We were thrilled to sit down and talk with Assistant Professor Katharine Huemoeller about her research into the representation of enslaved women during slave revolts in ancient Rome. This conversation reveals plenty of food for thought about the representation of women in the ancient world as well as exploring the way women go on to be represented in later eras.
Special Episode – Enslaved Women during Slave Revolts with Assistant Professor Katharine Huemoeller
The Slaves are Revolting
And rightly so. Conditions for enslaved people in ancient Rome could vary widely from difficult manual roles such as mining and agriculture to the challenges of proximity to enslavers in the domestic sphere. Human trafficking also has a significant role to play in understanding gladiators. Assistant Professor Huemoeller takes us through some of the main ways to consider slavery in Rome before turning our attention to three key slave revolts:
- Revolt of Volsinii (265 BCE)
- First Sicilian Slave War (135-132 BCE)
- Third Slave War/ Spartacus Slave War (73-71 BCE)
These examples offer the opportunity to consider enslaved women a little more closely and it’s here that the conversation gets really interesting.
A coloured mosaic depicting two lovers together surrounded by attendants (likely slaves).
One pour liquid from a vessel; one attends beside the bed.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Taken in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna, Austria)
Things to Listen Out for
- The role of menstruation during Spartacus’ war against Rome!
- The agricultural uprising in Sicily and the ways in which slaves treated free women
- The challenges of reading with and against the evidence when it comes to the Volsinii
- And no conversation about Spartacus would be complete without a deep dive into the representation of women in Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus (1960) and the more recent Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand
A painting called ‘The Slave Market’ by Gustave Boulanger (1886) which shows a range of enslaved people waiting to be sold. Most wear discs around their neck indicating their enslaved status.
Thanks to the glorious Bettina Joy de Guzman for our theme music.
- Huemoeller, Katharine P. D. 2021. ‘Sexual Violence in Republican Slave Revolts‘ in Kamen, D., Marshall, C. W. (eds.) Slavery and Sexuality in Classical Antiquity (University of Wisconsin Press), 159-173.
- Huemoeller, Katharine P. D. 2020. ‘Freedom in Marriage? Manumission for Marriage in the Roman World‘ The Journal of Roman Studies 110: 123-139.
- Huemoeller, Katharine P. D. 2021. ‘Captivity for All? Slave Status and Prisoners of War in the Roman Republic‘ TAPA 151.1: 101-125.
Generated by Otter AI. Hopes and prayers for the AI learning our Australian accents, Latin terms, and other very niche phrases!
Dr Rad 0:16
Welcome to The Partial Historians,
Dr G 0:19
we explore all the details of ancient Rome.
Dr Rad 0:23
Everything from the political scandals, the love of ours, the battles waged and when citizens turn against each other. I’m Dr. Rad
Dr G 0:34
and I’m Dr. G. We consider Rome as the Romans saw it by reading different authors from the ancient past and comparing their stories.
Dr Rad 0:43
Join us as we trace the journey of Rome from the founding of the city.
Welcome to a special episode of The Partial Historians, I am one of your hosts Dr. Rad
Dr G 1:07
and I’m Dr. G.
Dr Rad 1:09
We are joined by a very exciting guest who shares some of our interests today, we are joined by Professor Huemoeller. Assistant Professor Huemoeller worked for a nonprofit, the National Women’s Law Centre in Washington, DC for several years before returning to the academic world. She has taught at Princeton University, Middlebury College, and at US correctional facilities through the prison teaching initiatives. She is currently the Assistant Professor of Roman History at the University of British Columbia. And we are very excited to talk to her today, because her special areas of interest include things like slavery and sexual violence, and we’re going to be another word excited about sexual violence. But we’re excited that we’re going to be talking about issues of slavery and gender. That’s probably what I should say. So welcome to the show.
Katharine Huemoeller 1:59
Thank you so much. That always happens to me. I can’t wait to teach this class on slavery. It’ll be interesting that Yeah.
Dr Rad 2:08
All right. So let’s kick off with one of our introductory questions. So you’ve obviously written a lot about incidents of slave results in the Roman Republic, but just to set the scene for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about the status of slaves in Rome?
Katharine Huemoeller 2:24
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll talk specifically about slaves in the Republican era, because slavery is quite distinct in different periods of Roman history. And it really sort of takes off in terms of numbers in the Italian peninsula, in the third and second centuries BCE, as Rome expands, more and more people are trafficked into Italy, and sold on the slave market. So there’s a direct link between Roman conquest and the growth of the Roman Empire and the growth of the Roman slave system. But what slavery looked like and how it was experienced was extremely diverse. And some people were were employed on plantation style, agricultural estates, for surplus, you know, production of food, with very, very tough conditions, very harsh conditions, and very little chance of ever being manumitted, much less living a very long life. Other people lived in an urban context, or worked in a domestic context. And the lived conditions were perhaps a bit better than agricultural slavery. But it came with its own horrors, including proximity to owners, maybe increased chance of sexual violence and sexual exploitation, especially for enslaved women, but also for enslaved men. So it looked really different depending on who your owner was, and where you lived, and also, who you were, where you came from. And if you are a man or a woman or a child or an adult.
Dr G 3:58
Yeah, it’s a there’s a lot to take in when it comes to thinking about like the status of slaves in the ancient Roman world, just because there are so many diverse areas that somebody could end up in in terms of like, their place, either like, maybe it will be mining, maybe it will be in the field, maybe it will be in the home. And all of those come with their own risks. And to I don’t think we should ever underestimate the nature of the human workforce that is being utilised in many ancient societies in particularly ancient Rome, just in terms of when you look back to see what was achieved and also the labour that was utilised to achieve those things. So thank you so much for giving us a bit of a taste of the things that are going to be coming out. As we delve further into the questions.
Katharine Huemoeller 4:53
That point about under estimating is an important one too, because the big challenge with ancient slavery is I mean, we can say It looks very diverse, that’s clearly true. But it’s hard to say much else definitively because our record for ancient slavery is is so difficult. And certain types of slavery, certain sleeving strategies appear appear more clearly in the historical record than others. So we have more information, for example, about agricultural slavery in this period, you know, and sort of less idea what’s going on in a domestic context or more information about enslaved men than about enslaved women. So it’s always the question of filling in these very large gaps in our archive.
Dr Rad 5:35
Oh, definitely. Look, we’ve found we’ve been looking at the Roman monarchy a bit because we’ve been working on a book on that period. And as you said, I tend to think of slavery more later in room’s history, you know, during the Republic, when we start to see those big wars that are happening, and lots of people being captured in a conflict and then being made slaves, and then that obviously setting up the possibility of having more slaves because their people are bought into slavery, etc, etc. But the crazy thing was that when we actually stopped and looked at the records, there were references to slaves, and they were everywhere, even in that very early period. And whilst Okay, yeah, some things you know, you might look at them as being maybe troops or something like that. There’s just so many references to think that slavery itself wasn’t a part of Roman society, even all the way back at the beginning.
Katharine Huemoeller 6:27
Yeah, I completely agree. And I think there’s still a lot of work to be done on these earlier forms of slavery. I mean, obviously, it’s in the tall tables, which I know you guys covered. And that’s a great indication that it’s, you know, significant, and it’s a maybe a fairly clear demarcated legal status. But then, of course, it’s also, you know, only one of many different types of dependency in that period, including debt bondage, and, and maybe there was less of a clear line between these types of exploitation. And then the other issue, of course, is that I think in that early period, maybe there are more enslaved people coming from closer to the city of Rome, as opposed to from very far away. And so I expect there, you know, there’s a difference there in terms of the relationship of ethnicity and slavery, but I think there’s a lot more work to be done.
Dr G 7:17
Definitely. Yeah, once you start looking into the little tidbits that we do have access to is like, Yeah, you get the sense that this is a much wider picture. And there’s much more that we can learn as we go along. So thinking about your work and where it has led you in your research, you have focused on three main revolts, slave revolts. So when people are rising up against these conditions that they have found themselves in their lack of agency, and then recapturing that through the process of revolt. And I’m wondering if we can just go through the details of them a little bit. So starting with the revolt of the Volsinii in 265 BCE? What’s going on there?
Katharine Huemoeller 8:00
Yeah, this is one I really didn’t know much about until I started researching this topic. This the Spartacus revolt is very famous, right?
Dr Rad 8:07
I’ve never heard of it.
Katharine Huemoeller 8:14
So um, so this revolt is as definitely more small scale earlier on right in the third century, middle third century. And the sources for it are a bit sketchy, but it is attested in multiple sources. And what seems to happen is that there’s some sort of uprising in this atrocity and city. And it’s a sort of class struggle, and the exact identity of the people rising after it is different in different sources. In some sources, they’re enslaved people. And it’s a serious enough for revolt that the city asks Rome to intervene and assist and, you know, setting the social order back to what it was. So that’s, that’s one of these revolts. And I think it’s an interesting one, because it’s clear that there’s actually a lot of smaller scale revolts happening in the third and second century that we only hear little snippets about, but it seems actually to have been quite frequent. And Amy racialist has done some work on gathering these into a timeline in her slave theatre book. So, just recognising that probably this is happening quite frequently in the Italian peninsula and these two in these two centuries, even though you know, the ones we hear about are these larger scale ones that are called the really the first second and third servile wars essentially. So moving into the second one there, or the first one there, that’s a little less than a century later and the 130s in on the island of Sicily. So, all of these are taking place, you know, I guess I say the Italian peninsula but including Sicily, so in you know, Italy, Southern Italy and Sicily, in regions where agriculture is, you know, predominant. And this first slave revolt is led by a charismatic figure named Yunus As who sort of rises up in one of the major cities in the Catanian plain of Sicily, again, this really important sort of grain producing region, and he manages to, you know, work with other enslaved people in the area to capture the city, and then the revolt spreads to the whole island. And you know, that’s when, of course, Rome takes notice. And then the third one that’s quite that I focus on is the Spartacus slave war, sometimes known as the third slave war, which again, is happening a little less than a century after that. So in the 70s BCE, and in this one, an interesting man, a very enigmatic man named Spartacus, who is maybe Thracian, maybe not, is captured and enslaved in a gladiatorial school in Capua, and manages to break out along with other enslaved Gladiators, and maybe his wife, but we’ll get to that. And once again, you know, similarly to the first slave revolt, the revolt is sort of, at first seen as a minor thing, and not much effort is put to putting it down. And then it sort of grows in size as the rebel army starts to grow as encompasses other people, other enslaved people, but also maybe other free but disenfranchised people in the south of Italy. And it becomes a quite massive revolts that, you know, the Roman army actually takes a few years to suppress.
Dr Rad 11:29
Amazing, thank you so much for that. So obviously, there’s a lot that is interesting about these slave revolts. But I believe the reason that you have focused on these ones in your article was that these revolts involve violence, and particularly, they are revolts that involve sexual violence. And we’ve got records of that. So what did you notice about the way this violence has been represented in the sources?
Katharine Huemoeller 11:57
Yeah, so these these revolts came to my notice, because I am currently working on a book project on the sexual exploitation of enslaved people. And what I noticed in these revolts is that one of the types of violence that the enslaved rebels are said to direct at the free people, and particularly at their enslavers is sexual violence. And so I was interested in looking at sort of what how that manifested itself, not so much to understand what happened during these revolts. But instead to understand from the perspective of these free writers, what did they think enslaved people wanted to rebel against? What kind of violence did they think they wanted to inflict on the Masters, understanding that this is essentially a sort of role reversal, where the enslaved people are said to inflict the types of violence that they themselves have experienced as slaves? So I thought this could tell me something about the conditions of slavery. What I found when I looked at the sources is that there’s actually lots of different types of sexual violence that are inflicted on free people in these revolts. But it’s all directed at free women. And so what we see is that the slave rebels are said to commit acts of rape, and other types of sexual outrage, essentially, it’s very vague, to free matrons and to free virgins, and that these are done in front of their husbands or fathers. And that second part of that second detail clued me in to the fact that these acts are actually sort of intended to injure the free men, using the free women sort of as an instrument. And so that’s, that’s what I became interested in, through studying these is the way in which these enslaved men are sort of claiming the privileges of free masculinity in the revolts.
Dr G 13:56
Yeah, this is a really interesting aspect and insight into Roman sexuality, isn’t it? Because the this ties back into these ideas about the power that is thought to be inherent from a Roman perspective in sexual encounters, where it’s partly to do with the gender of the people involved, but it’s also partly to do with how you place yourself in the patriarchal hierarchy of Roman society who gets to do who to white becomes super important for being able to like know exactly where you sit socially, not just sexually, and the utilisation of women in this not as sort of agents in their own right, but perhaps as vehicles for conveying something about Roman masculinity is not at all surprising, but incredibly infuriating. I feel like
Katharine Huemoeller 14:50
yeah, that Yeah, that’s exactly right. What I’ve what I found is that it wasn’t just that these enslaved men were raping the free women. It was also the If they were, for example, protecting some free women from rape and choosing to rape others, or so this idea that the free masculinity or hegemonic masculinity and Roman society is about not just getting to do what you want to other people, but choosing right, who experiences what and who was allowed to do what. And so that includes not only, you know, sexual violence directed and enslaved people, but also that includes the sort of protection or maybe you could say, I don’t know, supervision, control of free women. So one of the stories that we get in the slave revolts is that the slave rebels choose this one teenage free woman who was very kind to them when they were enslaved, and they escort her to the house of her family members, and explicitly are protecting her sexual virtue. And I think that is as much a privilege of free masculinity, as you know, raping the matrons in front of their husbands.
Dr Rad 16:06
Absolutely. And I mean, obviously, this sexual violence is taking place in a broader context as well. Like, that’s not the only privilege that they’re claiming all of the time. And the one that particularly stood out to me in this regard is the the revolt of Athena, which I never really heard of before reading your article, as you said, it’s the lesser known. So thinking about what the slaves might have been trying to achieve through their actions, you know, more broadly speaking, because I know that during that particular revolt, they take all sorts of crazy actions, you wouldn’t expect slaves to, you know, to be able to take or to even maybe want to take in trying to, you know, set themselves up in a new way of life after their revolt. Yeah,
Katharine Huemoeller 16:49
this is a really interesting one. So supposedly, they, they sort of enact a number of reforms. It’s actually very, it’s very legalistic, rather than, you know, crazy violence, right. So one of the things they do is they become senators, they set up a sort of their own Senate. Another thing they do is they sort of rewrite the rules of inheritance. And it’s a little unclear, either they become the heirs to their former owners, or they write their own wills, it’s not clear which one and then they also rewrite the rule of stupid, which is illicit sex in Roman law. So this is technically happening in an attractive city, but extremely Roman. And always. And so what they say is that a free woman is is not allowed to get married to a free man, until an enslaved man has, has had sex with her first, which is just an extremely strange reform, and is again clearly linked to these ideas about what masculinity is and how to punish free men. And this is the sort of ultimate punishment right to make them marry a woman over whom they’ve had no control over her chastity or sexual virtue.
Dr G 18:05
I think this also tells us something about the nature of what our written sources, perhaps fear most, they’re kind of writing a narrative about, like, what are they most afraid of happening to them? If the slaves succeed? This is not a narrative of how slaves might have pursued their own freedom or how they would have defined it. I don’t know if I was a slave, I’d want to be my first task would be inheritance law, for instance.
Katharine Huemoeller 18:30
Right? Yeah, absolutely. This is like all of these sources are about what free people fear, they, I think have give us almost nothing about what actually happened with these revolts, or what the enslaved people want. But yeah, what’s so notable about about their desires, as represented in these sources is that they just want to be the free men, they want to take over all of their life and their privileges and their wives and their daughters. There is nothing in these accounts, hardly about enslaved women, or children. Right. So the idea here is that these men, when they sort of take control of society, they want to marry the wives of their former owners. That is not like what we see, for example, in Roman comedy, which is from a similar time period, right in which matrons are like gross, no one wants. They’re not. They’re not like objects of desire, right? But in these narratives, they are like, these are the women who are raped or taken as wives by these by these freed slaves. And so what we’re seeing there definitely is intended to show what emasculation looks like, I think in the Roman worlds, that’s what’s feared. And of course, you get that in the military context, right? The slaves are actually winning battles against the Romans. That’s really embarrassing to and emasculating. And now we also see sort of what’s emasculating in the private sphere in the home, or in the domestic sphere. Well, it’s
Dr Rad 19:58
so fascinating that you mentioned this, but because we one of the categories that we use in our show, when we’re ranking, the Romans performance when we’re doing a narrative is where source. So this inherently masculine, you know, like value, I suppose you’d call it or quality. And we try and think of that as obviously the, in a way, it’s like that right to take action, and to do so in a particular way. And it kind of ties into what you’re talking about, I think a little bit here about what the slaves are trying to claim potentially.
Katharine Huemoeller 20:32
Yeah, absolutely. It’s, it’s definitely where to send the Roman the Roman definition of virtue of manliness, the ability to dictate what gets done to other people, all of these other people who are subordinate to the, you know, the free male head of household. And I think that this is really encapsulated in one other event from these revolts that we haven’t talked about, which is a very another very strange one. It is the slave supposedly throw a funeral for a free captive matron, who has committed suicide, because she was raped by these slave rebels. And then to make this inversion even stronger, they force the men to perform the free men who are also captive here to perform gladiatorial combat, in honour of this woman at her funeral, because initially, that’s where gladiatorial combat came from, it was a funeral thing. And so, you know, they’re putting the men obviously in the position that they once were as gladiators. But they’re also forcing them to, you know, to participate in this sort of strange mourning of this woman who they should have been able to protect but failed to.
Dr G 21:49
Yeah, it’s a complicated situation for everybody to be in, I mean, the woman and what she went through that led her to her committing suicide, the situation where the roles have been reversed with the slaves and the Romans, and then the gladiatorial lair of a formal mourning process.
Katharine Huemoeller 22:09
And yeah, yeah, especially an interesting story. That’s so yeah, ripe for analysis. I mean, she’s very much the woman is like, very much like this Lucretia figure, right?
Dr Rad 22:18
Yeah. And so they that particular incident that you’re talking about, I believe, takes place allegedly, in the third serve our war, or the Spartacus revolts, whatever you want to call it. And I believe it comes from a source, a rosiest? Yeah, who’s writing a lot later, who’s actually writing in a Christian context. And I think that this kind of highlights not that this is something that you’re necessarily focusing on. But this sort of highlights, I suppose the issues that you must encounter with the varying kinds of source material that you’re working with for the sorts of incidents?
Katharine Huemoeller 22:50
Oh, yeah, that’s a huge problem. You’re using a Christian source to look at sexual norms in the Roman world. It’s gonna be quite different. Certainly, then, you know, Salas, for example, who’s you know, writing in the Roman Republic, the sources for these revolts, especially, you know, as we’ll go on to talk about for, you know, the presence of enslaved women and these revolts or the participation of women, these revolts there, so fragmentary and problematic, they’ve come down to us by chance, often, and they just kind of feel like they got in there by chance. Like, we weren’t even supposed to know about this. Yeah.
Dr G 23:27
Yeah. Like, I feel like I’ve got a question forming that’s related to the way that women are represented in these in these source materials. I mean, it’s partly the Euros Yes, question, I suppose in that sort of like that Christian framing, although I do love a good a rose. Yes, he does a lot of things that we don’t get to wear. But that sense in which none of these sources seem to really consider a woman’s perspective. They’re always a sort of utilitarian device in these narratives. And I’m wondering how much we can actually get out what it might have been like for these women, either as enslaved peoples, or ones who were free and become part of these enslaved narratives through these sorts of revolts with this role reversal stuff going on? Yeah,
Katharine Huemoeller 24:15
it’s really tough. The women and the stories, both free and enslaved women are very much sort of instruments of male competition, you know, violence. Yeah, just they’re sort of communicate with each other through these women is how I see it. And that’s true of the free women and the enslaved women. So when it comes to trying to understand their experience of revolt, their role and participation in it, we kind of have to work against what our sources are doing frequently. So that’s kind of a project I’m working on now is trying to understand the role of, of women in these revolts. It’s quite clear that there were women present In all of these revolts, enslaved women present in the revolts because they kind of creep into the sources just occasionally. So you just get these sort of casual asides about them, which are very tantalising. And then so I’m trying to sort of use each of these very, you know, casual references, and you focus in on it and try to unpack what it can tell us about women and these revolts. So I could we could go through a few of them if you’d like, because they’re really fascinating.
Dr Rad 25:28
I really hoping that this is the part where you’re going to bring up the women who apparently separated themselves from the Spartacan army because they’re almost exactly my favourite.
Katharine Huemoeller 25:36
They are my favourite example. We have to excitingly we have two references to this one incident, probably the same incident, where these two women are separated from the rest of the Spartacan army. They’re on a hill of sorts. And they’re doing something on that hill. And from the vantage point of the hill, they see the Roman army approaching, trying to stage an ambush, and they sound the alarm and the ambush fails. So what’s so interesting about this, the sources that are this incident is that the two writers who record it, record different reasons for why the women are up there. So Salas, who’s writing in the Republic tells us that the women were Adminster Russell window, which is you a phrase used in other texts, in reference to menstruation. But it basically means like carrying out their monthly things, duties,
Dr Rad 26:30
rituals, women’s business.
Katharine Huemoeller 26:33
Dr G 26:36
Just up on the hill doing what,
Katharine Huemoeller 26:38
we don’t want to get too detailed about it, but there and then Plutarch, writing later, and probably looking at Sallust says that the two women are up there sacrificing or carrying out some sort of religious ritual. These things aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, right? They might be carrying out some sort of monthly ritual.
Dr G 26:56
Look, I feel like in the ancient world, if I was menstruating, I would definitely want to have a ritual associated with that of some kind and be like, Gods what’s going on? Yeah, it’s been days. When does this stop?
Katharine Huemoeller 27:07
Yeah, yeah. But once you do it in the middle of a revolt,
Dr G 27:13
like it’s tough, and it’s like, you know, if you hang out with the revolt, and you’re down on the ground, and it’s happening, and the men are turning to you being like, Are you wounded? And you’re like, I am? I am. That’s definitely what’s happening here. Like the enemies no where here. And there is definitely a situation, I don’t know what to tell you. Like, maybe it would be easier to go up the hill and be like, you know, I just need some respite from this revolt. These guys. I don’t know.
Katharine Huemoeller 27:38
Yeah. And I’m gonna take a friend with me here, the two of us are going off. Yeah, I mean, this. So this is a perfect example of the way these women sort of creep into our sources, because the only reason we even know about the stylist is that tiny fragment was excerpted for grammatical reasons. They liked the reference that women are Gallic, and there’s this weird word for Gallic in it. So they’re accepted by this later group, Marian. And then we have one single manuscript that preserves this reference by the Grimm Aryan. So that is how these women come down to us, like, by so many different elements of chance, and without the stylus, we would really not understand what foods are. So it’s just like, they’ve kind of slipped into the record, I like to think of it that way. And, and so it’s exciting opportunity for us to, to think about, you know, in what other ways they’ve slipped in, but also like, all of the ways that they’re missing, but clearly there. So in this case, you know, my, what I think is so funny about this account is like, this is basically a very embarrassing situation for the Romans, they are already engaged in a war against enslaved people, which is embarrassing, and then they’re, they’re, you know, about to, you know, have this ambush and to women. Foreign enslaved women are the ones that spy
Dr Rad 28:57
on their periods like, yeah, it’s
Katharine Huemoeller 29:00
Just like the worst of the worst for them, right?
Dr G 29:03
Yeah, it’s hitting me, right in my virtus as a Roman man, I don’t know.
Katharine Huemoeller 29:08
Talk about virtus, exactly. Like, of course, to me. Of course, these writers want to explain their presence. In other ways. They don’t want to say, hey, they were up there scouting, and they were successful.
Dr G 29:21
Yeah, these women were actually great at reconnaissance. And that’s why we sent them up there. And their sole job was to like, watch for the Army coming. And boy, did they nail that assignment?
Katharine Huemoeller 29:31
Exactly, exactly. Instead, they’re like, well, they just happened to be up there. And like, you know, they were very lucky that they saw us, you know, and that’s the other thing. It’s like, why would why do we trust Plutarch or stylist to tell us with us? I remember doing I mean, it’s crazy talk about like, you know, who has authority to tell us information? The Roman army would have maybe they would know they had been spied right. But they would have no idea like by who or why I mean, it just doesn’t make sense.
Dr G 29:57
Oh, come on. There’s gotta be somebody from ancient Rome Entertainment Tonight interviewing people afterwards. Like you were there. What did you see? What were you doing?
Katharine Huemoeller 30:06
Yeah, I mean, actually think that the most likely source is a cat a later captive, right? Because we know like Julius Caesar, for example, regularly interrogated captives to ask like what happened to them? And you know so so that’s kind of interesting. But yeah, I just love this this incidence of you know what, to me very clearly is these women you know having a strategic role essentially in the military and instead are explained away for other reasons.
Dr Rad 30:32
He reminds me of one of my favourite scenes from Parks and Recreation, where the whole gang from Parks and Rec are out on a shooting trip, someone gets shot accidentally. And a polis character is trying to cover for how that’s happened by taking responsibility herself because she has a gun licence and the person who did it doesn’t. And so when she’s being interviewed by the Ranger, or the sheriff, or whatever, she’s like, I don’t know, I’m wearing this bra that like open at the front, and it just threw me I want chocolate. I love my period, bitches be crazy.
Katharine Huemoeller 31:05
Dr Rad 31:07
everything related to him and every stereotype at it, you’ll it’ll land, it’ll land. And actually, I
Katharine Huemoeller 31:12
should note too, like, it’ll lands not only with an ancient audience, but with a modern one. Because What’s so weird about this source is that there is actually no attestation of menstrual seclusion. As a practice, no, in the West, like, that is not a thing. And yet everybody’s like, Oh, there it is. So we knew it was happening here, too. And you’re like, What is this the source we’re gonna use for this? Really?
Dr G 31:34
You’re one fragment that’s from a single source. Good luck, guys. Yeah.
Dr Rad 31:42
So interesting. And then of course, the other woman that we we can’t neglect to talk about is Spartacus’ wife, very intriguing character.
Katharine Huemoeller 31:51
I was about to say Varinia. But then it was like, wait, no,
Dr Rad 31:53
I was about to say exactly the same thing. Because to me, she is for any issue will always be Varinia, yes. But if we’re going by the ancient source material, the nameless woman that is known as Spartacus is why
Katharine Huemoeller 32:05
exactly, yeah, we have we here plutonic that Spartacus, basically it’s sort of Plutarch introducing Spartacus as a character, a person and he says that he came from Thrace, and that he had a wife with him, who prophesized that he would be, you know, a great force, essentially, by seeing a snake curled up around his head, I think, and this was taking place in, you know, the slave market, and then somehow that they actually wound up together at the gladiatorial school, because he also, Plutarch also says that she was with him when he escaped, or she took part in the escape. So that’s interesting, because it suggests right, that this idea that, you know, they were together for a longer period of time, and that they somehow managed to stay together. Yeah. Yeah. I think that fact especially has attracted a lot of attention and made them like kind of a good opportunity for romance, essentially. Because for a story, right, because it’s so such an interesting, unusual detail.
Dr Rad 33:04
Absolutely. And she’s such a, she’s become so much a part of Spartacus as legend, I suppose in subsequent interpretations as well. She’s been really fully fleshed out. But we have so little about her apart from the fact that she might have been, like some sort of profit tests. And that Yeah, and that she managed to stay by his side, which just seems so unlikely in given what we know about slave auctions and gladiatorial schools, it just seems so rare that they would still be together.
Katharine Huemoeller 33:34
This whole episode is we’re like, no, that didn’t happen. to happen. It didn’t happen. But I was curious Dr. G, what, like, just because the other element of her that’s interesting is right, that she’s this really yeah, she’s his profit figure. And then, you know, these other women that were part of the revolt were maybe, you know, engaged in sacrifice. So there is this sort of like aura of religiosity around these women. I was wondering what your take on that was, as you know, someone who’s looked at?
Dr G 34:01
Yeah, look, I think it’s really fascinating the way that when women crop up in narratives, it’s one of the ways that’s acceptable for them to do so is through the practice of ritual. And what we’re seeing is that this pertains not just to Roman women, but to non Roman women as well, because the in all of these cases, we’re dealing with, presumably enslaved women who have at this stage by the time we’re in the Spartacus war period when we’re talking about foreign slaves, really. And so we get that weird sort of sense. But it also, I feel like this taps back into like, really ancient narratives and stuff, and I feel like the figure that pops out to me at the moment, mostly because I’ve been working on the Roman kings is Tana Quill, and this idea, so she’s the Prophet Hess. She can read the auspices and she ends up being able to prophesize the role of her husband, Lucia Tarquinius, Priscus well, before he get gets into power. And so this kind of sense in which Romans explain unusual rises to power and shifts in power through the divine, and not just through the divine, but through a female interpretation of the acts of gods. And so those women up on the hill, maybe it was the ritual, and Renea, my flesh, rabbit. Maybe it was the ritual, although I don’t know how anyone could possibly explain her being in that gladiatorial school as being like a realistic idea about the narrative. But so I’m really fascinated to understand more about gladiatorial schools to be like, do they always just take the ladies with them to keep them happy? Or something? I don’t know. Do they come as pairs? I’m looking around. And but yeah, this idea of direct line between like Women’s Action, informing men’s action through ritual understanding in the middle, it’s really common. And I think it’s partly because of that patriarchal framing of like, one way to women fit in this society, and it’s not at all clear. And God’s being somewhat unexplainable, like women, God,
Katharine Huemoeller 36:11
both unexplained, mysterious. Yeah, I think that’s definitely that, that that makes a lot of sense to me. And it’s, I think putting that the religious aura of Spartacus, in the context of the slave revolts is important, too, because a number of this sort of leading figures are said to have this some sort of religious significance or prophetic charismatic, fire, breathing, whatever, in whatever way it manifests itself. And so in some ways that actually may have been a really important part of Spartacus is leadership of this revolt. And she’s clearly an important part of that. And yet, her significance to the revolt Overall, though, is still really slim with it. So it’s kind of interesting, because you could think, oh, this made her a really key part of the revolt, because, you know, his charisma is really significant to the revolt success. And yet, you know, it’s she’s only associated with him at the moment of breaking out and then we don’t hear what if she’s involved in the revolt for as it grows larger and larger and more significant, she drops out of the narrative altogether. So it kind of minimises her role by placing her at the very beginning, even though there’s a possibility that that prophecy was actually really significant to the level.
Dr G 37:27
And it also helps, I think, from a Roman perspective, to really explain why things don’t go their way. And having those sorts of prophecies. It really taps into that sense of like, well, we didn’t make a mistake. We’re Romans, the gods were against us.
Dr Rad 37:43
Yes, good point. Well, I mean, it kind of depends as well on what their background is potentially like, if if Spartacus was genuinely Thracian, not fought as a Thracian. Maybe she was also Thracian. And so it’s just there’s so many question marks, though, about whether they actually weren’t any of this. But certainly, in relation to your earlier question, Dr. G, it’s not out of the question, obviously, that there are women who are being used for sexual purposes in a gladiatorial school. Certainly, if you became a highly prized successful gladiator you earned, you know, more privileges in the greater terrorist gladiatorial school where you were staying, you know, you could actually be like, somewhat tolerable, apart from the fact that you had to, you know, fight for your life and that kind of thing. But I don’t know whether a new recruit to a gladiatorial school will have earned any such privilege. And so I guess it just sort of, it must be chance if it actually happened, although I’ve also highly dubious about whether it did, but it must be chance that she also just happened to be what they were looking for in terms of, you know, like pitch and stuff. Or maybe they did want her for sexual purposes. Like, who knows. But yeah, whatever the purpose was, it must have been purely accidental. There is no way they’d be doing Spartacus anything. That’s yeah,
Katharine Huemoeller 39:01
and especially the way it’s represented in Plutarch is that they are captured together, right? They come from the same place, and then they that’s why they’re together and the slave market. And then it’s like, almost like they’re bought in a lot.
Dr Rad 39:13
Exactly. Yeah. That’s very possible. Yeah. But it does seem a little a little weird for a gladiatorial school to be like yeah, man, women. Yeah, whatever. We’ll take them all. Yeah, yeah. Cuz this is before the time when it’s common for women to be fighting in the arena, so she wouldn’t have been bought for that purpose. So yeah, strange. Very strange. Yeah, but ripe for fictionalisation. Right? Yeah. Well, that’s just said I was thinking like, I spend a lot of my academic career being like, where is vernia? Why isn’t she more prominent, speaking to you just and it made me realise that actually, it’s really pretty accurate for her to drop out of the store. But it’s my sister button for modern purposes. I constantly am like, Why isn’t she more fun of the story? Why has history are being downgraded? You know, why isn’t she represented the way that she was originally intentioned by Howard Fassler novelists, you know?
Katharine Huemoeller 40:09
Well, that’s, you know what? Yeah, that’s what’s so interesting, I think about this idea that she was a prophet test because, you know, when she does appearance in fiction, and you can speak more to this, because I can’t now I don’t know exactly the distinction between the script and the way the movie, I only know the movie, the way Spartacus 1960 ends up representing her, but, you know, she is she’s a completely domestic figure, at least in the second part of the movie during the revolt itself, important as you know, a vessel for bearing a child essentially. And so that’s so different actually, from from the, you know, her significance in Plutarch.
Dr Rad 40:46
That is, I mean, I think this is where the TV show by stars plays more with her religious role. You know, it’s a, they go back, because they have more time to play with obviously, they kind of start before the revolt, obviously. And they make Spartacus and auxilary. And they, they give him a whole backstory about why he turns against Rome and all that kind of stuff. And she’s a part of that story. Her death is a part of that story. But her prophecy about how he’s going to achieve like great and glorious things and, and the snake. It’s a theme that goes throughout the whole series, because she is his motivation. And those words are constantly going back to so they make something of that angle in the TV series. But they don’t really talk about that angle very much in the Howard first novel that was used as the basis for the 1960 film. And they don’t really in all of the various versions of the script. The religious side is not really what she’s known for. But she is actually a very significant figure in how it fasts novel, because his novel is told entirely through flashback. So Spartacus is dead by the time you start reading the book, and it’s told through the memories of Varinia, and David, the Jewish guy, who’s also one of Spartacus, his crew. And so it’s really told through her through her reminiscences a lot of the time, and she’s the one that like in the movie ends up surviving goes on to have children and it’s through her and her children that the legend of Spartacus is kept alive. But she’s she’s very significant in terms of being represented as very fierce. So unlike Spartacus, who is born into slavery, and like his life is pretty dreary from the beginning. Varinia has, Varinia is more a person who earlier versions of scripture has been free, and then becomes a slave. And so she fights back like there, there were scenes that were meant to be shown of the slave, the owner of the slave school raping her and her fiercely resisting. And that’s why he gives her to Spartacus, because he couldn’t physically overpower her or at least not to his satisfaction, like it’s, it’s a bit unclear, like they don’t always see obviously, it’s like we see the attack, we see the fight, and then we see her or bruised and stuff. In some versions, I think she’s meant to have been raped in some versions not. So the way it all plays out. It’s really crazy. And then once you get into the actual scripts, they have all these different versions of what she was meant to be in some versions, she was actually meant to be really highly educated. And she teaches Spartacus to read. Yeah, yeah, they. So there’s, there’s all these sorts of things. But certainly in the in the early versions of the script, you see what you see in the Howard first novel, which is that she’s a fighter, she actually there’s actually a line from the Howard fosse novel, which always stands out to me, she says, I can fight like a man can fight. And she’s, she’s definitely portrayed as being at the forefront of these attacks is like this, almost like Valkyrie, like, you know, kind of figure. And when the slaves in the novel erect this big statue to themselves to sort of commemorate who they are, they have representations of all the men from different ethnicities, but then they also have the figure of a woman, and that’s meant to be Varinia. So she’s, she’s definitely like the mother of the slave revolt. But as they get further and further into the script development, her character receives less and less attention, and she does sort of drop out a little bit, and what you’re left with, there are elements of the novel. So her being this figure of fascination for any man that meets her, you know, Batiatus, Spartacus, Crassus, Gracchus, they all fall in love with her. That’s retained, but she’s made much more passive. And it was actually something that the screenwriter, when he first saw the first kind of the film, he rebelled against it. He’s like, what the hell this is not the Varinia that I envisioned and where all the other slave women they just like disappeared, and so they actually did reshoots to add in more families, more slave women more Varinia but I think because of the nature of the ratios, she did end up becoming this What I like to call Stepford Varinia type character?
Katharine Huemoeller 45:03
Yeah, yeah. Cuz the, these, these scenes they interspersed are like, women like doing the laundry in the river, you know, during the revolts, and these, like, very domestic.
Dr Rad 45:14
Yeah. Which I mean, to be fair, again, if I’m, if I’m being fair, obviously, it’s not like, in the Roman world, it’s not like that wouldn’t have been the kinds of things that women would have been doing if they were attached to a slave army. But it is disappointing when you know, how she could have been represented, I suppose, as this, like she only really stops fighting in some of the earlier versions of the script, because she gets pregnant.
Katharine Huemoeller 45:36
Right, right. It’s so interesting to hear that, that there was this distinction made between them, where she was the person who had experienced freedom and therefore was considered to be sort of more, you know, was willing to rebel more, because that’s, that is, you know, sort of that’s kind of a debated topic, like some of the scholarship on the slave revolt says that one of the reasons these happened in this period was because a lot of the people who are being trafficked and you know, into slavery are recently free, and that they like have this sort of memory of freedom, or, you know, impetus for it that other people who are born into slavery might not have, which I don’t think bears out historically. I’ve also recently published an article that argues that, you know, many of the people who are enslaved in Conquest were already enslaved in other contexts, right in other cities, because they’re the people who are most likely to be trafficked to be taken captive and trafficked, a lot of the male, you know, free combatants are killed. And it’s women, both enslaved and free, and enslaved men, elderly people that are the ones who are taken captive. And so I think just because these people are recently sold in, you know, Italy or Sicily, that doesn’t mean that they were free in their lifetime, necessarily, nor does that mean that you would like, be more, you know, willing to revolt necessarily, I think
Dr G 47:02
Some of this must be about like, what are the suitable conditions for a revolt to take place? Like, yeah, like, there’s the moment of becoming enslaved whenever that might happen, whether you’re born into slavery, or whether you’re captured, and you have this understanding of our freedom. But I think it would be very naive to assume that people born into slavery don’t have an idea about freedom. What conditions would permit a moment where you’re like, Okay, this is this is the time to stand up and and take that risk, because it is a risk.
Dr Rad 47:32
Yeah, look, I think it has a little bit to do with a quick of how I’d fast novels, or how I fast I was attracted to write about Spartacus because of the connection with the revolts, or attempted coup that took place in Germany in 1919. And he started looking into Spartacus and he decided that he was going to make Spartacus, someone who was born into slavery as someone who had worked in the mines most of his life. Now, anybody who knows anything about slavery, whilst you might say, whilst we might not know anything about Spartacus, a backstory that we can definitively prove, I think it’s safe to say we all know that slaves in the mines do not live for really long periods of time. So the idea that he would have somehow been a slave working in the mines, like, basically his whole life or something like that. It just, it doesn’t make sense. But it’s something that they played with, I think, in the various versions of the movie in terms of making Spartacus, someone who was born into slavery, they had all sorts of different ideas about how they were going to start the movie, they were always going to start in the minds like they do. But yeah, either way, I think it’s a quirk from Howard fast, which is probably one of his less credible interpretations of the material.
Katharine Huemoeller 48:48
That’s really interesting. Do you think that there was that, you know, he wanted him to be why did he want him to be born into slavery was this idea that he had to be slowly shown another way to live?
Dr Rad 48:59
I think that was part of it in a way. Part of the part of the thing about Spartacus is that he learns from other people like he learns from people like David Perdue, who he comes into contact with, but I think it’s meant to be his nature. His his nature, and the nature of Ernie or the nature of all the slaves is meant to somehow be in stark contrast to the Romans, almost like it’s something genetic, though they are meant to represent the right way of life, which is that men and women come together because they love each other. They have to have children, they take an interest in raising those children. It’s it’s heterosexual. And the Romans, on the other hand, everything’s perverted. So they might not have children at all. If they do. They’re not interested in them. They’re not interested in family life. That’s not their thing. They take part in all sorts of twisted sexual practices. Now I say that in the sense of 1950s contexts which for a 1950s context involved homosexuality, but also incest
Katharine Huemoeller 50:07
And the women choosing which gladiator to watch.
Dr Rad 50:12
That’s that, yeah, that kind of thing. Exactly. So everything about them is meant to be like kind of impure debauch deviant, whereas everything about the slaves is meant to be much more pure. And I think that’s, and it’s also because he’s he’s offering a commentary. I mean, he was a communist. He is he’s offering a commentary on the way that industry and business contributes to this corruption of the soul. So he has actually like some quite lengthy passages where he talks about, I think it’s crisis’s perfume business. Because you do, but yeah, so it’s meant to be about obviously, like, the way that wealth works in each society, and what each society is valuing and how they’re treating workers and the class system. It’s all of these kinds of things, which is why the slaves are meant to be kind of more pure, and the way that they the way that they erected the statue, it’s obviously very, like Soviet Union, in terms of, you know, putting up that kind of imagery of themselves.
Dr G 51:17
We need a monument. Quick, somebody
Dr Rad 51:19
Katharine Huemoeller 51:21
And that that actually works really well with those scenes from the movie then where there’s these kind of, it’s sort of like this idyllic pastoral existence, like they’re engaged in the middle of a revolt, but they’re, like, you know, taught like singing around a fire and out in the fields. And well, and
Dr Rad 51:37
that’s very much, that’s very much how Howard Fast had envisioned the slave society is being like faily. It is like proto communist, you know, that’s exactly how he envisioned is everything working, even the way that he imagines men and women coming together, women are supposed to be able to choose their sexual partners, they’re not just like claimed by another, Gladiator or another man, just because, well, we’re out of the gladiator school, but you’re still a woman, and I still get to say what you do, he still has this vision of people being able to choose, and that includes women being able to choose who they cohabit with, and who they have sex with, as part of their whole,
Dr G 52:14
As long as it fits the heteronormative status quo…
Dr Rad 52:18
As long as that does that. Yeah.
Katharine Huemoeller 52:21
I mean, it’s so interesting that even though, you know, the reasons that these scenes wound up in the movie contemporary to his era, and very historical, in the end, one thing that the movie does, that I think is more true in some ways, is it does indicate, you know, it represents other people and engage in revolt besides just the, you know, enslaved adult men. And so, I mean, not that I think it accurately represents what their women might be were doing necessarily, or whatever, in the revolt, but it does, it just adds new people to the scene. And so that I think that that then can make you think, as a historian think, Okay, well, is there any truth to that? What were these people doing? And, and this, you know, goes beyond just the experience of enslaved women to just to think about when, you know, these rebel armies are, you know, moving up and down all over Italy? And what is the experience of everyone in in this context of revolt, right, the people who are in the town where the rebels arrive in the rebel army, this is obviously something that’s going to affect everyone in society. But we don’t often consider right, everyone.
Dr Rad 53:35
Well, definitely, as you said, the Spartacus slave revolt does manage to last for a couple of years. And therefore, we know that there are women part as part of this collective that have gathered behind Spartacus and the other slave leaders. It is certainly not out of the question that people are having sex, women are getting pregnant women are giving birth, you know, like, it’s not another question that that is happening,
Katharine Huemoeller 54:01
Or that families joined it to begin with, because, you know, we know that what’s happening on these agricultural estates that, you know, although are the writers tend to talk mostly about enslavement on these estates? You know, historians have done work already to reveal that women were absolutely there. And children were absolutely there. They’re just not the focus of the agricultural treatises. Right. But so, you know, in that case, are they you know, what is their relationship to these revolts as the rebels move through? Are they joining? Are they assisting their owners in hiding them, right? They have to make choices essentially, there’s no way to stay neutral. And I think you know, that that is that does come out of the narrative ancient narratives, right? There’s a story in the Spartan revolt where the slave rebels enter a town and it talks about how many in the town were sympathetic allies to the slaves and basically people had to make a choice whether they were going to reveal where their masters were hiding or you know, help them hide right it it was not On a possibility to remain neutral. Yeah, then we have to think okay, so then what is the experience or revolt like for all these people?
Dr Rad 55:06
Yeah. And that’s that’s something that has was toyed with in there’s actually there were actually two Spartacus movies that were going to be made based on two Spartacus novels that came out around the same time or early 20th century. So we had the one by how fast which becomes the Kirk Douglas movie and then we’ve got the one by Arthur Koestler, which was meant to be made into a Spartacus film called the gladiators, but didn’t end up happening because of character, Douglas’ project. But in there’s an interesting crossover with these, which is some of the stuff that I’ve looked at where the director of Spartacus 1960s to cook Douglas protect Stanley Kubrick became interested in the novel by Arthur Koestler, which was meant to be the basis of the other film. So there’s all sorts of weird crossovers between them. But certainly, in the novels in the various versions of the films, there are scenes that were toyed with about the slave men having conversations about, look, these women and children and old people is slowing us down. Like what are we going to do about this? And so they have toyed with these sorts of questions about how do you actually deal with a revolt? And certainly there, there certainly were going to be scenes and whether other movie, I can’t actually remember which one at the moment, I’m pretty sure it was Spartacus, 1960, where they actually had conflicts between the slave leaders over the question of whether they actually just welcome anybody or whether they only welcome those who can fight.
Dr G 56:28
So thinking about this situation for the slave revolt and their organisation? Isn’t this presumably just as problematic fit any kind of armed force, like logistics in the ancient world depends on the people. And you’ve always got this sort of, presumably entourage that has men and women, in addition to the fighters themselves, in which case, you possibly if you’re on a really significant campaign, there may be births involved there as well. And it’s like an armed forces, not just dudes wandering around with their swords out just waiting to reach the battlefield, I don’t think and so this logistics issue that the slaves are facing is presumably the same kind of logistical issue that the Roman army proper might also be facing conceivably in different points in time,
Dr Rad 57:20
I think. So I think the difference is that obviously, the Roman army is supposed to be helped by the state, you know, they’ve got this additional backup of baby, maybe they’re helping with food supply, depending on where they’re fighting, of course. But logistically, there’s like backup, whereas I suppose for a slave rebel force, they’re constantly having to look out for potential attack people turning on them. And I guess they’re not necessarily going to have like a bunch of trained fighters, whereas the Roman army presumably has a reasonable amount of men who have seen battle or have been trained,
Dr G 57:59
and maybe not supply lines, you know, just kind of a wandering force.
Katharine Huemoeller 58:04
I think you’re right, though. I think you’re right, that that that is an issue, because, you know, there is quite a lot of concern about camp followers called, and, you know, marriage bans, right, like there is a there is there are attempts throughout human history to sort of control outside of the army and like concerns about that slowing them down and messing with discipline as well.
Dr Rad 58:25
Yeah. And I think to be fair, although I’m, I’m really speaking off the cuff here, because it’s been a little while since I’ve looked over my material. But I have a feeling that part of the arguments, and at least one of the things they imagined was actually about, do we accept fighters. So we’re sick of accepting agricultural workers, whether they’re men or women who are coming to join us, because they imagine that there’s, you know, a core group of gladiators who know how to fight. And so I think it was partly about that some of the time or their training then their gender or their age. But they also played with those questions, obviously, of children and the elderly, and women in particular, slowing people down. But yeah, I mean,
Katharine Huemoeller 59:13
that is true to the ancient sources, too. And that the way slavers thought about women was as a way to actually attach men to the estate to reduce the chances of rebellion. Women were thought of as like instruments in that way to you know, have control that men would be less likely to revolt if they have wives if they have children. Right. So the agricultural writers are very attuned to that dynamic. And I think that’s one reason that they don’t conceive of women as participating in the revolt because they’re supposed to be doing the opposite, right?
Dr Rad 59:47
Dr G 59:49
You were supposed to save us from a vote.
Dr Rad 59:53
Yeah, exactly. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. Obviously, this could be an entire episode in itself because Varinia is endlessly fascinating, or the character of Spartacus, his wife is endlessly fascinating. She’s had many, many different names, and many, many iterations where she had no name at all.
Dr G 1:00:13
I suspect it’s probably a good time to wrap up. So we’ve got one final question. So when we were talking about you, in the introduction, we noted that you have a background that’s not just in academia, which is, you know, cool and interesting. You know, some people have a very straight path, and some people don’t. And so, you know, the paths into these sorts of things, I think, are really fascinating. And we’re interested in your work in the nonprofit sector, and also how that might have impacted the direction you took when you came back into academia?
Katharine Huemoeller 1:00:47
Yeah, absolutely. I left university unsure what I wanted to do. But knowing that I was passionate about reproductive justice in particular, and gender equity. And so I worked for a few years in the nonprofit world, working on contemporary issues. And it didn’t end up being what I wanted to do long term. But it definitely informed my interest in the ancient world. So when I decided to go back to graduate school, it took a little while before I could combine these interests, of course, you know, not in Greek lit survey so much. But eventually, when I got to, you know, choose my own research projects, I wanted to do something that touches on these these long issues of gender inequities, and in particular, reproductive injustice. And so I, I became really interested in Roman slavery, and the path and currently I’m most interested in particular in the hereditary nature of Roman slavery, and the fact that it goes through the maternal line. And I’m interested in how that shapes the experiences of enslaved women, what kinds of sexual and reproductive exploitation that leads to. That’s why I’m so fascinated by for example, right? That this idea that in the movie, Spartacus is supposed to be born of an enslaved woman that’s like the opening lines of the 1960 movie, right? Or is that a woman I think it’s something like a woman gave birth to a child, and that increased her masters a state and that child was Spartacus. And, and you know that it’s fascinating to me that that’s in this movie, because that’s actually not really in the scholarship. We don’t we don’t talk that much about the importance of maternal dissent in slavery. So that’s absolutely shaped by my experience in the nonprofit world. And by thinking about how legal systems shape inequities in society, and and also what people do within, you know, the actors within legal systems, how to slavers, choose slaving strategies, knowing that women will bear enslaved children.
Dr G 1:02:50
It’s really interesting, isn’t it? Because just thinking about what you’re saying at the moment about the maternal line, because we know that’s the easiest way to measure a line. And it’s like, you know, a woman grows, and then all of a sudden, it’s like, oh, yeah, and there’s a cord attached for a little while. You’re like, yep, that that one definitely came from me. Exactly. Yeah.
Katharine Huemoeller 1:03:10
In Roman law, it’s the the only the mother is ever truly known.
Dr G 1:03:16
Yeah, exactly. And so it’s like, it’s like, there’s never really any doubt about the mother, and yet Roman society and many, so societies, like from a Western perspective that sort of grown out from that, a very patriarchal, they’re like, No, we’ve always got to know who the dude is. And it’s like, do though, because it’s like, really easy, really easy if we just decided that the
Dr Rad 1:03:36
Katharine Huemoeller 1:03:37
Yeah, that’s why they’re so anxious about protecting about women’s chastity, right? Because that is the way so for Roman citizens status is transmitted through the line of the Father, and that creates paternal power and, and legitimate air. And so for anyone who’s not a citizen, including enslaved people, but not only enslaved people, which status transmitted through the mother, but that, you know, that is what comparatively looking at slavery over time and space. That’s not the only pattern of transmission. It’s the one that was used during the TransAtlantic slave system, slave trade. And so it’s one that’s very, I think, present in most of our minds, but actually, sometimes status is passed through the parent of highest status, or lowest status, or whatever household they’re in, or there’s lots of possible patterns of status transmission, and they all had rippling effects on the experience of being enslaved. Yeah, definitely.
Dr G 1:04:31
I think it’s really fascinating because it’s kind of like there is always in operation, a two tiered system where there is the perceived status quo of patriarchy as like the right way from for being free and things like this. And then there’s all of the other systems that will fall under that which can be classified within slave strategies, and to see that the maternal line comes out so free Currently there and I was like, Oh, guys, you know, the real answer here is just, you know, patriarchy, maybe you could put that to the side a little bit, and you make it really easy for yourselves. But it obviously goes against something that’s really quite ingrained in Roman society and how they understand themselves, it’s just not possible for them to do something like that.
Katharine Huemoeller 1:05:18
Yeah. And what’s so what’s so interesting about it is that they see transmission to the maternal line as what is natural, that’s part of the you scan to my natural law, that’s what everyone does. But what Roman citizens do, right, the special privilege of Roman citizens is to have status transmitted through the Father. So that is like wrapped up in what it means to be a citizen and what and all these you know, special, this special treatment and special privileges you get with being a citizen, that’s a key one, it’s this transmission through the Father. And that’s kind of like, unnatural, it’s like part of Roman Civil lots, you know?
Dr G 1:05:53
Yeah, yeah. And it is obviously built into the all of the sort of adoption laws that are at play within the elite classes as well, where it’s like, well, we can we can rearrange your male line a little bit to make things a little bit easier here. And that’s sort of on theory legal.
Katharine Huemoeller 1:06:10
Exactly. But I mean, getting back to that, remember that crazy revolt at Volsini right, the idea that the slaves are, you know, wanting to reform the system of inheritance, like, to me that speaks to the significance of status transmission, right, this idea that, like they can decide who their heirs will be. That’s, you know, that is a privilege of, again, we’re two’s to Roman citizen masculinity. That’s, it’s just kind of wrapped in everywhere you look, all of a sudden you see it significance, I think,
Dr Rad 1:06:40
I guess it must be particularly interesting for you to be considering these issues at the moment, given the recent developments, which have been highly publicised all over the world in terms of control over reproductive rights in America.
Katharine Huemoeller 1:06:53
Yeah, absolutely. This, I would say that my present day informs this work in many different ways and informs my work because while I’m been writing this book, I’ve had two children. And so I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a mother, how we can, you know, think about that over time and space, what reproduction looks like in different political contexts. Now, being in Canada, I’m in a very different political context than how I grew up. In the US. I’m very relieved not to be there right now, with the current climate and the current loss of reproductive autonomy for women* there, it’s hard for me to imagine myself being there or putting my children, my two daughters there, right, bringing them there. And so that all of that informed the way I look at the past. [* Dr. Huemoeller wishes to make a correction to what she said during the recording: people of all genders, not only women, are being stripped of reproductive autonomy in the US.]
Dr Rad 1:07:45
Definitely, well, we might wrap up on that note, but we hope very much that by the time we talk to you the next time because I’m sure that our research interests will cross paths again, that maybe the situation let’s call it over there has changed so that people have more rights rather than less.
Dr G 1:08:02
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. We really appreciate it and such a fascinating topic of conversation.
Katharine Huemoeller 1:08:08
Dr Rad 1:08:09
Absolutely. Before we before we sign off, would you like to say anything about publications or where people can find you and your work?
Katharine Huemoeller 1:08:17
The best place to find me would be at my university website. So University of British Columbia, and you can search my name. I have a few recent articles out on these topics, if you’re interested in one that’s I think, particularly accessible is in the Journal of Roman studies. And it follows one woman’s story, one woman who was enslaved and then freed to marry her owner, and then ended up leaving him of sort of form of rebellion and was cursed for it. So it’s a really interesting personal story that I think helps you maybe sort of connect on an emotional level to the past, so that would be the one I would I would recommend.
Dr Rad 1:08:54
Well, I think we’ve got our next podcast collaboration topic. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Katharine Huemoeller 1:08:59
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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