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symposiums in Lucania

Women at the Magna Graecia Symposiums

Sailko / Wikimedia Commons Bridal vase from a tomb in ancient Lucania, where women would participate in events usually restricted to menSailko / Wikimedia Commons

In ancient Greece, the symposium was a social gathering attended exclusively by men, packed with wine, food, discussions (both philosophical and mundane), and with entertainment performed by slaves. In parts of Magna Graecia, which was the name given to the southern areas of the Italian peninsula colonized by the Hellenes, the customs may have been a little more liberal. A study by Italian archeologists Chiara Albanesi, from the University of Basilicata, and Ilaria Battiloro, from Mount Allison University in Canada, suggests that women of high social standing also participated in symposiums in Lucania, a region that covered most of modern-day Basilicata (Mouseion, V. 14, No. 1, 2017). They analyzed artifacts from the 4th and 3rd centuries BC found in 18 tombs, thought to have belonged to women of high prestige in Lucania, and found objects related to the consumption of wine, such as cups, amphoras, and kraters (large vases used to water down wine). Typically feminine objects were also found, such as jewelry, weaving tools, and bridal vases known as lebes gamikos. In the age of antiquity, tombs of members of wealthy families reflected their tastes and habits, and so the researchers argue that it is reasonable to assume that these women participated in symposiums. “Although most of the available information comes from Athenian society, the symposiums in ancient Greece were generally a male-only activity,” explains Ilaria. “Of the communities in southern Italy, Apulia is the only one other than Lucania where archaeological evidence has shown that women may have participated in communal banquets.” The Etruscans, who dominated the area of ​​present-day Tuscany, allowed women to take part in their symposiums, a liberal custom that may have reached those living on the southern peninsula through trade links.