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A proposed framework for Roman "chastity crimes": Pudicitia in early Imperial Literature

Abstract

Frequent concern over sexual ethics and behavior in Early Imperial Roman literature encompasses strict norms of what it means to be a good Roman man, woman, slave, soldier, or various other potentially overlapping identities, in a way that reveals the importance of ethical sexual behavior for the functioning of Rome. What to the modern imagination might simply be imagery of sexual indulgence and orgies is actually, at least in Roman literature, a complex system of expectations and measures working to keep individuals, families, and the city running smoothly. In patriarchal societies in which sexual morality is a concern, certain patterns of behavior are set in motion when a sexual transgression, typically implicating a woman, occurs. In early Imperial Roman literature, the operative category in cases of sexual deviance is pudicitia, or chastity.[1] This paper frames pudicitia governing over individuals and the city as a code, in comparison to codes of honor that govern societies and cultures in which honor crimes are prevalent.[2] An analysis of the literary tradition of pudicitia in Livy’s historical literature and the moralistic writings of Valerius Maximus against an anthropological framework of honor killings, in which the family is the dominant unit, reveals that threats to pudicitia pose a risk to not merely the family or even the local community, but the state and its constitutional form.

[1] See Section II below for a full discussion of the term pudicitia.

[2] Cynthia Helba & Matthew Bernstein. Report on Exploratory Study Into Honor Violence Measurement and Methods.12. Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2015. Web. Honor crimes, which encompass honor killings, are defined as the punishment and/or elimination of girls and women whose actions display or even simply invite rumors of sexual transgression as a mechanism to maintain a family’s honor.

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