The Material Sides of Marriage: Female goods and women’s economic role in the domestic sphere in Greek, Roman and Byzantine times

The Material Sides of Marriage: Female goods and women’s economic role in the domestic sphere in Greek, Roman and Byzantine times

PD Dr. Sabine R. Huebner; Dr. Ria Berg
Institutum Romanum Finlandiae ("Villa Lante") Passeggiata del Gianicolo 10, 00165 Roma, Italia
Vom - Bis
21.11.2013 - 22.11.2013
PD Dr. Sabine R. Huebner

We propose to study women’s economic role in the domestic sphere focusing on the domestic economy, marriage and family in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine times at a two-day symposium to be held at the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae in Rome, Italy. Themes will include a wide variety of practices that materialize the gendered economies of ancient Mediterranean cultures, from betrothal and dowry practices, material goods in a domestic context, division and maintenance of resources, women’s economic contributions to the household and inheritance and gift giving practices.

In the patriarchal societies around the ancient Mediterranean women’s roles were often restricted to that of daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, economically, legally, and socially dependent on fathers, brothers, sons or husbands, an ideology of male supremacy supported by Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. A wide range of cultural, ideological, legislative, and political constraints thus hindered women’s economic roles and advancement. Women’s economic participation was often invisible or indirect due to the lack of equal education as well as limited access to productive assets, such as the chief source of wealth in the ancient economy, land. Even if providing a woman with a dowry - which represented a daughter’s share of her parental inheritance - at the time of her marriage was common throughout much of the ancient Mediterranean, it usually consisted, in contrast to her brothers’ shares, of typical female goods such as jewelry, clothing, furniture or cash instead of real estate or land. Objects were, in fact, central means of expressing gender roles and hierarchies, with multiple functions in articulating economic relations between family members, for example as gifts marking the passage from unmarried to married status, as the private and personal property of married woman, or as female goods interred as funerary gifts. In ancient Mediterranean cultures certain categories of concrete material goods, such as clothes, jewelry and toiletries, were particularly gender-sensitive means of distribution, consumption and display of wealth, and played a significant role in family economies. Materiality is, in fact, an important concept for analyzing interactions between objects and social life, yet its potential has not yet been fully exploited.

The gendered materiality of family economies encompasses a broad range of phenomena. Female engagement in domestic productive and maintenance activities (division of labour in and outside of the household and administrating family economies), often invisible, remains an area not thoroughly understood and examined, such as the role of women in controlling and managing the material property of the household in other marriage-like contractual relationships of the non-elite classes, or the possibilities of supplementing domestic resources by having a small vegetable garden, producing textiles, working as teachers, wet-nurses, midwives or prostitutes. Moreover, in some other ancient societies there were no legal restrictions on the economic activity of women. Women could manage their own financial affairs, inherit equally with their brothers, make wills as they wished, own, buy and sell property, and borrow and lend money.

The conference organizers welcome abstracts of about 300 words on female goods and the economic activities of women in the sphere of the ancient household based on the analysis of literary, documentary, archaeological and iconographic evidence. Papers should be 20 minutes in length (allowing for 10 minutes of discussion after each individual paper) and should be read in English. We encourage junior researchers and recent PhD holders to apply as well. All speakers are responsible for their own travel arrangements and accommodation in Rome.

Please submit your abstract by e-mail to PD Dr. Sabine Huebner ( or Dr. Ria Berg ( Please include the full title of your abstract and a short biographical note on your affiliation and previous research. The deadline for proposals is 15 July 2013.



PD Dr. Sabine R. Huebner

Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, Passeggiata del Gianicolo 10, 00165 Roma, Italia