What evidence is there for how women could influence political events in Rome?
The ideal Roman woman’s role was exemplified by Cornelia Scipionis Africana, the loyal wife and mother who manages the household. Cornelia is known as the seamless example of a picture perfect woman: “It is reported that as Cornelia, their mother, bore the loss of her two sons with a noble and undaunted spirit” 9. She was famous for her dignified behaviour after her sons were murdered. This is the ideal political mother.
The paradox of this, in the Roman Empire, you get women who get enormous power who have great control over the emperors like Nero. If the model for the ideal roman women applied, that is not what you would expect. Those women are dynamic and independent.
In this essay, I am going to explore the difference between ideal and imperial Roman women. A denotation of politics (politicus) means: “the activities and affairs involved in managing a state or a government.” 1.
Rome, even from the early stages, has always been a social system in which men are regarded as the authority within family and society, and in which power and possessions are passed on from father to son. No part of Roman society had ever allowed a woman to take an evident role in major events, especially political ones. Even though they had little political freedom, they were still outspoken and took an interest in politics of their days. Roman women could not vote, meaning that they didn’t have a political voice. They could not be a candidate for Senate or even be a magistrate. Nevertheless, Roman women did have a little significant influence on their husbands’ vote as women of all eras, are very persuasive and can sway their husband’s mind. The only real power from a woman to man, through politics was through their husbands.
Roman’s see the ideal woman as someone with “…domestic virtues: loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance?” 12.
These public images of Livia, present her as a demure, innocent mother. She liked to show herself as the idealisation of an imperial Roman woman with perfect Roman feminine qualities, a motherly role model and this picture almost represents Livia as a woman of all virtues. The pietas on the coin was the dramatic effect that was used to show the future imperial women as ideal, honourable, loyal wives and mothers of Rome. Please look at 11) for the image.
In the Roman Republic, there was a tradition from time to time of women getting involved in politics but it was very different from the intrigues around the Emperors.
There were times in Roman politics when women were shown as influencing a political process such as when Hortensia, the daughter of a lawyer, spoke out against the tax which caused the political leaders to target the 1,400 richest women. This tax was to be charged to help raise funds for the war. “Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in public office or honours or commands or government in general…” 9. In her speech, she asked this question as a way of getting her views across to the Roman men. Through this, they did actually listen to Hortensia and lowered their demands.
Before the empire, Roman women showed their growing interest in politics in 215 BC, when the Oppian Law was originally passed, which limited women’s rights with regards to luxuries such as jewellery or fancy clothes. “The law said that no woman might own more than half an ounce of gold nor wear a purple dress” 10 The Roman government wanted this money for war purposes. The women, being gracious and polite as always, accepted this because they felt that they should do their part towards the war. 20 years later in 195 BC, they tried to have the law abolished. Livy describes how women swarmed into the Forum where they tried to convince their male relatives, to vote in favour of the abolition. Marcus Porcius Cato, the...
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