by Paul Chrystal
Amberley (2014) p/b 288pp £9.99 (ISBN 9781445643762)
C. provides a wide ranging and detailed survey of his subject. In dealing with the lives of the women of Rome, he covers material from the foundation of Rome to the end of the Empire. In addition the range of his topics is equally extensive. The chapters cover women in the Familia, in the Public Eye, and Religion. Further chapters deal with marriage, education, medicine and health, sex and sexuality and, finally, the Dark Arts! Throughout, the discussion of these aspects is based upon the vast array of evidence which C. has examined. The 38 illustrations are equally diverse and interesting; there are examples of funerary reliefs, mosaics, wall-paintings busts of hairstyles, and representations of Roman women by artists from the 17th to the 20th century. The notes provide precise references to the evidence used—always helpful for those who wish to explore material further. The extensive bibliography includes both ancient and modern works. C. provides a useful list of key dates, a glossary of terms and there is a very useful index to complete the volume.
In his Preface, C. aims to satisfy not only the academic researcher but also the increasing number of ‘lay’ readers. He hopes to have provided an ‘intriguing and informative account’ for the general reader. In many respects he has achieved both. He has certainly gathered a great number of detailed examples and sources in the volume, which will benefit the reader. Equally, there are fascinating details of women, both in general and in particular examples. C. bases much of his discussion on specific women from well known examples such as Clodia, Cornelia, Fulvia, Lucretia and Pliny’s wife Calpurnia to those whose names appear only on inscriptions. In the chapter on health, C. gives us the names of women doctors from the Late Empire, along with a detailed discussion, not just of women’s health and mortality, but of general medical knowledge. On religion, C. gives us more than simply a description of women’s role. He sets the status and lives of women in the context of the Republic or Empire in a way that makes the subject both ‘fascinating and exhilarating’.
In his Epilogue, C. admits that he has covered only part of the subject, and there are aspects not covered such as slavery, fashion, death, powerful women and their treatment in myth and literature. However, C. has achieved much in outlining the status and lives of women despite the difficulties mentioned in the Introduction, that they themselves are largely silent and marginalized.