UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Women in criminal trials in the Julio-Claudian era Deline, Tracy Lynn


This study focuses on the intersection of three general areas: elite Roman women, criminal law, and Julio-Claudian politics. Chapter one provides background material on the literary and legal source material used in this study and considers the cases of Augustus’ daughter and granddaughter as a backdrop to the legal and political thinking that follows. The remainder of the dissertation is divided according to women’s roles in criminal trials. Chapter two, encompassing the largest body of evidence, addresses the role of women as defendants, and this chapter is split into three thematic parts that concentrate on charges of adultery, treason, and other crimes. A recurring question is whether the defendants were indicted for reasons specific to them or the indictments were meant to injure their male family members politically. Analysis of these cases reveals that most of the accused women suffered harm without the damage being shared by their male family members. Chapter three considers that a handful of powerful women also filled the role of prosecutor, a role technically denied to them under the law. Resourceful and powerful imperial women like Messalina and Agrippina found ways to use criminal accusations to remove political enemies. Chapter four investigates women in the role of witnesses in criminal trials. The final part of the thesis is a prosopographical survey, presenting a case by case analysis of all the trials considered in this study. The conclusion emphasizes that the changing role of women in Roman politics is striking. The emergence of the senate as the court that heard trials like these is an important development. Women are now seen entering the senate and speaking at trials as witnesses and defendants, participating (intermittently, to be sure) in senatorial proceedings, from which they had been completely banned in the Republic. Women were perceived as more than capable of being agents in political intrigue, a perception confirmed and reinforced by the high-profile legal and political maneuvres of the younger Agrippina. This was a new level of public attention, and at a high cost for those who were convicted, whether they were actually guilty of a criminal offense or merely political targets.

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