25 April 2024 Start
25 April 2024 End
4.30 pm Time
UK G35, Senate House, University of London


Sexual(ised) Violence in Antiquity – New Approaches

Thursday, April 25, 2024

This is the first session of this term’s ICS Ancient History seminar. The series topic is Sexual(ised) Violence in Antiquity – New Approaches and the seminar is coordinated by Susan Deacy and Paola Ceccarelli.

Speakers: Tom Booth (Crick Institute) and Florence Felsheim (St Andrews)

The sessions will be recorded and made available via the ICS website.

Thursday 25 April, 4.30 pm, G35, Senate House, University of London

Tom Booth (Francis Crick Institute): Can ancient DNA provide insights into ancient sexualised violence? Bronze Age migrations, sex-biased admixture and the spread of Indo-European languages

Archaeogenetic studies of prehistoric Europe have identified several major episodes of migration and admixture associated with substantive changes in subsistence, culture and probably also language. Migrations out of the Pontic-Caspian steppe from c.3000 BC expanded the distribution of ‘steppe-related’ ancestries across various regions of western Eurasia, and later into the Indian subcontinent. These migrations likely played a major role in the spread of Indo-European languages. Detailed analysis of this genetic data suggests that at least some of these migrations were male-biased. When considered alongside ethnolinguistic inferences, it has been theorised that these migrations involved migrating bands of young men taking local wives, possibly forcibly. Given these Copper/Bronze Age groups from the steppe may lie at the heart of the myths and legends common to Indo-European-speaking groups, do associated stories of sexualised violence reflect the reality of these ancient episodes of migration? Or does the archaeogenetic evidence provide a more complex picture than what is suggested by ethnolinguistic models?’

Florence Felsheim (St Andrews): Ancient sexualised violence and cognitive sciences: understanding coping mechanisms, survival strategies and trauma in primary sources 

This paper delves into the experiences of trafficked individuals in ancient Greece and Rome (both enslaved and prostituted people), who were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Recent years have seen a surge in scholarly interest in the lived experiences of these demographics, usually examined through the lenses of economics, labor, and commerce. This paper, however, proposes that cognitive sciences allow a new, fresh look at the ancient evidence and offer a more comprehensive view of sexualised violence in the ancient world.Understanding the cognitive processes of demographics whose voices are largely absent from surviving literary works poses a significant challenge. Nevertheless, primary sources still hold valuable insights into the contexts and conditions surrounding sexual violence against enslaved people, and reveal striking parallels with the modern world which can be explored with the help of cognitive research. These sources also shed light on the expectations and attitudes of clients, as well as occasional glimpses into the reactions and coping mechanisms of the individuals involved, including dissociation, performance, self-objectification, and substance abuse – which are all documented in modern-day trafficked individuals. This paper does not suggest to project modern points of view onto ancient evidence, but rather that modern research can be used as a lens, if applied carefully, to tease out nuances of our corpus of sources. Recent advancements in cognitive research, particularly in the realms of contextual cues and trauma responses, coupled with insights from studies on modern prostitution and trafficking, hold promise for providing fresh perspectives on ancient sexualised violence. Through meticulous examination of legal documents, literary works, and material artifacts, this study aims to illuminate embodied experiences of sexualised violence, occasionally drawing comparisons with the experiences of modern-day victims of prostitution and trafficking.

Booking link

Overall session blurb: The 1990s saw the beginnings of an interest in investigating rape and sexual violence in Antiquity with a particular concern with classifying specific acts and with whether or not to define an act as one of ‘rape’ (often leaving ‘sexual violence’ un-marked). Recent years have seen a turn towards (i.) broader explorations of acts of power and control expressed in a sexual way and (ii.) a deeper understanding of how socialisation processes perpetuate power imbalances. As a result, ancient historians and classicists are starting to explore the contexts in which violence was sexualised in Antiquity. This new research is challenging the assumptions that guided earlier studies which – seeming pioneering at the time – were, it appears, often projecting 1990s concepts onto ancient evidence. The summer term’s seminar – which will fall thirty years after a 1994 symposium on rape in Antiquity in Cardiff, will contribute to conversations about current directions in research and seek to map out new avenues of inquiry

For queries or further information, please contact Susan Deacy ([email protected]) and/or Paola Ceccarelli ([email protected]).