This volume comprises lectures held at the University of Lausanne (2002-2006) on the subject of women and their relationship with political power in pharaonic Egypt, Greece, the Hellenistic kingdoms and Rome. Understandably, the book focuses on women from the upper classes.
Mireille Corbier outlines in her foreword (XIII-XX) that the approach taken by all the authors mixes both text and image and, to illustrate the tone of the volume under review, makes reference to Fanny Cosandey’s book about the symbolic value of the queen of France, who participated in power via her regency but did not have any formal political powers.1 The foreword insists on this main idea: men exercised political power and women had power only “par défaut ou par delegation” (XI).
In “Les reines dans l´Égypte pharaonique. Statut et representations” (3-24), Annie Forgeau tackles the part played by queens in pharaonic Egypt. Avoiding generalization due to the long period under analysis, she points out that iconography shows how the archetype of Egyptian monarchy is clearly linked to masculinity. The iconography of Hatshepsut is a significant example, for the presence of a female monarch is integrated into the traditional idea through the male iconography of royal attributes plus the traditional false beard. Forgeau refers also to some peculiar cases such as that of Nefertiti represented on stelae with ambassadors, even though this queen is never mentioned in the diplomatic letters preserved both in Egypt and the Near East.
The following contribution, “Les pouvoir des reines Lagides. Son origine et justification” (25-38), by Erhard Grzybek deals with this subject by selecting some significant specific cases, such as the enumeration of the Queen-Pharaohs made by Manetho and later by Diodorus, who offer longer lists than that of Herodotus. The four queens quoted by Manetho, to whom Diodorus added one, reigned over Egypt as actual rulers and significantly they are studied by the author as a source of political legitimacy of the Lagid Queens. Manetho’s history can be understood as starting from the constitutional reforms proposed by Arsinoe II about the royalty of women. The royal titles typical of the Pharaoh were significantly focussed on Arsinoe II, at least in hieroglyphic.
The famous Derveni krater is the subject of the paper by Anne-Françoise Jacquottet (41-62) As is widely known, the Derveni krater tells of the myth of Dionysus and Ariadne and the author reconstructs its context by means of other tombs and funerary vases of the same area and interprets it as a symbol of the inclusion of the woman in the heroic universe, essentially masculine.
Concerning the Hellenistic Kingdoms, the first paper is written by Marie Widmer, “Pourquoi reprendre le dossier des reines hellénistiques? Le cas de Laodice V” (63-92) and tackles the highly debated case of queen Laodice V — the powers granted to her by Antiochus III, their nature and the dynastic cult sacred to her.
The following article, by Jean-Yves Carrez-Maratray, is entitled “À propos de la boucle de Bérénice. La publicité des reines Lagides” (93-116). It focuses on the celebrated legend of Berenice’s lock and propagandistic coins of it and stresses some parallels with the plaster casts exhibited at the Römer-Pelizaeus-Museum of Hildesheim. According to the author, the image of Io-Isis and that of Heracles of Hildesheim could be those of Berenice and Ptolemy III and could have been inspired by the poem of Callimachus.
Cédric Pillonel offers an interesting paper on “Les reines hellénistiques sur les champs de bataille” (117-145), an area typically masculine. The study embraces not only queens (Arsinoe III, Cleopatra III, Arsinoe IV, Cleopatra VII) but also princesses such as Deidameia and even concubines such as Hypsicrateia, taking into account literary sources.
The article by Anne Bielman Sánchez, “L´eternité des femmes actives. Réflexions sur quelques monuments funéraires feminins de la Grèce hellénistique et impériale” (147-192 explores women's roles by studying the funerary iconography of those periods. This record offers traditional images such as priestesses or midwives, but also women portrayed as doctors or magistrates.
The last part of the book, devoted to the Roman period, covers six essays. The first of them, by Barbara Scardigli (“Die Frau im Prodigienwesen in der römischen Republik” 197-221) tackles the question of the role played by women (vestales, matronae) in prodigia, that is, a fatal event taking place in Rome or in Italy which reveals the anger of the gods and must be expiated in order to re-establish the pax deorum and the mos maiorum.2
Nicole Boëls-Janssen’s article [“La vie des matrons romaines à la fin de l´époque républicaine” (223-263)] comments upon the ideal of the Roman matrona. Starting from the famous laudatio of Claudia (CIL VI 15346), dated in the 2nd century BC, the author traces the evolution of this ideal at the end of the 1st century BC by pointing out the areas in which the matronae are to be found, which are not limited to the household.
Maria Grazia Granino Cecere deals with “Flaminicae ed evergetismo nell´Italia romana” (265-287). By taking into account the epigraphic evidence devoted to the imperial cult, she outlines the common cases of female euergetism. (such as the reconstruction of buildings, donations of statues or testamentary foundations).
The next contribution (Claude-Emmanuelle Centlivres Chalet, “Not so unlike him. Women in Quintilian Status and Pliny” 289-324) is rightly critical of the usual methodology in these kinds of studies, essentially the uncritical use of the structuralist binary opposition male / female. According to the author, male and female characteristics are not mutually exclusive, and she offers examples of ambivalences in Statius, Pliny and especially Quintilian.
“Felicitas temporum und Kaiserpaar” (324-343), by Doukaina G. Zanni develops a commentary on this notion, created during the reigns of Nerva and Trajan. This contribution is mainly based on numismatic sources, and the analysis reveals that the figure of the empress participates in many contexts of the virtues of the emperor.
The book ends with an interesting paper by Regula Frei-Stolba, “Livie et aliae. Le culte des divi et leurs pretresses: le culte des divae” (345-395) in which she explores the question of the female members of the imperial family who became divinised during the 1st century AD. She also points out that the priestess devoted to the cult of a divinised emperor (until the end of the Julian dynasty) took on the conventional role of the wife within the family, in this case the idealised model of Livia Augusta. The Flavians, who continued divinising some female members of their dynasty, did not create a priestess for their cult, probably because of the lack of such a model.
This book has been carefully edited and includes the illustrations needed to follow the arguments that depend on a visual examination of the evidence.
1. F. Cosandey, La Reine de France. Symbole et pouvoir, XVe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris 2000.
2. The author relies on the definition advanced by V. Rosenberger, Gezähmte Götter. Das Prodigienwesen in der römischen Republik, Stuttgart 1998.