Women's Public Image in Italian Honorary Inscriptions

by Elizabeth P. Forbis
Women's Public Image in Italian Honorary Inscriptions
Elizabeth P. Forbis
The American Journal of Philology
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What are the virtues for which Roman women were most often praised? People familiar with Latin literature and funerary inscriptions would most likely answer with a list of virtues that pertain almost exclu- sively to women's private, domestic life, such as castitas, pietas, pudi- citia, and lanijicium, to name only a few. For example, Lefkowitz's and Fant's chapter on the praise of Roman women1 comprises twenty-one representative texts, eleven of which are epitaphs or eulogies, the re- maining ten being taken from the works of Plutarch, Valerius Maximus, Seneca, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Dio Cassius. Despite the differ- ent backgrounds of these aristocratic male writers and the families of the deceased women, all praise their female subjects for one or more of the following: chastity, marital fidelity, wifely and motherly devotion, dedication to hou~ework.~

In fact, the catalogue of domestic virtues had become so standard a feature in texts praising women that in his eulogy at his mother's funeral one man took the opportunity to remark (CIL 6.10230 = ILS 8394):3

Quibus de causeis quom omnium bonarum feminarum simplex similis- que esse laudatio soleat, quod naturalia bona propria custodia servata varietates verborum non desiderent, satisque sit eadem omnes bona fama digna fecisse, et quia adquirere novas laudes mulieri sit arduom, quom minoribus varietatibus vita iactetur, necessario communia esse colenda, ne quod amissum ex iustis praecepteis cetera turpet.

For these reasons praise for all good women is simple and similar, since their native goodness and the trust they have maintained do not require a

IM.R. Lefkowitz and M.B. Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome (Baltimore 1982) 133-47.

2Lattimore notes the same qualities in his study of women in Latin sepulchral inscriptions, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 28 (1942) 294-300. For the popularity of the epithets pius, and carus, and their compounds in women's epitaphs from Roman Spain and Roman Britain specifically, see

L. A. Curchin, "Familial Epithets in the Epigraphy of Roman Spain," Cahiers des Etudes anciennes 14 (1982) 179-82; idem, "Familial Epithets in the Epigraphy of Roman Britain," Britannia 14 (1983) 255-56.

3Translated by M.Lefkowitz (note 1 above) 136, no. 139.

Amencan Journal of Philology 111 (1990)493-512 0 1990by The Johns Hopklns Unlvenity Press

diversity of words. Sufficient is the fact that they have all done the same good deeds with the fine reputation they deserve, and since it is hard to find new forms of praise for a woman, since their lives fluctuate with less diversity, by necessity we pay tribute to values they hold in common, so that nothing may be lost from fair precepts and harm what remains.

In this man's opinion, the features that his mother had in common with all virtuous women included modestia, probitas, pudicitia, obsequium, lanijicium, diligentia, and jides.

Literary texts and epitaphs clearly indicate that among Roman writers and within families the domestically virtuous matron was the prevailing ideal of womanhood. What was Roman women's image, though, outside family and literary circles? In other words, what was Roman women's public image? One valuable source for determining public attitudes toward women is the body of inscriptions erected pub- licly by cities and civic organizations throughout the Roman empire in honor of aristocratic and influential women. These inscriptions often served as a base for a statue of the honoree and were displayed in town

fora where the whole community could see them. When the dedicators of such monuments chose to enumerate the good deeds and virtues of their female honorees in the text of the inscription, did they adopt the standard vocabulary of praise from depictions of women in literature and sepulchral inscriptions, or did they recognize the women with other terms more appropriate for their public stature and achievement?

This study addresses women's virtues in Italian honorary inscrip- tions of the first three centuries A.D. An analysis of these inscriptions reveals that Italian municipals created an image for aristocratic women in honorary inscriptions much different from that image found in liter- ary accounts and women's epitaphs. Instead of the devoted wife and mother, immortalized in numerous tombstone inscriptions, the image of the wealthy and publicly generous benefactress predominates in honor- ary inscriptions. This public image can be explained largely in terms of the Italians' growing concern for the upkeep of their municipalities as the number of able and willing benefactors decreased beginning in the second ~entury.~

4For the decline in number of munificent decurions in the Roman empire see R. MacMullen, Corruption and the Decline of Rome (New Haven 1988) 44-49; P. Garnsey, "The Decline of the Urban Aristocracy in the Empire," ANRW 2.1 (1974) 230-52. Garn- sey 232-38 specifically demonstrates an early second century date for this decline.

As public monuments, honorary inscriptions performed two sepa- rate but related functions. First of all, by singling out deserving individ- uals for public admiration they ensured the gratitude of such people who then might be moved to make further benefactions in the commu- nity.5 In doing so, they also proclaimed which virtues, achievements, and gracious acts would earn others similar public recognition and prominence. In light of this second function, the part of the inscription explaining why the person is being so honored assumes great signifi- cance, for it allows the public some influence in encouraging specific, desired types of behavior in local dignitaries.6

What types of behavior then did honorary inscriptions encourage in women throughout the Roman empire? MacMullen and VanBremen have recently examined women's public image in Greek honorary in- scriptions.' According to both scholars, the language in honorary in- scriptions to patronesses from the Greek East does not differ much

5See also J. Nicols, "Zur Verleihung offentlicher Ehrungen in der romischen Welt," Chiron 9 (1979) 243: "Die Gemeinden verewigten individuelle und kollektive Leistungen, belohnten oder ermutigten ihre Wohltater und versicherten sich des guten Willens der Machtigen."

6For discussion of honorary inscriptions being used to influence others' behavior, see I. Kajanto, "Un'Analisi Filologico-Letteraria delle Iscrizioni Onorarie," Epigraphica 33 (1971) 5-6. Note, however, that his example inscriptions date to the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. Earlier evidence that the Romans perceived public honors as having the power to encourage specific behavior in others is in a /ex collegi from Lanuvium dating to

A.D. 136 (ILS 7212). Lines 21 and 22 of this document state that all magistrates of the collegium who have fulfilled their administrative duties faithfully will receive one and a half times the normal amount of food and wine at banquets, "ut et reliqui recte faciendo idem sperent." On the subject of these inscriptions' audience see W. V. Harris, "Literacy and Epigraphy," ZPE 52 (1983) 87-111. From an analysis of the Pompeiian graffiti Harris 110 concludes that all members of Pompeii's curial class and some women in their families could read. Although he suggests that literacy levels in Pompeii were probably higher than those in other Italian cities, referring to literate Pompeiian artisans, tradesmen, and slaves, Harris' findings indicate that in other cities throughout Italy a majority of the curial class and at least a few of their female relatives, the very group to whom honorary inscriptions were addressed both as commemoration and motivation, were able to read.

'R. MacMullen, "Women in Public in the Roman Empire," Historia 29 (1980) 216;

R. VanBremen, "Women and Wealth," in Images of Women in Antiquity, ed. A. Cameron and A. Kuhrt (London 1983) 223-42. See also Lefkowitz, "Influential Women," in Images of Women in Antiquity 56-57. None of these scholars bases their observations on a thorough investigation of any clearly defined set of relevant inscriptions. VanBremen 225 and Lefkowitz 57 refer only to the collection in H. W. Pleket, Epigraphica II: Texts on the Social History of the Greek World (Leiden 1969) 10-41, which includes both honorary and funerary examples.

from that found in women's epitaphs from the same region. VanBremen specifically points out the contrast between the prominent public role played by such women and the more traditional domestic virtues for which they are praised in public inscriptions. In her opinion, the pres- ence of two images, patroness and matron, in these inscriptions re- sulted from a blending of the public and private spheres of municipal life among the Greek upper classes of the Roman empire.8

Honorary inscriptions to women in Italian municipalities follow a significantly different pattern. Unlike their Greek counterparts, Italian municipals did not conflate the image of patroness and matron. Not only did the Italians honor aristocratic women for their public munifi- cence, but they also praised them accordingly. The following inscription to a benefactress from Formiae in the late second century A.D. illustrates this point (AE 1971.79):

Cassiae Corneliae G(aii) f(i1iae) Priscae, ~(larissimae) f(eminae), Aufidi Frontonis co(n)s(ulis), pontificis, proco(n)s(ulis) Asiae, patroni col(oniae) uxori, sacerdoti Augustae et patriae, Formiani publice, pro splendore munificentiae eius.

The citizens of Formiae publicly [give honor to] Cassia Cornelia Prisca, the daughter of Gaius, a woman of senatorial rank, the wife of Aufidius Fronto the consul, pontifex, proconsul of Asia, and patron of our colony, a priestess of the Augusta and of the fatherland, in return for the magnifi- cence of her generosity.

Compare the following inscription honoring a wealthy priestess and magistrate from Lycia around A.D. 100 (Pleket 13):

'A]~veaz6v ltai t6v uuvnohe~tezl-
[olpkvwv oi 6~ipo~

Adthhav Te~ydtexou
t]oC Aloteipou, T?)Y kaur6v nohel-

yzlvaixa A~oreipou to6 'Odtuaou,
ie~]guapkvqv t6v XEP~UT~Y



[acb](qova ltai &atip~ xai +iha[v-

8VanBremen (note 7 above) 236. See also J. Panagopoulos, "Vocabulaire et men- talite dans les Moralia de Plutarque," Dialogues d'histoire ancienne 3 (1977) 197-235, who compares the language in Greek public decrees with that in Plutarch's Praecepta Coniugalia.

ti~lov ltai xaoav S~ZI~EQPEP&[~?-

p]6v?p TC~V&@ETOV ~OSC(V,

x]~xoopqxviav xai thg .c&v

[n@]oyovov &@~rh~

rois i6i-

zwv .c@onov 6no6~iypa-
[oil, @@e.cijgxai ~irvoias EVEXEV.

The people of Arneae and vicinity, to Lalla daughter of Timarchus son of Diotimus, their fellow citizen, wife of Diotimus son of Vassus; priest- ess of the Emperor's cult and gymnasiarch out of her own resources, honored five times, chaste, cultivated, devoted to her husband and a model of all virtues, surpassing in every respect. She has glorified her ancestors' virtues with the example of her own character. [Erected] in recognition of her virtues and good will.9

Lalla's wealth and generosity, which almost certainly motivated the people of Arneae to erect the inscription in the first place, are merely alluded to in the words dorean (1.6) and eunoias (1.14) only to be eclipsed by the catalogue of her personal and domestic virtues (11.814). Prisca, the benefactress from Formiae, on the other hand, receives no recognition for any domestic virtues; the inscription states simply that she is the wife of a consul, which reflects more on her social status and wealth than on her conjugal devotion. Her financial generosity, though, is emphasized in the fulsome phrase at the end of the inscrip- tion: pro splendore munijicentiae eius.

Prisca's inscription, which is representative of the majority of honorary inscriptions to aristocratic Italian women, presents no dis- parity between her economic and political influence, as manifested in the physical monument itself, and her virtue of munijicentia. Instead of blending public and private, as do the Greeks in public inscriptions to their benefactresses, the Italians either ignore or minimize the impor- tance of a benefactress' domestic duties. In fact, the language applied to aristocratic Italian women in honorary inscriptions greatly resembles that in honorary inscriptions commemorating aristocratic Italian men. Although a woman praised publicly for traditional domestic qualities would probably be just as motivated to be generous toward her flat- terers as a woman praised for munificence explicitly, the Italians saw in honorary inscriptions more than just a means of publicizing the hon- oree's virtues. Honorary inscriptions also gave them a voice for their

9Translatedby M. Lefkowitz (note 1 above) 157, no. 159.

own needs and desires. Thus, when undertaking the not inexpensive task of erecting a public monument to a benefactress the Italians made sure that their appreciation of the woman's financial generosity specifi- cally be carved onto the stone as much as an advertisement of their own financial goals as a commemoration of the woman.

Only a few honorary inscriptions to women remain: I have col- lected all those from regions 1 through 8 of Italylo that date between

A.D. 1 and 300 in the major Latin epigraphical collection^^^ and have found only thirty-two.12 They represent only those examples from this area and time period which contain either an explanation for the honor or a description of some outstanding quality of the honoree. A comprehensive treatment of all honorary inscriptions to women in the Roman empire is far beyond the scope of this article. I have limited my study to those relevant inscriptions from peninsular Italy of the first three centu- ries A.D. for two reasons: 1) since the scholarship concerning women in honorary inscriptions has thus far used evidence from the Eastern prov- inces only,13 a study of Italian inscriptions contributes useful compara- tive material from an area of the Western empire; 2) the honorary in- scription does not seem to have developed as a regular feature of Italian municipal society until the mid first century, achieving its peak at the end of the second century.I4

For the purposes of my discussion, I have divided the inscriptions into two groups, corresponding to Tables I and I1 below. Group I com- prises those examples which honor and praise women exclusively for their public benefactions or for those of their female relatives; here the honored women receive no traditionally female epithets or virtues, and

1°These regions cover Italy, excluding Rome, south of the Po river.

LICZL (vols. 9-11, 14), AE (1888-1985), Notizie degli scavi (1884-1983), Ephemeris Epigraphica (vol. 8). I believe that these collections provide a reasonably complete cover- age of my chosen geographical area and time period; it is unlikely that any few additional items not addressed here would substantially alter my conclusions.

12See Tables I and I1 below. I have given each inscription its own number within the collection which I will use when referring to individual examples.

I3See R. MacMullen and R. VanBremen (note 7 above).

14The earliest datable inscription in the collection dates to A.D. 79 (3) and the latest to A.D. 256 (19). A majority of the other datable examples falls between A.D. 140 and 200 (2, 5, 13, 30). Although such evidence might indicate that female benefactors were most active in the late second century, the frequency of an activity cannot be determined from the frequency of its being recorded in inscriptions according to MacMullen, "The Epi- graphic Habit in the Roman Empire," AJP 103 (1982) 243-46; idem, Corruption and Decline (note 4 above) 3-7.


any mention of their male relatives is secondary to the recognition given to their own accomplishments. Nineteen inscriptions, that is 59% of the total of thirty-two examples, belong to Group I. Group I1 consists of those examples which honor women for the benefactions of their male relatives, andlor which praise women with traditionally female epithets and virtues. I have subdivided the inscriptions in Group I1 into two smaller groups: those which also acknowledge women's own public generosity, and those which do not. Out of the thirteen inscriptions in Group 11, six (18%) of the total of thirty-two praise women exclusively for their domestic virtue or for their male relatives' generosity. The other seven inscriptions give as much, if not more, credit to women's public benefactions as they do to their domesticity or to their male relatives' munificence.

Four words describe the women's financial benefactions in both Groups I and 11: munijicentia, liberalitas, benejicia, merita. Merita, by far the most popular, appears in fifteen examples, or 46% of the entire sample. All four terms occur in twenty-two, or 69%, of the total of thirty-two inscriptions.I5 A comparison of the frequency of these terms in Italian women's inscriptions with their frequency in honorary in- scriptions to Italian men will illustrate the similar vocabulary used by the Italians to praise their male and female benefactors. Merita occurs in 36% of Italian men's honorary inscriptions that specify why the honor is being given or describe the honoree in flattering terms. Out of this same group of inscriptions, 53% contain the terms merita, muniji- centia, liberalitas, or beneJicia.16Note, too, that in Group I1 five out of the ten inscriptions honoring women in connection with their male rela- tives describe the men's achievement with the term merita (20, 26, 27, 28, 29). The Italians evidently did not hesitate to acknowledge women with the same terms that they did men.

The words in Group I1 that depict the women in their more tradi- tional domestic roles include rarissima (24),pudicitialpudicissima (25, 30), and castitas (32). They account, though, for only four, or 12%, of

15For merita, see nos. 7-17, 26, 27, 28, and 31. For muniJicentia, liberalitas, and benejicia, see nos. 1-4, 30, and 32.

I6These percentages are based on an analysis of 326 honorary inscriptions erected to men in Italy between A.D. 1 and 300. For further discussion of terms for generosity and benefactions and their frequency in these inscriptions, see my Ph.D. dissertation, The Language of Praise in Honorary Inscriptions to Italian Municipals, A.D. 1-300 (Univer- sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 1988) 29-53; 149-51.

the entire sample. Other epithets applied to a few of the women are dignissima (17), honorijicentissima (30), and honestalhonestissima (23, 24, 31). The first two, it will be shown, denote financial generosity and the last refers to a woman's position within the equestrian class or the municipal nobility.


Inscriptions 1 through 4 represent women who are praised gener- ally for their generosity; the terms used are munijica (I), munijicentia (2, 3), and liberalitas (4). Tutia (4) is also recognized for her benejicia, which in this context refer to her jinancial gifts within the community. Although the term benejicia by itself is vague, signifying any number of helpful activities, in honorary inscriptions it is synonymous with liberalitas, the word with which it appears in Tutia's inscription, and largitio.I7 Several honorary inscriptions to male benefactors within Italy also use the term benejicia together with muniji~entia'~

or specific de- scriptions of the honoree's expenditures. l9

Honorary inscriptions to women, as well as men, will sometimes describe the honoree's specific financial benefactions, as do inscrip- tions 5 and 6. Agusia Priscilla (5) paid for the repair of a porticus and financed public entertainment, all in honor of her new religious appoint- ment. Marcia Aurelia Ceionia (6) financed the restoration of a town's local baths and distributed money to the populace at the dedication of her honorary monument.

Inscriptions 7 through 17 praise women for their merita or the merita of a female relative. The term merita translates here as "finan- cial favors," although, like benejicium, meritum out of context can signify any type of favor from responsible behavior in public office, to giving valuable legal advice, to donating money. The contexts within which the term merita appears in Italian honorary inscriptions, how-

l7 For the terms benejicia and largitio in the same honorary inscriptions, see CIL 10.5968. On the similarity between benejicium, liberalitas, and largitio in literature, see J. Hellegouarc'h, Le Vocabulaire latin des relations er des partis poliriques sous la Republique (Paris 1963) 168. Cicero, Ver,: 2.3.94, for example, criticizes provincial governors for bribing Roman equestrians with favors and gifts, benejiciis et liberalitare.

lqee CZL 10.5968; 11.4579; 11.5749; 11.5750.
I9See CZL 9.1175; 10.5200.


ever, reveal that it had primarily financial connotations for the Roman readers of such inscriptions. Most Italians, both male and female, who are honored ob merita, receive additional praise either for their virtues of generosity, such as munijicentia, liberalitas, and 1argiti0,~Oor for their expenditures on items such as public games, public building and restoration projects, maintenance of towns' grain supplies, the estab- lishment of private foundations, distributions of sportulae at the dedi- cation of the honorary monument, and, finally, assumption of the cost of the honorary m~nument.~'

Illustrating these last three types of finan- cial generosity, Flavia Ammia (7), when honored by the collegium cen- tonariorum for her merita, paid for the cost of the monument and distributed twenty sesterces to each member of the collegium at the dedication ceremony. She then deposited 5000 sesterces in the organi- zation's treasury in order for them to use the interest subsequently to celebrate her birthday every year with a feast. Another reason for as- suming that the merita of women in honorary inscriptions refer to their financial gifts, of course, is that other forms of merita, namely political and legal favors, would largely have been off-limits to them.

In addition to being honored for her merita, Varia Italia (17) receives the epithet dignissima. This epithet is found most often in Italian honorary inscriptions in connection with high-ranking male patrons who have been financially generous to their c~mrnunities.~~

Similar to her male counterparts, Varia, a priestess from Capena, very likely be- stowed financial favors upon the public. Certainly, her position as sacerdos and cultrix in the local cults of Ceres and Venus indicates her social prestige and its attendant wealth.

Two other inscriptions from Capena (18,19) also honor priestesses of the local cult of Ceres. Both examples mention that caerimoniae,

ZOMeritaand mun~$centia:CIL 11.5749; 14.3014; AE 1894.148.Merita, liberalitas, and largitio: CIL 11.6357.

ZIA few of the many examples of inscriptions mentioning rnerita in combination with public benefactions are: rnerita and public games, CIL 9.981, 9.2237; merita and public building and restoration projects, CIL 11.3258; 11.3938; merita and maintenance of a town's grain supply, CIL 11.5178; merita and private foundations, CIL 9.4691; 10.114; merita and the distribution of sportulae, CIL 9.981; 9.3838; merita and assumption of cost of the honorary monument, CIL 11.3258; 11.3938.

22See, for example, CIL 10.5200, a patron who restores a town's public baths, and CIL 11.7556, an honorary quinquennalis who donates to the public a silver and bronze statue. For some examples of patroni dignissimi who distribute cash at the dedications of their honorary monuments, see CZL 10.451 and 10.3759.

sacred rites, were performed in conjunction with the woman's assump- tion of her religious office (honos).These caerimoniae were most likely financed out of the women's own resources in honor of their new reli- gious p0st.~3 Compare Agusia Priscilla (5),who followed the example of former priestesses (exemplo inlustrium feminar(um)) by making bene- factions in honor of her recent appointment (ob sacerdotium). Note, too, that Iulia Paulina, the priestess in inscription 19, later provided a feast and distributed sportulae to the local senate and municipals in her capacity as a sacerdos Veneris, an act which underscores her wealth and largesse. The evidence in inscriptions 5, 17, 18, and 19 concerning Italian priestesses illustrates a very important connection between a woman's financial resources, as opposed to her purely social or politi- cal connections,24 and her capacity to hold religious posts.


A. Without Recognition of Any Public Benefactions
from the Honoree

Inscriptions 20 through 22 honor women merely for their fathers' accomplishments. The fathers of Magia Severina (20)and Iulia Lucilia

(21) have been financially generous within their respective communi- ties. Although the praise "in honorem . . . patris eius" in Flavia Kara Gentia's inscription (22) describes only the public distinction of her

23For other examples of women who act generously in their capacity as public priestesses, see: CIL 2.1471, an honorary inscription to a sacerdos from Astigi who finances circenses in honor of her new religious office (ob honorem sacerdotalem); CIL 2.1278, an honorary inscription to a sacerdos from Salpensa who dedicates a statue made from 100 pounds of silver to Fortuna Aug(usti?) upon her new religious appointment (ob honorem sacerdoti); Pleket 18, an honorary decree to a priestess of the imperial cult in Aphrodisias who supplied oil for local athletes, among other benefactions; Pleket 25, an honorary decree to a priestess of Demeter in Syros who celebrates religious rites out of her own resources both as a local magistrate and priestess. For discussion of benefactions made by new religious appointees, both male and female, in Roman Spain, see L. A. Curchin, "Personal Wealth in Roman Spain," Historia 32 (1983) 236.

24Cf. MacMullen (note 7 above) 209: "To be chosen priestess brought one before the public eye very sharply . . . election was connected with great wealth, wide business associations, a husband an office-holder, and forebears the same."

father, he probably earned such distinction, at least in part, through his wealth and munificence.

Mammia Aufidia Titecia Maria (23) and Gavia Fabia Rufina (24), in addition to being honored for the sake of their male relatives, receive their own epithets. Mammia's inscription (23) refers to her as an honesta puella first before mentioning her father's benignitas. Gavia's inscription (24) recognizes her as an honestissima matrona and a rarissima femina, as well as the uxor; filia, and soror of three politically active and wealthy men. The epithet rarissima appears frequently in women's epitaphs, and is often associated with other traditionally femi- nine virtues, such as castita~.~~

The epithet honesta (23) and its superlative honestissima (24), on the other hand, most likely do not pertain to these women's domestic virtue. In North African inscriptions honestalhonestissima denotes a woman's social rank as the wife of an equestrian or a municipal nota- ble.26 The same meaning probably pertains here, for both Mammia's

(23) and Gavia's (24) inscription state that they are married to eques- trians and that Gavia's brother, too, is of equestrian rank. Amelia Cres- centia (31), another femina honestissima, is also married to an eques- trian. The epithet is not even used of women exclusively. Several inscriptions, again from North Africa, describe equestrian men as being honestae memoriae ~iri.~' Honesta and honestissima, therefore, refer here to these women's public prominence as the wives of important men rather than to their private virtue as matrons.

Inscription 25 honors Iunia Gratilla for her pudicitia, a virtue commonly associated with women. The inscription goes on, however, to describe how her husband and sons refurbished the town's schola in her name.

A noteworthy pattern emerges from the first six inscriptions in this second group (20-25), namely that the relationship between these women and their male relatives is significant only in terms of the men's

25See, for example, CIL 9.1893, an epitaph to a woman rarae castitatis. Tacitus, Agricola 4.2, too, describes Agricola's mother, Iulia Procilla, as a woman rarae castitatis. For discussion of rarairarissima in women's epitaphs, see Lattimore (note 2 above) 296.

26See Z. Benzina-ben-Abdallah and L. Ladjimi-Sebai, "Egregiae memoriae $lia? A propos d'une inscription inedite d'Ha'idra (Tunisie)," AntiquitPs africaines 11 (1977) 164. Among their examples are CIL 8.16159 and 8.23205.

27See H.-G. Pflaum, "Titulature et Rang Social sous le haut-empire," in Recherche~ sur les structures sociales duns I'antiquitP classique (Paris 1970) 183. Among Pflaum's examples are CIL 8.9050 and 8.15455.

financial favors. None of these inscriptions, in other words, commemo- rates a woman solely for her role as sister, daughter, wife, or mother.

B. With Recognition of Generosity of Honoree or a Female Relative

Although the last seven examples from Group I1 praise women for traditionally female virtues or recognize the benefactions of their male relatives, each inscription states explicitly that the woman's own gener- osity or that of a female relative has also earned the public honor. Annia Rufina (26), for example, receives praise for the merita of her grand- father and her mother. Rutilia Paulina (27) shares the spotlight with her father for their merita, as does Abeiena Balbina (28)with her husband. Inscription 29 honors Severina Afra both for the merita of her husband and for her own benejicia.

Although inscription 30 applies to Aurelia Calligenia the typically feminine epithet pudicissima, it also describes her as honorijicentissima and praises her for her and her husband's munijicentia. The end of the inscription records that Aurelia alone, or perhaps together with her husband, distributed 4 sesterces to each member of the collegium fabrum, the organization which erected the monument. The epithet honorijicentissima in this example, as well as in other inscriptions, is practically synonymous with other terms for financial generosityz8 An- other honorary inscription from Italy (CZL 9.1685), for example, to a male patron, who built a temple to Canopus at his own expense, de- scribes the honoree as a largissimus and honorijicentissimus vir: The collegium erecting the inscription also states that it is "memor liberali- tas (sic) et honorificentiae eius."

Similar to Aurelia Calligenia (30), Aurelia Crescentia (31)is called pudicissima, yet she is honored ob merita. The language in inscriptions 30 and 31 differentiate between these women's personal qualities, which appear only in the form of epithets, and their financial generosity which earns them the actual honor. Although these women may have been pudicissimae at home, they have won the public's admiration ob muniji- centiam (30) or ob merita (31). Only the final example, inscription 32 from the senate of Hispellum, states that Licinia Victorina has been honored "ob singularem eius castitatem et erga se munificentiam."

28Cf. Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, s.v., v. 6, part 3, col. 2937, 11.3-4.

Note, however, the text's specification that her castitas was hers alone (eius),yet her munijicentia was displayed publicly (erga se). In all three of these last inscriptions (30-32) the woman's public and private behav- ior are kept separate; each honoree's private domestic virtue is ac- knowledged, but always within the parameters of her own person, whereas those qualities which bring her public recognition concern pre- cisely her financial interactions with the public. We do not see here any blending of public and private.


The overwhelming emphasis on wealth and munificence in the language of these inscriptions reveals the material motives behind the use of honorary inscriptions by municipal organizations in Italy. These motives become especially clear when one compares the vocabulary in these inscriptions with that found in Latin epitaphs to women. The adjective pia and the noun pietas, standard terms in women's sepul- chral inscription^,^^ appear nowhere in these honorary inscriptions. Only one woman is praised for castitas (32), another traditionally fe- male quality. Pudicitia makes just one appearance (25),and its superla- tive adjective pudicissima occurs only twice (30, 31). Merita, the most frequently used term of praise in these inscriptions, is quite uncommon in women's epitaphs.30

The epitaph speaks well of the dead only; therefore, what it chooses to extol in the character of the deceased has little effect other than the perpetuation of a good memory. Epitaphs, as Lattimore states, represent ". . . not precise reminiscence, but the elaboration and adap- tation of an ideal."31 An honorary inscription, although it too speaks well of its subject and even idealizes it at times, most often addresses living individuals who, it is understood, will henceforth come under public scrutiny: are they continuing to live up to their reputations or not? It is noteworthy, then, that the qualities of women which these Italian inscriptions present as praiseworthy consist primarily of gen-

29See Lattimore (note 2 above) 296.

30Most often epitaphs will use the participle merens in phrases such as bene me- renti (e.g., CIL 10.572; 10.573), which means something entirely different from the noun merita, a term denoting financial benefactions specifically.

31Lattimore (note 2 above) 299.

erous acts on behalf of one's community, not virtuous conduct within the home. Indeed, female honorees are praised with a similar vocabu- lary (merita, munificentia, liberalitas, benejicia, honestissima, hono- rificentissima, dignissima) for the same types of public benefactions as male honorees. If honorary inscriptions in Italy were used to publicize the moral virtues of honorees for their own sake, then they would have praised women more often for traditional female virtues. The aim of honorary inscriptions, however, was to encourage women to contribute to the public welfare with their financial resources. Italian municipali- ties certainly did not consider a woman's domestic virtues unimportant; they simply left it to a woman's private circle of family and friends to praise her conduct in private life.

The Italians' encouragement of financial generosity in wealthy women through the use of honorary inscriptions indicates their aware- ness that fewer and fewer men in the curial class were able to bestow financial gifts upon their respective communities. During the second and third centuries A.D., the very period to which all but one (3) of the datable inscriptions in the sample belong, Italian municipals came to depend increasingly on the prosperity and largesse of a few individuals, whose voluntary expenditures often provided communities with all their physical comforts, such as public works construction and repair and public games-comforts which also insured social stability. Munici- palities of the Roman empire seldom used public money for public works and entertainment. In her discussion of Spanish municipalities Nicola Mackie points out that what public money was raised through public land rents, local taxes, summae honorariae, or other means went toward public administrative expenses, such as salaries for secretarial and menial positions, and toward the maintenance of public slaves.32 Most often public works projects and public entertainments took the form of munera patrimoniorum, duties required of private individuals, but to be paid for at their own expense.33 Such munera could be quite burdensome to both a person's time and resources, and might even compel certain individuals to take rather drastic measures to avoid

32Nicola Mackie, Local Administration in Roman Spain, A.D. 14-212, British Ar- chaeological Reports, International Series 172 (Oxford 1983) 118. 33Dig. 50.4.18 . See also Abbott and Johnson, Municipal Administration in the Roman Empire (Princeton 1926) 94-99.

them.S4 Sections 5 and 6 of Book 50 of the Digesta are, in fact, devoted to discussions of releases, exemptions, and immunities from civic mu- nera. These passages indicate that municipal munera, as well as hono- res, had become so oppressive that local councilors had to be com- pelled to fulfill such duties.35

Considering the well-known difficulties that Italian cities experi- enced in achieving adequate revenues for civic munera, we can appreci- ate the gratitude felt toward those individuals who undertook expensive public projects voluntarily, that is free from the constraints of a munus. Nor should it surprise us that women received as much of the gratitude as men. Indeed, as the number of public benefactors dwindled, wealthy women assumed a significant amount of influence. This influence is perhaps best attested in the language of their honorary inscriptions. The traditional ideology surrounding women in ancient Roman society, crystallized in the formulaic language of funerary inscriptions, creeps into the vocabulary of only a handful of the inscriptions in this study. Instead, the language in these Italian benefactresses' inscriptions places them alongside male benefactors. The financial stature of such women insured that they, like their male counterparts, received not only the honor of a public monument but also the praise befitting their dig- nita~.~~

34Even joining the military did not weaken a community's claim on an individual: Ulpian, Dig. 50.4.3. See also E Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (Ithaca 1977)


3SSee, for example, Dig. 50.1.18 ,Septimius Severus' distinction between unwilling (inviti) and willing (volentes)office-holders: Dig. 50.1.21 pref.;;; 50.1.2 pref., all addressing the nomination of sons of decurions to magistracies and/or liturgies against their father's wishes. Although these passages date to the Severan period, Garn- sey (note 4 above) 232-38 demonstrates that the onus of civic munera made its impact on decurions as early as the first half of the second century. See also Garnsey, "Honorarium Decurionatus," Historia 20 (1971) 309-25.

361 wish to thank the Louisiana State University Council on Research for pro- viding me with the funds to work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill during the Summer of 1989. I am also grateful to George Houston and Dennis Kehoe for their comments on earlier drafts and their encouragement. I would also like to thank the article's referee whose suggestions have clarified several points in my discussion.

Table I.
Inscriptions Praising Benefactions of Women Only3'

 No. Name and Rank  Dedicator and Date  Vocabulary of Praise  Citation  
1. Sextia  Colonia Iulia  quod ea munifica  CIL 10.3703  
 (Cumae)  coloniam fuit   
2. Cassia  Formiae, c. 199  pro splendore  AE 1971.79  
Cornelia   munificentiae eius   
Prisca, S, P     
3. Claudia Iusta,  dendrophores  ob munificentiam  CIL 10.7
V[. . . ..]iva, P  of Regium  earum
Faustina, P  Iulium, 79
Satria Pietas,
4. Tutia  Cora  ob beneficia et  CIL 10.6529  
  lib(era1itatem) eius   
5. Agusia  Gabii, 140  quod post inpensas  CIL 14.2804  
Priscilla. P   exemplo inlustrium
  feminar(um) factas ob
  sacerdotium, etiam
  opus portic(us) Spei
  vetustate vexatum
  pecunia sua refecturam
  se promiserit populo,
  cum pro salute principis
  Antonini Aug(usti) Pii
  . . . liberorumque eius

eximio ludorum spectaculo
edito religioni veste

371 use the following abbreviations to indicate the woman's social rank, if known: S = senatorial, E = equestrian, P = priestess. For those inscriptions dedicated by decree of the local senate, by the populace, or the senate in combination with any sector of the populace, I have simply given the town name as the dedicator. All dates are A.D.

Table I-Continued Inscriptions Praising Benefactions of Women Only   
No. Name and Rank  Dedicator and Date  Vocabulary of Praise  Citation  
6. Marcia Aurelia Ceionia, E38  Anagnia  ob dedicationem thermarum quas post multum temporis ad pristinam faciem suis sumptibus restauraverunt . . .  CZL 10.5918  
o (sic) cuius dedicationim (sic) dedit decurionibus   
(denarios) V, sivir(is) (sic) (denarios) 11, popul(o) (denarios) sing(ulos) et epulum sufficiens omnib(us)   
7. Flavia Ammia  collegium centonariorum of Ameria  ob merita eius, quo honore contenta, sumptum omnem remisit, et ob dedic(ationem) ded(it) singulis (sestertios) XX n(ummos) et hoc amplius arkae eorum intul(it) (sestertium) V m(ilia) n(ummum) ut die natalis sui V i(dus) Mai(as) ex usuris eius summae  CIL 11.4391  
epulantes dividerent   
8. Iulia Pelagia, E  Aquinum  ob eius merita  CIL 10.5395  
9. Saenia  Fabrateria  ob merita eius  CIL 10.5656  
Balbilla, P   
10. Camurena Celerina, P  Tuficum  ob merita eius  CIL 11.5711  

38Marcia's inscription states that she is a femina stolata, a phrase which B. Holtheide, "Matrona Stolata-Femina Stolata," ZPE 38 (1980) 127-31 interprets as a sign of a woman's equestrian rank.

Table I-Continued Inscriptions Praising Benefactions of Women Only

No. Name and Rank
Avidia Tertullia, P

Claudia Hedones

Laberia Hostilia Crispina, S


Arrenia Felicissima

Bruttia [..I Iusta

Varia Italia, P

Flavia Ammia. P

Iulia Paulina, P

Dedicator and Date

Vivirales of

Cultores Herculis

of Omero,

c. 100

Mulieres of Trebula Mutuesca, 139-180

collegium cannophorum

of Herdonia

collegium iuvenum
of Herdonia

Seviri Augustales

of Fanum
2nd c.


c. 250




 Vocabulary of Praise  Citation  
ob merita eius  CZL 11 5752  
ob merita  Not. Sc. 1885,  
 p. 167  
ob merita   
ob merita eius   
ob merita eius   
ob mer(ita) C[. . .]   
Iustae m[atris] eius
dignissimae, ob  AE 1954.166  
merita eius   
ob honorem  CIL 11.3933  
ob honorem sacerdo-   
talem honestissimis   
caerimoniis praebitum   
. . . et postea sacerdoti   
Veneris bis, epulum   
et sportulas   
decur(ionibus) et   
muncipibus praebuit   
No. Name and Rank Dedicator and Date Vocabulary of Praise Citation

A. Without Recognition of Any Public Benefactions from the Honoree

Table 11.
Inscriptions Honoring Women for the Generosity of Male Relatives
and/or for Traditional Female Qualities

 20. Magia Severina  Sipontum  ob merita . . . patris eius  CZL 9.698  
21. Iulia Lucilia  Ocriculum  cuius pater thermas Ocricolanis a solo extructas sua pecunia donavit  CZL 11.4090  
22. Flavia Kara Gentia, P  Anagnia  in honorem eius  . . . patris  CIL 10.5924  
23. Mammia Aufidia Titecia Maria, E  Corfinium  honestae puellae . . . ob benignitatem patris  CIL 9.3180  
24. Gavia Fabia Rufina, E  Puteoli  honestissim(ae) matron(ae) et
rarissim(ae) femin(ae)
. . . uxori . . . filiae . . .
sorori . . .
 CZL 10.1785  
25. Iunia Gratilla  Atina  ob pudicitiam Iuniae Gratillae Atinates . . .  CZL 10.5069  
  scholam dederunt, quam Iunius Syriarches cum filis exornavit dedicavitque   

B. With Recognition of Generosity of Honoree or a Female Relative

Annia Rufina Canusium ob merita avi . . . CZL 9.330 et . . . matris eius

Rutilia Paulina Seviri Augustales ob merita patris CZL 9.3182 of Corfinium et ipsius

Abeiena Balbina Pisaurum ob merita eorum CIL 11.6354 P

Table 11-Continued Inscriptions Honoring Women for the Generosity of Male Relatives andlor for Traditional Female Qualities

No. Name and Rank Dedicator and Date Vocabulary of Praise Citation
Severina Afra Vicus ob merita mariti CIL 1 1.4751 Martis eius . . . ob eximia Tudertium beneficia eius erga

se merenti
Aurelia collegium fabrum pudicissimae CIL 11.405 Calligenia, E of Ariminum honorificentis

169 simaeq(ue) feminae . . . ob munificentiam in se [ab u]trisq(ue) conlatam . . . cuius dedicat(ione) sing(u1is) d(e)d(it?) (sestertios) n(ummos)


Aurelia Trebula honestissim[e] et CIL 9.4894

Crescentia, E Mutuesca pudicissime femine . . .
ob merita

Licinia Hispellurn ob singularem eius CIL 11.5270

Victorina, S castitatem et erga
se munificentiam

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