[Roman spindle whorl, source: Wikimedia Commons]
In many cases, saying a woman worked in wool was a way of implying her virtue. The historian Livy did exactly this with Lucretia.* Similarly, no matter what else one said about a deceased woman, mentioning that she worked in wool was standard praise. This held for women slave and free, rich and poor.
[Fresco found in Pompeii, Museo Nazionale di Napoli, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Textile work, while definitely important, was not as central to women’s work and identity in Rome as in most of Greece. It held very strong connotations of women’s virtue and the stability of the past, but ideal held more force here than necessity.
*For those unfamiliar with the story, try here. (tw: rape)
**Among the possible exceptions to this (aside from prostitutes and barmaids and the like) were midwives. At the very least Soranus argued that the best midwives avoided wool-work because it made the hands hard.
***No matter who did the work, the cloth belonged to the owner of the wool.
****Fulling is the process of cleaning and thickening cloth.
Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Maureen B. Fant, trans. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: a Source Book in Translation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Claudia, 2nd century BCE, CIL VI.15346 - Diotima
Anymone, housewife, 1st century BCE, ILS 8402 - Found in Lefkowitz & Fant (no. 41), no link available
Menophila, 1st century BCE, Peek 1881 - Diotima
Murdia, 1st century BCE, CIL VI.10230 - Diotima
Allia Potestas, late 3rd-4th century CE, CIL VI.37965 - Diotima
Funeral Eulogy, 1st century BCE, ILS 8393 - Diotima
Juvenal, Satire 6, late 1st-2nd century CE - Diotima
Musonius Rufus 3, 4, 13a, 1st century CE - Diotima
Livy, History of Rome 1.57.6-1.58 (The Rape of Lucretia), late 1st century CE - Diotima
Soranus, Gynaecology 1.3-4, 2nd century CE - Diotima
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves. New York: Schocken, 1995.
Clothing in Ancient Rome - Wikipedia