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ANAHITA  August 1997

ANAHITA August 1997

Subject:

Priestesses, politics and gendered historiography

From:

Suzanne Dixon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Women and Gender in the Ancient World <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 5 Aug 1997 14:36:56 +1000

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (66 lines)

Sheila's points about the prejudices in interpreting different kinds of
evidence are very important. She raised them in connection with
iconographic images and the role of women engaged in "holy marriage" etc.

 The stock  observations  traditionally made about the "purely religious"
character of high-status women's roles in Mesopotamia ("usually religious
roles without much political clout") are reminiscent of insistence that
titles like gymnasiarch, if held by women, must be "honorific."  Many such
titles might well have been honorific for men as well - they were often
conferred on members of the same lineage (the twelve families who always
ruled Antioch). There are many things we do not know about the elites
of the Roman empire, and they include the balance of appearance and
activism in polis politics and the mechanics of office-holding can be
unknown to us.

 While it is quite possible that such titles had different
implications when held by high-status women, this is simply a hypothesis
which a scholar needs to test, not a rational conclusion based on
evidence. Both Kearsley  and MacMullen have tended to conclude from
their in-depth study of such titles in the city-states of the Greek East
in the Roman Empire, that women probably did hold political office at
times in a meaningful way.

I have noticed that a lot of women's history in varying fields has had to
do the basic scholarship of testing judgements which, over the
generations, have taken on the status of scholarly wisdom, without ever
needing any support, while challenging such dogma is
seen as misguided and eccentric. Challenges require  an inordinate degree
of justification.

 I have a collection of statements  - usually including "obviously"
vel.sim. - concerning the economic roles of women in classical antiquity.
They include assumptions that female ship-owners must have inherited their
wealth (highly likely, since inheritance and dowry were the main means of
transmitting substantial wealth in the ancient world), that a term applied
to a woman in the brick industry (the Latin word escapes me for the
moment) must mean an owner or forewoman, clearly not hands-on involvement,
and elaborate theories of the Roman economy based to an extent on the
presumed gender component of key areas like textile production.

It seems to me that testing such propositions - rather than reciting them
as self-evident - is the fundamental task of a scholar. There is
nothing radical about it, yet it is still seen as revolutionary - and even
ridiculous. Which, of course, is an interesting comment on the
sociological make-up of modern academe, but not much help in piecing the
past together.

Suzanne Dixon

Classics & Ancient History
The University of Queensland 4072

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