In Book One of Virgil’s Aeneid the hero Aeneas and his comrade Achates set out to survey their surroundings after landing in northern Africa. In due time they reach a cliff from which they spy the bustling city of Carthage and marvel at the grand new gates, temples, and paved streets that were replaced by the city’s monarch the Phoenician queen, Dido. Her fame as a civic founder and patron extended into history as witnessed by her appearance as the quintessential patron in a seventeenth-century tapestry cartoon by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli showing the queen holding plans for her city (cf. Valone 2001: fig. 1, p. 319) (Figure 5.1).1 In its day it might have provoked viewers to recall great patrons of the ancient world, perhaps even Suetonius’ frequently cited observation of Augustus: he found the city built of mud brick when he came to power, but left it encased in marble upon his death (Suet. Aug. 28). In both early modern and ancient Italy, a leader’s erection of urban structures was symbolic of the civic and sacred authority he held, a measure of his greatness. Yet, for Romans, the similarities between Dido and Augustus extend no further, for the queen of Carthage, unlike Augustus, was fated for ruin – largely because she was a woman. Dido’s queenly ambitions matched by uncontrolled desire were not simply unacceptable to the Romans, but ultimately yielded her downfall to Rome’s moral virtus embodied in Aeneas (and by analogy, Augustus). For epic readers, the moral was that female-led Carthage was no match for Rome’s masculine virtus. Scholars often compare Dido in Carthage to Cleopatra in Egypt. Her political and personal relationship to another of Rome’s powerful men, Antony, brought her demise (Galinsky 1996: 230; Wyke 1992). The analogy perhaps reminded readers that, to the Roman mind, a world ruled by a woman is one turned upside

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The effectiveness of Virgil’s literary trope of a woman empowered threatening civic stability is heavily indebted to a patriarchy that informed it and all facets of life in Rome. Taken alone, such evidence might suggest that Romans saw women as aliens to civic politics, with no place in forming civic culture. Instead, they were more properly anchors of domestic culture, overseeing the household economy, bearing and rearing children, and tending to familial concerns. Yet, despite such noble ideals of womanhood, in practice elite Roman women in the last decades of the republic did regularly gain access to political life particularly through family ties, though not, as Suzanne Dixon (1983: 91) notes, in the sense of voting and pursuing magistracies or senatorial authority, but ‘in the sense of the pursuit and exercise of real power.’ Women like Clodia, Servillia or Fulvia interceded on behalf of certain men as behind the scenes patrons. In this way, some elite women wielded exceptional power via familial relationships within Rome’s social network of powerful families (Carp 1981; Dixon 1983; Skinner 1983). By appropriating the terms of the family, women could participate in patronal activities and extend their sphere of influence beyond their traditional domestic roles.