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Lecture 11

CLA219H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: Capitoline Hill, Female Furies, Gaius Oppius

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Regina Höschele

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CLA219: Women in Antiquity
Text 173
173. Women demonstrate and obtain repeal of the Oppian law. Rome, 195 BC
(Livy, History of Rome 34.1, excerpts. Late 1st cent. BC-early 1st cent. AD. L)
In 215 BC, after its disastrous defeat by Hannibal at Cannae, Rome passed the Oppian law, an
emergency measure which limited women’s use of expensive goods
20 years later the law was repealed against the objections of many conservatives, here present-
ed by the consul and champion of traditional values, Marcus Porcius Cato
Livy’s reconstruction of the debate over the law’s repeal devotes considerable space to ethical
issues raised in legislation initiated in his own time by the emperor Augustus
Marcus Fountains and Lucius Valerius, tribunes of the people (I.e., plebs), brought a motion to
repeal the Oppian law before the people
It was original installed by Gaius Oppius when he was tribune during the climax of the Punic
The law dictated that no woman might own more than half an ounce of gold nor wear a multi-
colored dress (which would be expensive to dye, no doubt), nor ride in a carriage in the city or in
a town within a mile of it, unless there was a religious festival
A crowd of men: some supporters, some opponents, filled the Capitoline Hill
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 the capitoline the women asked them for their luxuries back, reasoning
that the republic was thriving and that everyone’s private wealth was increasing with every day.
The crow of women grew daily - some came from outlying towns and villages
Before long they dared to go up and speak tot he consuls, praetors and other magistrates
Only one could not be moved: Marcus Porcius Cato, who spoke in favor of the law:
He says that if each man had established that the right and authority of the husband should
be held over the mother of his own family, there would be less difficult with women in gen-
Male freedom being conquered by female fury
If not for his respect for the finite and modesty of certain women in the mob (certainly not
all! He says) restrained him he would have scolded them
“Are you more charming in public with other women’s husbands than your own” - why
couldn't they just bother their husband’s at home?
Yet even at home it should not be the concern of the woman what laws are passed or re-
pealed by the senate
Their ancestors did not want women conducting any sort of business on their own, only
under male authority
Unless the women are controlled then the repeal of this law is the last of the concerns -
surely everything will just implode “As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will be-
come your superiors”
What is the justification of the repeal any ways? Women who can afford the luxury will
certainly go to any expense and the ones who cannot will bully their husbands
What he refuses his wife another man will give - see, even now they solicit other women’s
Many people persuaded by him, and then Lucius Valerius speaks up on behalf of the motion to
Cato used more words reprimanding women than he did opposing Th. Emotion
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