It was the mission of Rome to make
conquests, not statues, not to create, but to quell.
Her might reverberated in the roar of her name.
Roma means strength. It is only in reading it
backward that Amor appears. Love there was secondary.
Might had precedence. It was Might that made first
the home, then the state, then the senate that ruled
the world. That might, which was so great that
to ablate it the earth had to bear new races, was
based on two things, citizenship and the family.
The title Romanus sum was equal to that of rex.
The title of matron was superior.
The Romans, primarily but a band of
outlaws, carried away the daughters of their neighbors
by force. Their first conquest was woman.
The next was the gods. In the rude beginnings
the latter were savage as they. Revealed in panic
and thunder, they were gods of prey and of fright.
Rome, whom they mortified, made no attempt to impose
them on other people. With superior tact she
lured their gods from them. She made love to them.
With naïve effrontery she seduced them away.
The process Macrobius described. At the walls
of any beleaguered city, a consul, his head veiled,
pronounced the consecrated words. “If there
be here gods that have under their care this people
and this city, we pray, supplicate, and adjure them
to desert the temples, to abandon the altars, to inspire
terror there, to come to Rome near us and ours, that
our temples, being more agreeable and precious, may
predispose them to protect us. It being understood
and agreed that we dedicate to them larger altars,
It was with that formula that Rome
conquered the world. She omitted it but once,
at the walls of Jerusalem. The deity whom she
forgot there to invoke, entered her temples and overthrew
Meanwhile the flatteries of the
formula no known god could resist. In triumph
Rome escorted one after another away, leaving the forsaken
but doorposts to worship, and stimulating in them
the desire to become part of the favored city where
their divinities were. But in that city everything
was closed to them. Deserted by their gods, divested,
in consequence, of religion and, therefore, of every
right, they could no longer pray, the significance
of signs and omens was lost to them, they were plebs.
But the Romans, who had captivated the divinities,
and who, through them, alone possessed the incommunicable
science of augury, were patrician. In that distinction
is the origin of Rome’s aristocracy and her might.
The might pre-existed in the despotic organization of the home. There
the slaves and children were but things that could be sold or killed. They
were the chattels of the paterfamilias, whose wife was a being without influence
or initiative, a creature in the hands of a man, unable to leave him for any
cause whatever, a domestic animal over whom he had the right of life and death,
a ward who, regarded as mentally irresponsible-propter
animi laevitatem-might not escape his
power even though he died, a woman whom he could repudiate
at will and of whom he was owner and judge.
Such was the law and such it remained,
a dead letter, nullified by a reason profoundly human,
which the legislature had overlooked, but which the
Asiatics had foreseen and which they combated with
the seraglio where woman, restricted to a fraction
of her lord, exhausted herself in contending even
for that. But Rome, in making the paterfamilias
despotic, made him monogamous as well. He was
strictly restricted to one wife. As a consequence,
the materfamilias, while theoretically a slave, became
practically what woman with her husband to herself
and no rivals to fear almost inevitably does become-supreme.
Legally she was the property of her husband, actually
he was hers. When he returned from forage or from
war, she alone had the right to greet him, she alone
might console and caress. In the eye of the gods
if not of the law she was his equal when not his superior.
By virtue of the law he could divorce her at will,
he could kill her if she so much as presumed to drink
wine. By virtue of her supremacy five hundred
and twenty years passed before a divorce occurred.
The supremacy was otherwise facilitated.
The atrium, unlike the gynaeceum, was not a remote
and inaccessible apartment, it was the living-room,
the sanctuary of the household gods, a common hall
to which friends were admitted, visitors came, and
where the matron presided. From the moment when,
in accordance with the ceremonies of marriage, her
hair-in memory of the Sabines-parted
by a javelin’s point, an iron ring-symbol
of eternity-on her fourth finger, the wedding bread eaten, her purchase money
paid, and she, lifted over the threshold of the atrium, uttered the sacramental
words-Ubi tu Caius, ibi ego
Caia-from that moment, legally in
manum viri, actually she became mistress of whatever
her husband possessed, she became his associate, his
partner, sharing with him the administration of the
patrimony, governing the household, the slaves, Caius
Said Cato: “Everywhere
else women are ruled by men, but we who rule all men,
are ruled by women.” They had done so from
the first. The treatment of the Sabines was clearly
violent in addition to being mythical. But, even
in legend, these young women were not deserted as were
the Ariadnes and Medeas of Greece. They
became Roman matrons, as such circled with respect.
Later, Egeria instituted with symbolic nymphs a veritable
worship of women. Thereafter feminine prerogatives
developed from the theory and practice of marriage
itself. In theory, marriage was an association
for the pursuit of things human and divine. In
practice, it was the fusion of two lives-a
fusion manifestly incomplete if all were not held in
common. Community of goods means equality.
From equality to superiority there is but a step.
The matron took it. She became supreme as already
she was patrician.
Between patrician and plebeian there
was an abyss too wide for marriage to bridge.
Such a union would have been regarded as abnormal.
The plebeian did not at first dare to conceive of
such a thing. When later he protested against
his helotry it was in silence. He but vacated
the city where the earth threatened to open beneath
him and where his lost gods brooded inimical still.
Ultimately, protests persisting, the patricians consented
that these nobodies should be somebodies, provided
at least they were men. Already Roman by birth,
they became Roman by law.
Whether man or woman, it was a high
privilege to be that. The woman who was not,
the manumitted slave, the foreigner within the walls,
the code disdained to consider. Statutes against
shames took no account of her. Beyond the pale
even of ethics, the attitude to her of others concerned
But about the Roman woman were thrown Lycurgian laws. A forfeiture of
her honor was a disgrace to the State. Her people killed her-Cognati
necanto uti volent-as they liked.
On the morrow there was nothing that told of the tragedy
save the absence of a woman seen no more. If she
were seen, if father or husband neglected his duty,
public indictment ensued with death or exile for result.
From the indictment and its penalties appeal could
be had. From the edile could be obtained the
Licentia stupri, the right to the antique livery
of shame. But thereafter the purple no longer
bordered the robe of the ex-patrician. She could
no longer be driven in chariots or be borne in litters
by slaves; the fillet, taken from her, was replaced
by a yellow wig; a harlot then, she was civilly dead.
Tacitus has said that under Tiberius
a special law had to be enacted to prevent women of
rank from such descent. During the austerer days
of the republic the derogation was unknown. The
Greek ideal of woman which the hetaira exemplified
was beauty. Honor, which was the Roman ideal,
the matron achieved.
To the matrons reverently Rome bowed.
The purple border on their mantle compelled respect.
The modesty of their eyes and ears was protected by
grave laws. In days of danger the senate asked
their aid. The gods could have no purer incense
than their prayers. There was no homage greater
than their esteem. Such a word as dignity was
too colorless to be employed regarding them, it was
the term majesty that was used. The vestal was
but a more perfect type of these women on whose tomb
univirae-the wife of one man-was
The honor of the Roman matron was
a national affair, the honor of a Roman girl a public
concern. Because of the one, royalty was abolished.
Because of the other, the décemvirs fell.
In neither case was there revolution. On the
contrary. In the first instance, that of Lucretia,
it was the insurrection of Tarquin against the inviolability
of virtue. In the second, that of Virginia, it
was the insurrection of Appius Claudius against the
inviolability of love, dual insurrections, probably
mythical, which Rome, with legendary fury, suppressed,
and which, whether historic or imaginary, was typical
of the energetic character that made her what she
was, proud, despotic, sovereign of the world.
“The empire that Rome won,”
St. Augustin, with agreeable ingenuousness, remarked,
“God gave her in order that, though pagan and
consequently unrewardable hereafter, her virtues should
not remain unrecognized below.” Nor were
they, and that, too, despite the fact that they omitted
to endure, except, as Cicero said, in books; “in
old books,” he added, “which no one reads
any more.” But in the interim three things
had occurred. Greece, wounded to the death, had
flooded Rome with the hemorrhages of her expiring
art. Asia had undyked the sea of her corruption.
Both had cascaded their riches. Rome hitherto
had been poor, she had been puritan. Hers had
been the peasant’s hard plain life. The
costume of the matron, which custom had made stately,
the lex Oppia had made severe. This statute,
passed at the time of the Carthagenian invasion, was
a measure of public utility devised to increase the
budget of war. Its abrogation coincided with
the fall of Macedon and the return of AEmilius Paulus,
bringing with him the sack of seventy cities, the prodigious
booty of ravaged Greece, the prelude to that of the
East. Behind these eruptions was the contagion
of fastidious caprices that demoralized Rome.
Heretofore, innocent of excesses,
ignorant of refinements, in antique simplicity, Rome
had sat briefly and upright before her frugal fare.
Thereafter, on cushioned beds were repasts, long and
savorous, eaten to the sound of crotal and of
flute. There were after-courses of ballerine
and song, the refreshment of perfume, the luxurious
tonic of the bath, the red feather that enabled one
to eat again, the marvels of Asiatic debauchery, the
surprises of Hellenic grace. In the charm of foreign
spells former austerities were forgot. Romans
who had not been initiated in them abroad had the
returning victors for tutors at home.
Sylla was particularly instructive.
Carthagenian in ferocity, Babylonian in lubricity,
Hamilcar and Belshazzar in one, the ugliest and most
formidable Roman of the lot, his life, which an ulcer
ravaged, was a succession of massacres, orgies, and
crimes. Married one after another to three women
of wealth, who to him were but stepping stones to fortune,
on a day when he was preparing to give one of those
festivals, the splendor and the art of which he had
learned from Mithridates, his third wife fell ill.
Death discourages Fortune. Sylla sent her a bill
of divorce and ordered her to be taken from the house,
which was done, just in time, she was dying.
Sylla promptly remarried, then married again, and yet
again. Meanwhile, he had a daughter and an eye
on the promising Pompey. His daughter was married.
So too was Pompey. He forced his daughter from
her husband, forced Pompey to repudiate his wife,
and forced them to marry.
Sylla had brought with him from the
East its curious cups in which blood and passion mingled,
and spilled them in the open streets. Crassus
outdid him in magnificence, and Lucullus eclipsed
them both. Asia had yielded to these men the
fortune of her people, the honor of her children, the
treasure of her temples, the secrets of their sin.
The Orientalisms which they imported, their deluge
of coin, their art of marrying cruelty to pleasure,
set Rome mad.
Among the maddest was Catiline.
That tiger, in whose vestibule were engraved the laws
of facile love, affiliated women of rank, others of
none, soldiers and slaves, in his convulsive cause.
Shortly, throughout the Latin territory, a mysterious
sound was heard. It was like the clash of arms
afar. The augurs, interrogated, announced that
the form of the State was about to change. The
noise was the crackling of the republic.
Before it fell came Cæsar. Sylla
told him to repudiate his wife as Pompey had.
Cæsar declined to be commanded. The house of
Julia, to which he belonged, descended, he declared,
from Venus. Venus Pandemos, perhaps. But
the ancestry was typical. Cinna drafted a law
giving him the right to marry as often as he chose.
After the episodes in Gaul, when he entered Rome,
his legions warned the citizens to have an eye to their
wives. Meanwhile, he had repudiated Pompeia,
his wife, not to please Sylla but himself, or rather
because Publius Claudius, a young gallant,
had been discovered disguised as a woman assisting
at the mysteries of the Bona Dea, held on this occasion
in Caesar’s house. To these ceremonies men
were not admitted. The affair made a great scandal.
Pompeia was suspected of having helped Publius
to be present. The suspicion was probably unfounded.
But Cæsar held that his wife should be above suspicion.
He divorced her in consequence and married Calpurnia,
not for love but for place. Her father was consul.
Cæsar wanted his aid and got it. Then, after
creating a solitude and calling it peace, after turning
over two million people into so many dead flies, after
giving geography such a twist that to-day whoso says
Cæsar says history-after these pauses in
the ascending scale of his unequalled life, at the
age of fifty, bald, tired, and very pale, there was
brought to him at Alexandria a bundle, from which,
when opened, there emerged a little wonder called
Cleopatra, but who was Isis unveiled.