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Bill Thayer

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I Lived With Her Thirty Years


[image ALT: A small 4‑line Roman inscription transcribed, translated and commented on this webpage.]
Transcribed and expanded:
1 NVMERIVS QVINCTIVS · ↃↃ · LIBERTVS · COMICVS ·
SIBI · ET · QVINCTIAE · PRIMILLAE
COLLIBERTAE · ET · CONIVGI · SVAE ·
VIXI · CVM · EA · AN
NOS · XXX ·
In line 1, would stand for an (unnamed) woman:
ↃↃ stands for two women; or, conceivably, several.
Translated:
Numerius Quinctius, a former slave freed by women, an actor:
for myself and for Quinctia Primilla
who was freed with me and was my wife.
I lived with her 30 years.

The newcomer to Roman inscriptions will find one thing odd: "freed by women"?

Yup. Romans were very male-oriented. If you were the slave and Titus (or Marcus) freed you, you became Quinctius Ti. (or M.) libertus; but if for some reason, often as almost certainly here, by virtue of a will, his widow (or say, his sisters) freed you, you became Quinctius libertus.

It is not known how was read, but today, based on a passage of Quintilian (Inst. Or. I.VII.28) we traditionally read it "Gaiae", where Gaia is the Roman version of "Jane Doe". Very loosely speaking, a woman had enough standing to free you, but not enough to be named. (More strictly speaking, she couldn't be named, since a Roman woman properly had no name of her own, being known by her father's name until she married, then by the name of her husband. Either way, the basic fact remained: male bias was built into the system. That doesn't mean, on the other hand, that women had no rights — among them, as we see here, the right to inherit and to manumit slaves — nor that they could not become powerful or rich or scholarly: just that it took a great deal more initiative than for a man, as in many parts of the world in our own time.)


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Page updated: 18 Mar 18