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Qui hic mos est in publicum procurrendi? Reconsidering female presence and visibility in public and sacred spaces in Republican Rome

Conference contribution
Authors Lewis Webb
Published in Spaces of Roman Constitutionalism Conference, 26.-28.9.2019, Helsinki, Finland
Publisher University of Helsinki
Place of publication Finland
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Language en
Subject categories Classical Archaeology and Ancient History


In 195 BCE, women filled the streets of Rome to lobby for the abrogation of the lex Oppia. According to Livy, in his consequent dissuasio the consul M. Porcius Cato complained ‘qui hic mos est in publicum procurrendi?’ (Livy 34.2.9). The plebeian tribune L. Valerius reputedly retorted ‘nunquam ante hoc tempus in publico apparuerunt? […] accipe quotiens id fecerint, et quidem semper bono publico’ (Livy 34.5.7-8). Here female presence and visibility in public spaces in Republican Rome are contested ideas, as they are in contemporary scholarship (e.g., Culham 2004; Milnor 2005; Boatwright 2011; Trümper 2012; Russell 2016a; 2016b). For example, a Republican funerary inscription for a Claudia claims ‘domum seruauit lanam fecit’ (CIL VI 15346), and C. Sempronius Gracchus locates his mother Cornelia P.f. in the home: ‘an domum? matremne ut miseram lamentantem uideam et abiectam?’ (C. Gracchus fr. 61 ORF4). These have been invoked as evidence that Roman women were associated with and relegated to domestic spaces (e.g., Milnor 2005, 29-30). Moreover, one influential study suggested that non-religious female presence in the Forum Romanum during the Republic was ‘considered anomalous, perhaps even transgressive’ (Boatwright 2011, 135). Yet no lex confined women to domestic spaces, although male auctoritas or mos might have constrained them in some instances (cf. Livy 22.55.3, 6; 34.1.5). Indeed, women moved through public and sacred spaces throughout Rome during regular sacra publica and on their way to others’ houses, banquets, commercial activities, funerals, games, and more (see e.g., Culham 2004; Schultz 2006; Russell 2016b; Webb 2019). In this paper, I enter this contest on the side of Livy’s Valerius. By reconsidering a series of individual and collective public actions by women from the third century through the first centuries BCE, I will argue that women, especially senatorial women, were highly present and visible in public and sacred spaces in Republican Rome. My paper will focus on 1) the public actions of several senatorial women, including Claudia Ap.f., Sulpicia Ser.f., Quinta Claudia P.f., Tertia Aemilia L.f., Papiria C.f., the Vestal Claudia Ap.f., the Vestal Licinia C.f., Sempronia Ti.f., and Hortensia Q.f., 2) the collective public actions of married women (mourning, financial contributions, demonstrations, religious processions), and 3) the presence of daughters like Cornelia P.f. in triumphal processions. Contra Catonem, I will argue that these cases indicate it was customary and often bono publico for women to appear in public in Republican Rome.

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