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Analysis of figures representing women in work scenes: How can decolonial theory be useful in the study of Roman antiquity?

The present research has as its object of analysis figurations in which women are represented in work environments, all made during the Roman imperial period (approximately 1st to 3rd century AD) in Rome and Pompeii. Two frescoes were selected, one located in the House of the Empress of Russia and the other in the House of the Surgeon, both in Pompeii. In addition to them, two funerary reliefs located in Rome will be investigated: one that represents a woman inside a butcher shop and another in which a female figure watches a sculptor build an altar.

The recent bibliography about Roman work often minimizes elements and contrasts related to subordination in the work environment. As a consequence, in methodological terms, this research faces the difficulty of a small bibliography about Roman women workers. This analysis finds that the historiographical disregard in the study of subalterns (COURRIER, OLIVEIRA, 2022) and contemporary theoretical strategies for investigating their remains are silencing and repeat a colonial tone. About these topics, methodologically what this study accomplishes is the reading of authors and contemporaries who debate on the subject but analyzing them from the point of view of decolonial theory.

The objective of this research is to understand, through the investigation of female figures and the support of decolonial theory, the political place that their representations suggest and negotiate, taking into account their relationship with work. The difference in visualization context suggests a representative choice that signals different degrees of tension between the represented people. The chosen figures demonstrate that the discourse about work within the empire was not univocal and that the context of visualization and also its target audience are very important when it comes to the analysis of power and hierarchy in Rome.