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Livy [Titus Livius]

Waldemar Heckel and John C. Yardley (eds), Oxford World's Classics: Livy: The Dawn of the Roman Empire: Books Thirty-One to Forty

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Amid the concerns over serious wars that were either barely terminated or else looming on the horizon there occurred an event which is trivial as far as the historical account is concerned, but which led to acrimonious debate with the passions it aroused. The plebeian tribunes Marcus Fundanius and Lucius Valerius brought a bill before the popular assembly to annul the Oppian law. The law had been enacted by the plebeian tribune Gaius Oppius* in the consulship of Quintus Fabius and Tiberius Sempronius,* when the flames of the Punic War were burning fiercely; and its provisions were that no woman was to own more than a half-ounce of gold, wear multi-shaded clothes,* or ride a horse and carriage in any city or town, or within a mile of a town, exception being granted on the occasion of public religious rites. Marcus and Publius Iunius Brutus, who were plebeian tribunes, defended the Oppian law, stating that they would not permit its repeal, and many eminent men came forward to speak for or against its annulment. The Capitol thus was filled with hordes of supporters and opponents of the law. As for married women, there was no authority, no feelings of modesty, no order from their husbands that could keep them at home. They blocked all the roads in the city and the approaches to the Forum, and made earnest entreaties to their husbands when they went down to the Forum. The Republic was prospering and everybody's private fortune was increasing day by day, they said, so married women, too, should be granted the restoration of the finery they once enjoyed. This large gathering of women kept growing every day, for they were even starting to come in from the country towns and administrative centres, and they were already presuming to accost consuls, praetors, and other magistrates with their appeals. But they continued to find one of the consuls, at least, adamantly opposed to them. This was Porcius Cato,* who spoke as follows about the law whose repeal was under consideration:

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Editor’s Note
141 Oppius: the lex Oppia is his only claim to fame. Apart from his tribuneship in 215, nothing is known about him; even his praenomen is given in different MSS as Gaius, Gnaeus, and Marcus.
Editor’s Note
consulship of Quintus Fabius and Tiberius Sempronius: 215 bc. Quintus Fabius is Fabius Maximus Cunctator, Tiberius Sempronius was an ancestor of the famous Gracchi, Tiberius and Gaius. Sempronius Gracchus held the consulship again in 213, this time with another Quintus Fabius, the son of the dictator, but the law clearly belongs in 215, for Livy later (chaps. 6 and 8 below) remarks that it had been passed twenty years before 195.
Editor’s Note
multi-shaded clothes: the law appears to have specified that women were not to wear purple. For a discussion see R. Bauman, Women in Politics in Ancient Rome (London, 1992), 31–4.
Editor’s Note
Porcius Cato: Marcus Porcius Cato (consul 195, for his election see 33. 42), whom J. P. V. D. Balsdon, (Roman Women (London, 1962), 32) describes as 'that self-confident and boorish embodiment of austere moral rectitude'. The speech that follows is fabricated, and not based on any text of Cato's actual speech; whether it is the creation of Livy himself or of Valerius Antias is not certain, but it does contain anachronisms and slight inconsistencies with what Livy has reported in earlier books (see the notes that follow).
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