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February 11 , 2010

Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons

Women in Roman Religion


Roman women were the procreators and nurturers of life, both in the domestic world of the family and in the larger sphere of the state. Although deterred from participating in most aspects of public life, women played an essential role in public religious ceremonies, taking part in rituals designed to ensure the fecundity and success of the agricultural cycle on which Roman society depended. Thus religion is a key area for understanding the contributions of women to Roman society and their importance beyond their homes and families.

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In this book, Sarolta A. Takács offers a sweeping overview of Roman women's roles and functions in religion and, by extension, in Rome's history and culture from the republic through the empire. She begins with the religious calendar and the various festivals in which women played a significant role. She then examines major female deities and cults, including the Sibyl, Mater Magna, Isis, and the Vestal Virgins, to show how conservative Roman society adopted and integrated Greek culture into its mythic history, artistic expressions, and religion. Takács's discussion of the Bona Dea Festival of 62 BCE and of the Bacchantes, female worshippers of the god Bacchus or Dionysus, reveals how women could also jeopardize Rome's existence by stepping out of their assigned roles. Takács's examination of the provincial female flaminate and the Matres/Matronae demonstrates how women served to bind imperial Rome and its provinces into a cohesive society.

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