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The Ancient Women Fighting For Rights History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

During the time of the Roman Republic, women lacked political rights. Women did not have the right to vote, express their opinions or address the senate directly. There reached a time when women had to use the power of public protest to achieve what they had wished. A good example of the resolve of the Roman women was their demonstration against the Oppian Law. Rome passed the Oppian Law after the disastrous defeat by Hannibal, the leader of Carthage (Tanenbaum 2012). Wars with Carthage led to the death of many men in the region; this made the Roman women inherit their land and money which made them become rich. The Roman state needed to help pay for the cost of the war, so they decided to have a share in the women’s wealth by passing the Oppian Law.

The Oppian Law limited women’s use of any expensive goods, limited amount of gold the Roman women could possess, and were forbidden to wear any dress with a purple trim which Rome considered this to be a mourning color. The purple color reminded Rome of its losses in the Second Punic War. The women were not allowed to ride in carriages, in Rome or any town near Rome. The Roman women obeyed the restrictions at the time. However, during the end of the Second Punic War which happened in 201 B.C., people in towns near Rome put on their rich clothing again and rode in carriages but, women in Rome were denied these luxuries continuously because of the Oppian Law (Ogilvie 5). The Roman women wished to keep the inherited money and gold for their personal use but were not allowed to do so.

Some members of the tribunes proposed eliminating the Oppian law. Lucius Valerius and Marcus Fundanius are the tribunes of the people who brought motions to have the Oppian Law repealed. When the majority of the tribune vetoed the proposed repeal, the Roman women flooded the streets in protest. Marcus Porcius Cato and Publius Junius Brutus were members of the tribunes who favored the Oppian law. They said that they would never have it repealed. There was a crowd of men, comprised of supporters and non supporters that filled the Capitoline Hill. The matrons whom neither shame, counsel nor their orders from their husbands could keep them at home blocked every street in the Roman city and each and every entrance to the Forum (Salisbury 306). The law was repealed in 195 B.C.

This issue, however, was only a concern to the wealthy. The protested were done by women but they might have been orchestrated by men, having resulted from financial problems among them. Men also wished to avail themselves for the opportunity to display wealth through the adornments of every female member of the family. However, the women protested on their own behalf. The end of the Second Punic War gave them a real chance to develop their rights. However, the Roman Women’s pleas before the Senate more than twenty years earlier had been taken as a rehearsal in political activism. The Roman women were under the authority of relatively uninterested and unconcerned guardians which were the Roman women’s husband or father. The protest became of the Oppian Law because the Roman women had lost their fathers and husbands.

During Cato’s speech against the repealing of the Oppian Law cannot be taken as a clear evidence of what happened in 195 B.C. This is because these words were spoken by the Roman Historian Livy and there is no proof that Cato spoke on the occasion. In this speech, Cato says that women’s husbands might have kept them in the house (World History Curriculum 2012).

Throughout most of the world, women’s roles have changed progressively during the course of history. Rome’s famous historian, Livy shows that although women in 195 B.C. were still much valued in their traditional role, they could not step out of some boundaries. According to Livy in his article, “Roman Women Demonstrate against the Oppian Law”, he says that women were under the control of men because of the assumption that they were not sane enough to make critical decisions (Matz 175). Marcus Porcius Cato argues throughout as to why the Oppian Law should not be repealed. Cato says that in time of their ancestors women did not have permission to conduct personal business. Cato was all about tradition and argued that the law should remain intact. However, times started changing around the Second Punic war before the Oppian Law had been established. Women were not supposed to be protesting in public, and they were required to stay home.

Documents reveal that Lucius Valerius wanted to appeal the law and why the Oppian Law needed to be urgently repealed. He did this by pointing to the past when women helped the whole empire. He gives an example by remembering when matrons gave their gold to the city after it was captured by Gaul. Valerius supported women because he argued that it was unfair that allies of Latin are allowed to wear the things they are not and ride in carriages (Sources of Making of the West pg.113). Livy says that there would be “No offices, no triumphs, no priesthoods, no gifts, no decorations, no spoils of war can come to them; adornment, apparel, elegance of appearance, – these are the woman’s badges of honour” (Mason 2012). The connection between women and their appearance shows that these women were something to be looked at and be shown off.

The Oppian Law made the distinction between the rich and the poor unnoticeable. When the Oppian Law prohibited women from wearing jewelry and riding in the carriages, they seemed to be dwelling on the same level, as did the lower classes (Bell 36). Women who took an initiative of stepping out of the house suddenly developed a voice and became a serious threat. Livy reconstructed an account of women demonstrating against the Oppian Law. This proves to be a tremendously useful aspect in defining what the Roman society was like during the second century. According to Livy’s piece of work, an assumption was made that women were frail and weak voiceless characters.

Livy describes a scene that happened on the day that Cato made his speech. He says that women and men who opposed the law filled the capital. The Roman women could no longer be forced to stay at home. This was despite the advice they were given or the commands from their parents. The Roman women did not experience any shame as they filled every street in the city. They went down to the forum as they beseeched men.

This historical event is vital to the future because the Roman women stood up for their rights which parallels the freedom of assembly and speech, which is part of the first amendment. The amendment states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (Bill of Rights 2012). Amendment 4- Search and Seizure states, The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (Bill of Rights 2012). The Women in Rome had their inheritances violated; the state took their money to pay for the wars. In Amendment 19 Women’s Suffrage, it states, the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex (Bill of Rights 2012). Roman women were not allowed to vote. Women in history had an influence on the future by standing up for their rights and being brave; the Roman women expressed that. If the Roman women did not protest for their rights, today might have been different. For instance, women having the same rights as men or have the right to vote might have not been taken into consideration today.

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