This introductory chapter provides an overview of the role that women of ancient Rome played in public cult. Historians of Roman religion have generally supposed that women were excluded from official priestly service at Rome. In recent years, however, a number of important studies have challenged specific aspects of this general picture, including the theory of female sacrificial incapacity. There is ample evidence that women could communicate with the gods through sacrifice. Laywomen are recorded as officiants as well. Meanwhile, the question of women's subordination to male authority in the ritual sphere is less easily settled. It indeed seems that married priestesses were subject to the authority of their priestly spouses. However, other priestesses were more independent. The administration of cults under female control seems to have been left to the women themselves, particularly where men were actively excluded. Such self-government was naturally an “internal autonomy” that relied upon the continued consent of the people and the senate.
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