WOMEN FROM CAESAR TO CHRIST
The Etruscan women were considered the most beautiful of women, and, if we
are to believe the Romans, the young women of
Nevertheless, women enjoyed a very high status in
The Carthaginian were Semites, akin in blood and features to the Ancient Jews. The women during this era led, for the most part, a veiled and secluded life. They could rise to high places in the priesthoods, but otherwise had to be contented with the sovereignty of their charms.
The freedom of the Etruscan women knew no bounds as compared to the
repression of Carthaginian women. Here, indeed, shows the independent rise
toward total freedom and equality for one country and not another – all during
the same era. To the men of
Since the greater urgency of the male supplies woman with charms more potent
than any law, her status in
On the other hand, she could inherit, though not beyond 100,000 sesterces ($15,000), and she could not own property without limit. In many instances, as the earlier Republic passed into the later, she became wealthy as her husband established his property in her name to escape bankruptcy obligations, damage suits, inheritance taxes and other everlasting jeopardizes.
She played a role as priestess. Nearly every priest had to have a wife, and he lost his office when she died. With the home, she was honored mistress – the madame. She was not, like the Greek wife, confined to a gynaeceum, or a women’s quarters. She took meals with her mate, though she sat while he reclined. She did a minimum of servile work; for nearly every citizen had to have a slave. She might spin as a sign of gentility, but her chief economic function was to superintend the servants. She made it a point, however, to nurse her children herself. The man rewarded her patient motherhood with profound love and respect, and her husband seldom allowed his legal mastery to cloud his devotion.
Literature came formally to
“As if playing in a ring, she skips one to another, and is all things to all men with her words and winks. She caresses and embraces – now a squeeze of the hand or a pressure of the foot. Her ring to look at, her lips to blow an inviting kiss. Here a song: the language of signs.”
It is truly a pleasure to see that women now are as charming as they were then.
During the Roman conquest of
Livy puts into his mouth a speech that every generation has heard:
“If we had, each of us, upheld the right and authority of the husband in our own households, we should not today have this trouble with our women. As things are now, our liberty of action, which has been annulled by female despotism at home, is crushed and trampled on here in the Forum.
“Call to mind all regulations respecting women by which our ancestors curbed their license and made them obedient to their husbands; and yet, with all those restrictions, you can scarcely hold them in.
“If now you permit them to remove these restraints and to put themselves on an equality with their husbands, do you imagine that you will be able to bear them? From the moment that they become your equals, they will be your masters.”
The women laughed him down, and stood their ground until the law was repealed. Cato revenged himself as censor by multiplying by ten the taxes on the articles that Oppius had forbidden. But the tide was in flow, and could not be turned. Other laws disadvantageous to women were repealed or modified or simply ignored. Women won the free administration of their dowries, divorced their husbands (or occasionally poisoned them), and doubted the wisdom of bearing children in an age of urban congestion and imperialistic wars.
This was the era of the “New Woman”. She was wealthy, independent and
intelligent. They moved freely and in the best of circles with men. They dressed
in diaphanous silks from
A growing number of women sought free expression in cultural pursuits. They learned Greek, studied philosophy, wrote plays and poetry, gave public lectures, engaged in business and many practiced medicine or law.
Augustus Caesar started a reformation of all laws to revert to the old way of life. He excluded women from all athletic exhibitions, limited their expenditures on homes, servants, banquets, weddings, jewels, and dress. The most important of these Julian laws (18 BC) was the Julian law of chastity and repressing adultery. Here, for the first time in Roman history, marriage was brought under the protection of the state.
Women were told that they had to bear more children or face a loss of the inheritance due them. Single women owning 20,000 sesterces were to pay an annual tax of one percent until they were married. This tax decreased with each child until she gave birth to her third child; the tax would cease. Reform laws were adopted to protect the consuls, celibates and childless women of the senate.
The Roman philosopher, Rufus, had defined philosophy as inquiry into right conduct and had taken his quest seriously. He denounced concubinage despite its legality, and demanded of man the same standard of sexual morality that they required of women – that sexual relations should be permissible only in marriage and for the procreation of children only. He believed in equal educational opportunities for both sexes and welcomed women to his lectures; but he bade them seek from education and philosophy the means of perfecting themselves as women.
Gaius said: “All law pertains to persons, to property, or to procedure.” The first person in Roman law was the citizen. It was in this way that the Roman woman gained new rights as the man lost old ones; but she was clever enough to disguise her freedom under continuing legal disabilities.
The law of the Republic assumed that she was never of her own right, but always dependent upon some male guardian. Even women of mature age were kept in tutelage because of the so-called lightness of their minds. In the later Republic, and under the Empire, this legal dependence was largely annulled by feminine charms and willfulness and abetted by male susceptibility and affection.
From Cato the Elder to Commoclus, Roman society, legally patriarchal, was ruled by women with all the graceful mastery of the Renaissance Italian or the Bourbon French Salons. The laws of Augustus made some obeisance to the facts by releasing from tutelage any woman who had borne three legitimate children. Hadrian decreed that women might dispose of their property as they liked provided that they obtained the consent of their guardians, but actual procedure soon dispensed with this consent. By the end of the second century, all compulsory tutelage was ended in the law for free women over twenty-five years of age.
HELLENISTIC REVIVAL (146 BC – 192 AD)
Science was being infiltrated with women. Surgery was fairly well-developed
Metradora also published a treatise on the diseases of women and the birth and care of children. It ranked only second below the Hippocrates collection and the works of Galen. With Galen, she helped to design speculums, obstetric chairs, gave advice to dietetics, and established the bathing of eyes for new-born babies. Much of what she had written is still used in medicine today. Metradora was but one of the thousands to whom the ancient man looked for advice or guidance.
THE CHRISTIANS (96 – 305 AD)
Women were admitted into the congregations, and they rose to some prominence
in minor roles, but the church required them to shame the heathen by lives of
modest submission and retirement. They were told to come to church to worship
veiled, for their hair was considered especially seductive. Even the angels
might be distracted by it during the service.
Paul had instructed his communities sternly: Women should keep quiet in church. They must take a subordinate place. It they want to find out anything, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. For he is the image of God, and reflects God’s glory, while woman is a reflection of man’s glory; for man was created for women, but women for man. That is why she ought to wear upon her head something to symbolize her subjection.
This was the Judaic and Greek view of woman – not the Roman. Perhaps it represented a reaction against the license into which some women had debased their growing liberty. Man may well believe, however, that from these very fulminations and despite the lack of jewels and scents and with the help of veils, that the Christian woman succeeded in being attractive to exercise her ancient powers in subtle ways.
For unmarried and widowed women, the church found many useful tasks. They were organized as “Sisters” to perform the works of administration or charitable (service), and created, in time, the many Orders of nuns whose selfless and cheerful kindliness to mankind became the noblest embodiment of Christianity.