Roman women.

Identifications
— Lex Oppia
— Cornelia
— Laudatio Turiae

1a. Sarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 179, 177): 

“After the defeat of Hannibal in 201 B.C., Rome swiftly recovered. Men were allowed to display their prosperity. They wore purple, and their horses could be magnificently equipped. But the Oppian Law remained in effect, curtailing displays by women. The law was an irritant, despite some hints that it was not strictly enforced at all times. In 195 B.C. the repeal of this law was proposed, and women demonstrated in the streets…[p177] The women who gathered in 195 B.C. to demand the abrogation of the Oppian Law which had been in force for twenty years staged the first women’s demonstration..”

1b. Women in the Classical World, p260:

“the Lex Oppia restricted women’s finery and withdrew their privilige of riding in carriages; the law, unreported in the urgencies of the military narrative, only arouses the historians’ interest in peacetime when a move was made to repeal it (in 195 B.C.).”

1c. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE), 34.1. Roman women march in protest in 195 BCE for the repeal of the Lex Oppia (Oppian Law), passed 215 BCE.

Among the troubles of great wars, either scarcely over or yet to come, something intervened which, while it can be told briefly, stirred up enough excitement to become a great battle. Marcus Fundanius and Lucius Valerius, the tribunes of the people, brought a motion to repeal the Oppian law before the people [195 BCE]. Gaius Oppius had carried this law as tribune at the height of the Punic War, during the consulship of Quintus Fabius and Tiberius Sempronius [215 BCE].

The law said that no woman might own more than half an ounce of gold nor wear a multicoloured dress nor ride in a carriage in the city or in a town within a mile of it, unless there was a religious festival. The tribunes, Marcus and Publius Junius Brutus, were in favour of the Oppian law and said that they would not allow its repeal. Many noble men came forward hoping to persuade or dissuade them; a crowd of men, both supporters and opponents, filled the Capitoline Hill.

The matrons, whom neither counsel nor shame nor their husbands’ orders could keep at home, blockaded every street in the city and every entrance to the Forum. As the men came down to the Forum, the matrons besought them to let them, too, have back the luxuries they had enjoyed before, giving as their reason that the republic was thriving and that everyone’s private wealth was increasing with every day. This crowd of women was growing daily, for now they were even gathering from the towns and villages. Before long they dared go up and solicit the consuls, praetors, and other magistrates; but one of the consuls could not be moved in the least, Marcus Porcius Cato [censor 184 BCE], who spoke in favour of the law:

‘If each man of us, fellow citizens, had established that the right and authority of the husband should be held over the mother of his own family, we should have less difficulty with women in general; now, at home our freedom is conquered by female fury, here in the Forum it is bruised and trampled upon, and, because we have not contained the individuals, we fear the lot …

‘Indeed, I blushed when, a short while ago, I walked through the midst of a band of women. Had not respect for the dignity and modesty of certain ones (not them all!) restrained me (so they would not be seen being scolded by a consul), I should have said, “What kind of behaviour is this? Running around in public, blocking streets, and speaking to other women’s husbands! Could you not have asked your own husbands the same thing at home? Are you more charming in public with others’ husbands than at home with your own? And yet, it is not fitting even at home (if modesty were to keep married women within the bounds of their rights) for you to concern yourselves with what laws are passed or repealed here.

Our ancestors did not want women to conduct any — not even private — business without a guardian; they wanted them to be under the authority of parents, brothers, or husbands; we (the gods help us!) even now let them snatch at the government and meddle in the Forum and our assemblies. What are they doing now on the streets and crossroads, if they are not persuading the tribunes to vote for repeal? Give the reins to their unbridled nature and this unmastered creature, and hope that they will put limits on their own freedom; unless you do something yourselves, this is the least of the things imposed upon them either by custom or by law which they endure with hurt feelings. They want freedom, nay licence (if we are to speak the truth), in all things.

‘If they are victorious now, what will they not attempt? … As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors …’

[Read the rest of Cato’s speech, plus Valerius’s response.]

2. Cornelia, 2nd c. BCE. Daughter of Scipio Africanus, wife of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, mother of the “Gracchi” brothers (Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus).

2a. Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures, c. 1785. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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2b. Victoria C. Gardner Coates (2011: 55-56): “Kauffmann deliberately set out to break into the exclusively male realm of monumental history painting in the second half of the eighteenth century…Achieving them was a tall order as women did not have ready access to the scholarly and artistic training necessary to become a successful painter of complex, historical subjects. But thanks to an unusually rigorous classical education, Kauffmann was familiar with the ancient texts that customarily provided themes for such paintings, and she compensated for her lack of life-drawing experience by closely studying classical sculpture…[S]he became one of only six ‘history painters’ among the thirty-six founding members of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.”

3a. Valerius MaximusMemorable Deeds and Sayings (1st c. CE), 4.4:

Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, had a Campanian matron as a guest in her house, who showed her jewellery, the finest in existence at that period. Cornelia kept her in talk until her children came home from school, and then said, “These are my jewels.”

4. Livy, History of Rome (1st c. BCE/CE), 38.57. Cornelia’s marriage (180s? 170s? BCE).

To this Gracchus the younger of Scipio’s two daughters —for the elder was betrothed to Publius Cornelius Nasica and beyond doubt by her father —was married, as all agree. What is not certain is whether she was both betrothed and married after the death of her father, or whether the opinions are true, that Gracchus, when Lucius Scipio was being taken to prison and no one of his colleagues was coming to his assistance, swore that his feud with the Scipios continued as before and that he was doing nothing to curry favour, but that he would not permit the brother of Africanus to be put into that prison into which he had seen Publius Africanus thrusting kings and generals of the enemy. The story goes on that the senate, which chanced to dine that day on the Capitoline, had risen up and begged that during the banquet Africanus should betroth his daughter to Gracchus. When the contract had been duly made at this public ceremony and Scipio had returned home, he told his wife Aemilia that he had arranged a marriage for their younger daughter. When she, being irritated, as a woman would naturally be, that he had not consulted with her about the daughter of both of them, had added that not even if he were promising her to Tiberius Gracchus should the mother have been excluded from the deliberation, Scipio, they say, rejoicing at their harmony of opinion, replied that it was to Gracchus that he had betrothed her. However much at variance are these accounts of so great a man, they have seemed worthy of presentation.

5a. Cicero, On Divination (1st c. BCE), 1.36. Tiberius’ death (c. 154 BCE).

What do you say of that well-known incident of Tiberius Gracchus, the son of Publius? He was censor and consul twice; besides that he was a most competent augur, a wise man and a preeminent citizen. Yet he, according to the account left us by his son Gaius, having caught two snakes in his home, called in the soothsayers to consult them. They advised him that if he let the male snake go his wife must die in a short time; and if he released the female snake his own death must soon occur. Thinking it more fitting that a speedy death should overtake him rather than his young wife, who was the daughter of Publius Africanus, he released the female snake and died within a few days.

5b. Lararium. Wall fresco from Pompeii, House VII.6.3. Mid-1st century CE. Naples, National Archaeological Museum. Image: Ann Raia, 2010 (via vroma.org).

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6. Fragments (?) of Cornelia’s letter to her son. Transmitted by Cornelius Nepos (in *his* fragments…), 1st c. BCE.

Fragment 1: You will say that it is glorious to take vengeance on one’s enemies. That seems to no one greater and more glorious than it does to me, but only if it can be done without injury to one’s country. But inasmuch as that cannot be, long and surely shall our enemies not perish but remain as they now are, rather than that our country should be ruined and perish.

Fragment 2: I would not hesitate to take oath in set terms that except for the murderers of Tiberius Gracchus no enemy has caused me so much annoyance and trouble as you have because of these events—you who ought, as the only survivor of all the children that I have had in the past, to have taken their place and to have seen to it that I had the least possible anxiety in my old age; you, who ought to have wished that all your actions should above all be agreeable to me, and should consider it impious to do anything of great importance contrary to my advice, especially when I have so brief a portion of my life left. Cannot even that brief span aid me in preventing you from opposing me and ruining your country? Finally, where will you make an end? Will our family ever cease from madness? Will it ever be possible to observe moderation? Shall we ever cease to insist on causing and suffering trouble? Shall we ever be ashamed of embroiling and harassing our country? But if any change is impossible, sue for the tribunate after I am dead; do whatever you like, so far as I am concerned, when I shall no longer be aware of it. When I am no more, you will offer funerary sacrifices in my honour, and invoke the god of our family. Are you not ashamed at that time to ask for the prayers of those as gods, whom you abandoned and deserted when they were alive and present with you? May great Jupiter forbid you to persist in that course or to allow such madness to enter your mind. But if you do persist, I fear that through your own fault you may bring such trouble upon your whole life that you can never make peace with yourself.

7a. Fragment of the opening lines of Laudatio Turiae. Rome, Terme Diocleziano, (National Museums). Image: Barbara McManus (2004), via vroma.org.

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7b. So-called Laudatio Turiae, 10-9 BCE = ILS 8393. 

Left hand column.

(27) Marriages as long as ours are rare, marriages that are ended by death and not broken by divorce. For we were fortunate enough to see our marriage last without disharmony for fully 40 years. I wish that our long union had come to its final end through something that had befallen me instead of you; it would have been more just if I as the older partner had had to yield to fate through such an event.

(30) Why should I mention your domestic virtues: your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance? Why dwell on your love for your relatives, your devotion to your family? You have shown the same attention to my mother as you did to your own parents, and have taken care to secure an equally peaceful life for her as you did for your own people, and you have innumerable other merits in common with all married women who care for their good name. It is your very own virtues that I am asserting, and very few women have encountered comparable circumstances to make them endure such sufferings and perform such deeds. Providentially Fate has made such hard tests rare for women.

Right hand column.

(2a) You provided abundantly for my needs during my flight and gave me the means for a dignified manner of living, when you took all the gold and jewellery from your own body and sent it to me and over and over again enriched me in my absence with servants, money and provisions, showing great ingenuity in deceiving the guards posted by our adversaries.

(6a) You begged for my life when I was abroad[5]-it was your courage that urged you to this step-and because of your entreaties I was shielded by the clemency of those against whom you marshalled your words. But whatever you said was always said with undaunted courage.

(31) When you despaired of your ability to bear children and grieved over my childlessness, you became anxious lest by retaining you in marriage I might lose all hope of having children and be distressed for that reason. So you proposed a divorce outright and offered to yield our house free to another woman’s fertility. Your intention was in fact that you yourself, relying on our well-known conformity of sentiment, would search out and provide for me a wife who was worthy and suitable for me, and you declared that you would regard future children as joint and as though your own, and that you would not effect a separation of our property which had hitherto been held in common, but that it would still be under my control and, if I wished so, under your administration: nothing would be kept apart by you, nothing separate, and you would thereafter take upon yourself the duties and the loyalty of a sister and a mother-in-law.

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