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by Archaeology Newsroom

Women of the Greco-Roman elite. From private to public life

The phenomenon of benefaction, as it developed during the Hellenistic and Roman period, created the circumstances for the entrance, although restricted, of women into public life. The fact that the prerequisites for public office, which had already lost its political dimension, were only economic, allowed women to enter certain honorary offices, in those parts of the Greek world where tradition permitted it (Asia Minor, the Aegean). The vocabulary used in honorary inscriptions emphasized the relationship between parent and child, a direct reference to the relationship between benefactor and city .Benefactresses were equally honoured and enjoyed the same privileges as their male counterparts, although in women’s case their virtues as wives and mothers were stressed , so that the ideology of women’s confinement to the home could be preserved. The Roman law was against this innovation, therefore the phenomenon of beneficence was not developed in Italy and in the provinces of the West, where benefactors were honoured only as individuals, as opposed to the eastern part of the Roman Empire, where benefaction flourished until the destruction of the urban way of life by barbaric invasions in the late third century AD.