hierarchy that mirrored that of elite males within which women expressed their elite status, wealth, and access to agency and competed using the same “vocabulary” as that exploited by wealthy and powerful men.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.