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Public Life

176. Hortensia's speech. Rome, 42 B.C. (Appian, Civil Wars 4.32-4, 2nd cent. A.D. G)

Since Appian wrote in Greek during the second century A.D., what follows is his own version of what Hortensia said, though it is known (cf. no. 211) that her speech was preserved and read many years after it was delivered. When the triumvirs Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus were unable to raise enough money by selling the property of the people they had proscribed (or condemned to death by judicial process for political revenge or financial expediency), they decided to pass an edict demanding evaluations of the property of the 1400 wealthiest women, in order to collect money from them. The speech had an effect: the next day the triumvirs reduced considerably the number of women to be taxed, and instead decreed that men worth 100,000 sesterces or more were required to make substantial contributions.

32. [These] women decided to ask the wives of the triumvirs for help.[1] They were not disappointed by Octavian's sister or by Antony's mother, but when Antony's wife Fulvia, threw them out of the house, they did not put up with the insult and pushed their way into the forum onto the tribunal of the triumvirs, while the people and the guards stood aside for them. This is what they said, through Hortensia who was selected as their spokesman:

'As was appropriate for women like ourselves when addressing a petition to you, we rushed to your womenfolk. But we did not get the treatment we were entitled to from Fulvia, and have been driven by her into the forum. You have already stolen from us our fathers and sons and husbands and brothers by your proscriptions, on the grounds that they had wronged you. But if you also steal from us our property, you will set us into a state unworthy of our family and manners and our female gender. If you claim that you have in any way been wronged by us, as you were by our husbands, proscribe us as you did them. But if we women have not voted any of you public enemies, if we did not demolish your houses or destroy your army or lead another army against you; if we have not kept you from public office or honour, why should we share the penalties if we have no part in the wrongdoing?

Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in pubic office or honours or commands or government in general, an evil you have fought over with such disastrous results? Because, you say, this is a time of war? And when have there not been wars? and when have women paid taxes? By nature of their sex women are absolved from paying taxes among all mankind. Our mothers on one occasion long ago were superior to their sex and paid taxes, when your whole government was threatened and the city itself, when the Carthaginians were pressuring you. They gave willingly, not from their land or their fields or their dowry or their households, without which life would be unlivable for free women, but only from their own jewellery, and not with a fixed price set on it, nor under threat of informers and accusers or by force, but they gave as much as they themselves chose.[2] Why are you now so anxious about the government or the country? But if there should a war against the Celts or Parthians, we will not be less eager for our country's welfare than our mothers. But we will never pay taxes for civil wars, and we will not cooperate with you against each another. We did not pay taxes to Caesar or to Pompey, nor did Marius ask us for contributions, nor Cinna nor Sulla, even though he was a tyrant over this country. And you say that you are reestablishing the Republic!'

After Hortensia made this speech, the triumvirs were angry that women had the nerve to hold a pubic meeting while the men were silent, and that women demanded an accounting from the triumvirs, and that they would not supply the money while the men were serving in the army. They ordered the lictors to drive them away from the tribunal, until the lictors were stopped by the shouts of the crowd outside and the triumvirs postponed the proceedings till the next day.


Notes:

1. Such petitions to the ruler's womenfolk became standard practice in the Empire; cf. no. 180.

2. Hortensia implies that women voluntarily cooperated with the provisions of the Oppian Law of 215, which was repealed in 195; see no. 173. Cf. Balsdon 1962, 31.