Julia Hillner
© Julia Hillner

Prof. Dr. Julia Hillner

BCDSS Professorship
Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies

Phone: 0228 73
Personal website2

“Researching and teaching at BCDSS will allow me to situate my field - social and gender relations at the end of antiquity - within the widest possible variety of pertinent questions and approaches to the theme of dependency in the pre-modern world, ranging from law to theology and material culture. This is a huge privilege and I can't wait to get started."

Current Position

Professor for Dependency and Slavery Studies (as of October 2021)

Academic Profile

Julia Hillner works predominantly on the transformations of the family and the household in the period 300–750 and how these are reflected in legal norms and practices. She has published widely on related topics: from the urban context of the family and property holding, particularly in the late antique city of Rome, to issues of authority, hierarchy and discipline within the household and how these have influenced concepts and practices of state punishment in late antiquity.

During her fellowship at the Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies Julia Hillner will research discourses and practices around female bodily adornment in late antiquity, especially with regard to the wearing of jewellery. In particular, she will investigate the tensions between a continuing classical rhetoric that demanded sobriety and frugalness when it came to presenting the elite female body and the emergence of a widely accepted display of jewellery at all levels of society and across the gender spectrum.

3 monographs, 2 edited volumes, 1 guest-edited special journal issue, 14 journal articles, 13 chapters in edited collections, 8 dictionary entries, 1 online database, 15 book reviews.

Research Project

Women's Chains:
Jewels, Slavery and the "Rhetoric of Unadornment" in Late Antiquity

"Jewels", the Roman freedman and protagonist of Petronius' novel Satyricon Trimalchio complained, are "women's chains" (Petr. Sat. 67). This was not a proto-modern concern about social beauty norms limiting female agency. This first-century fictitious former slave, or rather his aristocratic creator, expressed fears that women's wearing of jewellery endangered the social order and blurred the lines between the classes. Trimalchio's world was a society that was simultaneously obsessed with wealth and with frugality as symbols of power. Men fitting out their women with jewels showed they had money to spare, but at the same time made themselves subservient to their womenfolk's desires. Freedmen's ostentatious display of jewels, in turn, performed a fine balance act between affording them with status, including through their women's beauty, and marking them out as what they really were: greedy former slaves.

This project investigates what happened to such moral discourses and the power relations in the household that it reflected in the course of and following a key change in the representation of jewellery in Roman art. It is commonly acknowledged that from the third century on it became acceptable to exhibit elite women as wearing jewellery, when before it had largely not been, a rule Trimalchio disregarded. Earlier imperial Roman statuary, mosaics, coinage, paintings or reliefs had depicted imperial and aristocratic women soberly. Earrings, necklaces, hair pins, brooches, finger rings, bracelets or anklets were largely absent from these images, even where, in reality, women of all classes did wear them. This iconography clearly took note of the maxim (also expressed in earlier Republican sumptuary laws) that women could or even should own jewellery, but they were not to display it. Female adornment embodied sexual depravity, weakness, deceitfulness, greed, and even dirtiness, and could as such be presented as un-Roman.


  • 2001                          Ph.D., Ancient History, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 1997                          1. Staatsexamen in History, Italian, Education, University of Bonn, Germany

Academic Positions

  • 2017–present          Chair in Medieval History, University of Sheffield, UK
  • 2016–2017               Reader in Medieval History, University of Sheffield, UK
  • 2014–2015               Senior Lecturer in Medieval History, University of Sheffield, UK
  • 2008–2014               Lecturer in Medieval History, University of Sheffield, UK
  • 2003–2008               British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Classics and Ancient History, University of Manchester, UK
  • 2003                          Teaching Fellow in Early Christianity, Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, UK
  • 2001–2002               Research Associate, Centre for Late Antiquity, University of Manchester, UK

Third Party Funding as Principal Investigator

  • 2018–2020              Project Grant Women, Conflict and Peace: Gendered Networks in Early Medieval Narratives, The Leverhulme Trust
  • 2014–2017              Project Grant The Migration of Faith: Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity, Arts and Humanities Research Council

Scholarships and Awards

Additional Academic Activities

Selected Publications

  • 2022. Helena Augusta: An Interrupted Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [forthcoming].

  • and Máirín MacCarron. 2021. “Female Networks and Exiled Bishops between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: The Cases of Liberius of Rome and Wilfrid of York.” In Relations of Power. Women’s Networks in the Middle Ages, edited by Rebecca Hardie, Irina Dumitrescu, and Emma O. Bérat, 19–44. Göttingen: V&R unipress.

  • Ana L.C. Bazzan, Silvio R. Dahmen, Máirín MacCarron, Sandra D. Prado, and Ulriika Vihervalli. 2020. “Gendered Networks and Communicability in Medieval Historical Narratives.” Advances in Complex Systems 23(3): 2050006.

  • 2020. “Female Crime and Female Confinement in Late Antiquity.” In The Violence of Small Worlds. Conflict and Social Control in Late Antiquity, edited by Kate Cooper and Jamie Wood, 15–38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • ed. 2019. Clerics in Exile: Networks, Space and Memory. Special Issue of Studies in Late Antiquity 3(3).

  •  2019. “Empresses, Queens and Letters: Finding a ‘Female Voice’ in Late Antiquity?” In Gender & History 31(2): 353–382.

  •  2019. “Preserving Female Voices: Female Letters in Late Antique Letter Collections.” In The Collectio Avellana and its Revivals, edited by Rita Lizzi Testa and Giulia Marconi, 210–244. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

  •  2019. “Exclusion, Intégration ou Exclusion par l’Intégration? Géographies du Banissement et Asile à la Fin de l'Empire Romain (Ve–VIe siècle).” In La Construction du Sujet Exclu (IVe–XIe siècle). L'Individu, la Société et l'Exclusion, edited by Cristina La Rocca, Sylvie Joye, and Stéphane Gioanni, 45–68. Turnhout: Brepols Publisher.

  • 2017. “A Woman’s Place: Imperial Women in Late Antique Rome.” Antiquité Tardive 25: 75–94.

  • Jakob Engberg, and Jörg Ulrich, eds. 2016. Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity. Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity 17. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

  • 2015. Prison, Punishment and Penance in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  •  2013. “Family Violence: Punishment and Abuse in the Late Roman Household.” In Approaches to the Byzantine Family, edited by Shaun Tougher and Leslie Brubaker, 21–45. Farnham: Ashgate.

  • 2013. “Confined Exiles: An Aspect of the Late Antique Prison System.” Millennium: Jahrbuch zur Kultur und Geschichte des ersten Jahrtausend n. Chr. 10: 385–433.

  • 2011. “Gregory the Great’s Prisons: Monastic Confinement in Early Byzantine Italy.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 19(3): 433–471.

  • 2009. “Monks and Children: Corporal Punishment in Late Antiquity.” European History Review/Revue Européenne d’Histoire 16(6): 773–791.

  • 2007. “Monastic Imprisonment in Justinian’s Novels.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 15(2): 205–237.

  • and Kate Cooper, eds. 2007. Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300–900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • 2006. “Clerics, Property, and Patronage: The Case of the Roman Titular Churches.” Antiquité Tardive 14: 59–68.

  • 2004. Jedes Haus ist eine Stadt. Privatimmobilien im spätantiken Rom. Alte Geschichte 47. Bonn: Habelt Verlag.

  • 2003. “Domus, Family, and Inheritance: The Senatorial Family House in Late Antique Rome.” Journal of Roman Studies 93: 129–145.

  • 2001. “Die Berufsangaben und Adressen auf den stadtrömischen Sklavenhalsbändern.” Historia. Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 50: 193–216.

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