The recent blog ‘Desperately seeking women in the ancient world’ seems to have struck a chord as the site statistics show one of largest totals for visitors since we opened. Not that ladies aren’t represented in the new galleries. There are interviews with Dr Chantal Conneller from Archaeology, Vanessa Oakden who works for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Dr Sonia O’Connor who is a materials scientist and Dr Roberta Mazza in Classics. However, so far as historical references or archaeological discoveries are concerned, women don’t feature as frequently. To take an example, as you might expect, Roman inscriptions set up by women or mentioning women don’t turn up as often as do inscriptions set up by men serving in the Roman army. Wouldn’t it be great to have the equivalent in Manchester of the wonderful set of tombstones set up in memory of the wives of soldiers who served at Templeborough Roman fort?
What we do have in the Ancient Worlds galleries is the mummy of the ancient Egyptian temple chantress Asru and a facial reconstruction of an Etruscan lady called Hanunia Tlesnana on display in the second table of the archaeology gallery of Ancient Worlds. Is it any accident that one of the ladies whose life can be reconstructed to some degree happens to be Etruscan? After all, didn’t Etruscan ladies enjoy a greater degree of equality relatively speaking than say Roman or Greek ladies?
Well not necessarily. I checked Antonia Rallo’s chapter about ‘The Woman’s Role’ in Mario Torelli’s The Etruscans (Thames and Hudson, 2000). ‘Both in antiquity and in modern times Etruscan women have been invested with qualities and roles that were actually not theirs…we see an attempt to overestimate the Etruscan woman’s role… thus arose the myth of Etruscan matriarchy, which appears in light of modern criticism and available information, entirely unfounded’ (p.131).
Of course, if any evidence were needed that Etruscan women were not to be trifled with, one has only to look at a funerary monument in the Museum collection which shows a battle scene with what looks like a woman apparently holding a tray of muffins clouting a warrior round the back of his head (right in photo)…
All the best for the New Year.