Largely excluded from education, the women of Ancient Rome were forever subject to their fathers and husbands, to the point of having no legal rights over their own children. That’s not to say that they couldn’t become successful in business and politics, such as Eumachia of Pompeii, who was an extremely wealthy business magnate.
Aside from the wives and mothers of Roman emperors, who often held a significant amount of political power, the only official high-ranking job open to women was religious. The Vestal Virgins (who kept the sacred fire of Rome burning) were of particularly high status. As priestesses of Vesta – the goddess of the hearth, home and family – the six women would serve for 30 years and held significant power, including independence from their fathers’ rule and they could also manage their own property.
The analysis is based on a scene on a skyphos — a large ceramic cup used for the consumption of large quantities of wine — that represents a parodied depiction of the Judgment of Paris, a well-known incident from Homer’s The Iliad.
The painted scene on the skyphos could also recall a dramatic presentation of the event, perhaps a short play staged in honor of the local deities. In this case, actors such as those portraying Aphrodite and Hermes on the cup would presumably have appeared as Africans, their affect aided by carved and painted theatrical masks.
The same inclusion of blackness holds true for several other types of scenes found on the Kabeirion skyphoi. One of the most remarkable of these presents a dramatic confrontation taken from Homer’s Odyssey, the epic that follows The Iliad.