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 Censor was furious and asked: “Must we accept laws from a secession of women? ” 10. Women influenced political event here and through their devotion and persistence, the law was finally abolished.The women had won a victory, showing that they had strength in the numbers. The ideal Roman woman has different morals to an imperial Roman woman. These imperial women are powerful, scheming, erratic, dangerous women who are not technically in power, but heavily advise those who are.
Messalina is an example of these women. She was an imperial Roman lady, a great nymphomaniac, who used sexual favours and blackmail to keep her senators loyal. ‘She bore him two children, but then lost interest in Claudius and took a number of lovers’ 7. Messalina, through these strategies, had created a new style of politics.Even though she will be remembered in history as the great nymphomaniac, she cannot be denied of the fact that she was a great influence, even on Claudius – her husband. The problem for her is the fact that she was not allowed into the court room. But Messalina could overcome this by listening to cases intra cubiculum, which literally means in the bedroom of the Emperor.
This was also another way that she could influence Claudius. This was only available to her as she had gained the freedom from the Palace guards, and they helped her influence these political events such as the fall of her own stepfather, Silanus 2.Imperial women were involved in politics heavily but not for themselves; for the succeeding in the careers of the men in their family. One example of an imperial woman is when they would write a letter of invitation offering their friendship, when they wanted something in return making it a false friendship. An example of this is when Livia invited Archelaus, a client king in Cappadocia to come to Rome in 17 AD, offering him mercy even though Tiberius was hostile towards him. Soon after arriving, he was tried for treason, charged and died soon afterwards.Around the period of 17AD, several aristocratic women succeeded in their roles as imperial women.
It didn’t matter how the man was related to the woman, whether it was her husband, her son or even her brother; she helped their careers. But the woman known throughout history as the most hostile of the Imperial Women of Rome, was Agrippina the Younger, who had two ambitions; make Nero, her son, emperor and to secure herself the ultimate power a woman could hold. Marrying her fourth husband, Claudius, helped her reach these aims. She wanted to adopt Nero.She forced her opinions on political matters strongly, to the best of her ability, as an imperial Roman woman to the extent that she killed the Emperor and destroyed his will so that if it wasn’t to Agrippina’s wishes, it would not be counted. Luckily for Nero, Claudius’ adopted son, he became the Emperor of Rome and Agrippina used her position wisely as his mother to be directly involved in the running of the country and the politics behind it. For example, the Senate wished to return the Lex Cincia to its original state after Claudius had changed it back in 47AD.
Agrippina tried to stop this action as she declared that it was against the words of a god. Through listening to Agrippina’s words, which was rare for the Senate to listen to a woman, they arranged a meeting with Agrippina on the Palatine. In Agrippina’s eyes, she had succeeded as no Roman woman had achieved such a political intervention as herself. As her greatest achievement, it has been rumoured that she killed Claudius: “She had long ago decided to murder Claudius”7. Rumours say that she tried to kill him with poisoned mushrooms, but with it failing, she hired someone to put a poisonous feather down his throat.With Agrippina and Messalina, you have to wonder: ‘Do these women have any limits in society and politics? ’ There is one definite limit to these imperial women that could never be over-ruled. They would never be able to be emperor, or hold positions of power, which exasperated them.
But they could influence and manipulate politics to get their chosen son appointed, seeing murder as a minor consequence. Sadly, Agrippina the younger, through making her son Emperor, signed her death contract. Her own son, Nero had her killed. Agrippina in her eagerness to retain her influence went so far that more than once at midday, when Nero, even at that hour, was flushed with wine and feasting, she presented herself attractively attired to her half intoxicated son and offered him her person” The relationship between Agrippina and her son was border-line incest. According to Suetonius, Nero had tried to kill his mother numerous times: three times were by poison, one was by having a collapsible ceiling above her bed and he had a collapsible boat built. The boat did sink. But Agrippina survived and swam ashore.
Infuriated, Nero sent an assassin who bludgeoned and stabbed her to death. When news was out that Nero had murdered Agrippina, Nero defended himself to the senate, reporting that his mother was plotting to kill him, meaning he had to retaliate first. Shockingly, the senate seemed unaffected by Agrippina’s death. Another imperial woman, Julia Augusta, the wife of Augustus and one of the most powerful women in the Roman Empire, was Augustus’ faithful advisor, mother of two sons Drusus and Tiberius. Julia revealed herself to be an ambitious mother and tried continuously to get her sons into power.Livia’s strong position as the first lady of the imperial household, her own family connections and her confidence allowed her to gain power through both Augustus and on her own terms. “When Marcellus, a nephew of Augustus died in 23BC, rumours sparked that it was no natural death and that Livia was in fact behind this killing.
” 6. Marcus Vispsanius Agrippa, Julia’s eldest son had died; leaving Julia with one son, Agrippa Postumus. Agrippa was imprisoned and eventually he was killed. “Tacitus charges that Livia was not altogether innocent of these deaths. ” 7.Cassius Dio, a credible historian, also mentions these rumours 6. But one thing that shocks me, is that the man whose biographies which contain a lot of gossip, Suetonius, does not even mention these rumours and he has access to official documents.
Livia was accused of exterminating some of Tiberius’ political opponents such as Agrippa, Germanicus and Marcellus and others. This list makes you question the truth behind the rumours. Bauman identifies her as ‘co-author’ 2 of Augustus’ adultery laws. Bauman’s evidence for this is that she takes a position of ‘patron of marriage’ in Egypt.If she had no involvement in the adultery laws, then why would she be given that honour? No matter how much Livia craved political status in her own right, it would never happen but these passed laws would have come through Augustus. Even though I believe women influenced political events, there were a number of restrictions against them. The information that women influenced the events in Rome, were all written by men, forming a bias and sometimes sexist opinion against women who choose to take an untraditional view towards olitics.
Woman’s’ lack of political rights were obvious restrictions for their influences but also it changed the roles of women in households towards husbands and sons. When Nero fell in love with Poppeia Sabina; Agrippina’s influence plummeted. Even though a women could achieve their wishes to be granted if she had the Emperors’ ear, her unofficial position meant her influence and political status were dangerous and unstable. A woman still needed permission to be granted to intervene in politics.If a woman evaded the emperor, and then used senators to broadcast her opinions, her propositions risked being prohibited later on in their politic career if the Emperor hears of this. I have looked at these women and I agree with Finley that behind the masquerade were schemes behind the upheaval of female politics were often underhand and “beyond human decency or compassion” 5 This shows that women did influence political events as everything was kept low key but above board, it was the men that were successful. Women in Roman times were inferior to men.
But you have to look at the imperial women; they had the Oppian Law passed, just through the amount of women. This was a step in the right direction and the other examples prove this. One thing they both have in similar is that they can never be in power but they will both do as much as they can to influence their husbands. From my examples of the Imperial women, it shows the effect that women can have on the Roman political world and many changes were both positive and negative but overall, women improved their position under the rule of their husbands.
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