This article about women involved in the production of Garum at Pompeii made me ponder the role of women, work and feminism ...
In a post about the status of Persian women I made the point that women were paid the same as men according to the Persepolis Foundation Archive. Persian women worked and were paid, it seems, for the work on a par with men. But it's worth making the point that women working does not mean they wielded any power. Some women, those of the working class, have worked throughout history not because they chose to but because they had to.
We're often taught that the great 20th century revolution was of Feminism, which gave women the right to work and so have a say over their lives. I don't think I'd be alone in arguing that the feminist revolution only affected the middle classes - the poor have always had to work, and many rich women still chose either not to work or to have 'token' careers, often with non-profits.
I would further argue that evidence of ancient women working tells us little about the status of women when the evidence concerns the poor who had little other choice - labour was a chore to fund food and not a 'right' they embraced.
Business women are much more interesting. Although I tend to devote more time to warriors on the battlefield, these business women were financial warriors. Several of Mohammed's wives and female relatives were very involved in trading, showing that the first generations of Islam did not oppress women quite as much as some later ones.
Roman businesswomen are well attested in the manufacture of bricks, which tend to be stamped with a date and the name of the factory owner. This evidence from Pompeii shows them as having been involved in the production of garum, and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri confirms women continued to take part in commerce centuries later.
Fulvia is a great example of where the two kinds of warrior meet - her money originate with the Scipios, who had won it in wars, was nurtured and increased through commerce, and then ... Well, Fulvia's career pretty much ended after she'd used that money to fund the failed Perusine War against Augustus. Had she won, it might have been a great business venture, but because she lost an army turned out to have been the ultimate bad investment.
Too many young women today seem to see Feminism as revolving around sexual freedom - they want to behave like the characters in "Sex and the City" bedding a different man every week (and then we don't understand why men treat women like sex toys, and men don't understand why women don't want to go along with those plans ...).
Sex may be great fun, but it's been around since the beginning of time, and has little to do with empowering women (unless they plan open a brothel ... Which is another form of business in which Roman women excelled, incidentally). Women have the right to join the army in most countries these days, but the lessons of history suggest that we'd be better off becoming financial warriors ...