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date: 01 October 2022

Women in Late Antique North Africa (in the Writings of Augustine and Other Church Fathers)locked

Women in Late Antique North Africa (in the Writings of Augustine and Other Church Fathers)locked

  • Cassandra M. M. CasiasCassandra M. M. CasiasDepartment of Classical Studies, Duke University

Summary

The lives of women in late antique North Africa were shaped to a large extent by legal status and family roles. Enslaved women experienced frequent sexual exploitation at the hands of their male enslavers, who saw these encounters as proof of their masculinity. Married women, meanwhile, endured the double standard of close supervision and suspicion over their potential infidelity, as well as the physical abuse that could result. In Christian writings about mothers, the mother-child bond is seen as powerful enough to threaten the pursuit of a religious life. Widows, due to their high status in African churches, enjoyed such influence in Christian communities that unmarried women and women with living husbands attempted to join their ranks. Although consecrated virgins were thought to receive the highest rewards in heaven, the constant threat of the loss of their physical purity justified a higher degree of surveillance over them, by either their families or their bishops. To varying degrees, nearly all women were vulnerable to domestic or sexual violence. The African Church Fathers Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, and Augustine of Hippo—along with the prison memoir attributed to Perpetua of Carthage—provide a vast collection of texts about late antique women, but there are limitations to the use of these sources for historical information about women’s lived realities.

Subjects

  • North Africa and the Gulf
  • Women’s History

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