The Women of the Codex of Justinian: Access to Power and Women's Agency in Responses to Imperial Petitions

  • Matthew Ingham

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis focuses on over 600 replies to imperial petitions addressed to women found in the sixth-century Codex Justinianus, material that has hitherto been under-utilised as a source of evidence for the lived experience of Roman women. It provides a new quantitative and qualitative analysis of these replies, or rescripts, in order to investigate the factors influencing the agency of Roman women. It identifies who these women were, what they petitioned about, and what the rescripts can tell us about their agency. This thesis provides a new approach to the categorisation of the rescripts, focusing on the motivations of the petitioners themselves rather than on legal principles to demonstrate that women petitioned the emperor regarding one or more of four broad areas of concern: social or legal status, economic status, protection of family, and personal security. By identifying three dominant resources in the production of power and agency, it provides an in-depth analysis of the socio-legal position and economic strength of the women concerned, before analysing the ways in which women acted independently of male control. This thesis argues that the women of the Codex were broadly representative of the property-owning non-elite, a section of society that rarely appears in elite literature but is well represented in papyri, and demonstrates the utility of the Codex as a source for Roman social history.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRoberta Mazza (Supervisor)


  • Petition and response
  • Corpus Juris Civilis
  • Rescripts
  • Roman women
  • Codex Justinianus
  • Roman law

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