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Livia and the Invention of the Roman Woman

At the end of last term, the Classics department were delighted to welcome professor Richard Alston from Royal Holloway University to the school where he delivered a lecture entitled ‘Livia and the Invention of the Roman Woman’ to a packed audience of our own students and guest Classics students from King’s School in Canterbury.

There is very little surviving evidence of actual Roman women with much of our understanding coming from women of myth and legend so the 31BC bust of Livia, who was wife of the emperor Augustus gives us a rare opportunity to look at how Roman women were presented. Clearly Livia was an extremely wealthy and powerful woman and we have no way of knowing just how much her portrait is idealised but the students were amazed to discover just how much we can learn from the study of a single bust from antiquity. Roman women were [ideally] expected to be stoic, virtuous, industrious, maternal, feminine… and to the untrained eye, the bust would reveal few if any of these qualities. To the students in attendance, the bust reveals an entire catalogue of information and they were able to apply their findings to other busts and full statuary that featured in Professor Alston’s presentation. One Year 8 attendee said, ‘I never knew statues could be so interesting!’ and both the quantity and quality of the questions asked by the students at the end suggest everyone agreed! 


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