A Roman Rape Culture: Sexual Violence in Augustan Era Rome



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There are currently no holistic studies of rape in Rome. This dissertation fills the gap in establishing the ubiquity of rape in Roman society, proving that it had, in today’s terms, a “rape culture.” Sexual assault permeated the lives of Augustan-era Romans. Rape was present in Rome’s very foundational stories, from Mars’ assault on Rhea to the Sabine Women. Stories of mythological rape were commonly reproduced in art and poetry. Augustan laws did not protect the safety and autonomy of women from predation and left non-elite and non-citizen women vulnerable to assault. The Romans, as other ancient and modern societies, participated in the dehumanizing and violent practice of wartime rape. Each of these areas reinforced the others, creating a full system of justifications and acceptance of sexual assault.

The challenge of discussing Rome’s rape culture is their own self-representation of the subject. Augustan laws did protect against stuprum per vim, or forcible rape – but these laws had severe restrictions. Historical narratives of Roman participation in war framed rape as a deviant occurrence.

Thus, rather than taking the Romans at their own word, I employ feminist theory to apply modern ideas of rape/rape culture to Roman society. These methods allow us to parse out what the Romans left unsaid. The acceptance of Rape Myths, or commonly held beliefs about sexual assault – i.e., she was asking for it – leads to victim-blaming. The stigma and shame of being blamed for their own assault leads to victims being silenced and their testimonies replaced. As an additional layer, the patriarchal and misogynistic society of Rome contributed to the entitlement that powerful men felt towards the lands and bodies of vulnerable and foreign populations.



Rape, Rape culture, Roman history, Augustan culture, Classical history, Sexual violence