Phile lived in the Greek city state of Priene, which was under Roman rule. She was honored for her services to the city and the first woman elected Magistrate.
A wealthy woman, Phile personally paid for the construction of a reservoir and aqueduct for the city in 50 BCE. The funding of public works by private citizens was encouraged under the Emperor Augustus who wished to see his Empire modernised.
History doesn’t tell us how Phile was able to pay for such a huge project, but she must have been independently wealthy somehow, whether she was widowed or by some other means.
We do know that the city of Priene was grateful to their benefactress – Phile was honoured by public decree. She was also rewarded in another way; by being elected Magistrate – the first woman to achieve this post.
To the ancient Romans, Magistrates were not lawyers, but the highest government officers. They often held some excecutive and judicial powers (and would be advised by jurists, who knew the law). Phile was probably responsible for supervising public works in the city.
Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities – Bruce W. Winter
Participating in Public: Female Patronage and Economic Prominence at Hellenistic Priene – Ashley Eckhardt
“Agora of Priene” by Ken and Nyetta – Flickr: Agora of Priene.
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Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons