*Special Episode* – The Thread of Women’s Representation

In this special episode, we’re joined by Liz Smith, who has recently completed her doctoral research of the representation of women’s dress in statuary at Macquarie University. Together we’ll trace the threads of evidence for women’s attire in the Roman world.

The Thread of Women’s Representation with Liz Smith

Liz’s research includes the fashion of women’s dress in ancient representations in order to investigate what we can learn about the representation of women. This means considering how representations of women in statuary were often mediated by a male perspective and asking what this might reveal about women’s lived experience.

The Importance of Material Evidence

A consideration of material evidence, especially when combined with inscriptions offers an alternative to the literary sources for thinking about women and daily life in the ancient world. Our evidence in this episode dates from the third century CE, which means we’re thinking about a Rome embroiled in empire and imperial rule.

In this episode we’ll be considering the head coverings on statues in the round and sepulchral depictions of women. We explore the implications of topics such as:

  • drapery in statues and reliefs
  • the colour of statuary
  • the stola
  • the palla
  • dress as status


Epiktesis outlives her family. We consider the monument she dedicates to her husband, her children, and herself. Liz takes us through the pose adopted by Epiktesis – the Large Herculaneum Woman Type – and its implications.

Women's Representation - Epiktesis inscription

Grave stele dedicated by Epiktesis to her family, from Prilep, Macedonia. Skopje Archaeological Museum, inv. AMM 41. Photography © Skopje – Archaeological Museum of Macedonia. Photograph: Ortolf Harl 2017 November.

The husband remains unnamed in this relief as do the children. This in itself is somewhat unusual but this evidence goes to the next level when we consider that the children are represented as divinities!

With Epiktesis herself depicted in a very modest, unrevealing style and her daughter assuming the quite revealing Bathing Aphrodite Type, this representation has a lot to offer in terms of thinking about the meaning conveyed by poses and attire.

Liz explains how size plays a role in the representation of family in this monument and we consider what this might have suggested to an ancient viewer. We also consider the unique aspects of this piece in terms of its arrangement of the figures and their poses.

Aurelia Eutychia “I am Prosperous” c. 250s CE

We consider the sarcophagus dedicated by Aurelia to herself and her husband Marcus Aurelius Marino which can still be seen today in Ferrara. Liz takes us through the significance of the statuesque features of this artefact.

Social status is a particular feature at play in all these representations and the capacity of Aurelia to have for a sarcophagus where the figures display a range of statuesque features tells us a lot about how she wanted to be understood by her community.

Sarcophagus dedicated by Aurelia Eutychia to herself and her husband Marcus Aurelius Marino. Originally in Voghiera, then moved to Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Italy. Front panel. Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Italy. No inventory number. DAIR Inst. Neg. Rom. 64.2022

Sarcophagus dedicated by Aurelia Eutychia to herself and her husband Marcus Aurelius Marino. Side panel.

Liz explores the implications of Aurelia’s personal representation of herself. We discuss the potential implications of being veiled versus not being veiled.

Here’s the inscription found on the sarcophagus:

Aurelia Eutychia built this sarcophagus while alive for herself and her husband Marcus Aurelius Marino a veteran of Syrian lineage at the behest of the patron and her most dutiful husband with whom she lived for forty-three years by order of the patron out of his own funds. If someone after the death of the both opens it they will deposit a thousand sesterces to the tax authorities.

Translation ~ Liz Smith

Join us for a lively exploration of women’s representation through statuary and inscription!

Addendum: In exciting news, in the time between our chat with Liz and the release of this episode, we can confirm that Liz has passed her doctoral examination and joins us as a full academic. Congratulations Dr Liz Smith!

Edit: Since conducting this interview, further analysis of the sarcophagus dedicated by Aurelia has revealed the insight that Aurelia would have been Marcus Aurelius Marino’s enslaved property, before he freed and married her. As his freedwoman, Aurelia would have been bound by custom and law to respect Marcus and give him services (operae), even after her manumission. Accordingly, it is all the more interesting that Aurelia represented herself as an equal partner to her husband through the statuesque elements we see on the front and lateral sides.

For further reading:

Peter Stewart 2003. Statues in Roman Society

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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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