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In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
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Not all marriages produce children. This chapter examines alternative methods of family building and assesses their usefulness in fulfilling the expectations attached to fecunditas in Roman society. Three methods are considered: adoption, ‘substitute’ children (e.g., alumni or the children of friends), and divorce and remarriage. Throughout, the analysis considers the gendered experience of fecunditas: what was a solution for one spouse might not resolve the same issue for the other. The chapter reassesses the success or failure of these efforts by childless individuals to become parents in light of the important role fecunditas held in Roman society. In particular, examining adoption through the framework of fecunditas developed in previous chapters casts doubt on the frequent scholarly assumption that adoption should be seen as a straightforward and unproblematic method of resolving involuntary childlessness.

In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
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The focus of this chapter is on the fecunditas of the most prominent Roman women – the female relatives of the emperor – and on how the emperors and their families were both constrained by and exempt from broader societal expectations about fecunditas. The chapter begins by examining the treatment of the women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (30 BCAD 69), establishing that imperial concerns about fecunditas and awareness of its potential use in dynastic messaging existed from the very beginning of the Principate. The chapter then uses one medium – central coinage – to track how imperial messaging involving fecunditas became increasingly sophisticated. The reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138–161), during which the image of the goddess Fecunditas appeared on coinage for the first time, marked a significant shift from earlier messaging, and the reigns which followed were quick to exploit the new possibilities. Fecunditas became an important means of asserting dynastic stability and legitimacy. Finally, the chapter reassesses the role of adoption in imperial succession in light of this new understanding of the importance of fecunditas to the imperial house.

In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
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Abstract

The Romans conceptualized fecunditas not just as a private matter between spouses, but also as a public affair of significant concern to the Roman state. This chapter examines how assumptions about fecunditas underpinned explanations for Roman imperial success; it frames the pronatalism of the Roman state as a fecunditas project to which every Roman citizen was expected to contribute. During the Principate the emperor was judged to be responsible for the health of the Roman population, which enabled authors to use concerns about fecunditas in their moralizing narratives about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rulers. The chapter then explores the Republican precedents for official privileges for citizens who had produced children, which predated the Augustan marriage legislation of 18 BC and AD 9. The aims and impact of the Augustan reforms are assessed, using epigraphic and papyrological evidence to look beyond the elite in Rome. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the alimenta programs of later emperors.

In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
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The chapter begins by examining the implicit and explicit connections between marriage and the production of children in Roman society. It then considers how the marriage patterns of the Roman elite were designed to maximise the production of legitimate children, even though the literary sources claim that elite Romans were unwilling to marry or produce children and that childless individuals – orbi – were privileged. Underneath these gendered accusations rests a fear that the elite population was failing to reproduce itself. This chapter argues that any such failure was not due to intentional efforts by elite men or women to reject marriage or parenthood, which remained socially expected obligations. The chapter ends by considering how to read the Augustan marriage legislation as a response to this moral panic and as an attempt to assert stability in a highly unstable time rather than a solution to a quantifiable demographic trend.

In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
Author:

Abstract

This chapter explores the tension between the medical understanding of the causes of infertility in the Roman world and how elite society defined the virtue of fecunditas. It focuses on the gendered division of responsibility for the production of legitimate children and the impact such a division had on both men and women. The chapter argues that the Romans’ ideas about fecunditas cannot be reduced to our modern definitions of fertility or fecundity and offers instead a framework which sees fecunditas as inherently hierarchical, demonstrated by some women more than others. Reports in the literary sources of demographic outliers, multiple births, and disappointing offspring reveal the male authors’ interest in evaluating the success or failure of individual women’s fecunditas. No woman could be guaranteed to be judged as having excelled at fecunditas, no matter how many children she bore.

In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
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Abstract

The Romans thought of fecunditas not simply as a medical term analogous to our own fertility or fecundity, but as an important female virtue – one which every married woman was expected to demonstrate. This chapter begins with a study of the close connection between fecunditas and pudicitia (‘sexual virtue’) found in the literary sources. Since a virtuous Roman woman improved her husband’s reputation and social standing, this made fecunditas an important source of social capital for men, even though they could not embody it themselves. The chapter examines how men recognized and exploited this social capital, both at Rome and in the wider empire, using a case study of epitaphs commemorating women who died in childbirth. The chapter also considers how proven fecunditas was thought to improve a woman’s position in her marriage. Fecunditas was a virtue belonging to marriage; Roman society believed it created reciprocal obligations between spouses.

In: Fertility, Ideology, and the Cultural Politics of Reproduction at Rome
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Roman women bore children not just for their husbands, but for the Roman state. This book is the first comprehensive study of the importance of fecunditas (human fertility) in Roman society, c. 100 BC - AD 300. Its focus is the cultural impact of fecunditas, from gendered assumptions about infertility, to the social capital children brought to a marriage, to the emperors’ exploitation of fecunditas to build and preserve dynasties. Using a rich range of source material - literary, juristic, epigraphic, numismatic - never before collected, it explores how the Romans shaped fecunditas into an essential female virtue.