[Back] [Section Summary] [Forward] [Contents] [Home]

8.6 Activities according to gender and age

Ascribing gender or age categories to specific artefacts is fraught with problems. There are many Roman artefacts which might be considered female on the basis of modern analogy and which are often presented as female by modern scholars. However, this constitutes a simplistic approach to the engendering of artefacts (see Allason-Jones 1995). Items of dress which can potentially be ascribed either to men, women, or to children, have been discussed in Section 8.2. certain activities can also be ascribed to men, women or children. As used here, male and female categories refer to adult male and adult female and the expression 'gendered activities' consists of activities separated by age and by gender.

8.6.1 Gendered activities

8.6.1a Combat

The assumption has been made, for the purposes of this study, that combat was a male activity and that combat equipment is, therefore, all male. This includes javelins, swords and sheaths, arrowheads, daggers and other cut-and-thrust weapons, shields, and sling shots. Other possible combat equipment includes certain hinges, fasteners and nails as it is by no means clear that these were from military equipment. They are therefore categorised as 'male?'. Armour is included under dress.

8.6.1b Wood-, leather-, stone-, metal-working, and agriculture

Items associated with stone-, wood-, leather-, metal-working, agriculture and animal-husbandry are frequently found within Roman military camps. At least in this specific sphere, these are invariably considered male activities carried out by the troops themselves, or more particularly by the immunes. While this is no doubt true, in a large part, it cannot be exclusively concluded that such activities were never carried out by women, as women could be involved in such industries in civilian life (see Kampen 1981, 117-18, 123-27; Kampen 1982, 72-73). That said, however, such activities were probably even more infrequently practiced by women in the military sphere than in the civilian.

At Vetera, items associated with wood and leather-working include axes, saws, wood cleavers, planes, spoon-bits, scrapers, nail-pullers, points and certain types of hammers and chisels. Items associated with stone- and metal-working include smelting vessels, pliers, certain types of hammers and chisels, crow bars, trowels, and spatulas. Items probably used for agricultural purposes include sickles and scythes, choppers, pitchforks, mattocks, hoes, and shovels. These items are, therefore, categorised here as 'male'.

8.6.1c Cutting and sharpening

Knives and whetstones were categorised as cutting or sharpening implements. Again these activities, within the military sphere, are most likely to have been carried out by men although this is by no means conclusive. The potential involvement of women in food-preparation, and hence the cutting of foodstuffs, within the military sphere is an area which has been little researched (see Van Driel-Murray 1997). For the purposes of this study, therefore, these items are categorised as 'male?'.

8.6.1d Weighing and measuring, writing

Items associated with weighing and measuring include scales, balances, and conical, oval and flat weights of bronze or lead, and also compasses. While some of the lead weights are pierced, they are too small to have been loom-weights. These weights ranged from c. 20-35 mm in length, while clay loom-weights listed by Wild (1970a, Table M) ranged from 90-180 mm in length. Lead weights, probably loom-weights, from House I 10,8 in Pompeii ranged from 59-94 mm. Items associated with writing consist of iron, lead and bone styli, ceramic and bronze inkwells, and bronze seal boxes. Although women were employed as clerks and secretaries in élite households in Rome (Treggiari 1976, 77-78), within the military sphere such activities were most probably carried out by men. Therefore these items are categorised as 'male?'

8.6.1e Cloth-production

As noted, weaving could be carried out by men or women in civilian contexts, sewing could be carried out by soldiers in military contexts and spinning was most probably a female activity. However, as one might expect of a military fortress, no definitive cloth-production items and few possible items associated with cloth-working are recorded at Vetera I. Therefore the possible cloth-working items are classified as male?/female?, with the exception of one bone disc which, if it can be gendered at all, would be either a piece of female jewellery or a spindle-whorl. It is therefore categorised as 'female?'

8.6.1f Toilet

There has been a tendency in the past studies of the classical world to classify a number of types of toilet items as women's equipment but this is not the case for many of these, as noted in Section 8.1.3c. Mirrors, probes, tweezers, which are personal items, are classified as 'male?/female?, and unguentaria as 'female?'.

8.6.1g Food-preparation and consumption

The preparation and consumption of food is a much more complex spatial and gender issue than widely believed (see also Foss 1994, esp. 47-50). One can probably assume that most food consumption within a military fort or fortress was carried out by men but this may not necessarily be the case for food preparation. Inscriptional evidence from Vindonissa (Speidel 1996, esp. 38 and 79), and preliminary analyses of the spatial distribution of tablewares and of food-preparation equipment at Vetera I (Allison n.d. 2), suggests that much more work needs to be carried out concerning the question of the spatial distribution of food preparation and consumption. Therefore, it will not be discussed here.

8.6.1h Leisure

The main evidence for leisure activities within the fortress at Vetera consists of gaming items, namely glass counters. Again one can assume that, within this sphere this was largely a male activity, but evidence from Vindonissa suggests that women were also involved in some capacity (Speidel 1996, esp. 80). The engendering of this activity, therefore, also requires more research so is not included in this analysis. For similar reasons other activities, such as religion and lighting, are not discussed here.

8.6.2 Analysis and interpretation of the distribution patterns at Vetera

8.6.2a Gendered activities

Certain activities by activity category (GE1)

Go to Interactive GIS map (ArcIMS)

Screendump of query from desktop ArcGIS
Screendump of ArcGIS query - (GE1), certain gendered activities by category

This first plot shows the distribution of the various activities, to which it is possible to ascribe a gender, by activity category.

It is immediately obvious, as might be expected, that the most prolific artefacts associated with such activities are combat weapons (E), gendered 'male' of which there are 136 items. Eight are unprovenanced and the rest are overwhelmingly concentrated in Buildings A-B. This concentration is largely because of a cache of 31 weapons was recorded by Lehner. These were recorded in Room VIII, the apsidal room at the west end of the courtyard in Building B, but Hanel (1995, 50-51) believes Lehner confused the sacellum (Room VIII) with armaments rooms (VI and VII), in the north-west corner of Building B. But even without including this hoard, most of the weapons are found in this administrative complex, leading Hanel to argue that many were hidden here from the invaders in c. 69 CE. Other more minor concentrations are found in the Building F and near the west gateway. Two from Building A and all three found in from Building G are from pre-Claudian contexts. Given that many of these items were probably used in the final battle, these distributions may not be particularly significant for daily life in the fortress. A comparable concentration of items related to combat dress (DE) was also found in Buildings A-B (query D1), but these were more apparent in the officers' residence than were combat weapons.

Thirty-three cutting and sharpening items (CS) were recorded, gendered 'male?. The main concentration was, again, in Buildings A-B, although one in Trench 273, pit 6, and one in Trench 325, pit 2, were probably in pre-Claudian contexts. Otherwise, they were mainly scattered along the via principalis, and in the buildings bordering it, particularly on the north side. This distribution pattern suggests that this category includes both offensive weapons and utilitarian tools.

Twenty-seven wood and leatherworking items, also gendered 'male', were recorded (WL). There was a notable concentration in front of barracks Y, along with other tools and weapons (see below). They were also particularly prominent in front of barracks V and in the east gateway (although one in Trench 212 was possibly in a pre-Claudian context).

Seventeen items were identified as for stone and metal-working (SM). Four of these were smelting vessels, possibly of Augustan date, found in the north gateway. Of the ten in the central excavation area: one was found in front of barracks Y; one in palace H; one in Building A and one in front; four in the area of Building F; two in barracks V; and one in the east gateway. This is not a particularly significant pattern but seems to reflects the pattern for the previous tool types, associated with male activities, particularly in barracks Y and V.

Nineteen recorded items can be associated with agriculture (A). These are prominent in front of barracks Y and V. They also appear to be relatively prolific in the north-east area of Building B, although one in Trench 325, pit 2, and one in Trench 317, pit 2, were probably in pre-Claudian contexts.

Thus, 'male' activities appear to be concentrated in Buildings A-B, Building F and barracks Y and V. From the evident prominence of such tools in barracks Y and V it is tempting to suggest that immunes were housed there. Interestingly, such items were absent from the Claudian-Neronian contexts in Building G.

Forty-seven weighing and measuring items (WM) were recorded and gendered 'male?'. In the central excavation area these were concentrated in the buildings facing the west end of the via principalis (notably with other tools in front of barracks Y) and on the west side of Building G. They are also scattered among the buildings along the eastern part of the via principalis. Another in the vicinity of Buildings P, S and F could not be precisely plotted. The finds of 13 lead weights, of Neronian date, in front of barracks Y suggest that, as well as crafts being carried out in here, there may also have been commerce.

As discussed in section 8.5, writing equipment (W), gendered 'male?', was concentrated in the west side of Building A, in Building F, and in tribune house K.

The distribution pattern of the few certain toilet items (T), gendered 'male?/female?', as discussed in section 8.1, showed their presence in the via principalis, the officers' residences, and Buildings A and T.

Certain activities by gender (male and variations of male) (GE2)

Go to Interactive GIS map (ArcIMS)

Screendump of query from desktop ArcGIS
Screendump of ArcGIS query - (GE2), certain activities by gender

To simplify the visualisation of the distribution pattern discussed above, a query was run on the same data, but separated into 'male' (MA), 'male?' (ZMA), and 'male?/female?' (ZMA_FE). This plot shows that, in the central excavated area, the main male activities were: in Buildings A-B; in barracks Y and V near the west and east gateways, respectively; in the north gateway; and in Building F. Some of the possibly male activities (ZMA) are in the same locations but also more widespread, in building b, the tribunes' houses; palace P; Building S and Building G. Items categorised 'male?/female?', all toilet items, tend to be found in similar areas to the possible male items. This again draws our attention to the prominence of male activities in Buildings A-B, as the central administrative buildings. Building F may well have had an important administrative role, given its concentration of writing equipment and other tools and weapons.

From this distribution pattern it seem likely that, even if the immunes were accommodated in Building S, they carried out their crafts and possibly distributed their products in front parts of barracks Y and V. However, the assemblage in Building S has more in common with those in palace P and the tribune houses so this may rather have been an officer's residence. While Building G did have certain male activities present these items were comparatively few compared with those in the other administrative Buildings A-B.

Uncertain gendered activities by category (GE3)

Go to Interactive GIS map (ArcIMS)

Screendump of query from desktop ArcGIS
Screendump of ArcGIS query - (GE3), uncertain gendered activities by category

Items possibly associated with the above activity categories were also plotted, including items which could have been dress items. As with certain combat equipment, possible combat equipment (ZE), (ZD_E_H), (ZE_F) and (ZD_E_F), found in the central excavation area, was concentrated in the central administrative buildings but also in the tribunes' houses, K, J and M. It was also present in Building Z, barracks Y, Building L, Buildings a, b and d, palaces H and P, Building S and barracks V. It was notably lacking in Buildings T and F and the central open area in front of Building A, with the exception of two drop handles.

As discussed in Section 8.3, possible cloth-production items (ZC), (ZC_T), (ZC_WM), (ZD_C_T), (ZD_C_F_G) and (ZD_C_W) in the central excavation area were mainly found in the central open area in front of Building A, in Building Z and in barracks V. Exceptions were items that were also possible writing or weighing items, some of which were in a probable pre-Claudian context (in Trench 325, pit 2). Other possible writing equipment (ZW) and (ZD_C_W) was all in the south-western part of Building A.

Possibly toilet equipment (ZT), (ZC_T) and (ZD_C_T) was present in Building L, tribune houses J and M, Building G (one in a pre-Claudian context), Building A, palace P, barracks V and the east gate, with a notable concentration in the central open area (two in a cellar) and in Building F.

An interesting fragment is the head of a spouted vessel in the form of a hen's head (C8242). Hanel (1995: 221) suggested that the hen was a symbol of a Mercury cult and of state religion and so dismissed any identification of this fragment as the spout of a feeding vessel (cf. Hilgers 1969, 80-82). Both possibilities have been considered here, however, so it has been categorised as 'religion?/tableware and serving?' (ZR_ZTS) and as 'child?' (ZCH). It was found in the front part of Building Z.

Uncertain activities by gender (GE4)

Go to Interactive GIS map (ArcIMS)

Screendump of query from desktop ArcGIS
Screendump of ArcGIS query - (GE4), uncertain activities by gender

This plot includes the possible activity categories in (GE3), which are all assigned possible gender categories. The plot shows a similar distribution pattern to certain activities according to gender (GE2). That is, 'male?' and 'male?/female?' activities dominate the main administrative buildings, while possible female activities are most prominent in the tribune houses and Building L, and in the central open area and Building F. Interestingly, however, possible female activities are also present in Buildings G and A, although one in Building G was in a pre-Claudian context.

8.6.2b Gendered Dress (GE5)

Dress related items were discussed in Section 8.2. This plot combines queries (D2) and (D4).

Go to Interactive GIS map (ArcIMS)

Screendump of query from desktop ArcGIS
Screendump of ArcGIS query - GE5, gendered dress items

As noted in Section 8.2, this plot shows that certain and uncertain dress items within the central administrative buildings, and near the north gate, were almost exclusively 'male', 'male?' or 'male?/female?'. Items classified as 'female', 'female?' or 'female?/child?' were concentrated in the officers' residences, in the central open area, but they were also present in Building Z, Building a, and near the east gate.

8.6.2c Combined gendered dress and gendered activities (GE6)

This query consists of combining the following plots (GE2), (GE4), (D2) and (D4) to investigate the overall pattern of all gendered items, dress and activities.

Go to Interactive GIS map (ArcIMS)

Screendump of query from desktop ArcGIS
Screendump of ArcGIS query - (GE6), combined gendered dress / gendered activities

There are no certain activities documented at Vetera I that can be classified as 'female' or 'female?', and only some that classified 'female?/male?'. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that there are few activities potentially carried out by women that leave a material record, with the exception of cloth production and possibly food preparation.

As is to be expected, the number of items categorised male is the most extensive - 329 as 'male', 199 as 'male?', and 105 as 'male?/female?'. Also, as might be expected, the major concentration of certain male items, within the central excavated area, is in Buildings A and B. Other concentrations are found in front of barracks Y and V, in the east gateway, and in the area of Building F. There are also notable amounts in Buildings G, Z and a, but at least five of those in or near Building G were from pre-Claudian contexts. Interestingly, certain male items are less prolific in the tribunes' houses, K, J and M, and in Buildings S and b, compared with other buildings and other categories.

Items categorised as 'male?' or 'male?/female?' are relatively common in the same buildings as certain male items, but are more prolific in the tribunes' houses, in palace P and Building S, and in Building b. For the officers' residences this is probably explicable because items classified as certain male items include combat equipment and more industrial types of artefacts concerned with crafts. Items categorised as 'male?' or 'male?/female?' activities are related to lighter weight activities, such as weighing, measuring and cutting, and personal activities, such as toilet. However, this does not explain the distribution in Building b.

Presence of women and children (GE7)

Go to Interactive GIS map (ArcIMS)

Screendump of query from desktop ArcGIS
Screendump of ArcGIS query - (GE7), women's and children's items

Seventy-one artefacts are categorised as 'female', 'female?', 'female?/child?' or 'child?', nine of which are either outside the fortress or unprovenanced. Twelve are categorised as 'female' (i.e. bronze hairpins, glass beads, one fibula and one belt attachment), four of which have provenances inside the fortress. Another seventeen are categorised as 'female?/child?' (i.e. bronze rings and small bells), one of which is outside the camp. This means that a total of twenty-four items inside the fortress were very probably associated with women and children. Another forty-one 'female?' items were also recorded. Eighteen of these were melon beads, which could have been horse equipment, but this category also included bone discs, bone pins, a fibula and a belt hook. Remains of a possible child's drinking vessel were also recorded. The distribution pattern of these artefacts shows a predominance of women's and/or children's artefacts in the streets and gateways (although two of these were possibly from pre-Claudian contexts), in the open area in front of Building A, in palace P and in the front of Building Z. Three of the definitively female items (two bronze hairpins and a fibula) were associated with the buildings immediately inside the east gate, Buildings T, U and X. Possibly female items are also relatively prominent in the tribunes' houses, K , J and M, and in palace P, but are also present in the administrative buildings A-B and G. This distribution patterns suggest that women's and children's presence was most notable in the main street and in the officers' residence, as is perhaps to be expected. The numbers are extremely limited but it is interesting that the more definitively female and children's items are found in the buildings near the main gates, and Building a, rather than in the street itself or in the officers' residences. This distribution may throw light on the functions of these buildings and the wider role of women within the fortress.


[Back] [Section Summary] [Forward] [Contents] [Home]

© Internet Archaeology URL: http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue17/4/8.6.html
Last updated: Mon Apr 4 2005