Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Degree Level





Vennarucci, Rhodora

Committee Member/Reader

Calabretta-Sajder, Ryan

Committee Member/Second Reader

Pulido Rull, Ana

Committee Member/Third Reader

D'Eugenio, Daniela


Ancient Roman women, regardless of their status, were to some extent bound by the sexual norms of their time. Much of the textual and visual evidence constructs the ideal Roman woman as a chaste and sexually submissive matron figure, loyal to her husband and the bearer of his citizen descendants. These patriarchal norms appear to have given women little room to exercise their own agency in and out of their sexual relationships. Accepting these ideals of female sexuality, scholars have often characterized normative male-female sex in the ancient Roman world as a sexual act in which the woman is in the passive, penetrated position and the man is in the active, penetrator position. Women who deviated from this norm, or even expressed their own sexual desires at all, were denigrated in the textual sources and labeled “non-normative” in scholarship.

However, the millions of people living in the early Roman Empire represented a diverse socio-economic, multicultural population, and there were likely many women who did not strictly adhere to these social and sexual standards. I argue in my thesis that public and private works of Roman erotic art can offer evidence of female sexual agency, especially among the lower classes, which were perhaps less constrained by elite ideals. My thesis applies feminist lenses to rethink how women in erotic Roman art are depicted and interpreted and how such depictions may have shaped the self-perception of female viewers. Through an analysis of several works of erotic art depicting women in active, non-normative sexual roles, I attempt to expand on our understanding of female sexual agency in Roman society.


classical art history, Roman art, erotic art, women in art