Togas, Sandals, Murder: A Gendered Analysis of Criminals in Ancient Rome

by Algomau5260 on February 17, 2017 - 6:39pm

As a self-proclaimed professional Netflix connoisseur, I have consumed a fair bit of modern media. As crime has been a constant throughout human history, it is no surprise that it permeates popular culture and, in some cases, romanticized. However, within the realm of fiction there exists additional avenues of representing crime in unrealistic or embellished light. From super villains, to modern values being projected on historical figures, modern criminal aspects can be seen and analyzed in a dynamic way. While analyzing the true representation of crime is critical, analyzing fictional portrayals and conceptions of crime provides an additional insight. How do we, as a society, conceive of crime? When displaying hypothetical situations, what attitudes or ideas are inherent within the media presenting those situations? These questions have led me to my choice in analysis. For this post, I will be conducting a gendered analysis of Quintus Lentulus Batiatus and his wife Lucretia, from the show Spartacus. While these are actual historical figures, the show does have modern values within it, as well as an embellished account of the characters. Through this analysis, I will answer the following questions;

 

  1. How are the offenders portrayed?

  2. How do their actions correspond with broader gendered perspectives in criminology?

  3. What sort of message or image does this create about gender expectations and criminal behaviour?

 

Before diving into the analysis, I will briefly explain who these subjects are. Quintus and Lucretia are the owners of a prominent gladiator training school, or a ludus. However, the duo have higher aspirations and ambitions, seeking to achieve political office. Much like today’s social stratum, the hierarchy of ancient Roman times was well enforced. Quintus and Lucretia stood as plebeians, common riff-raff compared to those of political breeding, who were considered patricians. While the laws of the time allowed for plebeians to achieve political office, it was exceedingly difficult. It was in this aim that Quintus and Lucretia inevitably found themselves committing criminal acts in order to achieve their ambitions. Campaigning for political office as a plebeian required significant resources, not only to buy into certain social circles, but also to bankroll the extravagant tastes of the political elite.

 

A cursory glance of these individuals would suggest that Quintus is the only criminal individual, and that Lucretia simply plays the supportive wife. However, throughout the course of the series, it is revealed that Lucretia plays a critical role in Quintus’ criminal machinations, seeking to elevate the house of Batiatus to the coveted positions within the senate of the Roman Republic. While Quintus commits increasingly violent crimes in order to achieve his goals, Lucretia dabbles in more subtle (but sometimes equally violent) crimes. For example, in one instance Quintus commits murder, while Lucretia engages in conspiracy and blackmail that also leads to murder (sometimes of multiple individuals). Their roles as criminals could be described as adhering to traditional gender roles. Quintus is more direct in his violence, and is overtly responsible for them and is in command. Lucretia on the other hand works behind the scenes, using indirect violence and her “femininity”, and ultimately commits these crimes in order to achieve her husband’s goals. While Quintus is portrayed as an ambitious man who is willing to do anything to achieve political office, Lucretia is portrayed as a doting wife who will do anything for her husband.

Comparing their actions to broader concepts within criminology, you can glean that there is some truth to some stereotypes. Specifically, that men are more violent and that women are less so. While a stereotype, these conceptions are supported by the data. While there is a perceived rise in female violent crimes, men are still significantly more likely to commit violent crimes. However, there is a departure within Lucretia’s character. Historically speaking, ideas of gender in criminology were largely lopsided. If a women were to commit a crime, they would be considered either masculine or ill (Britton, 2011). Even within modern views, women in crime are viewed as being made masculine. Such is not the case with Lucretia, who uses her position as a woman to operate. For example, while meeting with prominent women (an opportunity only afforded to Lucretia as a woman), Lucretia gathers critical information and makes arrangements in order to blackmail the wife of a politician into supporting her husband’s bid for patronage. One could consider these meetings of spouses to be a traditionally female event, and by using social blackmail in lieu of threat of violence, Lucretia uses her gender to both commit crimes and avoid suspicion.

Ultimately, Quintus and Lucretia represent the traditional expectations of gender within crime. Quintus is an ambitious man who commits violent crimes to gain political office and accrue wealth, while Lucretia uses blackmail and social maneuvering to help elevate her husband.  To me, the message becomes abundantly clear - men are violent creatures of ambition, while women prefer subtle machinations to achieve their goals. While this message is supportive and indicative of social stereotypes, it does (to certain degrees) reflect the data. However, Lucretia does represent a certain departure from the perceived masculinity of female offenders, using her gender and femininity as an advantage over unsuspecting men and women alike.

Sources;

Britton, Dana. The Gender of Crime, 2011. 

Spartacus, Starz Production, 2008-2011