dux femina facti / by Anthony Gibbins

dux femina facti a woman was the author of the achievement. So says Virgil of the fleet that departed Tyre, in modern day Lebanon, to find a new home on the north coast of Africa. The woman was Dido, a member of Tyre’s royal line. She was accompanied by citizens who would no longer live under the sway of Tyre’s corrupt leader, due either to fear of him or a severe dislike.

These three words, dux femina facti, may well have crossed Claudia’s mind as she stood before the Eumachia building in the Pompeian Forum. Here are three paragraphs from Mary Beards’ Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. It is one of Claudia’s favourite books;

But the biggest surprise in this male hierarchical world is to be found in the Forum itself. The largest building in the area, standing at the south-east corner, was erected in the reign of Augustus. Its function has long been a cause of controversy, like so many of the Forum buildings: market, slave market, multi-purpose hall? But its inspiration is clear. We have already seen [liber totus tibi legendus est!] that two of the statues on its façade were copied from the Forum of Augustus. The carved marble door frames, decorated with scrolls of acanthus, reflect the contemporary style of the capital, and are very close to those on another celebrated Augustan monument, the Altar of Peace. Some art historians have compared its conception to a huge portico erected in Rome by Augustus’ wife, the empress Livia.

That is a good comparison in more ways than one. For this building, known as the Building of Eumachia, was also sponsored by a woman. Inscriptions over the two entrances declared that Eumachia, who was a priestess in the town, daughter of one leading family and married into another, built it ‘in her own name and that of her son…at her own expense.’ Her statue stood at one end of the building, paid for by the fullers (hence the fantasy that the whole building might be a cloth-workers’ hall). We know almost nothing of Eumachia, and can only guess at all the different circumstances that might lie behind her building of this monument, and the different degrees of active involvement she might have had in the planning and design. Most likely she was attempting to advance the career of her son. But one thing is certain: the finished product is stamped with her own name almost as firmly as the theatre is stamped with that of Holconius. Eumachia here represents a similar conduit for the culture of the capital to make its way to Pompeii. And Eumachia was not the only such female benefactor. An inscription found in the Forum makes it clear that another of the major buildings there was the work of another priestess, one Mamia.

We should not, for this reason, overestimate the degree of power held by women in this town. To be a priestess, public office though it was, was not the same as being duumvir.* Even large-scale benefaction was a long way from formal power. That said, Eumachia is another example of the varied routes to public prominence the town offered. She is another ‘face of success.’ (pp. 213-5)

*duumvir: one of the two equal magistrates elected annually to preside over the municipal council with law giving powers. Only men were eligible for this role.

Also in the Forum is the square colonnade built by Eumachia. Eumachia was a distinguished (clara) Pompeian woman, both rich (dives) and generous (liberalis).

The Lego model of Pompeii is housed in the Nicholson Museum of The University of Sydney, Australia. Entry to the museum is entirely free, and you may visit Monday to Friday between 10:00 and 4:30. The Nicholson is Australia’s oldest University museum and contains the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The Pompeii model was commissioned by the Nicholson and constructed by LEGO Professional Builder Ryan McNaught. It is the third such model the museum has exhibited, following the Colosseum and Acropolis.  The Colosseum was returned to McNaught and recently exhibited around Australia. The Acropolis was denoted by the Nicholson to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The Pompeii model is estimated to include 190 000 bricks and took 420 hours to complete.