We sat down recently to have a conversation with Professor Karen Carr who is Emerita at Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology and we were thrilled to discuss the ideas for her latest work. We explore Carr’s research on the connections between women, money, and the economy in the ancient world.
Special Episode – Roman Women and Money with Professor Karen Carr
Carr has an impressive breadth and depth to her research work. She’s the author of Vandals to Visigoths: Rural Settlement Patterns in Early Medieval Spain. Carr also has a book coming out in 2022 called Shifting Currents: A World History of Swimming. However, in this conversation we were focusing on her radical new theories on women and their place in economies. The conversation ranges from the Stone Age through to the modern world! Professor Carr is currently writing a book on this topic that is slated for release in 2023 through the University of Liverpool Press.
Thinking about ancient economies
Professor Carr suggests that manufacturing, and thus the production of wealth, was initially tied to the work of women. They say that money makes the world go around, so it seems like women were making the world go around since the Stone Age! They helped to produce items like beads and textiles that could be used for trade long before humans invented coinage.
This all started to change when Greeks and Romans started to export silver and gold in larger quantities, especially in the form of coinage. Mining for metals and minting the coins was largely men’s work and this type of money started to be promoted as ‘masculine’, while items like beads and textiles were labelled as ‘feminine’. As parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, continued to engage in the manufacture of these goods for trade, foreigners also started to be associated with femininity. If you are starting to feel like the economy in the ancient world was complex, you would be correct!
Penelope and the Suitors by J. W. Waterhouse.
Work that wool, Penelope!
Roman Women and Money
Tune in to hear how all of these developments may have contributed to slavery in the ancient and modern world. With the fashion industry being one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions and coming under more scrutiny for the poor conditions of workers, you won’t want to miss Professor Carr’s theories about how contemporary attitudes towards fast fashion may go back further than you think.
Close-up of some of the coins from the Frome Hoard. This hoard contains 52 503 Roman coins which date from 253-305 CE!
Music and Sound Effects
The music featured in this episode is an original composition for our podcast by the glorious Bettina Joy de Guzman.