WIRE: Women in the Roman East is designed to digitize and explore the social, political and economic histories of women in the Roman Near East through the use of the latest digital humanities tools. By collecting and making digitally accessible a wide range of sources from literary texts to inscriptions to figurines, WIRE provides scholars, researchers, students, and the general public with an important resource. We also are developing tools to explore and interact with the resources through mapping modules, timelines, keyword explorers and more.

For the purposes of the WIRE project, the territory of the Roman Near East is considered the Hadrianic (ca. 125 CE) provinces of Syria, Judaea and Arabia, corresponding to the area of modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, and including parts of Egypt and Turkey. Currently, the project team is focused on adding material dating from the first centuries of Roman imperial rule (1st c. BCE - 3nd c. CE), though future efforts will expand the scope of the project into the Hellenistic (4th c. BCE - 1st c. BCE) and Byzantine periods (4th c. CE - 6th c. CE).

RATIONALE: Women’s lives are not a prominent feature in ancient (or modern) histories of the Roman East. WIRE aims to address the silence, and where possible, recover lost voices and different perspectives of the past.

Evidence for women’s experiences of the Roman East takes many forms, including epitaphs, portrait sculpture, graffiti, coins, documentary, and literary testimonies, and graves. These sources are scattered across a variety of different kinds of publications, and even across different disciplines with diverse methods of approaching the past (numismatics, epigraphy, archaeology, text studies). Textual evidence is recorded in many languages: Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Palmyrene, Nabataean. Much of the evidence is inaccessible or difficult to use because it is in old or rare publications, embedded in specialist literature (field reports, epigraphic articles), untranslated or not photographed. A portion of the original artifacts are lost.

Simply put, no comprehensive source for the study of women in the region exists. Not even a single monograph treats the subject in any comprehensive way (though comparable efforts have been undertaken for other regions, particularly in the Roman West and Asia Minor, with great success). WIRE aims to surmount the barriers to study by bringing together the diverse strands of evidence into one, easy to use, digital collection. Uses envisioned include:

  • onomastic study
  • religious roles
  • political roles
  • economic position
  • individual identities
  • studies of descriptors of women
  • morals and values
  • regional and civic comparative studies

WIRE will provide a lasting, dynamic resource for future study, including new avenues not imagined in the original project. In addition to providing a digital collection and multimodal tools to use and explore the resources, we are developing longer term publication projects based on this material (see projects for more information).

PEDAGOGY & EDUCATION: A key component to the WIRE project is creating a database and supplemental information that can be used as a classroom tool. We are piloting this use of the database through a range of activities and assignments in undergraduate lecture and upper-level courses at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, including opportunities for students to do original research, contribute entries, and write featured exhibits on the site. Our pedagogy page contains ideas and resources for using the database in the undergraduate classroom, and we encourage you to develop lesson or assignment plans for your own courses. We are also interested in providing transparency in our project design and implementation as guidance to other scholars interested in engaging in the digital humanities; more updates on this aspect of the project will appear on our pedagogy page.

BROAD ACCESSIBILITY: The easy-to-use Omeka interface and database design is intended to make the project approachable by the general public. An introductory exhibit will provide an overview of several important or evocative pieces clearly framed by their socio-historic contexts for users who seek a more narrative, guided approach.

APPROACH & METHODOLOGY: Each artifact entry is assigned a unique identifier consisting of the first three letters of the associated town or city (eg. GERasa) + a random, four digit sequence (eg. GER0214). Each entry consists of two key parts:

  1. Dublin core data, where you will find description, date, location, publication information, format, and language of each item.

  2. Type specific metadata, corresponding to the the category of object and regularized across all objects of the same type (eg. sarcophagi or coins).

The database includes a range of literary and material culture, including (at present): dedicatory inscriptions on altars and statue bases, statues and statue busts, inscribed funerary stelae, sarcophagi, coins, figurines, mosaics, and selections from ancient literature. We anticipate adding additional material categories (small finds, textiles, burials) in the future, or as we encounter these artifacts. Please note that the database is comprehensive, rather than exhaustive, although we try to include all pieces of evidence known to us from a particular site or region.

We follow a set of criteria for identifying objects or texts for inclusion in WIRE:

  1. The material must mention, include, allude to, or significantly contribute to an understanding of, women’s lives in the Near East.

  2. Material exclusively dealing with female mythological figures or goddesses are currently excluded from database.

  3. Certain categories of material culture (textiles, jewelry, pins, etc.) are included in the database on a case-by-case basis, dependent on the original interpretations of the excavators, complementary ancient evidence, and the general guiding principle of including pieces that help elucidate the social and personal lived experiences of ancient women.

The database is constantly being updated. The newest entries appear first when “Browse Items” is selected. The specific identifier numbers for each site are WIRE-specific random identifiers to distinguish between items from a particular site, and are not intended to impose any order or numerical count of such items.

USING THE DATABASE: The database consist of entries from a wide range of material, visual, and textual culture that attest to women’s lives and roles in the Roman East. You can make use of this data in a number of ways. On the simplest level, browsing the database can be done by title and tag. In addition to a descriptive title that identifies the artifact type and any names given in inscription, each item is tagged to reflect its most important aspects, including the artifact type, titles, names, relationships, symbols, and other visual elements. Selecting one of these tags will bring you to a collection of items with the same feature. You can also browse by collections (a series of items with a similar theme or topic), or exhibits (curated explorations of special topics). Searching the database can be accomplished by simple searches, or by the use of advanced filters and regular expressions (REGEX).

IMAGE USE: Except for where indicated, images appearing in the WIRE database are the copyright of their respective owners. Wherever possible, we have made use of Open Source images and/or arranged for the use of images with the copyright holders. Information about image copyrights may be found in the "Rights" field in the Dublin Core data for each entry.

Please direct questions regarding copyright and use of images, to contact@wireproject.org.

VERSION: WIRE is currently in beta testing.

We are in the process of adding additional tools to aid in exploring the database. These will expand the functionality of the database for both scholars and students, and include mapping modules, statistical analysis of database items, and a guest user role to enable more dynamic visitor exploration.

If you have any ideas for ways to improve or make the database more accessible, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at contact AT wireproject.org or find us on Twitter @ seanpburrus or @ archleblanc.