Roles of Imperial women in the Later Roman Empire (AD 306-455)
Washington, Belinda Charlotte
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This thesis examines the roles of imperial women in the later Roman Empire, with a central focus on the period from Constantine I to Valentinian III (306-455 AD). In this period the emperor’s role evolved from a military leader presiding over an itinerant court to a court-based figure, often a child, who was reliant on ceremonial presentation to display imperial prestige. In my analysis, I explore how the roles of imperial women developed alongside this evolution of the emperor’s own position. I also trace their roles in relation to other important developments of the period: the introduction of Christianity as the imperially favoured religion, the permanent division of Empire, and the series of military crises which affected the West in particular. Following an introduction that considers why relatively little is written on the women of the late antique court, the thesis is divided into two parts. In the first (Historical Overview and Models), Chapter 1 reviews the roles of imperial women in the period from Augustus to the establishment of the Tetrarchy, looking at nomenclature, coins and inscriptions, patronage activities, movements, literary portrayals, and cases where they were removed from their position. In Chapter 2, after providing a historical survey of the evidence for imperial women in the three dynasties of this period, I look in detail at their changing roles in the various areas considered in Chapter 1. In Part Two (Praise, Criticism, and Mischance), I consider particular case studies, divided into three general themes. Chapter 3 examines the positive portrayal and reception of imperial women in literature. In Chapter 4, I consider negative portrayals, as well as the changing reception of their images in later literature. Chapter 5 examines the consequences for women when they lost imperial protection. My conclusion summarises the trends that emerge from Part One and the case studies examined in Part Two. It is neither possible, nor is it my intention, to establish a biography of such women beyond their appearances in literary narratives. This thesis seeks instead to establish a comprehensive picture of imperial women whose roles have been neglected.