Matthew J. Perry
This chapter examines how law contributed to the definition and establishment of gender in the Roman world, and ways that gender shaped the law. Lawmakers and jurists established distinct legal statuses for men and women, and it was critical to elucidate precisely how individuals fit into this legal framework. Even when not deliberately defining gender to clarify law or legislating overtly gendered matters, legal sources reveal gendered thinking. In establishing the specific rules governing Roman society, lawmakers and jurists drew upon and reproduced prevalent and entrenched assumptions and beliefs about the nature of men and women and their place in the world. The final section of the chapter outlines the legal regulation of sexuality, critical to defining gender norms in the Roman world. The proper performance of sexual conduct was an important element of gender archetypes; those individuals who deviated from established standards were deemed problematic and potentially dangerous.
Women as legally acting individuals rather than as tangential actors are to be found in the classical sources more often than is generally assumed. This is borne out by literary reports as well as in documents from legal practice, the latter have come down to us to a limited extent and have only recently been the subject of evaluation from the point of view of the participation of women. But the jurist writings provide us with a range of cases in which women are involved, in which they take a stand for their claims and where an unequal treatment in the legal opinion is not discernible. Here the task is to direct our focus onto these configurations, while taking into account the Roman social order, and not to allow the issue to be clouded by subsequent measures which limited the autonomy of (above all married) women.