Women Migrants in the Latin Western Empire

While interest in ancient migration has grown significantly in recent years, it is largely limited to “faceless and sex-less crowds” (Foubert 2016: 289); “a systematic study of female mobility in the early Roman empire has never been attempted” (de Ligt and Tacoma 2016: 13). Each of the many possible approaches to the study of women’s migration entails specific research problems and methodological challenges, including the particularly promising epigraphical approach with e.g. its underrepresentation of women in inscriptions.

The digitisation of epigraphical material opened up new possibilities to the study of women’s migration. This paper will discuss the expediency of automated keyword-searches in epigraphical online-databases for the purpose of identifying and analysing migrating women: using the Pleiades list of place names, modified and truncated to include not only toponyms but also references to them, e.g. adjectives, the Epigraphische Datenbank Clauss-Slaby is searched using a Python-script. The results are then filtered to include only entries which were found in a place different from the mentioned toponyms and include women’s names. In this way, virtually all inscriptions which reference migrating women should be found, which allows a systematic and quantitative approach to the study of women’s migration in the Latin west of the Roman empire.

The paper mainly focuses on some of the methodological and epistemological challenges which arise when analysing inscriptions quantitatively, from the skewed construction of the source corpus by ancient practices, historical accident, and modern priorities to the challenges inherent in computational approaches, and from the false sense of comprehensive objectivity implied by statistical and computational approaches to the underlying issue of the socially constructed category of ‘migrant’.


Foubert, Lien (2016). ‘Mobile Women in P. Oxy. and the Port Cities of Roman Egypt. Tracing Women’s Travel Behaviour in Papyrological Sources’. In: de Ligt, Luuk and Tacoma, Laurens E. (eds.), Migration and Mobility in the Early Roman Empire. Leiden and Boston MA: Brill, pp. 285–304.

de Ligt, Luuk and Tacoma, Laurens E. (2016). ‘Approaching Migration in the Early Roman Empire’. In: de Ligt, Luuk and Tacoma, Laurens E. (eds.), Migration and Mobility in the Early Roman Empire. Leiden and Boston MA: Brill, pp. 1–22.


All code used for this presentation is available on GitHub.

Please note that the code contains some errors which were only identified after the presentation. The files ‘Find_Migrants.py’ and ‘Analyse_Inscriptions.py’ therefore don’t produce the expected results.


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Please note that a previous presentation contained incorrect figures; I’ve added a correction note on the relevant slide.