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By applying Judith Butler’s theories of identity to the imperial women of the Severan dynasty in ancient Rome, this paper proves that while the Severan women had many identities, such as wife, mother, philosopher, or mourner, their imperial identity was most valued due to its ability to give them the freedom to step outside many aspects of their gender and to behave in ways which would customarily be deemed inappropriate. Butler’s theories postulate that actions create identities and that these identities then interact to form new possibilities for action. Using Butler’s theories, this paper first examines the actions of the Severan women in order to determine their identities, and then analyzes the ways in which their various identities overlap allowing them to act in ways contrary to traditionally accepted gender roles. This method produces superior results because Butler’s theories on the mingling of identities require scholars to view the Severan women as a product made up of many parts, rather than attempting to define the women based on a specific feature or only one identity. This paper concludes that the imperial identity of the Severan women was ultimately responsible for the differences between the imperial Roman women and average Roman women. This argument is significant because it proves that sources regarding empresses cannot be applied to typical Roman women, and vice versa.


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