Women seem to be absent from leading roles in Roman politics. However, the Romans were in interaction with other nations with female leaders, both historically (e.g. Cleopatra of Egypt) and mythically (e.g. Dido of Carthage). Did any Roman writers draw any conclusions from female leadership? Did they think that nations led by women were different in any way? Given their patriarchal culture, I could imagine them considering it a sign of weakness, but there is any number of conclusions they could have drawn.

Any remarks on the matter in classical Latin literature (or any Roman literature up to the fall of the Western Roman empire) are welcome. I am not aware of such mentions nor do I know how to look for them.

To be clear, I want to mention that I do not consider female leadership problematic myself. If anything, I find power concentration to one gender suspicious, but the Romans would hardly share my suspicion from what I know.

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    Some of the Goddesses are quite feisty, uncompromising. Does the supernatural world reflect politics?
    – Hugh
    Nov 26, 2018 at 18:42
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    @Hugh Good question! Comments on politics in mythological contexts (female leadership of amazons or something similar) would also be interesting, and I think that would fall under the mythical interactions with female leaders I included. If there are comments on the goddesses as leaders and the effects of their leadership, that would indeed be relevant, but their womanhood in itself is not quite enough.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 26, 2018 at 20:09
  • I believe quite a few Roman authors have thought about this subject, though no specific passages come to mind. Plato and Cicero have probably commented on the issue. My impression is that Romans often thought of women as capable leaders, but that they lead in a very different style à la the wily seductress. Roman authors generally respected leaders like Cleopatra, Dido, Zenobia, Hippolyta.
    – Cerberus
    Nov 27, 2018 at 14:54
  • @Cerberus If you happen to remember any more details, consider posting them here. If not as a fuller answer, at least as something for others to start from.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:00
  • @JoonasIlmavirta♦: I will!
    – Cerberus
    Nov 28, 2018 at 3:33

1 Answer 1


There is, as far as I know, just one serious work on Roman women, 'Roman Women: Their History and Habits', by J.P.V.D Balsdon, a Cambridge history don who also wrote interesting and useful accounts of Roman life at large. It was published by Cambridge University Press, and was intended, by including as much information as possible about the subject from classical sources, to supply an evident need.

As I recall, it succeeded in its rather narrow aim, but at the same time somewhat disappointed by being little more than a collation of well-known facts about the more famous ladies, while making no attempt at a proper synthesis about women of the Republic in general.

It is still available through the usual internet channels and has been reviewed at 'Goodreads' https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1742349.Roman_Women .

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