Eumachia was a woman who defied social conventions. Not content to sit in the background, as a typical Roman matron was supposed to, she acquired standing within the Pompeian community in her own right. Eumachia’s initial wealth came from her father, Lucius’ Eumachius’s ceramic business. Eumachius’s name has been found stamped on several bricks and roof tiles dated between 50-25BC. He also seems to have manufactured wine amphorae, as archaeologists have found pottery vessels bearing his name have across the empire in the south of France, North Africa, and Spain.
Eumachius seems to have been well respected, as most inscriptions Eumachia set up were careful to identify her as his daughter, rather than naming her husband. For some time during the early imperial period, a match was made between Eumachia and Marcus Numistrius Fronto of the Numistrii. Fronto was a duumvir of Pompeii in 3AD and so a prominent man. However, his name is nowhere to be seen on any of Eumachia’s civic dedications. This absence was probably because Eumachia was by that time a widow. However, it also suggests she was looking for a public role of her own.
Eumachia became a public priestess, the only Civic role open to a woman. She had also started financing her own civic monuments, including the famous Eumachia Building on the edge of the forum. This building was not constructed to enhance Eumachia’s political prospects, for Roman women could not vote nor could they stand for public office. However, Eumachia had a son, Marcus Numistrius Fronto the younger whose own career need to be advanced. “Eumachia, daughter of Lucius, public priestess, in her own name and that of her son, Marcus Numistrius Fronto, built at her own expense, the chalcidicum, crypt and portico in honor of Augustan concord and piety and also dedicated them,” read the inscription over the building’s portico.
Fronto Junior’s name was prominent. However, there was no doubt who the people of Pompeii had to thank for the building. Eumachia was acting as a patron in her own right- and she was earning gratitude for it. At the back of the Eumachia building, in a central niche, a statue to the Eumachia was set up by the fuller’s guild. Whether this indicates Eumachia was involved in the cloth industry or had merely performed some service for the fuller’s guild, we will never know. However, she was significant enough to them to deserve a very public gesture of thanks.
However, the most significant statement of Eumachia’s standing was her tomb. It is the largest tomb found so far in Pompeii, raised above the street and set back from a terraced area which includes seats for visiting mourners. It was a tomb designed to hold not only Eumachia but also her future descendants. Eumachia was a Roman matron who believed she and she alone had established a legacy for generations to come.
Ex-slaves, like women, were denied a political role in Roman society. However, some became wealthy enough to wield influence in other ways