Women in Ancient Roman Religion: Research Proposal
ARH 320-01 Women in Antiquity
Women in Ancient Rome were not only integral to the dynamic of society but were also
very present in religious practices. Women priests played a prominent role in Roman religion.
This paper serves to explicate Ancient Roman women’s function in religion, shedding light on
femininity in religious culture and influences in religious art through literary and visual sources.
This paper’s intent is to develop a more thorough comprehension of Ancient Roman
religion, and by extension, a deeper knowledge of the portrayal of as well as the reality of
women’s roles in this realm. As described by Sarolta Takacs’ “Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and
Matrons,” in order to begin to understand the framework of ancient Roman religion and the role
women had in shaping it, one must consider the religious cults in and outside Rome. The
emergence of Rome as an imperialistic Republic and later as an Empire affected the roles of
women in this time, specifically those of imperial and elite women. This altered Roman religion
in notable ways. Upon examining the religious relevance of the Vestal Virgins, priestesses of
Vesta, goddess of the hearth, one can gather that these women possessed unique religious
distinction. Research on the topic of the Vestal Virgins in particular is in support of the
importance of women in Ancient Roman religion and religious development.
It is necessary to note that historical texts, more often than not, come from a male
perspective. This outsider’s lens can be a valuable piece of the puzzle in recognizing the
portrayal of women in Ancient Roman religion. Ancient Roman writers often reinforced the
moral rhetoric of silent women as the morally upright ones and loud women as the unprincipled.
Roman historian Livy, or Titus Livius Patavinus, provides us with an example of this discourse
in, From the Foundation of the City (Ab rube conduit), which serves, despite its prejudice toward
women, as an invaluable source for early Roman history.
While authors of historical texts are predominantly men, comprehensive works centered
around women’s influence in the ancient world like MacIntosh’s and Budin’s Women in
Antiquity: Real Women Across the Ancient World are requisite to forming a well-rounded
understanding of history as a whole. These modern writers help to preserve the feminine scope of
art history by acknowledging women’s participation in private and public spheres, shaping
society and directly molding ancient history. In Women in Antiquity, one can discover Ancient
Roman religion through an uncommon lens, particularly uncovering the ways in which women
participated in religious acts of devotion, such as vows and dedications, and domestic festivals.
As this paper focuses on historical evidence for real women’s participation in Ancient
Roman religion and their effect in the religious sphere, it would benefit one to understand
feminine mythological portrayals...