The Women of Etruria

Bonfante Warren, Larissa. 1984. “The Women of Etruria.” In Women in the Ancient World: The Arethusa Papers, edited by John Peradotto and J.P. Sullivan, 229-239. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Presenter: Morgan Williams

Ross Adler;
Vasiliki Barakos;
Lauren Berry;
Jenna Bittenbender;
Clareese Chin

7 thoughts on “The Women of Etruria

  1. Based on the array of facts Bonfante presents, what do you personally believe was reality in Etruria: matriarchy or female participation in activities as an accepted part of culture? What facts support your belief?

  2. In my opinion, I think that Etruria was a society that extended an unusually high status to women. This status is witnessed by the presence of women reclining at banquets, owning property, and stepping in as leader in some cases. However, I do not think that these privileges that the Etruscan society extended to women point to matriarchy. I think the patriarchal society established by Etruria is pretty clear when you consider the construction of the gens as well as political and religious structures. While I believe there were exceptions where women were left as the leader of the gens or queen, as Bonfante mentions, I think the norm was for male leaders. I think that Etruria is an example of a culture that extended a certain level of equality to their women; there is a definite level of respect between the two genders that can be gleaned from Etruscan art, such as the Sposi sarcophagus. I think that the patriarchal qualities of the Etruscan society were less obvious than that of Greece and that is where the idea of a matriarchal society comes into play. I do not see enough evidence for a matriarchal society in Etruria; however, I do see a highly advanced society that refused to discriminate against the women of their culture.

    • I definitely agree with you (and so do some facts by the way! I am writing my paper on this.) I believe Bonfante’s point is more to point out how the tale of Tanaquil is told from outsiders (Romans) who are threatened by what they see and take an extreme stance, when in reality Etruscan society simply allotted certain rights to women that would have taken them off guard.

      In terms of equality, do you think this was a respecting of the male and female spheres equally or that there was a hierarchy of spheres

  3. From the Bonfante reading, it’s hard to determine whether women were total equals to men or if there was some sort of hierarchy between the two. From what I understood from the reading it seems as if women were respected equal to men. What stands out to me is the Etruscan custom of giving women their own names rather than link them to their fathers or husbands. This individual identity that was afforded to Etruscan women was a huge leap in respect in comparison with Greek and Roman tradition. Bonfante also mentions the similarities in dress between men and women as well as the literacy of women. A unifying mode of dress and the ability to read and write are, again, unique permissions during this time period. I think that the evidence presented by Bonfante points to a pretty level playing field in terms of respect. But like I said before, I think that Etruscan men were ultimately in a higher sphere of power over women. In regards to respect, however, I think it could very well have been equally matched between the two.

    • You picked up on great points in Bonfante’s article. Personally I agree with you. I believe Etruscan society was a hugh step forward from other cultures in its treatment of women. However, since our evidence of Etruscan culture is so little, I always find myself questioning my own belief. I guess I am afraid some pot will be discovered that just blows this entire mutual respect thing out of the water.

  4. I think Etruscan women experienced a great deal of freedom. I think there were gender differences that afforded men or women different amounts of power in certain areas, but ultimately I think there was a overarching equality and mutual respect for each others position in society. The evidence that causes me to believe this is the name system. Women were afforded identities outside of their father or husband’s name. I think this liberates a woman greatly by allowing her independence and the ability to create a history that is tied specifically with them instead of the male head of the gens. In addition to the name, the fact that male and female parents were acknowledge is another huge equalizing factor. To my knowledge the Romans and Greeks believed that the woman was not related to the child. The woman served as a host to grow the child who was solely related to the father. I think these inscriptions provide evidence that they believed both parents were related to the child. If this is so, this point of relation gives the woman a far greater position within society and the family.

    • I too think that the name thing is a huge sign of a more equal system. I am not sure about whether or not the children were considered to be related to their mothers in Roman or Greek societies. I do know that in Greek society women were seen as a vessel rather than the giver of life. What matter to them was the FATHER no the mother, that much is clear.

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