The Power of Women in Etruscan Society

Spivey, N.  1991.  “The Power of women in Etruscan Society.” The Accordia research papers; the journal of the Accordia Research Centre. 2:  55-68.

Presenter: Francesca Pierre

Ariana Louder;
Caitlin O’Loughlin;
Mal Pigmon;
Abby Rosensen;
Whitney Tyrkala

8 thoughts on “The Power of Women in Etruscan Society

  1. According to Spivey, what is the main cultural difference recognized between the Greeks and Etruscans, and what source(s) does he use as an example of this difference?

    • Hmm, something must be up with my computer because this post wasn’t showing up before. Very strange! That’s okay. I can answer your question now:

      The author identifies several differences between Greek and Etruscan women as far as their status in society goes. It seems like his main sources come from Etruscan tombs (tomb paintings, belongings, votives in tombs, etc.), but he also refers to a cemetery at least once, as well as other various pieces of archaeological evidence such as the in-situ loom, several sarcophagi, and Etruscan mirrors. Now that I am thinking about it, I guess I am a little surprised that he was not able to use any other Etruscan art (such as statues or pottery), but then again, maybe there was just not enough evidence to support/refute claims in these sources. Because funerary art can be misleading (since it would represent Etruscan elites more so than anyone else), I thought the author did a good job of recognizing that the analysis revealed more about the status of elite women than of ALL Etruscan women.

      The main differences between Greek and Etruscan women mostly had to do with their relationship to men. The author notes that the women were not excluded from social events where men were present. However, Etruscan women, like Greek women, still had little to no power in the political sphere. The author also makes a point of saying that it was peculiar for Etruscan elite women to have literacy. Although Greek women were probably also literate, the author still places significance on the literacy of Etruscan women, simply because literacy was likely not as widespread in Etruria as in Greece. Beyond these examples, the author shows several other cases in which women were revered as equals to their husbands, such as on the sarcophagi from Volterra.

      I think the MAIN difference Spivey points out is that Etruscan women had social status but not political status, while Greek women had neither.

    • Aristocratic Etruscan women possessed more rights than their Greek counterparts. Unlike Greek women, Etruscan women were literate, participated in religious rituals, dinned with their husbands, and attended symposiums. Because there is little literary evidence from the Etruscans and from other Greek and Latin sources, Spivey examines archaeological evidence from Tombs and houses. By comparing paintings in female tombs and evidence of Greek women, Spivey can compare their similarities and differences.

    • Basically it seems Spivey recognizes that Etruscan females had more power or status than Greek women, at least at an elite level. He states in the beginning of the reading that we don’t have much written text from Etruria (the little that does exist doesn’t necessarily talk about women) so he uses tombs as his main sources. As Abby said, what women could do mainly related to men; attending events and for elite women to be able to read. This is extraordinary. We can’t necessarily say that Etruscan women had a LOT of power, but more so than that of a Greek woman.

      • From this article it seems like the author argued that women had more power than other places namely Greece but the “power” they had was to go to parties with their husbands. They had no political power what so ever. I loved the statement the author made at the end of his article that “it was in their power to listen to apoet singing the Iliad: it was not in their power to declare war.” It seems like the author is saying that Etruscan women had the ability to do a few more things but they didn’t have power to make major decisions (political).

  2. I think this is my favorite article so far! The author does an excellent job of addressing counter arguments and referring to other scholars for different views. I really liked that he talked about the history of gender studies in Etruscan archaeology and then explained conclusions that have been drawn, followed by explanations of why the conclusions are misleading or just poorly constructed. The author was very direct in explaining the aim of the article and then also making sure that readers were not lost mid-way through the paper. Transitions and such were definitely effective. I appreciated the comparisons between Greek and Roman society because they helped to get a sense of what was “normal” for the time, or at least what was going on in other parts of the Mediterranean at the same time. Additionally, I liked that these comparisons were not an attempt to project characteristics of one civilization onto another, but rather just a simple means for analysis.

    The one thing I was not sure about was his conclusion. I think the conclusion had plenty of support and fit into the rest of the paper, but I am not sure about it’s significance. It seemed to say that Etruscan women (or at least Etruscan elite women) were powerful in the fact that they could eat with their husbands and read, but they weren’t powerful in the sense that they couldn’t actually initiate anything within their society, or really make a significant impact in any way with major decisions. Personally, I would agree with the conclusion that they had high status, but maybe not power, per se. Is that what the conclusion is saying too? Is that all that the conclusion is saying? I think the ending basically clarified that Etruscan women had a peculiar status in society. Was that it?

    • I think you caught the main point of Spivey’s article. Women really had no influence on civic administration, but had luxury of reclining with their husbands, enjoying conversation, wine, food, and slaves to attend to their every need. Greek women had no place in the symposia or convivium, hetairai or prostitutes were afforded this pleasure, but they did not receive the status of a wife or the ancestry of a husband. The main cultural difference between Greek and Etruscan women is the fact that Etruscan woman had a chance to INTERACT with their husbands. They were treated almost equals in dining with their spouses, greeted with affection and respect for being able to drink wine and keep up with other elite couples. Etruscan women were not looked down upon for consuming wine, but this elevated their position. Obviously eating and drinking is a major part of their culture, and the men incorporated their women in this social process of showing off elite status. How did everyone respond to the excerpt from Deipnosophistae? Can we use this as a liable source, or was Theopompus a prude, not used to all the erotic energy in the room of an Etruscan convivium?

      • I think that, if nothing else, we can at least use this as a viable source for what was happening on basic level. He definitely seems shocked by what the Etruscans were doing, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that it was all exaggerated. I definitely gives a good view of the differences between Greek and Etruscan women in at least several scenarios.

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