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Legionnaires’ wives lived in military camps?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman camp
Roman camp

It is commonly believed that women did not play any official roles in the camp life of the Roman army. However, the monument, which has been in the very centre of Rome for 2,000 years, gives us evidence that the soldiers ignored the ban on marriage and that their wives and daughters participated in triumphal ceremonies. Archaeologist Elizabeth Greene came to these conclusions.

On January 8-11 2015, during the annual meeting of the Institute of Archeology of America, the scientist mentioned six women shown on a fragment of the famous Trajan’s column. It is a relief depicting the moment of triumph. The figures hold objects to be sacrificed in a religious ceremony in their hands. Interestingly, such a task was usually assigned to boys. However, as the archaeologist claims, female figures are clearly visible in the relief. According to her, they could have been the wives or daughters of Roman leaders and senior officers.

Importantly, scientists have been studying the monument since the 18th century and this issue clearly escaped their attention. However, it should be remembered that the column itself is about 30 m high and it is difficult to look closely at all the reliefs. In addition, scientists usually looked at the column to better understand Roman military art and the armament of the legions.

It should be remembered that only men were allowed to enter the Roman army. During the reign of Octavian Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE), a ban on marriage was introduced by legionaries (maintained for almost 200 years). The texts of ancient historians say very little about the opposite sex in the army, so for many years, there was a perception that women were not with local troops in the camp.

The change came in the late 1980s when scientist Allason-Jones began finding evidence that women lived with soldiers at the borders and in forts. Gradually, shoes were found in former Roman camps (eg Vindolanda) with the size of women’s or children’s feet.

Today, according to archaeologist Greene, about 40% of the thousands of shoes found in Vindolanda belonged to women or children who stayed with their husbands in the forts. But as Ms Greene says, she still struggles to convince older-date scientists of her claims.


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