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Dr Katherine McDonald (University of Exeter), ‘Reitia and the epigraphic habit of Este’

A seminar by Dr Katherine McDonald for Classics and Ancient History

The epigraphic culture of the Veneto region is full of contrasts, particularly between its two largest cities: Este and Padua. At Padua, dedications to the gods were made within the city, many dedications are uninscribed, and all named dedicators are men. At Este, religious activity was focussed on a number of large extra-mural sanctuaries, each associated with a particular deity and social group. At the sanctuary of Reitia, goddess of writing, we find many dedications inscribed in the Venetic language, mostly in the form of bronze copies of writing tablets and styluses. The majority of these inscribed dedications to Reitia were made by women – or at least, they feature female names in the nominative. This paper explores the relationships between the goddess Reitia, the practice of dedicating inscribed writing tools and the position of women in Atestine society. In a society where we expect literacy to be predominantly male, how and why did these practices develop? Does the use of women’s names on bronze writing tablets and styluses provide evidence that women used these objects in daily life? This paper suggests that the dual functions of Reitia – her association with women and her association with writing – came together to create a highly specific local epigraphic practice, whose linguistic and archaeological traces continue into the Roman period of the city. It also argues that the dedicatory practices of women may have affected the wider epigraphic habit of the city, with women’s names appearing at Este more often than at Padua, not just in dedications but also in other text types.

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