"Up to this point, the representations of domestic violence examined have all been derived from male-authored texts that vary in their degree of fictionality. There remains to be heard one solitary female voice, vivid, clear, and authentic. In a fragmentary papyrus from Roman Egypt, a maltreated Christian wife complains about her husband, not only on her own behalf, but also on behalf of her foster-daughters and the family slaves, all of whom appear to have been treated with even-handed brutality:

‘He shut up his own slaves and mine with my foster-daughters and his agent and son for seven whole days in his cellars, having insulted his slaves and my slave Zoe and half-killed them with blows, and he applied fire to my foster-daughters, having stripped them quite naked, which is contrary to the laws. … He swore in the presence of the bishops and his own brothers, “Henceforward I will not hide all my keys from her” (he trusted his slaves but would no trust me): “I will stop and not insult her”. Whereupon a marriage deed was made and after this agreement and his oaths, he again hid the keys from me… he kept saying, “A moth hence I will take a mistress.” God knows this is true.’

The addressee of the document is missing, but it is thought to be an affidavit for use in legal proceedings against the husband. As in Augustine’s account of Monica’s marriage, a rare glimpse is given into the domestic life of a fourth-century Christian community in a Roman African province. Although it is written in Greek, this document must nevertheless be acknowledged here, for it demonstrates even more forcefully than Augustine’s contemporaneous account, how violence within a household could be pervasive and relentless, and how, in reality, it could cut across all distinctions of age, gender, and status. The violence of this paterfamilias is directed toward everyone in the household, slave and free. Although the wife for her part, tries to assert traditional and legal distinctions about property, family and status, the husband feels empowered to ignore these. This household is an inversion of the ordered, stable and harmonious ideal, where authority and obedience are balanced by familial affection and loyalty. Here hierarchies of status are ignored, mutual marital affection is non-existent, and authority,dignitas, and obsequium (rank, dignity, and compliance) have been denigrated to naked power, violence and submission. Domestic violence, as we have seen, can be used to maintain a variety of familial hierarchies, yet here in its most corrosive form it eliminates all distinctions save one, the abuser and abused.”


Clark, Patricia. "The Family of St. Augustine.” Women and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture. Ed. Sandra R. Joshel and Sheila Murnaghan. London: Routledge, 2001. pg. 125-126. Print.