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date: 22 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

What is a woman? Is ‘women’ most appropriately a category of biology? Of society or culture? Of language? Is naming oneself a woman a right? A responsibility? A burden? These questions are difficult enough to address when we are speaking of the modern day, but become even more so when we look back to antiquity. The idea that the definition of ‘woman’ cannot be separated from the definition of her social role is not unique to the Romans, but it is one which is frequently repeated and strongly emphasised in their myths and history. One of the most popular and enduring myths of early Rome is the story of the rape of the Sabine women, in which the early male settlers of the city stole the daughters and sisters of neighbouring tribes in order to take them as wives. Roman women could possess property – inherited or otherwise – so it is not surprising that one of the few places in the Digest of Roman Law where we find an actual definition of ‘women’ is in the context of inheritance.

Keywords: Rome, women, culture, social role, myths, rape, Sabine women, property, inheritance

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