With the spread of her foreign conquests, Rome herself was subjugated by a rapid revolution in thought and habit. From the middle of the second century before Christ, we look in vain for the old Republic. Religion, manners, morals, occupations, amusements--all have changed. The old-time Roman character is passing away, like a tide, through the narrowing channel of the ever-decreasing number of those who cling to the ancient ideals. Morality has started upon that ebb of which the days of Caligula and Nero saw the lowest mark to which a civilized people ever fell. The Romans could not withstand the temptations incidental to conquest. Physically invincible, they were not armed against the onset of foreign vices. The State grew inordinately wealthy by pillage and exaction; a single campaign yielded booty to the value of nine million six hundred thousand dollars. Scipio wept when he took Carthage; for well he knew that his people were in no way prepared to assume such extensive dominion, except at the cost of national character. Polybius says that after the conquest of Macedon men believed themselves able to enjoy in all security the conquest of the world and the spoils thereof.
But wealth was not the sole constituent of the harvest gathered in by Roman swords. After the transmarine wars, new ideas and Greek learning became common among a people who were not adapted, as the Greeks, to mere theorizing, but carried out their thoughts, whether for good or ill, to the full extent of their powers. The consequence was that Rome plunged with deadly earnestness into newly acquired vices; and the novel teachings of Hellenism, instead of elevating the minds of the people, served only to create indifference to the ancient divinities. "You ask," says Juvenal, "whence arise our disorders? A humble life in other days preserved the innocence of the Latin women. Protracted vigils, hands hardened by toil, Hannibal at the gates of Rome, and Roman citizens in arms upon her walls, guarded from vice the modest dwellings of our fathers. Now we endure the evils of a long peace; luxury has fallen upon us, more formidable than the sword, and the conquered world has avenged itself upon us by the gift of its vices. Since Rome has lost her noble poverty, Sybaris and Rhodes, Miletus and Tarentum, crowned with roses and scented with perfumes, have entered our walls." All the ancient writers agree upon the same verdict. The old austerity of life was more the result of poverty than of conscience; the simple habits of the first centuries of the Republic were cherished only so long as there were no means to render them more luxurious. Had wealth come to Rome through industry, the slower process, which alone develops the power of appreciation, would have fitted the people to make good use of their better fortune.
But riches surprised them; and we see ostentatious depravity quickly taking the place of a pure, though meagre, life. To quote again from Polybius, who himself was carried from Macedon to Rome as a prisoner of war: "Most of the Romans live in strange dissipation. The young allow themselves to be carried away by the most shameful excesses. They are given to shows, to feasts, to luxury and disorder of every kind, which it is too evident they have learned from the Greeks during the war with Perseus." Cato calls attention to the new manners with that bitter scorn which was so strong in the old Roman. "See this Roman," he says; "he descends from his chariot, he pirouettes, he recites buffooneries and jokes and vile stories, then sings or declaims Greek verses, and then resumes his pirouettes." Imitation of the Greeks was zealously adopted in the education of the young. Scipio Æmilianus says: "When I entered one of the schools to which the nobles send their sons, great gods! I found there more than five hundred young girls and lads who were receiving among actors and infamous persons lessons on the lyre, in singing, in posturing; and I saw a child of twelve, the son of a candidate for office, executing a dance worthy of the most licentious slave." The school here referred to must not be understood as the regular institution for the imparting of knowledge to Roman children; the purpose of that described seems to have been the cultivation of what the Romans had come to regard as genteel accomplishments. There were other schools for instruction in reading, writing, and the usual branches of knowledge. These schools also were as free of access to girls as to boys, and were always conducted as private enterprises rather than by the State.
The remarkable revolution in thought and manners which Hellenism introduced into Rome could not fail profoundly to affect the existence of woman. That she was not far behind man in "running to every excess of riot" is abundantly shown by the historians and other writers of the time. In that city which was once remarkable for the purity of its morals, houses of ill repute became plentiful. These were occupied principally by women who had been slaves, but had gained their liberty by the sacrifice of their honor. Houses of this character are the scenes of nearly all the comedies of Plautus and Terence, who found all their material in Rome, though they located the brothels of which they write at Athens and used Greek names for their characters. Prostitution, however, was not confined to the freedwomen; women of all classes were necessarily drawn into the vortex of degeneracy. Notwithstanding the fact that in B.C. 141 the Senate made a serious effort to resist the increasing looseness of morals, going so far as to build a temple to Venus Verticordia, the Venus who was supposed to convert women's hearts to virtue, the character of the times devoted the whole sex too zealously to Aphrodite for anything noteworthy to result from the appeal to her nobler namesake.
Yet it must not be imagined that all the new impulses which came from victorious contact with foreign lands had no other than a detrimental effect upon the life of the women of Rome. The changes which were taking place provided a door to liberty, though to very many it meant nothing else but an egress to unrestrained license. In any case, the horizon of the Roman woman's outlook became greatly extended; her mind expanded as it busied itself about an increasing number of subjects, and the range of her activities was materially widened. As her husband now had other interests besides those of the warrior, the citizen, and the agriculturist, in the last of which she had alone been allowed a recognized part, a larger field was now provided in which she might be his companion; henceforward she became less an appendage and more an equal. Not, however, because new laws were passed in her favor; indeed, the laws were framed rather with the purpose of overcoming the results of those circumstances which were effecting her emancipation. But it is impossible to overcome a development which is the natural result of conditions that are welcomed by the people; so, in the new society by which the old order was superseded in Italy, women soon learned how, by means of legal fictions, they might accomplish ends which were still illegal. It is altogether a new woman that we find in the last century of the Republic, taking the place of the old-time matron. She drives about the city in an equipage befitting her wealth and position; she entertains in her sumptuous home learned men, with whom she studies the Greek authors; she brings such influence to bear on the Senate as to cause laws to be passed in her favor; she frequently intrigues in matters political; she is not unaccustomed to divorce and remarriage; and, thus engaged, she leaves the spinning of wool, the occupation from time immemorial esteemed honorable by matrons, entirely to her domestics and her slaves.
These great changes in the status of woman did not take place without a protest. They were the occasion of serious contentions in the Senate and of bitter reproaches on the part of the lovers of the old-fashioned ways, Hellenism being blamed for the mischief, on one occasion all Greek philosophers were driven from the city; but that was like removing the old seed after the well-matured plant had grown to depend upon its own roots. The people of Rome were in reality divided into three classes in respect to the new order of things. There were the younger men and women of the nobility, who welcomed the change, but who were intoxicated with the novel pleasures to which wealth gave them access, and into which they rushed with an utter disregard of propriety. Among them, however, were some thoughtful souls,--a class of a better character,--who, while they most cordially entertained that which Hellenism had to teach them in regard to a broader style of life, knew how to winnow the chaff from the grain and to feed their minds with the latter. These found their best representatives in the Scipio family, all of whom were zealous patrons of Greek learning. As we have noticed in a previous chapter, Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio Africanus, maintained her house at Misenum in a most liberal manner, making it a centre of erudition and gathering around her many of the learned men of her time. In opposition to both these classes were men whose type may be found in all ages, who were uncompromising in their conservatism and who could see nothing but a presage of national disaster in every change from the old methods of life. Their complete idea of what a woman should be and do was expressed in the formula: "She is virtuous; she stays at home; she spins wool." This party was ably headed by Cato the Censor, who was entirely incapable of understanding why the women of his day should desire anything other than that which satisfied their feminine antecedents in the poverty-pinched times of the early Republic.
The ultra-conservative ideal was, of course, incapable of realization, though there was still in the minds of the people a large residuum of sentiment which could be employed in its favor; but when the times are ready to change, the most powerful appeal is futile. The wiser course was taken by the Scipios and the Gracchi, who endeavored to steer the new movement in the way of betterment and reform. This, if successful, would have conserved the ancient principles by adapting them to the new conditions, and Rome would have maintained her moral greatness while still enhancing her material prestige; but the momentum given by the haste of the people to acquire what as yet they knew not how to enjoy carried Roman society past every turn in the right direction. Consequently, the mother of the Gracchi was honored as a prodigy of female excellence rather than, as she might have been, an example of what Roman matrons might become in the new liberty. Then began the loosening of moral restraint, by which Rome fell to a condition of savagery which was rendered all the more horrible by the presence of the material concomitants of civilization.
It must be remembered, however, that the common people of any age or country change their customs more slowly than do the more favored classes. Unfortunately, the historians have never regarded the lives of people of the ordinary populace as being worthy of record; hence, we have the names and the doings of only the women of the Roman nobility. Were it otherwise, it is probable that we should discover that among the matrons of the middle class in Italy there were in each generation many who maintained, in their quiet lives, the virtue of the ancient ideals, until the time came when their life principle was reinforced by new teaching, not from Greece, but from Galilee. Doubtless also, such as these were more greatly encouraged to perseverance by the stern conservatives who upheld the past--a model which they at least could comprehend--than they were by the high-minded progressivists, who led in paths which were as yet untried. For this reason, it may be well for us to take a glance at the home of Cato, who sturdily antagonized the new movement and was the uncompromising opposer of every effort to alter the fashion of female life. He was the valedictorian of ancient Roman simplicity. That the common people were in sympathy with him is shown by the fact that they erected his statue in the Temple of Health, and, instead of recounting his exploits in battle, simply placed upon the pedestal an inscription saying that he was Cato the Censor, who vigilantly watched over the moral health of the State.
If the house of Cato is to be regarded as an example of the ancient manner of life, the suspicion is forced upon us that the young Roman women of the time must have been thankful that in the great statesman's home they saw the last of the old régime. It was a small house, situated on the censor's lands in the Sabine country, where the luxuriousness of the city was unknown. Here his wife dwelt, superintending the agricultural and domestic activities, while her husband was absent at Rome or in the wars. We may be sure that Cato's wife remained at home; this her husband's antipathy to expense sufficiently guarantees. The man who sold his horse, which had carried him through a severe campaign, because he would not charge the State with the cost of conveying it from Spain, would doubtless, by reason of the extra expense, refrain from giving his wife an invitation to join him in his official residence at the metropolis. Moreover, detesting the growing profligacy of the times, he had no mind to bring her into contact with that luxury which, as censor, he strove so mightily to eradicate. For amusement, she was obliged to content herself with the rustic festivals, which were more cheerful than exciting, and knew nothing of the terrible scenes of the circus and the amphitheatre, which the fashionable ladies of the city were accustoming themselves to witness with a calmness unbecoming to their sex. Her religious devotions were performed before the household gods and in the simple country shrines, if not with as great satisfaction, certainly with as good effect as they might have been in the splendid temples at Rome. In the conduct of her house were observed the strictest rules of frugality. There was no waste; everything which the family could not use was sold, if only for a farthing.
Rectitude, justice, and thrift were the only ideals followed in this home. If Cato's wife possessed anything of the artistic in her temperament, she enjoyed little opportunity for its indulgence. Her husband was very far from the opinion that the gods and goddesses were more easily propitiated by devotions paid before beautiful Grecian statuary than when represented by the ill-shaped images of Roman creation. In the otherwise undecorated atrium were the Penates and the Lares--small and homely figures indeed, but endowed with all the accumulated glory of the family; for to them was attributed all the success of the past, and, if faithfully reverenced, as they were likely to be in such a household, they were pledges for the prosperity of the future. Religion must have been of especial value in Cato's family, for its offices were the only form of sentiment that was given any freedom of expression; all else was under the ban of the most arid practicality. There were no old retainers who, by many years of devoted service, had gained an established place in the affections of those upon whom they waited; and if the mistress had been inclined to cherish such natural regard, it was ruthlessly ignored, it being a rule with her husband to sell his slaves for anything they would bring, as soon as they became old and infirm. Even the bondwomen at whose breasts his children had been nursed had for him, no other than a monetary value. The signs of affection were, in his judgment, the marks of weakness. What a barren-hearted puritan he must have been who could expel an honored citizen from the Senate for no other reason than that he had kissed his own wife in the presence of their daughter! And what a husband, who could make his boast that he had never caressed his wife--presumably, he meant under circumstances where others might witness such flagitious conduct--except on the occasion of a severe thunderstorm, when he was obliged to resort to that means of soothing her! This was evidently, however, an affectation; for Cato admitted that it was a pleasure to him when Jove thundered. It is apparent that his idea of the good old Roman manner of treating a wife did not recognize the need of indulgence; and it is not likely that one who himself took great pride in wearing the most inexpensive quality of clothing, and was, as we shall see, the inveterate enemy of costliness and changing fashion in woman's attire, ever gratified his wife with a present of wearing apparel from the city--unless she, like himself, could rate the worth of an article by the cheapness of the bargain. Yet it is on record that he was an excellent husband, and that he greatly appreciated his wife, whom he married for her noble nature, despite the fact that she brought him but a small dowry and was not of a family high in position. Doubtless his good qualities were appreciated by his wife, especially if she was meek enough in disposition to submit willingly to an unceasing surveillance and interference in the minutest household matters, even, as Plutarch informs us, to the bathing and dressing of the infants.
Such was the family of Cato. It was modelled after what he conceived to be the best traditions of Roman society before it became corrupted by the pernicious foreign influence. He governed his own household by those same stern principles which he sought by precept, example, and authority to enforce upon the Roman people of his time. But his home was the last survival of the old simplicity. An age had dawned when Roman matrons were to become more of a factor in public life and would no longer be satisfied to abide in the shadow of domestic routine. In their newly gained liberty they ran to the furthest extreme of unreasonableness; but Cato's ideas were too illiberal for nature.
During the early part of the second century before Christ, there was enacted around the Forum a scene such as never before had been witnessed or dreamed of in Rome. Crowds of matrons were there assembled to implore, and to gain by their importunity, the repeal of a law which curtailed their expenditure on dress. This was the Oppian law, which had been passed a few years previously, during the Second Punic War, when money was needed for the public service, and the people, not excluding the women, had responded with unbounded enthusiasm. The law in question decreed that "No woman should possess more than half an ounce of gold, or wear a garment of various colors, or ride in a carriage drawn by horses, in a city or any town or any place nearer thereto than one mile, except on occasion of some public religious solemnity." It is assumed by all writers that the half-ounce of gold to which the women were restricted put a restraint, beyond that limit, on the ornamentation of their dress; this is based on the very natural supposition that whatever of the precious metal they possessed would surely be displayed upon their persons. It is a little doubtful whether the decree concerning vehicles was inserted into the measure in order that the horses might be placed at the disposal of the army, or whether this was a crafty interpolation for the purpose of restricting the growing ostentation of the ladies. However, the law had been passed without any objection, so far as is known, from the women. But patient, uncomplaining submission on the part of the Roman women to their male guardians, whether collective or individual, was now becoming a thing of the past. They could neither make nor repeal laws; but they were no longer afraid to bring their influence to bear on those in whom lay that power. Champions of their cause were found in the two plebeian tribunes, and these moved in the Senate for the repeal of the Oppian law. Then ensued such a turmoil as if Hannibal were again menacing the gates of Rome, except that there was no unanimity of mind as to what should be done. This, however, only describes the attitude of the men; the women were united and, what is more, they were determined. They adopted what has become a common method in modern times; not that of forwarding to the legislators a numerously signed petition,--which is always a stronger protest than an effective influence,--but the more powerful one of pertinacious "lobbying." Crowds of women, reinforced by many who came in from the country towns and villages, thronged the streets leading to the Forum and importuned the men who were to decide the matter in which they were concerned. But they found an inexorable opponent in the redoubtable Cato. Livy gives us what he conceives the forceful orator to have said on the occasion:
"If, Romans, every individual among us had made it a rule to maintain the prerogative and authority of a husband with respect to his own wife, we should have less trouble with the whole sex. But now, our privileges, overpowered at home by female contumacy, are, even here in the Forum, spurned and trodden under foot; and because we are not able to withstand each separately, we now dread their collective body.... It was not without painful emotions of shame that I, just now, made my way to the Forum through the midst of a band of women. Had I not been restrained by respect for the modesty and dignity of some individuals among them, rather than of the whole number, and been unwilling that they should be seen rebuked by a consul, I should have said to them: 'What sort of practice is this, of running into public, besetting the streets, and addressing other women's husbands? Could not each have made the same request to her husband at home?. Are your blandishments more seducing in public than in private, and with other women's husbands than your own? Although, if the modesty of matrons confined them within the limits of their own rights, it did not become you, even at home, to concern yourselves about what laws might be passed or repealed here.' Our ancestors thought it not proper that women should perform any, even private, business, without a director; but that they should ever be under the control of parents, brothers, or husbands. We, it seems, suffer them now to interfere in the management of State affairs, and to introduce themselves into the Forum, into general assemblies, and into assemblies of election. For, what are they doing at this moment in your streets and lanes? What but arguing, some in support of the motion of the plebeian tribunes, others for the repeal of the law? Will you give the reins to their intractable nature, and their uncontrolled passions, and then expect that they themselves should set bounds to their lawlessness, when you have failed to do so? This is the smallest of the injunctions laid on them by usage or the laws, all of which women bear with impatience. They long for liberty, or rather, to speak the truth, for unbounded freedom in every particular. For what will they not attempt, if they now come off victorious?
"Recollect all the institutions respecting the sex, by which our forefathers restrained their undue freedom, and by which they subjected them to their husbands; and yet, even with the help of all these restrictions, you can hardly keep them within bounds. If, then, you suffer them to throw these off one by one, to tear them all asunder, and, at last, to set themselves on an equal footing with yourselves, can you imagine that they will be any longer tolerable by you? The moment that they have arrived at an equality with you, they will have become your superiors. But, forsooth, they only object to any new law being made against them; they mean not to deprecate justice, but severity. Nay, their wish is that a law which you have admitted, established by your suffrages, and confirmed by the practice and experience of so many years to be beneficial, should now be repealed; that is, by abolishing one law you should weaken all the rest. No law perfectly suits the convenience of every member of the community; the only consideration is, whether, upon the whole, it be profitable for the greater part.... I should like, however, to know what this important affair is which has induced the matrons thus to run out into public in this excited manner, scarcely restraining from pushing into the Forum and the assembly of the people.... What motive, that even common decency will allow to be mentioned, is pretended for this female insurrection? Why, say they, that we may shine in gold and purple; that, both on festal and common days, we may ride through the city in our chariots, triumphing over vanquished and abrogated law, after having captured and wrested from you your suffrages; and that there may be no bounds to our expenses and our luxury.
"Often have you heard me complain of the profuse expenses of the women--often of those of the men; and that not only of men in private stations, but of the magistrates; and that the State was endangered by two opposite vices--luxury and avarice, those pests which have been the ruin of all great empires. These I dread the more, as the circumstances of the commonwealth grow daily more prosperous and happy. As the Empire increases, as we have now passed over into Greece and Asia, places abounding with every kind of temptation that can inflame the passions, so much the more do I fear that these matters will bring us into captivity, rather than we them. Believe me, those statues from Syracuse were brought into this city with harmful effect. I already hear too many commending and admiring the decorations of Athens and Corinth, and ridiculing the earthen images of our Roman gods that stand on the fronts of their temples. For my part, I prefer these gods--propitious as they are, and I hope will continue to be, if we allow them to remain in their own mansions.... When the dress of all is alike, why should any one of you fear lest she should not be an object of observation? Of all kinds of shame, the worst, surely, is the being ashamed of frugality or of poverty; but this law relieves you with regard to both; since that which you have not it is unlawful for you to possess. This equalization, says the rich matron, is the very thing that I cannot endure. Why do I not make a figure, distinguished with gold and purple? Why is the poverty of others concealed under this cover of a law, so that it should be thought that, if the law permitted, they would have such things as they are not now able to procure? Romans, do you wish to excite among your wives an emulation of this sort, that the rich should wish to have what none other can have; and the poor, lest they be despised as such, should extend their expenses beyond their means? Be assured that when a woman once begins to be ashamed of what she ought not to be ashamed of, she will not be ashamed of what she ought. She who can will purchase out of her own purse; she who cannot will ask her husband. Unhappy is the husband, both he who complies with the request, and he who does not; for what he will not give himself he will see given by another.... So soon as the law shall cease to limit the expenses of your wife, you yourself will never be able to do so. Do not suppose that the matter will hereafter be in the same state in which it was before the law was made on the subject. It is safer that a wicked man should never be accused than that he should be acquitted; and luxury, if it had never been meddled with, would be more tolerable than it would be when, like a wild beast, irritated by being chained, it is let loose. My opinion is that the Oppian law ought, on no account, to be repealed."
The women, however, were not without their champion. In a debate on some ordinary affair of State, Lucius Valerius the Tribune would have been an inconsiderable antagonist for Cato; but, on this occasion, what he lacked in oratorical prestige was atoned for in that he had by far the more reasonable side of the argument. The fact that it was the custom of the Roman historians to compose, rather than report, the addresses of their orators renders any comparison of these two Senatorial speeches on woman's rights entirely uninteresting. Valerius is made to say: "Shall our wives alone reap none of the fruits of the public peace and tranquillity? Shall we men have the use of the purple? Shall our children wear gowns bordered with the same color, and shall we interdict the use of it to women alone? Shall your horse, even, be more splendidly caparisoned than your wife is clothed?" An appeal to the sympathy of the voters is made, as the matrons of Rome are represented as "seeing those ornaments allowed to the wives of the Latin confederates, of which they themselves have been deprived. They will behold those riding through the city in their carriages, and decorated with gold and purple, while they are obliged to follow on foot.... This would hurt the feelings even of men, and what do you think must be its effect on weak women, whom even trifles can disturb? Neither offices of State nor of the priesthood, nor triumphs, nor badges of distinction, nor military presents, nor spoils, may fall to their share. Elegance of appearance, and ornaments, and dress--these are the women's badges of distinction; in these they delight and glory; these our ancestors called the women's world."
The Oppian law was repealed, and Cato, as if he wished to escape the sight of the resulting disasters which he anticipated, took the command of a fleet of war vessels and sailed away to Spain. How the new liberty affected his own wife we are left to surmise; which is not difficult, in view of the opening sentences of his address.
While we are on the subject of the extraordinary fight of the women for the repeal of this sumptuary law, it will not be inappropriate to take a glance at the female dress of the time. There is ample evidence to show that the women of ancient Rome were as prone to changing fashions as are the ladies of our own day; but for several centuries the various parts of their attire remained very much the same, the varying style affecting chiefly the material and the quality. The costume of a Roman lady consisted of three principal garment?,--the under tunic, the stola, and the palla.
The under tunic was simply a sleeveless chemise, which was worn next to the body. Stays, of course, were utterly unknown to the ancients, as is shown by their statuary, which in these times affords us our only opportunity of knowing what a naturally developed female figure is like. A bosom band, or, as it was called, a strophium, made of leather, was frequently worn above the tunic.
The stola was a white garment with sleeves, which covered only the upper part of the arm; it was fastened above the shoulder with a clasp. The stola hung in large folds reaching to and covering the feet; around the bottom was sewn a broad flounce, called the instita. Above this instita was a purple band, which was the only color, other than white, ever used for the stola, except a colored stripe or sometimes gold around the neck. Among the Romans, the stola had a serious significance, beyond its use as an article of attire. Only matrons of unsullied reputation were permitted to wear it. Women of tarnished character were obliged to wear a dark-colored toga, somewhat similar to that of the men; we find Horace speaking of the togata,--in contradistinction to the matrons, and Tibullus writes of the prostitute with her toga.
The palla, the out-of-doors garment, was to the women what the toga was to the men. This was a large, white, and probably square, robe, or mantle,--later on, colors became fashionable,--and the complex manner of wearing it may best be understood by an examination of Roman statuary. The feet were protected by sandals in the house, and shoes for street or public wear; these were greatly ornamented. The shoes were of various colors, generally white, but frequently green or yellow, and fastened with red strings.
The Roman ladies, like those of modern times, exercised great care in the dressing and arranging of their hair; and it is not to be denied that they frequently sought, by artificial means, to rectify mistakes which they deemed nature had made in the selection of color. In the time of Juvenal, blonde seems to have had the preference. The ordinary style was to carry the hair in smooth braids to the back of the head and there fasten it in a knot, as usually seen in the statues. In ancient Rome the curling iron was no less an intimate and indispensable friend of the lady of fashion than it is at present; by this and other means, too intricate for explanation by the uninitiated, marvellous creations were produced. The satirist says: "Into so many tiers she forms her curls, so many stories high she builds her head; in front you will look upon an Andromache, behind she is a dwarf,--you would imagine her another person." History reveals no age in which attention to personal adornment was not such an intimate characteristic of female nature that women, when unendowed with remarkable beauty, have been able to refrain from unwisely seeking to attract notice by disfiguring themselves.
The Roman women wore ornaments in considerable profusion. These consisted principally of necklaces, arm bands, finger rings, and ear rings. Generally they were of gold, set with precious stones, and the workmanship was often of a most exquisite character. A necklace was found at Pompeii which was made of a band of plaited gold; on each half of the clasp there is a well-executed frog, and on the edges where the clasp joined were rubies, one of which still remains in its setting; suspended to the necklace are seventy-one small, artistically shaped pendants. Very many specimens of the jewelry worn by the women of ancient Rome are still in existence, and they indicate fine artistic taste on the part of the wearers, as well as great ability in design and execution on that of the makers.
On the dressing table of the fashionable Roman lady there appeared a wealth and a variety of cosmetics and costly essences in boxes and receptacles delicately formed of ivory and precious metals, as well as many other appliances for the toilet; so that her advantages in these respects were probably in no way inferior to those of her fair successors in modern times. An age was drawing near which, among many other examples of its monstrous luxuriousness, gave birth to efforts to enhance feminine attractiveness--efforts which doubtless were as futile as they were foolish.
The time, however, had already come when, notwithstanding that their manners were under the eye of such a censor as Cato, the women of Rome had entirely and forever abandoned their old simplicity of life. In the Epidicus of Plautus, written at about the time of the disturbance over the Oppian law, the matrons were represented on the stage as though decked out with valuable estates; the cost of a cloak was the price of a farm.
The new woman had begun to make her appearance in Rome. This proverbial phenomenon, so greatly talked of in our own time, is by no means a modern discovery. She is a principal and an inevitable accompaniment of progress in every age and race. She is either a natural evolution or a monstrosity, according to the social conditions of her time. When progress is normal and national development healthy, a more enlightened and more sanely independent type of woman is continually appearing; but so naturally and so quietly does she step into the higher position for which she has been enabled to prepare herself that her coming is without observation. On the other hand, where society is decadent, where abnormal growths are favored by the heat of unrestrained passions, and where volcanic revolutions in a nation may exalt characters which belong to the shades of inferiority to positions of high conspicuity, there appear feminine wonders upon earth; and men's hearts fail them for fear, as they await with consternation the things which are shortly to come to pass. Rome, during the latter years of the republican period, was in a condition favorable to the production of anything bizarre and phenomenal. The new wealth, the new learning, the new idleness, and the new vices were fit soil for the production of a new woman who would astonish the world for all time with her capacity for every excess of moral insanity.
We do not, however, mean to allege that with the greater privileges and increased freedom which entered into woman's life the old virtues and time-honored excellences entirely disappeared. As Cornelia graced with her learning and dignity the Rome of Cato's day, so did Cæcilia with her charity and her goodness the Rome of Cicero. That orator was undoubtedly prejudiced in her favor on account of the great kindness she showed to Roscius, his client; but he could not have eulogized this matron as he did, had not public opinion concurred with him in setting her up as a model for all other women. "An incomparable woman," her accomplished relations had no less honor conferred on them by her character than she received by their dignity. Thus an unbroken chain of noble-minded matrons may be traced through the darkest days of Rome's decadent morality. Nevertheless, though virtue did not cease to be exemplified by the few, or to be extolled by the writers, the growing depravity of the times made it constantly easier for unprincipled and impudent women to find their conduct accepted as the ordinary rule of life.
One chief cause--perhaps it is more correct to call it an accompaniment--of the breaking-down of the ancient ideals is found in the increasing tendency to deprecate the indissolubleness of marital bonds. Divorce became common and easy, so that the student of Roman biography finds it increasingly difficult to trace his characters through the many involutions of their various matrimonial alliances. Pompey married five times. Concerning his first two wives, Plutarch makes the following comment: "Sylla, admiring the valor and conduct of Pompey, ... sought means to attach him to himself by some personal alliance, and his wife Metella joining in his wishes, they persuaded Pompey to put away Antistia, and marry Æmilia, the stepdaughter of Sylla, she being at that very time the wife of another man, living with him, and with child by him. These were the very tyrannies of marriage, and much more agreeable to the times under Sylla than to the nature and habits of Pompey, that Æmilia, great with child, should be, as it were, ravished from the embraces of another for him, and that Antistia should be divorced with dishonor and misery by him for whose sake she had just before been bereft of her father--for Antistius was murdered in the Senate because he was suspected to be a favorer of Sylla for Pompey's sake. Antistia's mother, likewise, after she had seen all these indignities, made away with herself, a new calamity to be added to the tragic accompaniments of this marriage; and that there might be nothing wanting to complete them, Æmilia herself died, almost immediately after entering Pompey's house, in childbed."
Down to a very late date, a divorce is not met with in the annals of Rome; but with what unconcern the undoing of the marriage knot came to be regarded is well illustrated in the life of Cato the Younger. Attilia, his first wife, was put away for misconduct. Then he married Marcia, against whose reputation no blighting wind of scandal ever raged. Among the dearest friends of her husband was Hortensius, known as a man of good position and excellent character. Evidently, as the sequel shows, in all seriousness he sought to persuade Cato that the latter's daughter Portia, who was married to a man to whom she had borne two children, might be given to him. His argument was that she, as a fair plot of land, ought to bear fruit; but that it was not right that one man should be provided with a larger family than he could support, while another had none. Cato answered that he loved Hortensius very well, and much approved of uniting their houses; but he could not approve of forcibly taking away his daughter from her husband. Then Hortensius was bold enough to request that Cato, who, he thought, had enough children, should relinquish to him his own wife. Cato, seeing that he was in earnest, consented to do this, stipulating first that his wife's father should be consulted. No objection being raised in that quarter, a marriage was performed between Marcia and Hortensius, Cato assisting at the ceremony. In all this there is no mention made of Marcia's consent being given or even asked. Some years afterward, Cato, wanting someone to keep his house and take care of his daughters, took Marcia again, Hortensius being now dead and having left her all his estate. Cæsar, upon this, reproached Cato with covetousness; "for," he said, "if he had need of a wife, why did he part with her? And if he had not, why did he take her again? unless he gave her only as a bait to Hortensius, and lent her when she was young, to have her again when she was rich." The historian answers this by quoting the verse of Euripides:
"'To speak of mysteries-the chief of these Surely were cowardice in Hercules.'
"For," he says, "it were much the same thing to reproach Hercules for cowardice and to accuse Cato of covetousness." The explanation of this singular action, the cold nature which Cato inherited from his grandfather the Censor being taken into consideration, seems to lie in the fact that the Roman idea of the necessary guardianship over women precluded any just conception of their rights in the disposal of their own persons. The giving and the taking of a woman in marriage was wholly the business of her father and her suitor; nothing was required of her in the transaction save thankful obedience. Cato was perfectly at liberty to give away his wife, if he so desired; this right was guaranteed to him by the simple fact that she was his property.
For the same reason, while chastity on the part of the wife was regarded as an absolute essential, the same virtue was by no means considered as necessary to the good character of the man. The demand for purity in the wife was largely based on the idea of proprietary rights which the husband had in her person; hence the man could divorce the woman for infidelity, but the reverse was not conceded. Plautus introduces upon the stage two matrons, one of whom complains of her husband, and the other consoles and exhorts her thus: "Listen to me. Do not quarrel with your husband; let him love whom, and let him do what, he pleases, since you have everything you want at home; keep in mind the fearful sentence: 'Begone, woman!'"
The new era which had dawned in Rome brought a certain freedom of circumstances and activity within the reach of women; but it did not give them in the marriage contract any more liberty than they had of old. The only women who were allowed the disposal of their own persons were the courtesans. There are many evidences that these were not regarded with the disrespect in which their class is held in modern times. For an example, Flora, who was famous in the last days of the Republic, received on account of her exquisite beauty the high honor of having her statue dedicated to the temple of Castor and Pollux; which may be regarded as a kind of precedent for artists who in an Italy of a much later date employed their mistresses as models for their Madonnas. That this class of women did not hesitate to place a high value upon themselves is proved by the instance of Tertia, to whom Verres presented a Sicilian city. Lucretius speaks of the cost of their favors, giving us also an interesting picture of the gayly dressed wanton:
"Amply though endowed.
His wealth decays, his debts with speed augment, The post of duty never fills he more, And all his sick'ning reputation dies. Meanwhile rich unguents from his mistress laugh, Laugh from her feet sott Sicyon's shoes superb; The green-rayed emerald o'er her, dropt in gold, Gleams large and numerous; and the sea-blue silk; Deep-worn, enclasps her.
What his sires amassed
Now flaunts in ribbands, in tiaras flames Full o'er her front, and now to robes converts Of Chian loose, or Alidonian mould; While feasts and festivals of boundless pomp, And costliest viands, garlands, odors, wines, And scattered roses ceaseless are renewed."
The Voconian law, which had been enacted in the days of the elder Cato, the purpose of which was the prevention of large accumulations of property in female hands, did not prevent women from becoming rich in the manner suggested above. A man might give away all his property while alive; the law only vetoed excessive legacies. By its provisions, no woman was allowed to receive by inheritance property exceeding the value of one hundred thousand sesterces. "Since with the growing power of the Empire the riches of private persons were increasing, fear was felt lest the minds of women, being rather inclined by nature to luxury and the pursuit of a more elegant routine of life, and deriving from unbounded wealth incentives to desire, should fall into immoderate expenses and luxury, and should subsequently chance to depart from the ancient sanctity of manners, so that there would be a change of morals no less than of the manner of living." These were the reasons for the enactment of this measure. It was the kind of law which was dear to the heart of the Censor, and it was with great delight that he lent his aid to its passage. The people were a little doubtful as to its justice; but Cato put an end to all hesitation by inveighing, with his usual asperity, against the tyranny of women and their insufferable insolence when opulent. He complained that oftentimes, when they brought a rich dowry to their husbands, they kept back a large part of the money, and then made loans to their husbands as though these were mere debtors. The historian says that this assertion, enforced with a loud voice and good lungs, moved the people to indignation, and they voted to pass the law. It was exceedingly characteristic of the sentiments of the ancient Romans to be convinced by Cato as he strenuously objected to that in women which he strongly advocated as a rule for men.
There are two feminine names which, though belonging to women who were contemporaries, well represent different aspects of the transition from the old Rome of uncultured simplicity to the new Rome of immoral refinement. One is Cornelia, who was the fifth wife of Pompey the Great; the other is Clodia, the sister of Clodius the Turbulent. One conjoined the new learning with the ancient purity of life, the other united luxurious living with an abandoned career; one was a worthy successor of her worthy namesake of a former generation, the other was a forerunner of the amazing female characters of the most depraved days of the Empire.
Cornelia, like the mother of the Gracchi, belonged to the renowned family of the Scipios. Though but a very young woman when she was married to Pompey, she had already been the wife of that son of Crassus who was slain in Parthia. That her first marriage was a happy one may be argued from the fact that when Pompey fell into misfortune, and she, for some sentimental reason, imagined herself as uniting him to woes which rightly belonged to her own fate, she reproached herself for not having followed the husband of her youth in his death, as she had designed.
Plutarch informs us that the young lady possessed other attractions besides those of youth and beauty. She was highly educated, as might be expected in a daughter of Metellus Scipio; she was an accomplished performer upon the lute; she understood geometry, and was accustomed to listen with profit and appreciation to lectures on philosophy. The historian takes great satisfaction in informing us also that, with all this, she had escaped that pretentiousness and unamiability which too frequently spoiled the effect of learning in women of unusual acquirements.
Owing to the terrible civil strife which afflicted Rome in the last days of the Republic, and to Pompey's leading share in it, Cornelia's home was frequently the martial camp of her husband. The Empire of Rome had grown to be the whole extent of civilization, and Cornelia's learning found ample opportunity, through her travels, to become reinforced by that liberality of mind which is the result of wide observation. She appears to have gained the high regard of her husband's army; for once, after a struggle with Cæsar, in which Pompey was for the moment victorious, some of the soldiers, of their own accord, sailed to Lesbos to carry to her the joyful tidings that the war was ended. Her pleasure in this news was of short duration; for it was soon to be her unhappy lot to accompany her husband to Egypt, in his flight from the all-subduing Cæsar. There she witnessed his assassination by the perfidious hands from which he sought protection.
It is unfortunate that the after career of Cornelia is lost sight of by history; but even this silence in a manner speaks in her favor; for, while the natural nobility of her character could not suffer by the quenching of the strong light which shone around Pompey, there is some warrant for assurance, in the very fact that her doings were not the subject of comment, that her life continued honorable.
Clodia was a woman of altogether different character. She was of the great Claudian gens; and no member of that powerful family ever lived so quietly as not to be the subject of discourse in Rome. To be one of the Claudii meant to be impetuous and dominant, either in good or in evil. It was a Vestal of this family who, when her father was refused a triumph by the Roman people, placed herself in his chariot so as to prevent his being interrupted in his progress through the city. Clodia, studied from the point of heredity, might have been either good or bad; but she would have contravened all precedents in her family had she not been extreme in one or the other. As it was, she made a fitting sister for that Clodius who stormed in Rome during the days of Cicero and kept the city by the ears, both on account of his ambitions and his ill-considered exploits.
Clodia was married to Quintus Metellus, to whom Cicero affords a most honorable tribute; but she did not allow the fact of her marriage to place any restraint upon the licentiousness of her conduct. Her luxurious house by the Tiber was a meeting place, not for men of learning, but for all the idle, fashionable, and dissolute young men of the city. Her reputation has been pilloried forever by the eloquent advocate in his defence of Marcus Coelius. This young man was accused of having attempted to poison Clodia, in order to rid himself of the necessity of paying back some gold he was said to have borrowed from her. The real truth appears to be that this prosecution was mainly instituted by Clodia, who considered herself slighted by Coelius, who had been her lover, but whose ardor was waning. The character and manner of life of this irrepressible young Roman matron may be gathered from the following arraignment of her in Cicero's oration. "If I am to proceed in the old-fashioned way and manner of pleading, then I must summon up from the Shades below one of those bearded old men,--not men with those little bits of imperials which she takes such a fancy to, but a man with that long, shaggy beard which we see on the ancient statues and images,--to reproach the woman, and to speak in my stead, lest she by any chance get angry with me. Let, then, some one of her own family rise up, and above all others that great blind Claudius of old time. For he will feel the least grief, inasmuch as he will not see her. And, in truth, if he can come forth from the dead, he will deal with her thus; he will say: 'Woman, what have you to do with Coelius? Why have you been so intimate with him as to lend him gold, or so much an enemy as to fear his poison? Was he a relation? A connection? Was he a friend of your husband? Nothing of the sort. What was the reason, then, except some folly? Even if the images of us, the men of your family, had no influence over you, did not even my own daughter, that celebrated Claudia Quinta, admonish you to emulate the praise belonging to our house from the glory of its women? Did not that Vestal Claudia recur to your mind, who embraced her father while celebrating his triumph, and prevented his being dragged from his chariot by a hostile tribune of the people? Why had the vices of your brother more weight with you than the virtues of your father, of your grandfather, and others In regular descent ever since my own time--virtues exemplified not only in the men, but also in the women? Was it for this that I broke the treaty which was concluded with Pyrrhus, that you should every day make new treaties of most disgraceful love? Was it for this I made the Appian Way, that you should travel along it escorted by other men besides your husband?'"
This reincarnation of the severe old ancestor ought to have been sufficient to strike terror and repentance into any woman's heart. But Cicero was more concerned with exonerating Coelius than he was about reforming Clodia, and doubtless he had more hope of convicting her of being a follower of undue courses than he had of converting her from her ways. So he goes on: "But if you wish me to deal more courteously with you, I will put away that harsh and almost boorish old man; and out of these kinsmen of yours here present I will take some one, and, before all, I will select your youngest brother, who is one of the best-bred men of his class, who is exceedingly fond of you, and who, on account of some childish timidity, I suppose, and some groundless fears of what may happen by night, always, when he was but a little boy, slept with you, his eldest sister. Suppose, then, that he speaks to you in this way: 'What are you making this disturbance about, my sister? Why are you so mad? You saw a young man become your neighbor; his fair complexion, his height, his countenance, and his eyes made an impression on you; you wished to see him oftener; you were sometimes seen in the same gardens with him, being a woman of high rank; you are unable with all your riches to detain him, the son of a thrifty and parsimonious father. He rejects you, he does not think your presents worth so much as you require of him. Try someone else. You have gardens on the Tiber, and you carefully made them in that particular spot to which all the youths of the city come to bathe. From that spot you may every day pick out people to suit you. Why do you annoy this one man who scorns you?'"
If the orator was just in all that he insinuates against her, Clodia, the wealthy, fashionable, and doubtless beautiful daughter of the great patrician family, was well qualified to be the high priestess of Aphrodite for the city of Rome.
The position of woman in ancient Rome was always one of honor and respect. A Roman matron enjoyed many more social privileges and a much greater independence than did the Greek wife. In Athens the women were treated as children; and the more respectable their character, the more completely were they shut out from the social life and the public amusements of the men. In Rome, on the contrary, though the wife was subordinate to her husband and, as a rule, did not make herself conspicuous in public affairs, she was in no way secluded, and was everywhere treated with the highest respect. In the home, she was the mistress of the whole household economy, supervising the instruction of the children and governing the domestic slaves. She stood side by side with her husband, sharing in all his dignities, and in all matters pertaining to the family wielding an authority second only to his. Somewhere between the civilizations of Greece and Rome was the boundary line, starting from which the status of woman degraded to the Oriental or developed into the Occidental type. In the one case, subject to the jealous veil, the espionage of eunuch slaves, the debasing, soul-benumbing servilities of the harem; in the other, living in the open, the sole mate of one man, and, subject to her husband alone, clothed with all authority in her home. While Greece looked to the East, and subjected her women to some of those customs which characterized the harems of Babylon, Rome was essentially Western, and its women enjoyed a goodly portion of dignity and honor. Both Greeks and Romans were of the same branch of the great Aryan race, and the indications are that in the earliest times their women enjoyed equal freedom; but Greece, to a certain extent, fell under the influence of Semitic ideas, which saw in the wife a voluptuous possession to be jealously guarded. The Roman woman, on the other hand, was taught to prize and protect her own virtue.
The comparatively free and respected position of the matrons of republican Rome accounts in no small degree for the glory and greatness of the State. Where woman is treated as a slave, there is no genuine love of liberty. Great men can only be born of noble mothers; and nobility, feminine as well as masculine, can only flourish in freedom. Veturia and Cornelia were mistresses in their homes; they knew no restraint in their goings save the requirements of honor, they were respected by their husbands and reverenced by all men; therefore, in ways natural to such mothers, they were able to fit their sons for deeds worthy of men.
In the Roman house there were no secluded women's quarters corresponding to those of eastern nations; and the Roman women walked abroad, frequented the public theatres, and took their places at festive banquets with the men, Conelius Nepos, writing on this subject, says: "What Roman is ashamed to bring his wife to a feast; and does she not occupy the best room in the house, and live in the midst of company? But in Greece the case is far otherwise; for a wife is neither admitted to a feast, except among relations, nor does she sit anywhere but in the innermost apartment of the house, which is called the gynæconitis, and into which nobody goes who is not connected with her by near relationship." The most important room in the Roman house was the atrium. Here, in the midst of her slaves, the mistress pursued her domestic occupations; here was placed the lectus genialis or adversus, in ancient times the real, afterward the symbolical, bridal bed, her own proper seat of honor.
Notwithstanding this independent position of the women, Roman marriage, if it be judged by the strict letter of its laws and customs, was not very indulgent to the weaker sex. But, as we have indicated in preceding chapters, the power of the father of the family was much greater in theory than it was in reality. Roman wedlock was of two kinds: matrimonium justum and non justum; that is, marriage in due form, and marriage without the perfect ceremonies. The first required the right on either side to fulfil a lawful marriage according to the ancient rites. In the earliest times, equality of condition was demanded, patricians and plebeians being allowed to marry only in their own class. After B.C. 445, this restriction was removed; but it was still necessary that both parties to the contract should be citizens. But even in cases where the ancient rites were not permitted, marriage, if it took place, was regarded as none the less lawful and binding. Among the Romans, first cousins were not allowed to marry, though in the days of the emperors the restrictions of consanguinity were not strictly adhered to; Agrippina was married to Claudius, who was her uncle.
A contract of legal marriage was made in three different ways, called, respectively, usus, confarreatio, and coemptio. Us us, or usage, was when a woman, with the consent of her parents or guardians, lived with a man a whole year without dowry, whom he cannot portion off to anyone. And Horace says that "Queen Money, when she gives a spouse with an ample dowry, seems to give at the same time beauty, nobility, friends, and conjugal fidelity." Juvenal supposes someone to argue that Cesennia, a woman of his time, is, by her husband's showing, the best of wives. But he answers: "She brought him a thousand sestertia; that is the price at which he calls her chaste. It is not with Venus's quiver that he grows thin, or with her torch that he burns. It is from that his fires are fed; from her dowry it is that the arrows are sent. She has purchased her liberty; therefore, even in her husband's presence she may exchange signals, and answer her billets-doux. A rich wife, with a covetous husband, has all a widow's privileges."
In the early days of the Republic, dowries were very small. The daughters of the greatest men, says Valerius Maximus, often brought nothing in marriage save the glory of their fathers or of their families. Scipio, when commanding in Spain, petitioned the Senate to allow him to return, so that he might arrange the marriage of his daughter. The Senators, in order that the State might not be deprived of the services of so able a general, refused his request, but took upon themselves the duty of marrying the maiden. They chose for her a husband, and assigned to her from the public treasury a marriage portion of eleven thousand ases. This doubtless was at the time considered ample, though Seneca, in the later days of luxury, declared that it would not suffice to purchase a mirror for the daughter of a freedman. In those same early days, when wealth was reckoned in small figures, a woman called Megulla was surnamed Dotata, or "The Great Fortune," because she had fifty thousand ases, less than eight hundred dollars of our money. But as wealth increased, the marriage portions of the women became correspondingly great, until in the time of Martial a dowry equivalent to three-quarters of a million dollars was not uncommon. The wife's dowry was, of course, at the disposal of her husband; but his right to it ceased in case of the dissolution of the marriage, except when the wife sought divorce without just cause, in which case the husband was allowed to keep a sixth of the dowry for each of their children, to the amount of three-sixths. If, however, the wife died before her husband, and left no children, her dowry reverted to her father, so that he might not suffer the double affliction of losing both his money and his daughter. Sometimes the wife reserved to herself a part of the marriage portion, in order that she might have something to spend for which she had not to give account to her husband; occasionally also, there went with the bride a slave, who, it was stipulated, was not to be subject to the husband's disposal or command. The wife of Apuleius, who married him when she was a widow and possessed four million sesterces in her own right, transferred only three hundred thousand in the marriage settlement. This power of the wife to own personal property of a non-distrainable character afforded the Roman an opportunity, such as is frequently seized to-day by men on the verge of bankruptcy, to secure his assets by making them over to his wife.
It often happened, of course, that a maiden's family, though honorable, was not in such circumstances that she could base her hopes of marriage upon the tempting bait of a rich dowry. Then her personal qualities were her sole reliance. In the later days of the Republic, Roman parents seem to have been fully appreciative of the desirability of a liberal education for their daughters. Even in the most wealthy families, before the days when Roman society entered upon its decadence, the girls were zealously instructed in those domestic duties which would prepare them to become good housewives. In addition to this, they were thoroughly trained in both Greek and Latin literature, especial attention being given to the poets. Their accomplishments also included music, singing, and dancing; for these, says Statius, helped to procure a husband. But we may be certain that in those times, as in the present, the natural anxiety of many a mother caused her to resort to other arts besides that of music, in order to provide a good match for her none too much sought after daughter. If the comedies are to be credited, that which the father's wealth could not accomplish it was hoped might be attained through the mother's wiles. "Look at the mothers," says one of Terence's characters; "they are carefully occupied in lowering their daughters' shoulders, in drawing in their waists to make them look slender. Is there one of them who is inclined to be stout? The mother immediately exclaims, 'she is an athlete,' and diminishes the girl's meals until, in spite of constitutional tendencies, she has rendered her daughter as thin as a spindle."
A girl, by means of either her real or artificial qualities, has won the regard of some young Roman; let us witness, so far as they may be ascertained from the ancient authors, the ceremonies of her betrothal and nuptials. The consent of the parents of both parties must first be obtained. If the suitor is regarded with favor, the father of the maiden says: "I give up to you my dear daughter, and may it be happy for me, for you, and for her." Then the betrothal or espousal takes place. This is a family festival; everyone connected with the house makes it a holiday. The relatives are invited to share in the rejoicing and also to witness the contract of engagement. The Roman maiden did not engage herself to be married in the manner Ruskin complained of as characterizing modern times,--by moonlight, starlight, gaslight, candlelight, or anything but daylight. Her engagement was a solemnity which took place under the eyes of all her relatives and as many friends as her father cared and could afford to invite. The inevitable augurs are also present, in order that they may ascertain, by examining the entrails of some bird, whether or not the Fates will be propitious. Their verdict will largely depend upon the manner in which they are treated by the parties concerned; for Cato declared that he never could understand how two members of this profession could look each other in the face without laughing. One wonders if any Roman girl ever availed herself of the science of these gentlemen to escape an undesirable suitor; for in the minds of most of the people the superstition was so firmly implanted that if an augur could have been induced to perceive misfortune in the auspices, that would have been sufficient to prevent the engagement. But we will suppose that the signs are pronounced favorable. A stipula, or straw, is broken between the parties, signifying that a contract is made. The agreement is also put in writing, for the sake of future reference. The man gives the maiden a plain iron ring, which he places upon the finger next to the smallest on the left hand, there being a belief that a nerve runs from that finger directly to the heart. He also gives presents to those who have made themselves useful in helping to bring about the engagement, and he receives a present from the girl. The contract of betrothal was not irrevocable; but for either party to withdraw from it was much more likely to result in a suit at law than is the case at the present time; and the Roman had the advantage over the jilted man in our day, in that it was not considered that damages for a breach of promise were properly due only to a woman. Marriage engagements were frequently of long continuance among the Romans; for sometimes even infants were betrothed. The minimum age at which the marriage could legally take place was twelve for the girl and fourteen for the man.
The selection of the wedding day was a matter in which more than the inclination and the convenience of the parties concerned had to be considered; the important thing was to choose a fortunate day. Ovid says: "There are days when neither widow nor virgin may light the torch of Hymen; she who is married then will surely die." The Calends, the Ides, and the Nones were especially to be avoided. The whole month of May was considered particularly unfavorable, because it was devoted to the propitiation of the Lemurs, or the evil spirits. It was a common saying that no good woman would marry in the month of May. February was also avoided. June, on the contrary, of all the months in the year, was believed to be the most propitious for marriages, but not until after the Ides, or the thirteenth day. Ovid states, on the authority of the wife of the flamen dialis, that for a fortunate marriage it was necessary to wait until the refuse from the Temple of Vesta had been carried by the Tiber to the sea; and this was not supposed to be accomplished until the thirteenth of June.
The friends of our couple have decided upon a day which, in the common opinion, has no predilection for mischief. Everything necessary for the performance of the marriage ceremonies is provided. These ceremonies are of the nature of ancient usages rather than legal requirements. They are intensely symbolical, and are calculated to impress upon the minds of the bride and bridegroom a lively sense of the duties belonging to the new relationship into which they are entering.
This Roman bride is relieved of one grave anxiety which usually accompanies the anticipatory pleasure in an approaching modern wedding. It is not necessary for her to give any thought as to the color and fashion of her wedding dress. This was always the same among the Romans; and even if that worn by the maiden whose marriage is now being described should happen to be an heirloom from her great-grandmother, she need not fear that it is out of style. It consists of a long white robe, woven in a particular manner. If the circumstances of her family have improved, she may perhaps sew a purple fringe around the border; but that is absolutely the only change allowed. This robe will be fastened around her waist with a woollen girdle, white wool being always a symbol of chastity. This will be tied in a Hercules knot, to loose which, at the end of the ceremonies, will be the husband's privilege. Her hair, allowed to fall around her shoulders, on the wedding morn is parted with the head of a spear. Plutarch and other writers say that this custom had its origin in the rape of the Sabines, and betokened the fact that the first Roman marriages were brought about by capture, and that it accordingly also indicated that a wife should be in subjection to her husband. Over her head the bride wears a yellow or flame-colored veil, this hue being held to be of good significance. Her brow is also crowned with a chaplet of vervain, gathered and wreathed by her own hands, for this herb signifies fecundity. Her shoes are also of yellow, and so constructed as to make her appear taller than her real height.
Thus attired, the bridal party go first to the temple, for the purpose of offering sacrifice, as Virgil says, "above all, to Juno, whose province is the nuptial tie." The victim considered as most appropriate is a hog; and care is to be taken to throw the gall of the animal as far away as possible, with the hope that in like manner all bitterness will be put far away from this conjugal union. Then, if the ceremony of confarreatio is used, the couple, having returned to the bride's home, are seated side by side, with a sheepskin covering both chairs; by which it is signified that although the man and the woman occupy two different parts of the house, they are nevertheless united by a common bond. The chief priest now gives the wedded pair the sacred cake, which they eat together in token of the fact that they are henceforth to share with each other the necessaries of life. Although the modern wedding cake has developed into something far more elaborate than the simple Roman wafer of flour, water, and salt, the probability is that the former had its origin in the latter.
The appearance of the star Venus in the sky is the signal for the bride's departure to her new home. In a formal manner, her father hands her over to her husband's family, for he only can sever the bond which holds her to his guardianship. Henceforth her husband has the right by law to exercise over her that authority which has been held by her father. There is a pretence made of taking her by force from the arms of her mother or her sisters, in memory of the violent abduction of the Sabine women. Then the bridal party walk in procession to the husband's house. Preceding them, lighting the way, are four married women carrying torches. The bride is directly attended by three boys, in selecting whom the important thing to be borne in mind is to take only those who have both parents living, otherwise it would be an extremely bad omen. Two of these support her by the arms, while the other carries a flambeau of white pine before her to dissipate all lurking enchantments and dispel all evil incantations. Then follow maid-servants with a distaff, a spindle, and wool, intimating that she is to labor at spinning, as did the Roman matrons of the old time. After these comes a boy, who for this occasion is named Camillus; his office is to carry in an open basket other instruments for feminine work; and especially it has been remembered to include playthings and toys for the bride's prospective children. All the relatives and friends join in this festive procession. In place of the rice which in these days accompanies the adieus bestowed on a newly wedded pair, the Roman bride was the target for all the jests and raillery which the wit of the spectators might suggest. When she reaches her new home, the bridegroom, standing in the doorway, which is decked with garlands of flowers, inquires who she is. Her reply is: "Where thou art Caius, there am I Caia;" thus beautifully intimating that comradeship in all things which is the ideal of marriage. Then, after the bride has anointed the doorposts with the fat of swine in order to turn away all enchantments, she is lifted over the threshold, which, being consecrated to Vesta, it would be a bad omen for the bride to touch with her foot. Her husband now presents her with the keys, for she is henceforth to be intrusted with the management of his house. Both touch fire and water, in token that they together share these essentials of life and well-being. A yoke is placed about their necks, symbolizing that which they have taken upon themselves in their marriage; from this comes the word conjugium. The first joint act of the bride and bridegroom is to unite in the worship of the household gods, the husband thus introducing his wife to the guardian spirits of his home--the most sacred things of his family. She is henceforth to be associated with him in his domestic worship, and she has become a sharer in the inheritance of fame left by his ancestors, who are venerated in the adoration of their Manes. These solemn observances being ended, now follows the banquet. At this, the bride reclines on the same divan with her husband at the head of the table; for she is already hostess where he is host. Now has come the opportunity for boisterous hilarity. The solemnities are all completed, and the remaining time is wholly given up to the merriment which is always deemed a fitting accompaniment to the first adventure of a couple among the changes and chances of the marriage state. All the guests join in singing the Thalassius,--a chant in which every bridegroom is congratulated on being as fortunate in his lot as was that traditional Quirite who obtained the brightest flower of the Sabine maidens.
The banquet being ended, the bride is conducted by the matrons to the nuptial chamber, which is always the atrium, or the central room of the house. Here is placed the lectus genialis, richly adorned and covered with flowers. The bridegroom throws nuts among his former companions, as a sign that he is now forsaking the life of his boyhood for the responsibilities of man's estate. After his departure, the young people entertain the newly married couple by singing outside the door fescennine verses, in which is indulged a liberty of expression to which modern ears are unaccustomed.
Commonly, the songs chanted at the celebration of Roman marriages had no literary merit whatever, and were chiefly characterized by their grossness; but sometimes these occasions inspired the genius of the best poets, from which resulted some of the most beautiful Latin verse. Catullus has three such pieces. In his Nuptial Song, youths and maidens are represented as contending with each other in improvised versification. Hesperus, the evening star, is reproached by the virgins and lauded by the young men as being the signal for the bride to leave her mother's arms for those of her husband. In the last chorus, both parties unite in exhorting the young wife to use complaisance with her husband, and not to "strive against two parents who have bestowed their own rights along with thy dowry on their son-in-law." The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, the longest of the poems of Catullus, may not have been intended to be sung at a wedding; though that is a question on which classic scholars are not agreed. It treats of marriage, however, in a very interesting and original fashion; and may throw some light on Roman customs, notwithstanding the fact that the characters introduced are the offspring of the gods. "The mansion, in every part of its opulent interior, glitters with shining gold and silver; white are the ivory seats; goblets gleam on the tables; the whole dwelling rejoices in the splendor of regal wealth. In the midst of the mansion is placed the genial couch of the goddess, inlaid with polished Indian tooth, and covered with purple dyed with the shell's rosy juice. This coverlet, diversified with figures of the men of yore, portrays the virtues of heroes with wondrous art." Then follows the principal part of the poem, which is a description of the pictures worked upon the tapestry of the bed. The subject of these is the history of Ariadne. We are to imagine the poet standing by the couch and pointing out the incidents portrayed, with their causes and consequences. This being concluded, the gods, and especially the Parcæ, are introduced to the marriage feast; and the latter, as they spin their thread, "utter soothsaying canticles."
Catullus has given us a veritable example of the Roman wedding song in his epithalamium on the marriage of Manlius and Julia. Of this Julia we know nothing further than that she was of the Cotta family; Manlius was of the illustrious lineage of the Torquati. If only there were historic warrant for believing that this couple were as charming in their personalities as they are described in this poem, and that all the good wishes therein expressed did really materialize, the marriage of Manlius and Julia might stand for all time as the summum bonum of wedded felicity. A few stanzas from Lamb's translation will serve to illustrate the character of the epithalamium, and will also fairly indicate the place and nature of sentiment in the Roman conception of the marriage relation.
"When Venus claim'd the golden prize,
And bless'd the Phrygian shepherd's eyes;
No brighter charms his judgment sway'd
Than those that grace this mortal maid;
And every sigh and omen fair
The nuptials hail, and greet the pair.
"Propitiate here the maiden's vows,
And lead her fondly to her spouse;
And firm as ivy clinging holds
The tree it grasps in mazy folds,
Let virtuous love as firmly bind
The tender passions of her mind.
"Ye virgins, whom a day like this
Awaits to greet with equal bliss,
Oh! join the song, your voices raise To hail the god we love to praise. O Hymen! god of faithful pairs;
O Hymen! hear our earnest prayers.
"Invoked by sires with anxious fear,
Their children's days with bliss to cheer;
By maidens, who to thee alone
Unloose the chaste, the virgin zone; By fervid bridegrooms, whose delight Is stay'd till thou hast bless'd the rite.
"Raise, boys, the beaming torches high!
She comes--but veil'd from every eye;
The deeper dyes her blushes hide;
With songs, with pæans greet the bride! Hail, Hymen! god of faithful pairs, Hail, Hymen! who hast heard our prayers.
"Riches, and power, and rank, and state, With Manlius' love thy days await; These all thy youth shall proudly cheer, And these shall nurse thy latest year. Hail, Hymen! god of faithful pairs! Hail, Hymen! who hast heard our prayers.
"Oh! boundless be your love's excess,
And soon our hopes let children bless;
Let not this ancient honor'd name
Want heirs to guard its future fame; Nor any length of years assign
A limit to the glorious line.
"Let young Torquatus' look avow
All Manlius' features in his brow; That those, who know him not, may trace The knowledge of his noble race;
And by his lineal brow declare
His lovely mother chaste as fair.
"Now close the doors, ye maiden friends;
Our sports, our rite, our service ends.
With you let virtue still reside,
O bridegroom brave, and gentle bride, And youth its lusty hours employ
In constant love and ardent joy."
The bluntly practical disposition of the Romans reveals itself even in their attitude toward that phase of human life which preëminently furnished scope for romance. In their expressions concerning marriage, its physical basis is acknowledged with unnecessary frankness. No vestige is found among them of any pretence of belief in that exalted communion which, though it is probably nothing more than an imaginary refinement, is commonly talked of as Platonic love. There is no idealizing of the amatory emotions,--such as we are accustomed to in novels which are not "realistic"--thereby affording an opportunity to ignore the lower aspect.
A woman, after marriage, retained her former name; but it was joined to that of her husband, as, for example, Julia Pompeii, Terentia Ciceronis. She was also called domina, the mistress. On the day after her marriage, the Roman bride, by a sacrifice which she offered to the Lares, formally took possession of her position as mistress of the household. Then she assumed the control of the servants and slaves, setting them their tasks and taking upon herself the superintendence of all things in the home. By unwritten law, no servile work was required of the Roman matron, unless she were so poor as not to own a slave. She might spin, and, indeed, it was to her credit if she thus diligently employed herself, for this was an occupation which the most cherished traditions would not permit the noblest to despise. It was carried on in the atrium, where the matron sat surrounded by her husband's ancestral images and where she received her friends. When she went abroad, she was known to be a matron because of her stola; the inner side of the walk was given to her by every Roman citizen she might happen to meet; and if anything indecent was said or done in her presence, it was an offence which might be punished by law.
In the earliest times, the dissolution of the marriage bond was of extremely rare occurrence, for the praiseworthy reason that the manners of the people were such that there seldom arose an occasion for divorce. In those first ages, however, the laws concerning this matter were characterized by an exceeding severity and unfairness to the woman. In no case was she allowed to divorce her husband; though she might be put away by him, not only for conjugal infidelity and such crimes as using drugs to prevent the possibility of childbearing, or for deceiving him by the introduction of fictitious children, but even if she counterfeited his keys or surreptitiously drank his wine, and, in the earliest times, if she drank wine at all. Carvilius is said to have been the first Roman to put away his wife; but it is difficult to believe that, notwithstanding the fact that laws providing for such a proceeding existed from the time of the kingdom, no divorce really took place until B.C. 231. Probably certain circumstances connected with this divorce gave it such notoriety that it was the first which impressed itself upon the attention of the historians. It is said that Carvilius, though he loved his wife, divorced her on account of barrenness, he having, with many other citizens, made a vow to marry for the sake of offspring.
In later times, the women gained the right to secure divorce; and as morals began to show the signs of decadence, there was nothing so indicative of the terrible laxity which prevailed as the trivial causes for which husbands and wives were allowed to separate. Incompatibility of temperament was the common complaint. In the ancient and nobler times, there was a small temple dedicated to Viriplaca, the marital peacemaker; and when a difference occurred between husband and wife, they met and entered into explanations before the goddess, usually with the result of a restoration of harmony; but Viriplaca was gradually forgotten, and matrimonial chaos ensued.
When this laxity came to be the prevailing rule, the wife who was rich and, moreover, inclined to be in any way disagreeable held her husband at her mercy. If he divorced her without any considerable fault of hers, or if they parted by mutual consent, she took her dowry and left him with the children. If, as was very likely to be the case, he had married her for her property, he was obliged to be submissive. Plautus says: "The portionless wife is subject to her husband's will; wives with dowries are as executioners for their husbands." Martial, inveighing against a miserly woman who will not furnish her husband with a new cloak as a New Year's gift, says: "Why, Proculeia, do you cast off your husband in the month of January? This is not in your case a divorce; it is a good stroke of business." During the worst times, the law restricted the number of divorces obtainable by an individual to eight. If we are to believe Juvenal, there were women who were sufficiently enterprising to reach the limit in five years. The satirist describes them as leaving the doors only recently adorned, the tapestry used for the marriage festival still hanging on the house, and the branches still green upon the threshold. Seneca says that in his time it had come to such a pass that women reckoned the years, not by the names of the consuls, but by the husbands they had divorced.
Yet, notwithstanding--perhaps it would be more correct to say, on account of--this excessive willingness on the part of the women to enter into contracts of marriage, it became necessary in the time of the first empire to decree severe penalties against celibacy; and bonuses were awarded to those in whose families children were born. Even as early as B.C. 121, Metellus the Censor, complaining in the Senate of the increasing tendency to avoid the responsibilities of matrimony, said: "Could we exist without wives at all, doubtless we should rid ourselves of the plague they are to us; since, however, nature has decreed that we cannot dispense with the infliction, it is best to bear it manfully, and rather look to the permanent conservation of the State than to our own passing comfort."
In a condition of society in which the most conspicuous women were unrestrained by any worthy ideals of the responsibilities of wifehood, and where men were at liberty, and found abundant opportunity, to gratify their basest propensities with no fear of any reproof other than being made the subject of humorous allusion, it is not to be wondered at that the latter were inclined to shun the cares and the vicissitudes of marriage. Juvenal claimed that a good wife was rarer than a white crow; and Pliny held that celibacy alone afforded an unobstructed road to power and fortune. The former's terrible sixth satire was written as a warning against matrimony. "And yet you are preparing your marriage covenant, and the settlement, and betrothal, in our days; and are already under the hands of the master barber, and perhaps have already given the pledge for her finger. Well, you used to be sane, at all events! You, Postumus, going to marry! Say, what Tisiphone, what snakes, are driving you mad? Can you submit to be the slave of any woman, while so many halters are to be had? so long as high and dizzy windows are accessible, and the Æmilian bridge presents itself so near at hand?" The women are accused of every enormity known in that Rome where vice attained such proportions as have never been approached in any civilization in the history of the world. But it is contrary to the office of the satirist to present a true picture of the whole. Writing of vice, he sees nothing but iniquity; of the good he has nothing to say, for it is not in his province. That even then there were good women we know full well. Julia, the aunt of Cæsar; Octavia, faithful to her marriage vows despite the ill returns she received from Mark Antony; Agrippina, the beloved and faithful wife of the noble Germanicus; Livia also, the wife of Augustus, whose matrimonial fidelity--whatever may have been her character in other respects--no suspicion ever assailed. If these women, in their high stations, could exemplify all the best traditions of the matrons of the old time, we may be sure that there were innumerable good wives in the commoner ranks.
Out on the Appian Way, there is to be seen one of the strangest monuments that a grotesque fancy ever devised. It is the tomb of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, who was baker to the apparetores. The monument consists of a row of great cylinders representing measures for grain. Upon these, in three tiers, are huge kneading troughs, placed with their mouths turned outward. Above is a frieze representing various incidents connected with the baker's trade. There is evidence that originally there was a similar monument standing by the side of this, for an inscription was found which reads: Antistia was my wife; she was the best woman alive; of whose body the remains which are left are in this bread basket. Here was a man of the people who appreciated his wife. Doubtless Antistia was a good woman, and lived happily with the baker, just as there were myriads of other faithful pairs whose names are not recorded on monuments nor have any place in history.
And yet, even the highest Roman standards of morality were not such as have been evolved through many centuries of inculcation of Christian principles. Among the best of the pagan Romans, concubinage was looked upon as a defensible institution. The laws in regard to citizenship shut out a large class of women from the privilege of marriage with freeborn Romans; as, for instance, the daughters of foreigners who had not been naturalized. These could only become mistresses or enter into left-handed marriages. If a citizen who was unmarried wished to live with such a woman, of course no ceremony was needed; there was nothing binding about the union, and at the same time it was not considered to be in any wise indecent. On more than one tomb there is found an inscription to "the beloved concubine," Acte held this relationship with the Emperor Nero; and to her credit it surely must be allowed that she was the only person near him against whom he did not maliciously turn, and who seemed to have with him some slight influence for good. Antoninus Pius, one of the very best of the Roman emperors, when his beloved Faustina died, took a concubine. He would not marry again, because he did not wish to bring his four children under the uncertain care of a stepmother. And having before him the domestic history of more than one imperial family in which were exhibited the tender mercies of such a stepmother as was Livia the wife of Augustus, Antoninus may well be excused for his precaution. What was the name of the woman he took we do not know, nor are we informed as to her character; only, Marcus Aurelius says: "I am thankful to the gods that I was not longer brought up with my father's concubine."