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Characterizing Roman Artifacts to Investigate Gendered Practices in Contexts Without

Sexed Bodies
Author(s): Penelope M. Allison
Source: American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 119, No. 1 (January 2015), pp. 103-123
Published by: Archaeological Institute of America
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Characterizing Roman Artifacts to

Investigate Gendered Practices in
Contexts Without Sexed Bodies
penelope m. allison
Open Access on AJA Online

This article concerns the characterization of Roman artifacts so that they can play a
greater role in gendered approaches to Roman sitessites that constitute lived spaces
but lack actual references to sexed bodies. It commences with a brief discussion on
gendered approaches in the two main strands of Roman archaeologyclassical and
provincial. Within the differing frameworks of the wider disciplines of classics and
archaeology, both strands focus on contexts with sexed bodiesburials, figurative
representation, and inscriptions. The discussion serves as a background for more
integrated and more interrogative approaches to relationships between Roman ar-
tifacts and gendered practices, approaches that aim to develop interpretative tools
for investigating social practice in contexts where no representational or biologi-
cally sexed bodies are evident. Three types of artifactsbrooches, glass bottles, and
needlesare used to demonstrate how differing degrees of gender associations of
artifacts and artifact assemblages can provide insights into gender relationships in
settlement contexts. These insights in turn contribute to better understandings of
gendered sociospatial practices across the Roman world.*

Hill observed that the quality of [Roman archaeological] data to address
gender issues is considerably greater than for any prehistoric periods, and as
good, sometimes better, than much medieval evidence.1 However, gender,
as a sociocultural construct with constantly negotiated relationships consti-
tuted in historically specific ways, is not inherent in archaeological data.2 In
the geographically and chronologically diverse Roman world, where social
status and ethnicity (i.e., slave, freed, free, citizen, peregrine) often played
more significant roles in social hierarchies and socioeconomic practices
than did biological sex, gender as a defining characteristic of identity and
practice is problematic.3 Categories of material from the Roman world can-
not be assumed to have always carried a particular status or gender value
without detailed consideration of the assumptions involved.4
That said, we are often well informed about certain gender associations
through textual, epigraphical, and representational evidence and through
burial remains found in vastly different regions and periods throughout the

* I am grateful to Carol van Driel-Murray, Margarita Daz Andreu, Katherine Hunt-

ley, Daan van Helden, Tom Derrick, and the anonymous reviewers for the AJA for their
American Journal of Archaeology comments on drafts of this article. Any errors or misunderstandings are my own. I
Volume 119, Number 1 would also like to thank Debbie Miles-Williams for producing the figures.
January 2015 1
Hill 2001, 15.
Pages 10323 2
Baker 2000, 60; see also Roberts 1993, 16; Stig Srensen 2000, 60; Kopytoff 2001,
DOI: 10.3764/aja.119.1.0103 13; Voss 2005.
Montserrat 2000, 15354; see also Gardner 2007, 229; Allason-Jones 2012, 473. See
Daz-Andreu (2013, 46) on multi-faceted women. 4
Rautman and Talalay 2000, 4; see also Daz-Andreu 2005, 223.


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Roman world. These types of evidence provide some practice in their approaches to women and gender.
of the rules different groups within that world had Roman archaeology has been rather slow to engage
about how material culture might be gendered.5 Thus, with these approaches. Added to this slowness are ex-
feminist and gender archaeology across the Roman tant boundaries between approaches within Roman
world has focused on evidence for gendered identities archaeology. Its division into two different, although
as represented in these contexts. However, exploration increasingly converging,9 strandsclassical and pro-
of gendered identities and practices at Roman archaeo- vincialhas resulted in different pathways for engage-
logical sites that lack these types of evidence is limited. ment with the material record and with feminist and
This article is concerned with characterizing Roman gender theory.10 Past approaches to artifacts, and the
artifacts so that remains from lived spaces can be used labor involved in collecting, analyzing and reanalyzing
to greater effect for insights into the presence, roles, this wealth of remains, have also been major obstacles
and identities of women within these spaces.6 Certain inhibiting Roman scholars from developing more
types of artifacts found during the excavation of Early theorized, interdisciplinary approaches to interpret-
Roman imperial sites, notably military bases, provide ing artifacts and gendered practices. The range of
case studies; these studies can be used to demonstrate approaches, these boundaries, and these disciplinary
how material-cultural approaches to the wealth of ar- histories all provide significant challenges for more
tifactual evidence from across the Roman world can integrated material-cultural approaches in feminist
inform investigations of gendered practices at sites and gender research across Roman archaeology.11
that lack evidence for sexed bodies and where inter- In classical Roman archaeology, with its focus on
pretation of the rules of social practice has tradition- Italy and the center of the Roman world, feminist and
ally been rather androcentric. I propose that artifact gender research is framed by the concerns of its sister
characterization with differing levels of gendered as- disciplines of classical studies and art history.12 The
sociations can help decode such material evidence.7 emphases of feminist Roman social history on elite
While I acknowledge the existence of changing and womens public roles and power relationships, and
differing gender identities across the Roman world, on their families and households, provide the context
I argue that any apparent consistencies of gendered for much of classical archaeologys approach to gen-
practices in artifact use across that world have impor- der.13 Rather than use archaeological methodologies
tant ramifications for understanding how sociocultural to analyze material remains, classical Roman archae-
practices spread.8 ology employs essentially art historical approaches to
visual representation, to investigate gender perception
approaches to gender in roman in the Roman world through the sculpted portraits of
archaeology real women as well as mythological women in mosaics
The broader disciplines of archaeology and classical and wall paintings.14 Despite close links with the wider
studies have quite well-developed bodies of theory and classics discipline, Roman archaeological contributions

Daz-Andreu 2005, 23. argues that these concerns are framed by the moralizing ap-
Womens place continues to be an important line of inqui- proaches of the ancient authors. More theorized gendered
ry for feminist Roman archaeology (e.g., Baker 2003; Revell approaches are found in Greek social history and archaeology
2010; see also Spencer-Wood 2006, 301). (e.g., Foxhall and Salmon 1998) and in the better-documented
Daz-Andreu 2005, 379, 42. Late Roman and Early Christian periods (e.g., Cooper 2007;
See Allason-Jones (2011, xiv) on the core of artifact Osiek 2008) rather than the Republican and Imperial peri-
types across the Roman world. ods. E.g., Foxhall and Nehers (2013) only chapter on the
Eckardt 2010, 7. Roman world is on the later Christian empire (i.e., Cooper
These two strands and their different approaches have 2013). Also, historical studies on the complexity of gendered
not always been evident to scholars outside Roman archaeol- sexuality in Rome have had little impact on Roman archaeol-
ogy, however (see, e.g., Spencer-Wood 2006; Tomkov 2006, ogy (see, e.g., Hallett and Skinner 1997; Parker 1997; Mont-
22). serrat 2000; Wyke 2002; Skinner 2005).
Baker 2003. 14
E.g., Brown 1993; Davies 1997; Harlow 2004; see also
See, e.g., studies such as Skinner 1987; Rabinowitz 1993; Montserrat 2000, 16675. For real women, see, e.g., Kampen
Archer et al. 1994; Ward 1996; Wyke 1998. 1981, 1982; Kleiner and Matheson 1996, 2000; Hemelrijk
For public roles, see, e.g., Abbott 1909, 4199; Gardner 2004, 2008, 2012; Alexandridis 2010; Heyn 2010; Wood 2010.
1986, 23355; Setl et al. 2002; Dixon 2007; Gregorio Navarro For mythological women, see, e.g., Berg 2010; Carucci 2010.
2013. For families and households, see, e.g., Saller 1984; Raw- Interestingly, my paper on a database of Pompeian house con-
son 1986, 1991, 2011; Dixon 1988, 1992; Dettenhofer 1996; tents read at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the Archaeological
Rawson and Weaver 1997; Milnor 2005; Treggiari 2005; see Institute of America (San Francisco, 1990) was included in a
also Hemelrijk 1999; Barrett 2002. Hemelrijk (2012, 479) section called Roman Art in Context (Allison 1991).

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to feminist classical literature have been notably lim- is often analogical. As Spencer-Wood argued, much
ited compared with those of the Greek world.15 Indeed, scholarship in Roman archaeology, both classical and
many Roman social historians have been reticent to ac- provincial, can also be considered ungendered in its
knowledge the role that material culture more broadly assumptions about the normative behavior represent-
can play in gendered approaches, arguing that for the ed by such sources.23 A good example to demonstrate
classical world gender issues are not always apparent in how artifacts from other parts and periods of the Ro-
the physical record16 because ancient women . . . left man world can indeed be used to document alterna-
behind so few traces of themselves.17 Such reticence tive gendering is Cools analysis of male-sexed skeletal
is based on entrenched assumptions of the implicit remains wearing jet jewelry from the third-century
masculinity of Roman material remains. C.E. Roman-British town of Catterick.24 Cool identi-
In contrast, the discipline of Roman archaeology in fied one of the skeletons as that of a priest of Cybele.
peripheral regions of the empire has engaged differ- While jet jewelry was considered a female attribute
ently with feminist and gender approaches to material and male jewelry wearing was frowned upon in impe-
culture. Here it is more closely allied with the wider rial Roman society, men in the provinces, particularly
discipline of archaeology than with classical studies in Iberia, Africa, and the eastern provinces, did wear
or art history.18 Feminist and gender archaeology in jewelry, and male dress became more elaborate in the
the northwest provinces in particular is aligned more later empire.25 The ready availability of jet in north-
strongly with Anglo-American and Scandinavian pre- ern Britain may also have contributed to its different
history.19 A continued focus on women and remedial gender significance in this context. This example un-
and corrective concerns in the broader archaeologi- derscores the pitfalls involved in assuming direct and
cal discipline has influenced provincial Roman ar- unproblematic correspondence between artifacts,
chaeology.20 Gendered practices in Roman provincial gender, and status identities, and between burial and
archaeology have mainly been investigated in funer- lived practices across the Roman world.26
ary contexts, particularly where actual human bodies While feminist and gender studies in Roman classi-
can be osteologically sexed and have associated burial cal archaeology in the 1990s focused on elite women
furnishings that can throw light on gendered artifacts, and were separated from the more material-cultural
identities, and practices.21 A problem for such investi- approaches in provincial Roman archaeology, this situ-
gations in prehistory is that they often employ double ation is changing.27 For example, there has been an
standards and draw on cultural biases. Roman archae- increasing interest in figurative representations, no-
ologys recourse to documentary sources means that tably on grave monuments, of differing social groups
such double standards can to some extent be mini- and of family relationships in peripheral regions of
mized.22 However, the use of many written sources the Roman world. Such studies have concerned the
which tend to present elite male voices from the Ro- social conditions revealed through these depictions,
man centerin the less well-documented provinces their expressions of gendered identities and practices,

See, e.g., Rabinowitz and Richlin 1993; Cornell and Lo- 2007 [for bibliography]).
mas 1997; Feichtinger and Whrle 2002; Skinner 2005; cf. 21
Stig Srensen 2006, 28. For archaeology generally, see,
Birk 2010. For Greek archaeological contributions, see, e.g., e.g., Johnsson et al. 2000; Rautman and Talalay 2000. For Ro-
Kehrberg 1982; Hitchcock 1997; Koloski-Ostrow and Lyons man archaeology, see, e.g., Cool and Baxter 2005; Cool 2010,
1997; Osborne 1998; Stafford 1998. It is therefore unsurpris- esp. 2936.
ing that Spencer-Woods survey (2006, 296, 31516, 31819) 22
Daz-Andreu 2005, 379; see also Hadley 2004; Pohl 2004.
of third-wave feminist studies in classical archaeology focused 23
Spencer-Wood 2006, 29799.
on art historical studies of Greek art. 24
Cool 2002, esp. 2930.
Wallace-Hadrill 1996, 112. 25
For jet as a female attribute, see Plin., HN 36.14142. For
Milnor 2005, viii. discussions on male adornment, see Allason-Jones 1995, 25
Trigger 2006, 216; see also Baker 2003, 140. 6; 2012, 473; Matthews 2000, 13; Harlow 2004.
For discussion, see Daz-Andreu and Stig Srensen 1997; 26
Pearce 2010, esp. 845; see also Cool 2011, 299312.
Daz-Andreu 2005, 17. For further discussion, see Allason-Jones 1995, 2009, 2012,
Daz-Andreu 2005; see also Stig Srensen 2000; Hamilton 47173.
et al. 2007; Nelson 2007. For Roman archaeology, see Revell 27
Whitehouse (1998) did not include any Roman studies
2010. Spencer-Wood (2011, 3) contrasted feminist prehistory because, she argued, few of the works from the 1990s are ex-
with feminist historical archaeology to argue for a dichoto- plicitly archaeological studies (1). There were no contribu-
mous relationship with a male prehistory and a female histori- tions from the classical world in Bacus et al. (1993), let alone
cal archaeology. This representation excludes archaeologies from Roman archaeology; see also Zarmati 1994. The only
of the Greek and Roman world that have long been more plu- chapters on the Roman world in Moore and Scott (1997) con-
ralist, if essentially less feminist or gendered (see, e.g., Cohen cern analyses of documentary sources (e.g., Harlow 1997).
and Sharp Joukowsky 2004; see also Claassen 2006; Dixon

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and their symbolic significance.28 However, much of gendered approaches to roman artifacts
this research might still be considered empirical and and lived spaces
ungendered given that it regards funerary reliefs as Hunters comment that artifact research has en-
akin to photography and subsumes women in terms dured a complicated relationship with the broader
of the familia.29 field of Roman studies applies particularly to feminist
Studies of nonliterary written evidence have played and gendered approaches to Roman artifacts.36 Many
a more significant role in bridging the disciplinary Roman archaeologists have ostensibly circumvented
boundaries between Roman social history and archae- the concerns of feminist and gender archaeologies
ology and the two strands of Roman archaeology, and by investigating other types of identities, particularly
also in broadening feminist and gender approaches to ethnicity and status, and concepts of acculturation and
encompass the wider roles of women from different so- imperialism.37 As noted above, a major concern for
cial groups across Roman society.30 The written voices gender archaeology has been the assumed maleness of
represented in many inscriptions, however, are often many Roman archaeological remains. This assumption
still official voices idealizing social relations.31 Other stems in part from a somewhat circular approach to
types of nonliterary written evidencegraffiti, military the producers of mainly architectural or structural re-
diplomas, curse tablets, and the wooden tablets from mains rather than a consideration for the users of these
Vindolanda and Vindonissagive greater insights spaces and for other types of material culture as keys
into other voices, especially of lower-status women.32 to understanding social practices in these contexts.38
In summary, while approaches to gender across Ro- As also outlined above, the main material sources
man archaeology are converging, they are still reliant used by feminist archaeologists to develop insights into
on the sexed bodies as represented in the sources. the hidden voices across the Roman world are repre-
These sources, with the exception of some nonliter- sentational, epigraphical, and funerary. This evidence
ary texts, concern mainly the symbolic gendering of for sexed bodies and for associated material culture
identity and practice. To date, few studies of gender has rarely been used, in any systematic manner, to
in Roman archaeology have attempted to investigate facilitate investigation of gendered practices within
contexts of actual practice that lack such sexed bodies. lived space. However, such evidence can be interro-
Despite Browns comment two decades ago on the im- gated for a more critically gendered characterization
portance of linking [a]rtifacts such as loomweights and of Roman artifacts and of artifact assemblages. These
particular kinds of toiletries, clothing, jewelry, vases . . . characterizations, in turn, can assist in more gendered
to patterns of female behavior,33 and despite general approaches to how people throughout the Roman
acknowledgement that artifacts associated with sexed world played out their lives.
bodies inform gendered identities, material-cultural Past studies that have explored the gender associa-
approaches to actual gendered practice are still largely tions of artifacts in the sexed context discussed above
missing from Roman classical archaeology.34 Spencer- have focused on artifacts associated with dress.39 Buri-
Wood argued that the few studies that have taken criti- als that lack osteological analyses to sex the skeletal
cally gendered approaches to artifacts in lived contexts remains have been gendered according to dress items
(e.g., in household archaeology) have been ungen- within the grave assemblages.40 Bhme-Schnbergers
dered and nonfeminist readings of this material.35 and Martin-Kilchers examinations of grave assemblages

E.g., Boatwright 2005; George 2005; Carroll 2013a, 35
Spencer-Wood 2006, 298, 312. However, she misrepre-
2013b, (forthcoming). The earlier studies by Kampen (1981, sents how material and textual evidence informs understand-
1982) are exceptions. ings of Roman household space; cf. Allison 2007.
Swift 2011, 202. For discussion, see Spencer-Wood 2006, 36
Hunter 2012, 431. E.g., only two chapters in Allason-
300, 312. Jones (2011) work on artifacts in Roman Britain discuss arti-
See esp. Allason-Jones 1989, 1999; Revell 2010; DAmbra facts and gendered identifications: Swift (2011) on personal
2012; see also Treggiari 1976; Bagnall and Frier 1994; Bagnall ornament and Cool (2011) on funerary contexts.
2006. 37
E.g., Mattingly 2004; Eckardt 2010; Hales and Hodos
See, e.g., Shumka 2008, 183. 2010. For discussion and critique, see van Driel-Murray 2003,
Speidel 1996; see also Allason-Jones 2012, 47172. 2008; Gardner 2007, 32; Pitts 2007, esp. 693, 69697, 709; Mat-
Brown 1993, 258. tingly 2010, 94123; Hemelrijk 2012, 485. Pitts (2007, 708) ad-
For gendered artifacts associated with sexed bodies, see mits his article concerns status and not gender.
Cool 2011. For more material approaches in Roman classi- 38
For discussion, see Allison 2001; van Driel-Murray 2008,
cal archaeology, see Berg (2010) on artifacts associated with 82; Allason-Jones 2012, 473.
Venus in Pompeian wall paintings as representations of the 39
E.g., Swift 2011, 203.
mundus muliebris (a coherent group of womens toilet items) 40
See, e.g., Effros 2004. For discussion, see, e.g., Gardner
and as female attributes of virtue and femininity. 2007, 230.

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in Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy have used cultural approaches than do many other branches
brooches, jewelry, and other supposed gendered attri- of classical studies and much of Roman archaeology.
butes to sex the burials.41 Such studies might be con- Studies of Roman military life can draw on a wide
sidered empirical and ungendered readings of these range of textual, epigraphical, and representational
material remains.42 However, as is discussed below, sources that potentially provide the rules of social
their combined results demonstrate consistent pat- practice. These sources indeed provide evidence for
terns of gender associations that constitute a useful social diversity in this sphere, but they are not generally
body of data for understanding gendered practices concerned with the mundane and routine activities of
within these burial contexts and also across these re- the various nonmilitary members of these communi-
gions; they can inform the interpretation of gendered ties, including women and children.49 Such activities
practices in lived contexts in these regions or in other are documented by the artifacts left at these and other
parts of the Roman world. types of lived sites.50
Dress-related artifacts have indeed been used to I argue that interpretative links can be found be-
identify gendered practices in some lived contexts tween artifacts and gender in contexts with sexed bod-
that lack sexed bodies. Van Driel-Murray used the ies and that such artifact types can be systematically
size ranges of leather shoes found in Early Imperial analyzed, characterized, and used critically as tools for
military bases to argue for the presence of women investigating gendered identities and practices within
and children inside soldiers barracks.43 Her studies archaeological contexts that lack such bodies.51
have instigated a call for a radical revision of our per-
spectives on Roman military bases as lived space and gendered characterizations of artifact
have set an agenda for more critical and systematic types and gendered space
approaches to Roman artifacts and gendered iden- While van Driel-Murray called for more holistic ap-
tities and practices in such lived contexts.44 In these proaches to artifacts as gender attributes for investi-
military contexts, in particular, too much emphasis gating social identity, a cautious approach is needed
has been placed on documentary sources and struc- to mitigate the risk of stereotyping gender identities
tural remains as keys to understanding social identity and practices across the Roman world.52 The following
and practice at the expense of artifactual evidence.45 discussion demonstrates how more systematic and in-
Because women and families are largely missing from tegrated approaches to all types of evidence, especially
written evidence on the Roman military life, such sites from contexts with sexed bodies, can be used to ascribe
have been considered hypermasculine, and noncom- levels of gender characterization to certain Roman ar-
batant personnel are largely assumed to have been tifact types, such that they and their assemblages can
absent from inside the fort walls.46 However, detailed provide insights into gendered sociospatial practices in
and systematic analyses of artifacts from such military lived contexts that lack bodies. The examples chosen
sites show that this was not the case.47 are specific artifact types whose gender characteriza-
Military studies may have been the slowest among tions are by no means precise and assured, and they
Roman studies to confront their historical patriarchal concern both gendered identities and practices, be-
ideolog[ies], and Stig Srensens criticism of archae- ing and doing gender.53 That is, one item of dress,
ology more broadly for its intellectual baggage applies one associated with personal hygiene, and one associ-
to the approach of Roman military studies to material ated with cloth-working activities are used to demon-
remains.48 Investigations of these military sites, as as- strate how interrogative approaches to various types
sumed masculine spaces, have the potential to lead of evidence can ascribe gendered characterizations to
the field in more material-cultural approaches to artifact types. The examples chosen are all potentially
gendered sociospatial practice in Roman archaeology. associated with women and are found inside Early
Gendered perspectives of military sites, as contexts that Imperial military bases. They demonstrate a range of
essentially lack actual bodies, require more material- levels of gender association, from the more probable

E.g., Bhme-Schnberger 1985, 1995; Martin-Kilcher 47
Allison et al. 2005; Allison 2006b, 2006c, 2008a, 2012, 2103.
1993, 2000. 48
Stig Srensen 2000, 75; Spencer-Wood 2006, 321.
Spencer-Wood 2006, 295; 2011, 34. 49
Phang 2001; 2011, 13133.
van Driel-Murray 1994, 1995, 1997. 50
Gardner 2007, 200.
See, e.g., James 2006, 34; Gardner 2007, 230. 51
Stig Srensen 2006, 2831.
For discussion of similar approaches to domestic space, 52
van Driel-Murray 1997, 55. For discussions on stereo-
see Allison 2001. typing, see Diaz-Andreu 2005, 17, 27; Gardner 2007, esp. 80,
On the ideology of hypermasculinity, see Spencer- 84, 202, 204, 22931.
Wood 2006, 320. 53
Moore 1999; see also Allison 2006b, 57.

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female dress items to artifacts that document activi- of high-bowed brooches at the shoulders, a flatter one
ties that tend to be associated with women but by no fastening undergarments, and possibly further decora-
means are exclusively so. tive brooches as jewelry.61 A frequently cited example
is the grave monument of Blussus and his wife, Meni-
Artifacts Probably Associated with Womens Dress: Thistle- mane, from Mainz-Weisenau. Dated to the Tiberian-
Shaped Brooches (Distelfibeln) Claudian period, the sculpture represents Menimane
While there are distinctive and well-known gender- wearing at least three brooches in this manner.62
and status-related attributes of traditional Roman Burial assemblages have played a large part in many
dress, many scholars have cautioned against the gen- gender characterizations of these brooches, although
der stereotyping of various dress-related artifacts. In these assemblages are often from burials lacking sexed
the western provinces, especially in contexts dating to skeletal remains because they were dug without appro-
the Early Empire, the most common dress items found priate analyses of the skeletal evidence. Nevertheless,
archaeologically are metal brooches. The presence of studies of these numerous and rich grave assemblages
specific brooch types in military contexts has tradition- conducted over more than 50 years have argued that
ally been used to argue that these were types worn by distinctive assemblages can be used to identify male
Roman soldiers.54 However, such an argument gives and female burials. For example, assemblages from
precedence to preconceived assumptions about who the pre-Roman Rhine region and from northern Italy
occupied these military bases over specific evidence demonstrate that women wore brooches in greater
for how different types of brooches would have been numbers than did men and that this pattern continued
worn by different status and gender groups.55 into the Roman period.63 In Schankweiler, near Trier,
Brooches were part of both male and female dress more than half of the 20 or so graves of the late Au-
in much of pre-Roman Europe and were adopted and gustan to the early Flavian period identified as female
adapted during the Roman period.56 Our understand- had two or three brooches, and four graves had three
ings of the different ways in which various brooch to six brooches.64 While different brooch types do not
forms were worn play an important role in ascribing seem sex-specific within the indigenous milieu, these
their gender associations. For example, high-bowed burial assemblages indicate that, by the Augustan pe-
brooches were used to fasten coarse and thick mate- riod, a distinction had developed such that some types
rial such as overgarments and so were likely to have of brooches and ways of wearing them were indicative
been worn by both men and women.57 Flatter brooches of status and sex.65 These distinctions have been used
were for thinner fabrics, such as in womens under- to demonstrate gender, age, and regional identity for
garments. Roman soldiers also wore certain brooches later periods in Gaul, in the Danube region, and in
as insignia, and women wore them as jewelry.58 While Roman Britain.66
these observations provide general rules, assigning Of significance here is the combination of available
brooch types exclusively to women or men, or to sol- representational and funerary evidence that can be
diers or civilians, is problematic.59 interrogated to establish differently gendered dress
Current understandings of how specific brooch that, in broad terms, ranges across regions and peri-
types would have been worn, by whom, and in what ods but arose during Roman occupation. My concern
context have been developed through a combination is how such sex-specific associations can be used to
of detailed typological analyses of brooch forms and characterize specific brooch types according to gen-
how they functioned; analyses of burial assemblages; der so that this characterization can in turn be used to
and analyses of brooches in figural representations.60 identify gendered behavior and, more specifically, the
For example, depictions of women on grave monu- gendered use of space. A useful example, which also
ments indicate that, at least in the German provinces, illustrates changing attitudes to brooches as gender
womens dress required three or more brooches: a pair attributes in both antiquity and modern scholarship,

E.g., Swift 2011, 213. 62
Ludwig 1988, 198; Bhme-Schnberger 1995. For fur-
Swift 2011, 212. ther references, see Allison 2013, 717.
Bhme-Schnberger 1995. 63
Bhme-Schnberger 2002, 217; 2008, 142; Martin-
Gechter 1979, 77. Kilcher 2003, 281.
Bhme-Schnberger 1995, 4. 64
Ludwig 1988, 197.
Allason-Jones 1995, 235. 65
Martin-Kilcher 1993; 1998, esp. 22427; Bhme-Schn-
E.g., Bhme 1972; Ettlinger 1973; Riha 1979, 1994; see berger 2002, 217; 2008, 143.
also Bhme-Schnberger 2008, esp. 141 n. 8; Carroll 2013b. 66
Gaul and Danube: Effros 2004. Roman Britain: Eckardt
Martin-Kilcher 1993; see also Riha 1979, 41. 2005, 141.

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is the so-called Distelfibel, or thistle-shaped brooch.67

This brooch type (fig. 1), its use, and the contexts in
which it has been found have been extensively stud-
ied by Bhme-Schnberger.68 She describes the type
as a massive, heavy brooch with a ribbed semicircular
bow that had a large shield decorated with curved and
incised pressed sheet metal. She noted that until the
late 1970s these brooches were thought to have been
worn by Roman soldiers because they were found in-
side military forts.69 However, Gechter observed that
Distelfibeln represented less than 5% of brooches found
inside military fortifications, while in oppida (i.e., local
settlements) double that percentage was found.70 He
argued that this distribution suggests this was a civil-
ian, and quite possibly a distinctively female, fastener.
This brooch type has also been recorded in numer-
ous pre-Roman graves. On the basis of their assem-
blages, Bhme-Schnberger identified examples of
a single Distelfibel in each of only two pre-Roman Late
La Tne male graves. She identified two or three
examples in each of a further four male graves in fig. 1. Distelfibel from Badenheim, length 44 mm (drawing
free Germany dated to the Early Imperial period but by D. Miles-Williams; after Bhme-Schnberger 2008, fig.
seemingly outside the Roman milieu.71 She analyzed 1, no. 6).
reports on Early Imperial burials in France, Germany,
Switzerland, Britain, and Denmark and noted that most
Distelfibeln occurred in burials with female assemblag- study, an assumption of a dichotomous male military
es.72 For example, a pair of Distelfibeln was recorded in space and female civilian space.77 Nevertheless, the
Roman-period Grave 76 in Schankweiler, which Lud- combined weight of all these studiesinvolving close
wig identified as a womens grave.73 Martin-Kilcher study of the actual artifacts as well as synthetic analyses
also frequently recorded Distelfibeln in association of quantity and distribution and covering half a cen-
with womens assemblages in Early Imperial burials tury of data collection and analysispresents a strong
in the Alpine region.74 Bhme-Schnberger identi- argument that this particular brooch type can indeed
fied as Distelfibeln the brooches on the overgarments be gendered predominantly female in most Roman-
of two women depicted on Tiberian-Claudian grave period contexts within the northwest provinces.78 Con-
monuments at Ingelheim am Rhein and the pair Me- sistency can be found in rich Roman-period burial
nimane wore at her shoulders in the representation assemblages such that, even without sexed skeletal
on her grave monument.75 She therefore argued that evidence, it is possible to suggest gender attribution
Distelfibeln may not have been gender differentiated in that is supported by figurative representation.
their indigenous milieu but that they became typical While there are exceptions, there is therefore strong
womens brooches in the Augustan period.76 She ar- evidence for Distelfibeln as female attributes. This is not
gued that inside the western provinces Distelfibeln were to say that this brooch type is a definite female attribute
predominantly part of womens dress but continued but rather that female is the most prominent gender
to be worn by men from free Germany. association for these brooches. Their presence in lived
The gendered characterization of these thistle- spaces can therefore be used to explore gendered socio-
shaped brooches is based on grave assemblages, rep- spatial practices. While Gechters quantitative study
resentational evidence, and, in the case of Gechters showed lower percentages of these brooches in military

Almgren 1897, no. 240; see also Bhme-Schnberger 73
Ludwig 1988, 197200.
1998, pl. 11. 74
Martin-Kilcher 1993, esp. figs. 5, 79.
E.g., Bhme-Schnberger 1995, 2002, 2008. 75
Bhme-Schnberger 1995, 45, 9.
Bhme-Schnberger 2008, 140, 143. 76
Bhme-Schnberger 2002; 2008, 14243.
Gechter 1979, 77. 77
Supra n. 70.
Bhme-Schnberger 2008, 145. 78
Allason-Jones (2012, 474) also advocates close artifact
For references, see Bhme-Schnberger 2008, esp. study; see also Becker 2006.

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contexts than in settlement sites, it is significant that adorned female body.84 While toilet items appear to
they are not excluded from the former. Provided the be inappropriate symbolic attributes for Roman men,
taphonomic conditions permit, their presence, associa- this does not mean that men did not use them. For ex-
tions, and distribution within such contexts can high- ample, while mirrors and combs were named as part of
light, for example, female participation in particular a womans toilet set and were used to symbolize femi-
activities within military bases. Any associated artifacts ninity in Roman art, men no doubt used these items.85
attributable to womens dress and activities may serve Allason-Jones argued that a nail cleaner and tweezers
to confirm this and negate an association here with found in the lived space of the turrets on Hadrians
men from free Germany.79 So a Distelfibel reported from Wall would have been used by soldiers stationed there.
the east gateway of the first-century legionary fortress 86
While her argument, like Gechters, was based on
Vetera I in the lower Rhine region, and the association assumptions about who used the space, it warns of the
of this brooch with other potentially female-related problems of associating all personal hygiene items with
itemsan Almgren 16 brooch, an unguentarium, two female activities.87 That is, the symbolic association of
hairpins, and a bone disk that was probably either a toilet activities with female beauty does not necessar-
bead or a spindlewhorlcan be used as evidence for ily represent actual practice.88
the association of women with the street life of this Indeed, many toilet items found in excavations,
fortress.80 such as spatulas, probes, and tweezers, could equally
This brooch type may also have been an age and have been medical implements and so cannot be eas-
status attribute.81 Menimane was the wife of a wealthy ily gendered.89 Furthermore, the use of the term me-
provincial shipowner who could afford a large Roman- dicamentum for both cosmetics and medicaments
style grave monument.82 Many Distelfibeln were found points to a lack of differentiation in the Roman world
in rich burials, suggesting that this brooch type was a between these substances and, by extension, to a lack
symbol of high status. This characterization might be of distinction between medical and cosmetic activi-
used to argue that at least one of the women associ- ties.90 This also applies to equipment associated with
ated with street life inside the Vetera I fortress was not these activities.
necessarily a tradesperson or prostitute but may have There is, however, one type of artifact that seems
been a high-status local woman. Thus, this brooch and more specifically associated with womens toilet activi-
its associated assemblage in this lived context are po- ties, and therefore its presence in lived spaces in ex-
tentially useful for investigating interactions between cavated Roman sites is potentially significant in terms
local people and the Roman military. of gendered practice. This is the small ceramic and
glass bottle (fig. 2), which is widely considered to have
Artifacts Possibly Associated with Womens Toilet been used as a container for cosmetics and perfumed
Activities: Perfume Bottles oils. Long, narrow bottles (see fig. 2ad), frequently
Perceptions of female beauty in the Roman world, called unguentaria or balsamaria (both terms in-
derived from written sources and artistic representa- vented by archaeologists), are found across the Roman
tions, indicate that artifacts associated with personal world.91 Squatter and rounder bottles (see fig. 2e),
hygiene, health, and beauty often served as female at- often referred to as aryballoi by modern scholars, are
tributes, especially of elite women.83 Care of the body frequently found associated with bathhouses and are
and bodily adornment were seen to soften Roman used by scholars to reconstruct toilet sets.92 Examples
citizens, and toilet activities served to display the of these types of bottles, particularly long, narrow ones,

Bhme-Schnberger 2008, 145. 87
Allason-Jones 1995, 278.
For the Almgren 16 brooch, see Hanel 1995, cat. no. B50. 88
For discussion, see Eckardt and Crummy 2008, 2541.
For Almgren brooch types, see Almgren 1897; see also Bhme 89
Jackson 1988, esp. 5685; Baker 2004, 413; Allison
1972; Bhme-Schnberger 1998. For discussion on context, 2006a, 38384; 2009, 257.
see Allison 2013, esp. 147. 90
Stewart 2007, 12.
E.g., Swift (2011, 207) argued that younger women wore 91
de Tommaso 1990, esp. 19 n. 1, 212; Price 2005, 179
more jewelry than older women. 80; Eckardt and Crummy 2008, 37. For unguentaria, see, e.g.,
Bhme-Schnberger 1995, 2. Isings 1957, 24; Kunina 1997 (glossary); Fleming 1999, 4, pls.
See, e.g., Swift 2011, 2068. 2, 3. For balsamaria, see, e.g., Martin-Kilcher 1998; Fecher
Wyke 1994, 143. See also Berg (2010) on womens toilet 2010, 9.
in Pompeian wall painting. 92
For aryballoi, see, e.g., Zanier 1992, cat. no. F43; see also
Varro, Ling. 5.129; see also Wyke 1994, 138; Shumka Allison 2006a, 18. On their association with baths, see Cool
2008, esp. 117; Berg 2010, 29091. 2004, 366. For a reconstructed toilet set, see Jackson 2011, pl.
Allason-Jones 1988. 49.

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fig. 2. Small glass bottles: a, from House I.10.1, Pompeii (after Allison 2006a, cat. no. 27); b, from House I.10.23, Pompeii
(after Allison 2006a, cat. no. 121); c, from the Casa del Fabbro, Pompeii (after Allison 2006a, cat. no. 1046); d, from the Casa
del Menandro, Pompeii (after Allison 2006a, cat. no. 728); e, from Ellingen (after Zanier 1992, cat. no. F43) (drawing by
D. Miles-Williams).

are represented in Roman art as parts of cosmetic sets statues of deities.96 Berg noted that perfume bottles
but are also found in association with medical equip- are rarely depicted among the vessels considered sym-
ment, concurring with the lack of distinction between bolic of womens toilet in Pompeian paintings but that
cosmetics and medical remedies.93 the vessels associated with womens bathing in these
Because of their presumed use as perfume and paintings are predominantly Greek types.97 This is no
cosmetic bottles, however, these small glass bottles doubt because these paintings are usually copies of
are considered to have been predominantly used by Greek originals, representing subjects of Greek my-
women in their toilet.94 Perfume and perfume bottles thology and probably Greek practice. Indeed, likely
are listed in the Digesta as part of the mundus muliebris.95 perfume bottles are represented in what appear to be
Again, though, an exclusive association of perfumed mundi muliebri on two second-century womens grave
oils, and therefore perfume bottles, with women is not markers from Italy and in a first-century votive relief
substantiated. Despite attention to male grooming be- from Boeotia.98
ing considered a vice in Roman society, in Rome elite The picture of these bottles and their contents as
men used perfumed oils after the bath, and perfumed symbolically female attributes is further enhanced by
oils could be used for anointing military regalia and burial evidence, although again not as an exclusive

For references to artistic representation, see Allison 94
See, e.g., Stig Srensen 2000, 141.
2006a, 23; 2007, 346; 2013, 1001. For association with med- 95
Dig. 34.2.25.
ical equipment, see Knzl 1983, 889, fig. 66; 934, fig. 74; 96
For references, see Eckardt and Crummy 2008, 267.
Jackson 1986, 15758; 1988, esp. 74; Price 2005, 180. Many 97
Berg 2010, 297.
of the bottles associated with medical equipment tend to be 98
Eckardt and Crummy 2008, fig. 5; Shumka 2008, 17880,
relatively large. figs. 8.14.

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association. Martin-Kilcher studied more than 350 greater propensity, at least in Early Imperial burials in
artifacts in the grave assemblages from the Late Re- southern Germany and northern Italy, for these small
publican and Early Imperial cemeteries in the region bottles and their contents to be more female than male
of Lake Maggiore, Locarno.99 Analyses of these graves attributes. Further evidence that these types of bottles
lacked sexing of the skeletal remains. However, on the were associated with female grave goods and female
basis of repeated combinations of what she argued burials in this and other parts of the Roman world has
were gender-specific artifacts in these assemblages also been noted, and Swift observed their association
(e.g., she considered spindlewhorls, gold and silver jew- with the burials of wealthy women in Roman Britain.105
elry, brooch types, and mirrors to be female attributes, Cool reported unguent bottles or bath bottles (ary-
and weapons, esp. swords and lances, to be male attri- balloi) from the third-century graves at Brougham; the
butes), Martin-Kilcher identified some 68 female and former were used as grave goods, and the latter were
some 75 male burials.100 None of the earliest burials at associated with the cremation process.106 This shows
OrnavassoSan Bernardo (dating to the second cen- the widespread and continued use of these bottles and
tury B.C.E.) obviously included blown-glass so-called their association with burial practices, but unfortu-
balsamaria, or indeed ceramic so-called unguentaria, nately there is insufficient information on the sexing
but these types of bottles (in ceramic or glass) did of the Brougham burials.
occur in 28 of the 48 burials at this site identified as Thus, the combined literary, representational, and
female, and in 12 out of the 40 male burials.101 Thus, burial evidence, including burials with and without
there is a strong pattern differentiation between the sexed bodies, presents a strong case that the small
two types of assemblages; the small bottles tend to be bottles found in archaeological contexts could be
female attributes, although they are not exclusively used for cosmetics and perfumes and that long, nar-
so. Glass balsamaria are viewed as a Mediterranean row unguentaria or balsamaria in particular have some
element introduced into this Alpine region, Raetia, female associations, at least in Italy and southern Ger-
and the German provinces during the Early Empire, many during the Early Empire. While this gender at-
and predominantly in female graves.102 These bottles tribution is by no means certain for all occurrences of
are therefore also associated with changing socio- these bottles across the Roman world, the combined
cultural and grooming practices in this region during evidence makes their characterization as predomi-
the Early Empire. nantly female a good basis from which to interrogate
Fecher studied the graves from the Flur Kapelle- gendered practices in other contexts that lack bodies
nsch cemetery at Rottweil, in southern Germany, but include such bottles. For example, three small,
which date between ca. 70 and 200 C.E.103 Analyses of narrow bottles were found with two spindles, a bone
these graves did include sexing of skeletal remains. (cosmetic?) spoon, and a small pot in Room 2 in the
Twenty-five of the graves each had up to eight ce- Casa del Fabbro in Pompeii.107 The association of the
ramic and glass bottles, most of which were primary bottles with these other artifacts implies the use of
grave goods. Only one bottle occurred in a grave with this room for womens activities of cloth working and
definite male skeletal remains: Grave 694. The other personal hygiene, or at least for the storage of such
approximately 3645 bottles were all in graves likely material. This assemblage therefore potentially iden-
to have had womens burials (10 graves); in graves tifies this room as a womens space and marks it out
with juveniles (six graves); or in graves of adults of in- from the more prolific evidence for industrial, and
determinate sex (eight graves).104 The sexing of the more masculine, activities at the rear of this house.108
skeletal remains from the Rottweil graves renders the Another Pompeian example concerns Shop I.10.23,
gender associations of these bottles more convincing which was probably a shop for dispensing food.109 Four
than the gender ascriptions made in Martin-Kilchers small glass bottles, a larger one, and a small flask (pos-
study. Together, though, these two studies indicate a sibly an aryballos) were found together in one corner

Martin-Kilcher 1998. 105
E.g., at Wederath-Belginum, a bottle found in a possible
Martin-Kilcher 1998, figs. 6, 9. young girls burial apparently contained a cosmetic substance
Martin-Kilcher 1998, 216. On the chronology of Roman (Eckardt and Crummy 2008, 27). For this association in Ro-
blown glass, see Stern 1999. On the chronology and function man Britain, see Swift 2011, 208.
of ceramic unguentaria, see Anderson-Stojanovi 1987. 106
Cool 2004, 36566, 370.
Martin-Kilcher 1998, 211; see also Fasold and Witteyer 107
Allison 2006a, cat. nos. 104349; 2008b, cat. nos.
2001, 302; Schrger 2001. 104349.
Fecher 2010. 108
Allison 2006a, 34245.
Allison 2013, table 5.3. 109
Allison 2006a, 297.

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of a room behind the shop, and further small bottles adoption and spread. The examples presented here
were recorded in associated disturbed deposits.110 A are admittedly limited but constitute useful data for
graffito on the shop wall has been used to identify the investigating further comparable examples.
owner as Coponia, who had a maid called Iris.111
This is a rather unusual instance of epigraphical evi- Artifacts Associated with Less Gender-Specific Cloth
dence for sexed bodies in a lived context. Laurence Working: Needles and Needlework
counted this shop among the so-called popinae in Numerous bone and metal needles have been re-
Pompeii and suggested that prostitution was likely to corded on Roman sites (fig. 3); many were likely to
have taken place there.112 As discussed above, such have been used in cloth production and maintenance,
bottles could be used for cosmetics and medicines. although arguably not all.116 For example, some of the
It is interesting to contemplate whether their relative larger standard iron needles with stout stems, found
abundance here indicates that beauty and health care, in archaeological contexts and ranging from approxi-
perhaps in association with sex, were dispensed from mately 110 to 200 mm in length, could have been used
this shop as well as food. as packing needles.117 Large standard metal needles
Substantial remains of at least seven glass bottles (lgth. ca. 150 mm) could have been used in surgery,
were found within the second-century auxiliary fort and cruder bone needles may have been used for net-
at Ellingen, near Weienberg.113 These were among ting or weaving (see fig. 3a).118 Needles may also have
some 65 artifacts recorded inside this fort that were been used for hair arranging and thus could have been
potentially associated with women, along with the skel- part of the mundus muliebris.119 Thus, smaller standard
etal remains of at least five, and up to 11, neonates.114 needles from archaeological contextswhich occur
The bottles were mainly found in the same parts of this in both bone and metal and range in length from ap-
fort as other remains associated with women, includ- proximately 50 to 135 mmare likely to have been
ing in the soldiers barracks.115 They can therefore be for sewing but could also have been used for medical
used to support the argument for womens presence activities.120 While there is considerable written, rep-
in these residences. resentational, and burial evidence that cloth working
Thus, these types of bottles and their spatial dis- was predominantly a female task in the Roman world,
tribution and associations with lived contexts can be this applies most particularly to spinning rather than to
used to interrogate, or to substantiate, the gender at- sewing and needlework.121 In the written sources, the
tributions of other artifacts in such assemblages. They only potential reference identifying sewers as female
can also be used to investigate how womens activities is the use of the word vesticiae, presumably meaning
were integrated into domestic, commercial, and mili- clothes makers.122 Certainly, in imperial households
tary spaces and may change our perspectives on gen- during the Early Empire, male vestifici and sarcinatores
dered sociospatial practices in the Roman world. When (clothes menders) were recorded.123
these bottles occur in military contexts, particularly in Needles are difficult to depict on sculptural rep-
the barracks of auxiliary soldiers, as at Ellingen, they resentation and were infrequent burial goods.124 No
are undoubtedly associated with Roman concepts of needles were reported in the burial assemblages stud-
beauty, personal hygiene, and health, in contexts that ied by Martin-Kilcher. The only Rottweil grave (Grave
were probably the domiciles of indigenous soldiers 162) that contained a needle (lgth. 51 mm) was likely
and their families. These bottles therefore provide to have been the burial of an adult female.125 Cool re-
insights into the spread of such practices among the corded two iron needles in the third-century cemetery
provinces and possibly the place of local women in this at Brougham, one from the funeral pyre of a young

Allison 2006a, cat. nos. 5963, 104, 105, 121, 122. There 118
On needles for surgery, see Jackson 1994a, 2045, nos.
is a lack of evidence to support an earlier suggestion that these A14, A15; Jackson 1994b, 17677. On needles for netting or
bottles may have been used for food essences and condiments weaving, see Crummy 1983, 657; Allason-Jones and Miket
(Allison 2006a, 297, 37677). 1984, 615, cat. nos. 2.26062.
Ling 1997, 42; Allison 2006a, 297. 119
Shumka 2008, 182.
Laurence 1994, 7887. 120
Allison 2006a, 23, 323; Shumka 2008, 182.
Allison 2013, 25758. 121
Dixon 2007, 11725; Roth 2007, 59, 89118. For further
Allison 2006c, fig. 42; 2013, 263, 26668. For the data discussion and references, see Allison 2007, 34849; 2009,
sets, see the downloads for Ellingen in Allison 2012. 1819; 2013, 935.
Allison 2013, 270. 122
See, e.g., Dixon 20002001, 8.
For needles used in cloth working, see, e.g., Crummy 123
Treggiari 1976, 845.
1983, 61. 124
On sculptural representation, see Shumka 2008, 182.
Manning 1985, 357. 125
Fecher 2010, 2:70.

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needles and needlework. The discovery of a bronze

needle (lgth. 67 mm) within the turrets of Hadrians
Wall was used by Allason-Jones to highlight that soldiers
were probably responsible for the mending and upkeep
of their clothing.130 However, as noted above, her argu-
ment was based on assumptions about the masculinity
of the context. It is conceivable that women frequented
these towers, perhaps illicitly, but their presence cannot
be argued convincingly based on this evidence alone.
In the Lucanian villa at San Giovanni di Ruoti, four
of the eight bronze and bone needles from period 3B
contexts (dated ca. 460545 C.E.) are from the area of
Corridor 43, which led to the bath complex.131 Loom-
weights and possibly spindlewhorls were also promi-
nent in this area, as were items of jewelry and a bone
comb.132 This artifact assemblage implies that women
congregated and worked cloth in this open and light
corridor area. The needles add weight to this identi-
fication of gendered sociospatial practice but do not
carry sufficient gender characterization on their own
to lead to such an identification.
Of the 16 standard bone and bronze needles re-
corded in the Insula of the Menander in Pompeii,
which range in preserved length from 50 to 118 mm,
at least 11 were recorded in assemblages that appear
fig. 3. Bone needles: a, from South Shields (after Allason- to be of womens items. One bone needle (preserved
Jones and Miket 1984, cat. no. 2.260); b, from Colchester
(after Crummy 1983, cat. no. 1976); c, from South Shields
lgth. 85 mm) was found associated with a possible
(after Allason-Jones and Miket 1984, cat. no. 2.278) (draw- spindle and gaming pieces in Room 1 of the Casa del
ing by D. Miles-Williams). Menandro. One bone needle (lgth. 118 mm) was re-
corded with jewelry and personal-hygiene equipment
in a cupboard in the atrium of the Casa del Fabbro.
One bone needle and six bronze needles (lgths. 50
person, but noted the paucity of needles in Romano- 70 mm) were recorded in Room 5 of the Casa del Fab-
British burials.126 Of some 50 bronze and bone needles bro along with a small glass unguentarium and what
recorded at Catterick, none would appear to have been was probably a bone spindle. And one bronze needle
found in burial contexts.127 Only four iron needles (lgth. 56 mm) was recorded in what appears to have
were recorded in the fourth-century graves at Lank- been a storeroom, Room 12 in House I.8.10, along
hills, in Graves 152, 184, 351, and 435.128 Only one of with a range of material including jewelry, gaming
these graves, Grave 351, had evidence of material that pieces, an ear cleaner, a warp beater, and five bone
could potentially be gendered female, although none implements that may have been spindles.133 A further
had male gendered items, such as crossbow brooches bronze needle associated with a glass balsamarium
or any belt fittings.129 These burial contexts hint that in Room 36 in the Casa del Menandro is noteworthy
needles were female attributes but were not strongly but inconclusive.134 While the needle in Room 12 in
gendered, at least symbolically. House I.10.8 was probably in storage with other cloth-
Contexts that lack bodies ostensibly provide more working items, the one in the cupboard in the atrium
information on the actual gendered use of needles of the Casa del Fabbro might be identified more
than do sexed contexts on the symbolic gendering of securely as part of a mundus muliebris. Those in Room

Cool 2004, 393. 132
Simpson 1997, 13 (table 6).
Cool 2002, 55, 111, 127, 135, 181, 19496. 133
Allison 2006a, cat. nos. 14145, 112027, 115154,
Clarke 1979, 249. 171731, respectively; see also Allison 2008b, cat. nos. 14145,
Clarke 1979, 299 (bead necklace), 307 (bracelet), 316 112027, 115154, 171731.
(two hairpins). 134
Allison 2006a, cat. nos. 676, 677; 2008b, cat. nos. 676,
Allason-Jones 1988, 203, no. 2; 220; 1995, 28. 677.
Simpson 1997, 345, plan 9.

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5 of the same house and in Room 1 of the Casa del working was an unsuitable recruit for military life,
Menandro are parts of assemblages that suggest these and weavers were reportedly banned from the army
spaces were associated with women. If this was the case, by law.143 However, this prohibition may not have ap-
then at least two of the rooms in the Casa del Fabbro plied to sewing and mending.144 In the Pompeian do-
would have had relatively strong female associations, mestic contexts, more masculine assemblages provide
a finding that could be used, along with the evidence evidence for the wider use of needles but not necessar-
from the villa at San Giovanni di Ruoti, in more criti- ily how or by whom. It is certainly noteworthy that the
cal approaches to gendered space in Roman houses. fort at Ellingen, which had considerable evidence for
While there is a prominent association of these the presence of women, also had relatively large num-
needles with potential womens space in these domes- bers of possible needles, both in bone and bronze.145
tic contexts in Italy, and interestingly with gaming, The current evidence at these sites, and in sexed
needles alone are not useful for identifying gendered contexts, indicates that needles and their related ac-
sociospatial practices.135 Bronze needles also occur tivities had female associations but that they were less
in less female assemblages in Pompeian houses: four specifically gendered than the other two artifact types
bronze needles (lgths. 7893 mm) were recorded in discussed here. Needles are, therefore, less useful for
a large assemblage in the garden portico of the Casa identifying gendered space and practice, but at the
del Fabbro, which included measuring and woodwork- same time their inclusion in assemblages with other
ing equipment.136 In the same assemblage, one bronze potentially female-related artifacts can support the
needle (lgth. 110 mm) was found in a concretion of identification of a location of female-related activities.
what appears to be medical or toilet equipment.137
There is no essential difference in the size and types of concluding comments
needles between those found in the portico of the Casa This article showcases some of the rich body of ar-
del Fabbro and those in the potential womens assem- tifactual evidence from sexed and unsexed contexts
blages, with the exception of bone needles among the that can be rigorously analyzed for a more material-
latter. This sample of domestic contexts is admittedly cultural and gendered approach to social behavior in
small, but it suggests a stronger female gendering of the Roman world. It also highlights the universality of
bone needles, which might confirm the main associa- certain types of artifacts across the Roman world that
tion of bone needles with sewing cloth and perhaps can be used more critically to investigate gendered
hair arranging.138 Bronze needles of standard type and roles in the spread of Roman cultural practices. And
size also seem to have a strong association with women it demonstrates that the investigation of artifact as-
and cloth working, but they had a greater range of less semblages is important for better understandings of
specifically gendered uses.139 gendered sociospatial practices.
Comparable needles have been recorded within More specifically, I argue that the consideration
Roman military bases. Some 29 bone and 12 bronze of different levels of gendered characterization for
needles were recorded from the fort at South Shields, particular artifact types constitutes a useful interpre-
although without precise contexts.140 In the fort at El- tive tool for investigating how gender was played out
lingen, at least four bronze needles and remains of up in lived space in the Roman world. These three types
to another six bone and eight bronze needles or pins of artifacts have uncertain gender associations. Never-
were recorded.141 These were found predominantly theless, they illustrate how symbolically gendered arti-
with residential buildings, Buildings B, C, and F, and facts from contexts with sexed bodies can be used as a
tended to be associated with other female artifacts.142 basis for more holistic investigations of actual gendered
Vegetius considered that anyone involved in cloth practice in lived spaces that lack such sexed bodies.

For association with gaming, see Cool and Baxter 2002, 141
Zanier 1992, cat. nos. B14043. See also those found at
370; Allison 2013, 32135. Vetera I (Hanel 1995, cat. nos. B27175) in the street and cen-
Allison 2006a, cat. nos. 1298, 1299, 1338, 1339; see also tral market area; in Forts I and II at Rottweil (Franke 2003, cat.
Allison 2008b, cat. nos. 1298, 1299, 1338, 1339. nos. 195, 838, 948, 1136, 1208); and in the fort at Oberstimm
Allison 2006a, cat. no. 1326; see also Allison 2008b, cat. (von Schnberger 1978, cat. nos. B54145).
no. 1326. 142
See the interactive map of Ellingen in Allison 2012 (plots
Cool (2004, 393) suggested that bone and metal needles ECO5 [cloth-working?/toilet?, dress?/cloth-working?,
were used differently. dress?cloth-working?/toilet?], EGEN01).
E.g., for women as medical practitioners, see Baker 143
Veg., Mil. 1.7; Milner 2001, 7 n. 6.
2004, 45; Allison 2009, 257. 144
Allason-Jones 1995, 28.
Allason-Jones and Miket 1984, 659, cat. nos. 2.26288 145
Allison 2013, 26668.
(bone); 17678, cat. nos. 3.493504 (bronze).

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They also demonstrate that relationships between what Allason-Jones refers to in the title of a 1995 essay
symbolic and actual practices need to be treated with as sexing small finds.151 Again, the evident patterns
caution. In rare instances, sexed evidence is associated of habitual practice in this material and its contexts
with lived space, as in the graffiti in Shop I.10.23 in are important here, rather than how individual items
Pompeii and as can be argued from the evidence of in- might be sexed anecdotally. The associated activities
fant burials at Ellingen.146 Such instances provide more and modes of dress are used to make interpretative
substantiated information on gendered sociospatial links between objects and social roles and identities.152
practices. In other instances, artifact assemblages in The gender characterizations I have attempted here
lived spaces can help us develop a better understand- are sensitive to the specific contexts but not dictated
ing of how particular artifacts may have been used and by past attitudes to context function.
gendered and also why they might not carry symbolic While these examples of artifact types illustrate
gendered characteristics. some of the wealth of Roman artifactual data that
Becker argued, contra van Driel-Murray, that we can potentially be gendered, they also illustrate their
need to focus on small finds which have definite often inconsistent and compromised collection and
gendered associations and which exclude any excep- analyses. In Roman archaeology, we are often analyz-
tional usage.147 None of these artifact types has an ing data collected in the past using quite different
exclusive, or assured, gender characterization. It is methods with very different research questions. The
doubtful that any Roman artifacts can be definitely long and complex history of Roman archaeology and
gendered or that we will ever be able to exclude ex- its disciplinary alliances has led to an unevenness in
ceptional usage. However, more systematic and inter- data quality as well as in engagement with feminist and
rogative approaches to a range of different types of gender theory. However, the above discussion demon-
contexts and to analyses of particular artifact types can strates that previous studies, which have attempted to
help identify consistent patterns of gender association. sex artifacts without the benefit of specifically sexed
Of importance are repeated patterns of association bodies, are still useful and should not be dismissed out
across a number of contexts, regions, and periods. of hand. Such studies often help substantiate recent in-
Such continuity of practice, both symbolic and actual, vestigations that have dealt with sex and gender more
can serve as a basis for artifact characterization for the critically. Rather than throw the proverbial baby out
further exploration of gender associations, gendered with the bathwater, it is important to reexamine the
practices, and gendered use of space, as well as for full range of evidence as well as past interpretations
exploring changing gender associations and practices of this evidence. Irrespective of exceptional cases,
across different social contexts and regions. These the resulting gender characterizations can be used
characterizations can be used to critically examine for more nuanced, less androcentric, approaches to
often androcentric approaches to lived space and to interpreting the use contexts of these artifacts, their
how different gender and status groups interacted with assemblages, and the activities with which they are
material culture.148 The inclusion of gendered perspec- associated. As in the case of military bases, such an
tives in debates such as those surrounding romaniza- approach can be used to identify potential gender as-
tion and imperialism can add critically important sociations that search less for certainty than for mul-
dimensions to our understandings of these processes. tiple plausible scenarios.153
Such gendered characterizations of artifacts can also Much of the above argument and the gender char-
be used for more pluralist interpretative approaches acterizations discussed may seem self-evident and tra-
to artifact assemblages. These assemblages may then ditional. This is true, in part. However, I argue that
be used as signifiers of gendered practices across a archaeologists have recently felt constrained from
range of contexts and a range of types of people.149 using such characterizations because of the risk of
The aim of this study is, as stated by Roth in her volume seeming to stereotype gendered practice. They have
on agricultural slavery, not to seal particular types of often felt restricted from exploring gendered prac-
evidence but to feed gender into our understanding tices through the interrogation of artifacts and the
of past societies.150 The processes presented might be archaeological record because of the lack of explicit
considered to represent very positivist approaches to and secure evidence for gendered behavior. However,

For discussion and references, see Allison 2013, 26165. 150
Roth 2007, 58.
Becker 2006, 37; van Driel-Murray 1997, 55. 151
Allason-Jones 1995.
See, e.g., Gardner 2007, 82. 152
Stig Srensen 2006, 289.
Cf. Gardner 2007, 82, 89. 153
Tomkov 2006, 25.

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feminist material-cultural approaches, especially to the traces of the past.158 It also aims to exemplify how
interpretation of artifacts, combined with critical, in- more integrated approaches to Roman artifacts and
terrogative analyses of textual, epigraphical, figurative, their gender associations can make a greater contribu-
and burial evidence where sexed bodies are present, tion to the fast-moving field of gender studies related
can be employed to explore gendered associations. to the ancient world. At the same time, it highlights the
While many gender characterizations of artifacts may complexity of these data and of their investigation. Stig
be shown to be incorrect, through further study they Srensen asked whether Roman archaeology can con-
can form a useful first step for developing gender- tribute to how we investigate gender more broadly or
based analyses in Roman archaeology, especially in whether it merely uses principles from other branches
contexts were no actual sexed bodies are present. of archaeology and the social sciences.159 The inter-
The examples discussed here have been investigated rogative processes outlined in this article, based on
through published material, often published within a wealth of data with good historical specificity, can
quite different and traditional scholarly frameworks. contribute to greater understandings of the histories
Allason-Jones stressed the need for careful and criti- of various gendered practices that are relatively free
cal approaches to such artifact catalogues, which have of undue stereotyping.
not always published all artifactual evidence and its
contexts.154 She reiterated Bishops emphasis on the
need to feel comfortable about the taphonomy155
school of archaeology and ancient
and stressed the desirability of the firsthand study of
artifacts and artifact assemblages. Allason-Jones com-
university of leicester
ments and the analyses in this article highlight the
university road
need for more rigorous, more holistic, and more con-
leicester le1 7rh
textualized cataloguing of artifacts and also for more
united kingdom
detailed publication that considers artifact consump-
tion as well as production.156 Especially appropriate
for the publication of excavated artifacts are online,
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