This exhibit draws on the collections of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology and was designed by the students in HIST 103 “Well-behaved Women,” Professor Angelova’s Spring 2021 undergraduate seminar in the History Department. It showcases the centrality of visual and material evidence in reconstructing the lives of ancient Mediterranean women. The images and objects in the exhibit–Greek vases, Etruscan figurines, Greek and Roman coins, an Egyptian funerary portrait, and Egyptian textiles–originate for the most part from burial grounds and votive deposits in Etruria and Egypt. These objects testify to the work and religious roles of ordinary women, the privileges of wealthy matrons in life and death, widespread ideas about femininity, the symbolic power of queens and empresses, and to the enduring allure of the female form and face for ancient Mediterranean viewers.
–Diliana Angelova, Professor
Too often, our knowledge of ancient women’s lives is obscured by the narratives men spun around them. In classical textual sources, women were either saints or sinners, virgins or whores, paragons of virtue or embodiments of evil. Yet these oversimplified depictions cannot capture the rich complexity of the women behind the texts, nor communicate the depth of their lived experiences. For a glimpse at the reality of ancient women’s lives, we must turn to the material culture they left behind. In the following exhibit, we present evidence of women as they were in their own times: who they were, what they did, how they lived, and how they died.
-Bryn Treloar-Ballard, Student
Scroll down to see the 16 featured objects and student perspectives.
Singer for the Gods
A limestone female figure playing a lyre.
The Perfect Bride
A lebes gamikos, or nuptial bathing vessel, depicting a bride.
A Divine Offering
A bronze female nude from Etrutria made as a gift to a goddess.
The Ideal Female Form
A plaster cast of Aphrodite of Knidos, the goddess of love.
A Private Prayer
A kylix, or cup, showing a woman at an altar.
Ready for Eternity
A funerary portrait of a woman from Egypt.
Taming Woman’s Seductive Power
A Romano-Egyptian hair pin made of ivory.
Jewelry Against Evil
A carnelian necklace with protective amulets.
Give to Receive
An Etruscan votive figure made of terracotta.
A votive figurine of a woman with a baby in her lap.
A wooden spindle whorl used for making yarn.
A wool and linen tunic for a child.
The Polis’s Female Face
A coin from Syracuse with an image of a woman’s head.
Queens and Coins
A silver coin depicting Queen Philistis.
The Blessed Afterlife
An Etruscan sarcophagus of a woman.
The Divine Augusta
A silver coin with Livia as Diva Augusta on the reverse.