The Roman woman of those days was so deeply rooted in indolence that she, apparently, was not much oftener seen in shops as a purchaser than as an employee.  It was – beyond a doubt – the proletarian husband himself, not his wife, who went, on the stated day, to knock at the portico of Minucius and receive the card or, rather, the little wooden tablet (tessera) which proved him entitled to the bounty of Annona.  A historical bas-relief in the Museo dei Conservatori which, in all probability, commemorates the liberal distributions of Hadrian, shows the emperor standing on a dais announcing his largesse to the Roman people, who are typified by three figures representing citizens of various ages: a child, a youth, and a grown man.  The relief suggests no female recipient nor was there, probably, any in the actual distributions of the imperial largesse.  Women are equally absent from most of the paintings of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and from the funerary bas-reliefs where the sculptor has pictured scenes in the streets and represented, to the life, the animation of buyers and sellers.  We find woman depicted only in scenes where her presence was more or less obligatory and inevitable: where the fuller brought back the clean clothes to the lady of the house, when a widow came to the marble merchant (marmorarius) to order a tomb for her dead husband, when the bootmaker tried on shoes one by one and, lastly, at the dressmaker’s and in the novelty shops which the Roman lady, at the time of Trajan, appears to have frequented diligently and eagerly.  Sometimes, she is shown making her choice while her husband sits on a bench at her side – as in the bas-reliefs of the Uffizi Museum at Florence – sometimes with a chosen companion or a whole train of women friends, as in certain frescoes from the Campagna.

From: Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire by Jerome Carcopino; translated from the French by E. O. Lorimer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), p. 182.

Jerome Carcopino (1881-1970) was a French historian, archeologist, educator, and author.  He became a member of the prestigious Academy of France in 1955.


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