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2.2: Hortensia makes a speech, from Appian’s Civil Wars,

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    Hortensia makes a speech, from Appian’s Civil Wars, 4.32-4 (2nd century AD). Excerpted from Appian, The Civil Wars, trans. Horace White (London, MacMillan & Co., 1899).


    [In the midst of a reign of terror, when proscriptions [1] were used to seize the wealth of political opponents and citizens….]

    [ch. 4, sect. 23] Ligarius was concealed by his wife, who communicated the secret to only one female slave. Having been betrayed by the latter, she followed her husband's head as it was carried away, crying out, "I sheltered him; those who give shelter are to share the punishment." As nobody killed her or informed on her, she came to the triumvirs [2] and accused herself before them. Being moved by her love for her husband, they pretended not to see her. So she starved herself to death. I have mentioned her in this place because she failed to save her husband and would not survive him. I shall refer to those who were successful in their devotion to their husbands when I speak of the men who escaped. Other women betrayed their husbands infamously. Among these was the wife of Septimius, who had an affair with a certain friend of Antony [3]. Being impatient to exchange this illicit connection for matrimony, she besought Antony through her paramour to rid her of her husband. Septimius was at once put on the list of the proscribed. He learned this fact from his wife, and in ignorance of his domestic ills prepared for flight. She, as though with loving anxiety, closed the doors, and kept him until the murderers came. The same day that her husband was killed she celebrated her new nuptials.


    [ch.4, sect. 24] Salassus escaped, and, not knowing what to do with himself, came back to the city by night, thinking that the danger had mostly passed away. His house had been sold. The janitor, who had been sold with the house, was the only one who recognized him, and he received him in his room, promising to conceal him and feed him as well as he could. Salassus told the janitor to call his wife from her own house. She pretended to be very desirous to come, but to be fearful of the night and distrustful of her servants, and said that she would come at daybreak. When daylight came she went for the murderers. The janitor, because she was delaying, ran to her house to hasten her coming. When the janitor went out Salassus feared that he had gone to lay a plot against him, and went up to the roof to watch what would happen. Seeing that it was not the janitor but his wife who was bringing the murderers, he threw himself from the roof. Fulvius fled to the house of a female servant, who had been his mistress, and to whom he had given freedom and a dowry [4] on her marriage. Although she had been so well treated by him she betrayed him on account of jealousy of the woman whom Fulvius had married after his relations with her. Let these serve as examples of depraved women.


    [ch. 4, sect. 25] Statius, the Samnite, who had had great influence with the Samnites [5] during the social war and who had been raised to the rank of a Roman senator for his noble deeds, his wealth, and his lineage, and who was now eighty years of age, was proscribed on account of his riches. He threw open his house to the people and to his own slaves to carry away whatever they pleased. He also scattered his property around with his own hand. When at last the house was empty he closed the doors, set fire to it, and perished, and the fire spread to many other parts of the city. Capito, through his half-opened door, for a long time resisted those who had been sent against him, killing them one by one. Finally, he was overpowered by numbers and slain after killing single-handed many of his assailants. Vetulinus assembled around Rhegium a large force of the proscribed and those who had fled with them, and others from the eighteen cities which had been promised as rewards of victory to the soldiers and who were indignant at such treatment. With these men Vetulinus slew the centurions [6] who were scouting thereabouts, until a larger force was sent against him, and even then he did not desist, but passed over to Sicily [7] and joined Sextus Pompeius, who had mastered that island and who received the fugitives. There he fought bravely until he was defeated in several engagements. Then he sent his son and the remainder of the proscribed who were with him to Messana [8], and when he saw that their boat was passing the straits [9] he dashed upon the enemy and was cut in pieces


    [ch. 4, sect. 26] Naso, having been betrayed by a freedman [10] who had been his favorite, snatched a sword from one of the soldiers, and, having killed his betrayer with it, surrendered himself to the murderers. A slave who was devoted to his master left the latter on a hill while he went to the sea-shore to hire a boat. On his return he found that his master had been killed, and while he was breathing his last the slave called out to him, "Wait a moment, my master," whereupon he fell suddenly upon the centurion and slew him. Then he killed himself, saying to his master, "Now you have consolation." Lucius placed his gold in the hands of his two most faithful freedmen and started for the seashore. They ran away with it, and he turned around, despairing of his life, and gave himself up to the murderers. Labienus, who had captured and killed many persons in the time of the proscription of Sulla, thought that he would be disgraced if he did not bear himself bravely under similar circumstances. So he went to his front door, seated himself in a chair, and waited for the murderers. Cestius concealed himself in the fields among faithful slaves. When he saw centurions running here and there with weapons and the heads of the proscribed he could not endure the prolonged fear. He persuaded the slaves to light a funeral pyre [11], so that they might say that they were paying the last rites [12] to the dead Cestius. They were deceived by him and lighted the pyre accordingly, whereupon he leaped into it. Aponius concealed himself securely, but, as he could not endure the meanness of his diet, he came forth and delivered himself to slaughter. Another proscript voluntarily seated himself in full view, and, as the murderers delayed their coming, he strangled himself in public.


    [ch. 4, sect. 27] Lucius, the father-in-law of Asinius, who was then consul, fled by sea, but, as he could not endure the anguish of the storm, he leaped overboard. Sisinius fled from his pursuers, exclaiming that he was not proscribed, but that they had conspired against him on account of his money. They brought him to the proscription list and told him to read his name on it, and while he was reading killed him. Æmilius, not knowing that he was proscribed and seeing another man pursued, asked the pursuing centurion who the proscribed man was. The centurion, recognizing Æmilius, replied, "You and he," and killed them both. Cilo and Decius were going out of the senate-house when they learned that their names were on the list of the proscribed, but no one had yet gone in pursuit of them. They fled incontinently through the city gates, and their running betrayed them to the centurions whom they met on the road. Icilius, who was one of the judges in the trial of Brutus and Cassius [13] when Octavius [14] presided over the tribunal [15] with his army, and who, when all the other judges deposited secret ballots of condemnation, alone publicly deposited one of acquittal, now unmindful of his former magnanimity and independence put his shoulder under a dead body that was being conveyed to burial, and took a place among the carriers of the bier. The guards at the city gates noticed that the number of corpse-bearers was greater by one man than usual, but they did not suspect the bearers. They only searched the bier to make sure that it was not somebody counterfeiting a corpse, but, as the bearers fell into a dispute with Icilius as not being a member of their trade, he was recognized by the murderers and killed.


    [ch. 4, sect. 28] Varus, who was betrayed by a freedman, ran away, and after wandering from mountain to mountain came to a marsh at Minturnæ [16], where he stopped to take rest. The inhabitants of Minturnæ were mounting guard over this marsh in search of robbers, and the agitation of the reeds revealed the hiding-place of Varus. He was captured and said that he was a robber. He was condemned to death and resigned himself to his fate, but as they were preparing to subject him to torture to compel him to reveal his accomplices, he could not bear such an indignity. "I forbid you, citizens of Minturnæ," he said, "either to torture or to kill one who has been a consul and -- what is more important in the eyes of our present rulers -- also proscribed! If it is not permitted me to escape, I prefer to suffer at the hands of my equals." The Minturnians did not believe him. They discredited his story until a centurion, who was scouting in that neighborhood, recognized him, and cut off his head, leaving the remainder of his body to the Minturnians. Largus was captured in the fields by soldiers who were pursuing another man. They took pity on him because he had been captured when they were not seeking him, and allowed him to escape in the forest. Being pursued by others, he ran back to his first captors, saying, "I would rather that you, who had compassion on me, should kill me, so that you may have the reward instead of those men." Thus he recompensed them with his death for their kindness to him.


    Photograph by Carole Raddato of a theater in Minturnae, Italy

    [ch. 4, sect. 29] Rufus possessed a handsome house near that of Fulvia, the wife of Antony, which she had wanted to buy, but he would not sell it, and although he now offered it to her as a free gift, he was proscribed. His head was brought to Antony, who said it did not concern him and sent it to his wife. She ordered that it be fastened to the front of his own house instead of the rostra [17]. Another man had a very handsome and well-shaded country-place in which was a beautiful and deep grotto, on account of which probably he was proscribed. He was taking the air in this grotto when the murderers were observed by a slave, as they were coming toward him, but still some distance off. The slave conveyed him to the innermost recess of the grotto, dressed himself in his master's short tunic, pretended that he was the man and simulated alarm, and would have been killed on the spot had not one of his fellow-slaves exposed the trick. In this way the master was killed, but the people were so indignant that they gave the triumvirs no rest until they had obtained from them the crucifixion [18] of the slave who had betrayed his master, and the freedom of the one who had tried to save him. A slave revealed the hiding-place of Aterius and obtained his freedom in consequence. He had the impudence to bid against the sons at the sale of the dead man's property, and insulted them grossly. They followed him everywhere with silent tears till the people became exasperated, and the triumvirs made him again the slave of the sons of the proscript, for doing more than was needful. Such were the evils that befell the men.


    [ch. 5, sect. 30] The calamity extended to orphan children on account of their wealth. One of these, who was going to school, was killed, together with the attendant, who threw his arms around the boy and would not give him up. Atilius, who was just assuming the virile toga, went, as was customary, with a procession of friends to sacrifice in the temples. His name being put on the proscription list unexpectedly, his friends and servants ran away. Left alone, and bereft of his brilliant escort, he went to his mother. She was afraid to receive him. As he did not consider it safe to ask help from anybody else after his mother had failed him, he fled to a mountain. Hunger drove him down to the plain, where he was captured by a robber and committed to a workhouse. The delicate boy, unable to endure the toil, escaped to the high road with his fetters, revealed himself to some passing centurions, and was killed.


    [ch. 5, sect. 31] While these events were taking place, Lepidus enjoyed a triumph for his exploits in Spain, and an edict was displayed in the following terms: "In God's name, let it be proclaimed to all men and women that they celebrate this day with sacrifices and feasting. Whoever shall fail to do so shall be put on the list of the proscribed." Lepidus led the triumphal procession to the Capitol [19], accompanied by all the citizens, who showed the external appearance of joy, but were sad at heart. The houses of the proscribed were gutted, but there were not many buyers of their lands. Some were ashamed to add to the burdens of the unfortunate. Others thought that such property would bring them bad luck, or that it would not be quite safe for them to be seen with gold and silver in their possession, or that, as they were not free from danger with their present holdings, it would be extra-hazardous to increase them. Only the boldest spirits came forward and purchased at the lowest prices, because they were the only buyers. Thus it came to pass that the triumvirs, who had hoped to realize a sufficient sum for their preparations, were short 20,000,000 drachmas.


    [ch. 5, sect. 32] The triumvirs addressed the people on this subject and published an edict [20] requiring 1400 of the richest women to make a valuation of their property, and to furnish for the service of the war such portion as the triumvirs should require from each. It was provided further that if any should conceal their property or make a false valuation they should be fined, and that rewards should be given to informers, whether free persons or slaves. The women resolved to beseech the female relatives of the triumvirs. With the sister of Octavius and the mother of Antony they did not fail, but they were repulsed from the doors of Fulvia, the wife of Antony, whose rudeness they could scarce endure. They then forced their way to the tribunal of the triumvirs in the forum [21], the people and the guards dividing to let them pass. There, through the mouth of Hortensia [22], they spoke as follows, according to previous arrangement: "As is befitting women of our rank addressing a petition to you, we had recourse to your female relatives. Having suffered unseemly treatment on the part of Fulvia, we have been compelled by her to visit the forum. You have deprived us of our fathers, our sons, our husbands, and our brothers, whom you accused of having wronged you. If you take away our property also, you reduce us to a condition unbecoming our birth, our manners, our sex. If we have done you wrong, as you say our husbands have, proscribe us as you do them. If we women have not voted you public enemies, have not torn down your houses, destroyed your army, or led another one against you; if we have not hindered you in obtaining offices and honors, -- why do you visit upon us the same punishment as upon the guilty, whose offences we have not shared?


    [ch. 5, sect. 33] "Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in the honors, the commands, the state-craft, for which you contend against each other with such harmful results? 'Because this is a time of war,' do you say? When have there not been wars, and when have taxes ever been imposed on women, who are exempted by their sex among all mankind? Our mothers once for all rose superior to their sex and made contributions when you were in danger of losing the whole empire and the city itself through the conflict with the Carthaginians [23]. But then they contributed voluntarily, not from their landed property, their fields, their dowries, or their houses, without which life is not possible to free women, but only from their own jewelry, and not according to fixed valuation, not under fear of informers or accusers, not by force and violence, but what they themselves were willing to give. Who now causes you alarm for the empire or the country? Let war with the Gauls [24] or the Parthians [25] come, and we shall not be inferior to our mothers in zeal for the common safety; but for civil wars may we never contribute, nor ever assist you against each other. We did not contribute to Cæsar [26] or to Pompey [27]. Neither Marius [28] nor Cinna [29] imposed taxes upon us. Nor did Sulla [30], who held despotic power in the state, do so, whereas you say that you are reestablishing the commonwealth."


    [ch. 5, sect. 34] When Hortensia had thus spoken the triumvirs were angry that women should dare to hold a public meeting when the men were silent; that they should demand from magistrates [31] the reasons for their acts, and not furnish money while the men were serving in the army. They ordered the lictors [32] to drive them away from the tribunal, which they proceeded to do until cries were raised by the multitude outside, when the lictors desisted and the triumvirs said they would postpone till the next day the consideration of the matter. On the following day they reduced the number of women, who were to present a valuation of their property, from 1400 to 400, and decreed that all men who possessed more than 100,000 drachmas [33], both citizens and strangers, freedmen and priests, and men of all nationalities without a single exception, should (under the same dread of penalty and also of informers) lend them at interest a fiftieth part of their property and contribute one year's income to the war expenses.


    Image of a silver coin circulated in the Roman Republic

    [ch. 5, sect. 35] Such calamities befell the Romans from the orders of the triumvirs. Even worse ones were visited upon them by the soldiers in disregard of orders. Believing that they alone enabled the triumvirs to do what they were doing with impunity, some of them asked for the confiscated houses, or fields, or villas, or entire property of the proscribed. Others demanded that they should be made the adopted sons of rich men. Others, of their own motion, killed men who had not been proscribed, and plundered the houses of those who were not under accusation, so that the triumvirs were obliged to publish an edict that one of the consuls [34] should put a restraint upon those who were exceeding their orders. The consul did not dare to touch the soldiers lest he should excite their rage against himself, but he seized and crucified certain slaves who were masquerading as soldiers and committing outrages in company with them.


    [1] Proscriptions were published notices which listed Roman citizens who had been officially declared to be outlaws and whose goods were therefore open to confiscation. Outlawry put these individuals outside of the law, and those who killed or betrayed the proscribed were rewarded. Inversely, those who sheltered them were subject to severe punishments.  The properties of proscribed individuals were confiscated killing or betraying the proscribed, and severe penalties were inflicted on anyone harboring them. Their properties were confiscated, and their male descendants were barred from holding public office and from the Senate (thus closing the cursus honorum to the family).

    [2] The leaders of the Triumvirate (a political structure ruled by three people).

    [3] Mark Antony was a Roman politician and general during the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

    [4] Money or property given by a wife's family to her husband.

    [5] An ancient people who lived in South-central Italy.

    [6] A commander in the Roman army.

    [7] An island just off the Southwestern coast of Italy.

    [8] A city in Northeastern Sicily.

    [9] The Strait of Messina is a narrow strait between the eastern tip of Sicily and Southern Italy.

    [10] Ex-slaves who were granted citizenship.

    [11] Used to burn a body after death.

    [12] Signify a person's transition between the world of the living and the dead.

    [13] Two Roman senators who were involved in and led the assassination of Julius Caesar.

    [14] Also known as Caesar Augustus, he was the first Roman emperor.

    [15] A court of law.

    [16] An ancient Italian city.

    [17] A platform in the city of Rome that faced the senate and allowed speakers to deliver orations.

    [18] A form of capital punishment used by the Romans in which a person is either nailed or bound to a cross and left until they asphyxiate.

    [19] Rome.

    [20] An official order.

    [21] An area in the center of Rome that was home to many daily public activities such as shopping, speeches, and trials.

    [22] "Hortensia, the daughter of Q. Hortensius, when the matrons of Rome were burdened with a heavy tax by the triumvirs and no man dared undertake their defence, pleaded the cause of the women before the triumvirs with firmness and success. By the faithful reproduction of her father's eloquence she succeeded in getting the greater part of the pecuniary impost remitted. Quintus Hortensius lived again in his female line. He breathed once more in the words of his daughter. If his male descendants had been willing to follow this vigorous example, the eloquence of Hortensius, so great a heritage, would not have been reduced to a single pleading of a woman" (Valerius Maximus, viii. 3, 3).

    [23] People who lived in the ancient Phoenician city-state of Carthage which is located in present-day Tunisia.

    [24] Celtic people who lived in the region of Gaul in Western Europe.

    [25] People who lived in the Parthian Empire in ancient Iran.

    [26] Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman consul. 

    [27] Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was a Roman general and statesman.

    [28] Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman who was involved in a civil war against.

    [29] Lucius Cornelius Cinna was a consul of the Roman Republic.

    [30] Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix was a Roman general and statesman who was involved in a civil war against Gaius Marius.

    [31] Elected officials in the Roman Republic.

    [32] A Roman social class made up of attendants to magistrates.

    [33] A form of currency once used in Greece.

    [34] The highest elected position in the Roman Republic.

    2.2: Hortensia makes a speech, from Appian’s Civil Wars, is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.