Current Research Postgraduates
Miss Ellis Bridgers
(email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
At the beginning of the third century AD, women ruled the Roman Empire. Those reading about the Severan dynasty in the ancient sources would not be blamed for drawing this conclusion based on the authors’ portrayals of the Severan empresses as scheming, corrupt termagants who sought to retain power and wealth at all costs. Based on the evidence provided in these sources (Cassius Dio, Herodian, the Historia Augusta), it is undeniable that the women of the Severan dynasty played a major role in third century Roman politics. However, Did they truly hold political power or did they wield excessive womanly influence, following in the tradition of earlier elite women such as Cornelia, Livia, and Agrippina the Younger? To what extent can their actions be considered unprecedented? My research will take an all-encompassing view of the public images of the Severan women as they would have been propagated through public art and architecture and coinage. In the case of Julia Domna, this is a huge undertaking, as there is a wealth of scholarship pertaining to her public image as it was manipulated by Severus. The later Severan women, Julia Maesa, Julia Soaemias, and Julia Mamaea, will prove more challenging in this study because of the dearth of current research relating to their public images.
I feel that there are three main points which will help elucidate the level of the Severan women’s power: Severan utilization of traditional iconography; linking messages in visual media to evident political needs; discerning the Roman people’s perception of the women’s significance. The first two points will aid in understanding the extent to which the Severan women’s public images were (or were not) being actively manipulated by their male relatives as propaganda. The third point will help reveal the extent of the women’s influence in shaping political affairs without participating in politics in an official capacity. Statuary, coinage, historical reliefs, and dedicatory inscriptions will be considered in this investigation. Geographical distribution of such artefacts will also be considered in analyzing the people’s perception of the women in different parts of the Empire. Therefore, this research will implement archaeological, art historical, and numismatic approaches in order to ascertain the extent of the power of the Severan women.
The Political Power of the Severan Women