Did classical Romans wear any sort of swimwear?

Did classical Romans wear any sort of swimwear?

Say that a classical Roman decided they wanted to go for a swim in a lake or at a beach, and they expected other people to be able to see them. Would they have worn some sort of swimwear or gone nude? If they did wear swimwear, what would it have looked like?

The Romans, and indeed the classical world in general, would've usually swam in the nude. See for instance the following depictions of naked divers, though they are not precisely Roman.

Frescoes from the Etruscan Tomb of Hunting and Fishing in Central Italy. Source: The Database of Ancient Art

Fresco from the Greek Tomb of the Diver in Southern Italy. Source: Lapham's Quarterly

Keep in mind that Classical Greeks performed athletics naked in general, and that the Romans had adopted their customs - over the protestations of conservatives, who found the nudity revolting. It would be quite strange to make an exception for swimming, of all sports. In fact, ancient swimming is so closely associated with nudity, that aversion to it has been proposed as explanations for why certain groups did not know how to swim.

Another and not unreasonable explanation might be found in barbarian attitude towards nudity… but if that attitude towards nudity was inculcated in the minds of Persian boys from infancy, it is sufficient to explain why they should never have learned to swim.

Couch, H. N. "Swimming among the Greeks and Barbarians." The Classical Journal, vol. 29, no. 8, 1934, pp. 609-612.

One other point to consider is that Romans regularly bathed, publicly and nakedly, in their famous thermae since at least the Republic. Skinny dipping isn't much of a leap from going to a public bath. In fact Roman soldiers from the Campus Martius were said to have gone swimming in the Tiber after training to cleanse themselves. As Plutarch noted in his Parallel Lives:

[Roman] Sons-in-law used to avoid bathing with fathers-in-law, disliking to see one another naked; but having, in time, learned of the Greeks to strip before men, they have since taught the Greeks to do it even with the women themselves.

Of course, it is conceivable that some individuals may have gone for a swim without bothering to undress, or perhaps in their undergarments. The Roman military in particular left many records of soldiers swimming across rivers, sometimes even with their armour on. For instance, Plutarch claims Sertorius crossed the Rhone while wounded and in full armour. Horatius Cocles famously defended a bridge into Rome as it was being demolished, and retreated by swimming, supposedly also in armour. Presumably neither of them had the leisure to undress before their enemies arrived. Nonetheless, the veracity of such extraordinary feats is in doubt, and they were certainly not the norm.

In any case, purpose made swimwear in general did not emerge until after the Renaissance, as bathing suits. Naked swimming continued to be widespread in Europe, at least for men, until relatively recently. While the modern bikini's design has been traced to the Roman subligaculum and strophium (briefs and breastbands, i.e. a "two piece bikini"), they were not worn as swimwear. The Roman women so clothed are portrayed as engaging in general athletics on land, with no sign of swimming. The strophium basically served the same functions as a modern sports bra.

Roman women wore breastbands, and occasionally garments like briefs, but are only rarely shown wearing both: the classic instance is the so-called 'bikini- girls' on a mosaic from Piazza Armerina (Sicily, fourth century AD). Such garments would seem to have been worn by women athletes or acrobats - there is no evidence that they were worn for swimming or sunbathing.

Cleland, Liza, Glenys Davies, and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones. Greek and Roman Dress from A to Z. Routledge, 2007.

Mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lucius'€™ Romans

Ancient Rome had through much of its history an incredibly diverse population. At the point in which the Empire expanded to its furthest limit we find Rome a city of wondrous variety. Hairstyles and fashion from all the nations of the Empire could be seen in the city, and their languages and accents could be heard on its streets and public places. What did Romans think of these foreigners who were constantly becoming incorporated into the city’s population?

In this blog you will find ancient literary sources which shed some light on what Romans thought of the world around them and of the various people who lived together in the crowded and bustling city of Rome.

1. Diversity in Rome
2. The World According to The Romans
3. Roman View of Foreigners
4. The Attraction to Rome
5. Imagining a Roman Street Scene

Diversity in Rome
This is Rome, a state formed by the gathering of nations.
(Q. Cic. Pet. 14, click for link)

How many nationalities are present in Rome according to Athenaeus? Can you locate these places on a modern day map? Which nationality does Athenaeus say is the best? Can you guess the nationality of Athenaeus?
Rome may fairly be called the nation of the world. And he will not be far out who pronounces the city of the Romans an epitome of the whole earth for in it you may see every other city arranged collectively, and many also separately for instance, there you may see the golden city of the Alexandrians, the beautiful metropolis of Antioch, the surpassing beauty of Nicomedia and besides all these that most glorious of all the cities which Jupiter has ever displayed, I mean Athens. And not only one day, but all the days in an entire year, would be too short for a man who should attempt to enumerate all the cities which might be enumerated as discernible in that uranopolis of the Romans, the city of Rome so numerous are they.—For indeed some entire nations are settled there, as the Cappadocians, the Scythians, the people of Pontus, and many others.
(Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, 1.36, click for link)

The World According to the Romans

Sea Monster, Sala Rotunda, Vatican Museums, Rome. Credit: Julia Peters

What do you think the following extract from Pliny’s Natural History tells us about the Roman’s view of the world?

In the vicinity also of those who dwell in the northern regions, and not far from the spot from which the north wind arises, and the place which is called its cave, and is known by the name of Geskleithron, the Arimaspi are said to exist, whom I have previously mentioned, a nation remarkable for having but one eye, and that placed in the middle of the forehead. This race is said to carry on a perpetual warfare with the Griffins, a kind of monster, with wings, as they are commonly represented, for the gold which they dig out of the mines, and which these wild beasts retain and keep watch over with a singular degree of cupidity, while the Arimaspi are equally desirous to get possession of it.
On many of the mountains again, there is a tribe of men who have the heads of dogs, and clothe themselves with the skins of wild beasts. Instead of speaking, they bark and, furnished with claws, they live by hunting and catching birds. According to the story, as given by Ctesias, the number of these people is more than a hundred and twenty thousand: and the same author tells us, that there is a certain race in India, of which the females are pregnant once only in the course of their lives, and that the hair of the children becomes white the instant they are born. He speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodæ,: because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet. These people, he says, dwell not very far from the Troglodytæ to the west of whom again there is a tribe who are without necks, and have eyes in their shoulders.

Nature, in her ingenuity, has created all these marvels in the human race, with others of a similar nature, as so many amusements to herself, though they appear miraculous to us. But who is there that can enumerate all the things that she brings to pass each day, I may almost say each hour? As a striking evidence of her power, let it be sufficient for me to have cited whole nations in the list of her prodigies.
(Pliny, NH, 7.2., click for link)

Roman View of Foreigners
The emperor Claudius, as recorded by Tacitus, explains to the Roman senate why the men of Gaul should be given the right to obtain public office. In your own words, how does Claudius justify his decision? Do you find his argument convincing?

In my own ancestors, the eldest of whom, Clausus, a Sabine by extraction, was made simultaneously a citizen and the head of a patrician house, I find encouragement to employ the same policy in my administration, by transferring hither all true excellence, let it be found where it will. For I am not unaware that the Julii came to us from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium, the Porcii from Tusculum that — not to scrutinize antiquity — members were drafted into the senate from Etruria, from Lucania, from the whole of Italy and that finally Italy itself was extended to the Alps, in order that not individuals merely but countries and nationalities should form one body under the name of Romans. The day of stable peace at home and victory abroad came when the districts beyond the Po were admitted to citizenship, and, availing ourselves of the fact that our legions were settled throughout the globe, we added to them the stoutest of the provincials, and succoured a weary empire. Is it regretted that the Balbi crossed over from Spain and families equally distinguished from Narbonese Gaul? Their descendants remain nor do they yield to ourselves in love for this native land of theirs. What else proved fatal to Lacedaemon and Athens, in spite of their power in arms, but their policy of holding the conquered aloof as alien-born? But the sagacity of our own founder Romulus was such that several times he fought and naturalized a people in the course of the same day! Strangers have been kings over us: the conferment of magistracies on the sons of freedmen is not the novelty which it is commonly and mistakenly thought, but a frequent practice of the old commonwealth… Now that customs, culture, and the ties of marriage have blended them with ourselves, let them bring among us their gold and their riches instead of retaining them beyond the pale!
(Tacitus, Annals 11.24 click for link)

Horace, writing to the emperor Tiberius, claims that the conquered peoples of the Roman Empire ‘worship’ their Emperor. The nations are both named and alluded to by reference to rivers. This method of description gives the reader a mental image of how vast an area is encompassed by the Roman Empire. Note how each nation is characterized. Do you find these characterizations positive or negative? Does Horace intend Tiberius to be pleased that these people worship him?

Horace (1st century BC/1st century AD)
The Spaniards, never conquered before, the Medes,
the Indians, marvel at you, the roving
Scythians, O eager protector
of Italy and Imperial Rome.
The Nile, that conceals its origin, hears you,
the Danube hears, and the swift-flowing Tigris,
the Ocean, filled with monsters, roaring
around the distant island of Britain,
and the regions of Gaul, unafraid of death,
and the stubborn Iberian land, hear you:
Sygambri, delighting in slaughter,
stand, with grounded weapons, worshipping you.

Poet Martial describes a scene in the Colosseum in which spectators from all over the Empire gather to see the games. Like Horace, Martial uses characterizations to identify the different nationalities. What do Martial’s descriptions tell us about these different cultures? What is Martial trying to communicate in this extract from de Spectaculis?

WHAT race is set so far, what race so barbarous,
Caesar, wherefrom a spectator is not in thy city ?
There has come the farmer of Rhodope from Orphic
Haemus, there has come too the Sarmatian fed on
draughts of horses’ blood, and he who quaffs at its
spring the stream of first-found Nile, and he 3 whose
shore the wave of farthest Tethys beats the Arab
has sped, Sabaeans have sped, and Cilicians have
here been drenched in their own saffron dew. 4 With
hair twined in a knot have come Sygambrians, and,
with locks twined elsewise, Aethiopians. Diverse
sounds the speech of the peoples, yet then is it one
when thou art acclaimed thy country’s Father true.

Many of the foreigner’s residing in Rome were slaves or of slave origin. In a law found in Uplian’s Digest it is required that the nationality of a slave be declared to prospective buyers. What reason is given in the text for this? What can this law tell us about Roman prejudices to other nationalities?

Persons who sell slaves should always state their nationality, at the time of the sale, for very frequently the place of the nativity of a slave either attracts or deters the purchaser, and hence it is to our interest to know in what country he was born for it is presumed that some slaves are good because they are sprung from a nation which has not an evil reputation, and others are considered to be bad because they are derived from a nation which is rather disreputable than otherwise. If the origin of the slave was not mentioned, an action on this ground will be granted to the purchaser and to all those interested in the matter, by means of which the purchaser can compel a slave to be taken back.
(Ulpian, Digest, click for link)

The law above tells us that Romans thought of foreigners differently depending on their nationality. To better understand the Roman view of foreigners let’s look at descriptions of different nationalities found in ancient literature.

Using evidence in the texts below, what positive and negative views do you find of Romans towards Greeks? What do you think influenced negative views of the Greeks?

But I say this of the whole race of Greeks I allow them learning, I allow them a knowledge of many arts I do not deny them wit in conversation, acuteness of talents, and fluency in speaking even if they claim praise for other sorts of ability, I will not make any objection but a scrupulous regard to truth in giving their evidence is not a virtue that that nation has ever cultivated they are utterly ignorant what is the meaning of that quality, they know nothing of its authority or of its weight.
(Cic. Pro Flacco, 9 click for link)

And What About all Those Greeks?
That race most acceptable now to our wealthy Romans,
That race I principally wish to flee, I’ll swiftly reveal,
And without embarrassment. My friends, I can’t stand
A Rome full of Greeks, yet few of the dregs are Greek!
…See, Romulus, those rustics of yours wearing Greek slippers,
Greek ointments, Greek prize medallions round their necks.
He’s from the heights of Sicyon, and he’s from Amydon,
From Andros, Samos, they come, from Tralles or Alabanda,
Seeking the Esquiline and the Viminal, named from its willows.
To become both the innards and masters of our great houses.
Quick witted, of shamelessly audacity, ready of speech, more
Lip than Isaeus, the rhetorician. Just say what you want them
To be. They’ll bring you, in one person, whatever you need:
The teacher of languages, orator, painter, geometer, trainer,
Augur, rope-dancer, physician, magician, they know it all,
Your hungry Greeks: tell them to buzz off to heaven, they’ll go.
…Should I not flee these people in purple? Should I watch them sign
Ahead of me, then, and recline to eat on a better couch than mine,
Men propelled to Rome by the wind, with the plums and the figs?
Is it nothing that in my childhood I breathed the Aventine air,
Is it nothing that in my youth I was nurtured on Sabine olives?

Plutarch – Life of Cato
Seeking to prejudice his son against Greek culture, he indulges in an utterance all too rash for his years, declaring, in the tone of a prophet or a seer, that Rome would lose her empire when she had become infected with Greek letters. But time has certainly shown the emptiness of this ill-boding speech of his, for while the city was at the zenith of its empire, she made every form of Greek learning and culture her own.
(Plutarch, Life of Cato, 23.3, click for link)

In what ways did the ancient Romans find Gauls different to themselves?

Diodorus Siculus
The Gauls are tall of body, with rippling muscles, and white of skin, and their hair is blond, and not only naturally so, but they also make it their practice by artificial means to increase the distinguishing colour which nature has given it. For they are always washing their hair in lime-water, and they pull it back from the forehead to the top of the head and back to the nape of the neck, with the result that their appearance is like that of Satyrs and Pans, since the treatment of their hair makes it so heavy and coarse that it differs in no respect from the mane of horses. Some of them shave the beard, but others let it grow a little and the nobles shave their cheeks, but they let the moustache grow until it covers the mouth. Consequently, when they are eating, their moustaches become entangled in the food, and when they are drinking, the beverage passes, as it were, through a kind of a strainer.
(Diodorus Siculus, V.28.1 click for link)

The Gauls are terrifying in aspect and their voices are deep and altogether harsh when they meet together they converse with few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another and they like to talk in superlatives, to the end that they may extol themselves and depreciate all other men. They are also boasters and threateners and are fond of pompous language, and yet they have sharp wits and are not without cleverness at learning.
(Diodorus Siculus, V. 31.1 click for link)

What did ancient Romans find shocking about the Britons? For the language in the following texts, what do you think the Romans admired about them?

Cassius Dio
There are two principal races of the Britons, the Caledonians and the Maeatae, and the names of the others have been merged in these two. The Maeatae live next to the cross-wall which cuts the island in half, and the Caledonians are beyond them. Both tribes inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate and swampy plains, and possess neither walls, cities, nor tilled fields, but live on their flocks, wild game, and certain fruits for they do not touch the fish which are there found in immense and inexhaustible quantities. They dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring. Their form of rule is democratic for the most part, and they are very fond of plundering consequently they choose their boldest men as rulers. They go into battle in chariots, and have small, swift horses there are also foot-soldiers, very swift in running and very firm in standing their ground. For arms they have a shield and a short spear, with a bronze apple attached to the end of the spear-shaft, so that when it is shaken it may clash and terrify the enemy and they also have daggers. They can endure hunger and cold and any kind of hardship for they plunge into the swamps and exist there for many days with only their heads above water, and in the forests they support themselves upon bark and roots, and for all emergencies they prepare a certain kind of food, the eating of a small portion of which, the size of a bean, prevents them from feeling either hunger or thirst.
(Cassius Dio, Roman History, 77.12.1, click for link)

Strangers to clothing, the Britons wear ornaments of iron at their waists and throats considering iron a symbol of wealth, they value this metal as other barbarians value gold. They tattoo their bodies with coloured designs and drawings of all kinds of animals for this reason they do not wear clothes, which would conceal the decorations on their bodies.

Extremely savage and warlike, they are armed only with a spear and a narrow shield, plus a sword that hangs suspended by a belt from their otherwise naked bodies.
(Herodian, Roman History, 3.14.1, click for link)

From the following extracts, what associations did Romans make with people from Syria? Do you think more Syrians came to Rome freely or in as slaves?
For the Syrian Orontes has long since polluted the Tiber,
Bringing its language and customs, pipes and harp-strings,
And even their native timbrels are dragged along too,
And the girls forced to offer themselves in the Circus.

Julius Capitolinus
Historia Augusta

Verus maintained also the actor Agrippus, surnamed Memphius, whom he had brought with him from Syria, almost as a trophy of the Parthian war, and named Apolaustius. He had brought with him, too, players of the harp and the flute, actors and jesters from the mimes, jugglers, and all kinds of slaves in whose entertainment Syria and Alexandria find pleasure, and in such numbers, indeed, that he seemed to have concluded a war, not against Parthians, but against actors.

(Julius Capitolinus, Verus, 8.10, click for link)

…Jews and Syrian nations, themselves born for slavery.

(Cicero, De Provinciis Consularibus, 10, click for link)

The province of Africa Proconsularis consisted of much of Northern Africa, including the city of Leptis Magna, in modern-day Libya. One famous Roman came from this city – Septimius Severus, emperor from 193-211 AD. How were Severus’ African origins viewed by the following source?

Septimius Severus, Capitoline Museums, Rome source

Can it be that far Leptis on the distant Syrtes is indeed
your birthplace? Why, soon she will yield Indian
harvests and rob fragrant Sheba
of her priceless cinnamon.

Who would not think that beloved Septimius had planted
his baby steps on each of the seven hills of Romulus?
Who would think that as a weanling child
he had not drunk of Juturna’s rill?

Nor strange such worth: in your boyhood
you knew not the waters of Africa,
but sailed into Ausonian havens, and swam,
our adopted kinsman, in Tiber’s pools…
[There is ] no trace of Carthage in your speech or in your bearing:
no alien heart is yours: Italy, Italy is your motherland.

Did Septimius Severus want to forget his African origins? In his vast building career Severus built a great monument (now lost) called the Septizonium next to the Circus Maximus in Rome. What does the following quote tell us of its purpose?

Aelius Spartianus, Historia Augusta

When he built the Septizonium he had no other thought than that his building should strike the eyes of those who came to Rome from Africa.

(Aelius Spartianus, Severus click for link)

The Attraction to Rome

Many foreigners were brought to Rome against their will as slaves. For those who came freely, what were their motivations for travelling and immigrating to Rome according to the following text?

Look, I pray you, on these vast crowds, for whom all the countless roofs of Rome can scarcely find shelter: the greater part of those crowds have lost their native land: they have flocked hither from their country towns and colonies, and in fine from all parts of the world. Some have been brought by ambition, some by the exigencies of public office, some by being entrusted with embassies, some by luxury which seeks a convenient spot, rich in vices, for its exercise, some by their wish for a liberal education, others by a wish to see the public shows. Some have been led hither by friendship, some by industry, which finds here a wide field for the display of its powers. Some have brought their beauty for sale, some their eloquence: people of every kind assemble themselves together in Rome, which sets a high price both upon virtues and vices. Bid them all to be summoned to answer to their names, and ask each one from what home he has come: you will find that the greater part of them have left their own abodes, and journeyed to a city which, though great and beauteous beyond all others, is nevertheless not their own.
(Seneca, ad Helviam, 6.2-3, click for link)

Imagining a Roman Street Scene

There are many statues, mosaics and even some paintings surviving from the Roman period which allow those with a good imagination to populate in their minds a Roman street with the faces of those from the past.

Unknown artist
Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man, about 150 – 170, Encaustic on wood
37 x 21 cm (14 9/16 x 8 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California (source)

Attributed to the (namepiece) Isidora Master (Romano-Egyptian, active 100 – 125)
Mummy Portrait of a Woman, 100 – 110, Encaustic on wood gilt linen
48 x 36 x 12.8 cm (18 7/8 x 14 3/16 x 5 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California (source)

Dying Gaul – Capitoline Museums, Rome (credit: Julia Peters)

Fragment of a monumental statue of a Dacian prisoner from Trajan’s Forum in Rome, Italy. (2nd century CE), photographed by George Shuklin (source)

Roman Female Dress

Roman women also wore tunica in much the same fashion as the men. There were two types, both adapted from Greek fashion. One, the peplos was made from two rectangular pieces of cloth partially sewn together on both sides with the open sections at the top folded down in the front and back. It was pulled over the head and fastened with two large pins, forming a sleeveless dress. A belt was then tied over or under the folds.

The more common tunic worn by women was similar to the Greek chiton. This sleeved garment was made from two wide pieces of cloth sewn together near the top. This garment was pulled over the head and fastened with several pins or buttons to form a dress with various styles and fits. A belt could be worn under the breasts, at the waist, or at the hips. Any tunics could be made of various colors and fabric types depending on social status and wealth.

Married women were required to wear the loose, toga equivelant, stola. This long sleeveless tunic was strapped at the shoulder, gathered in and girdled at the waist with the garment extending to the feet. In addition, the pulla was a sort of shawl to throw over the whole figure, and to be worn out of doors. Fashion of the various times also indicated how much make-up, jewelry and perfume would be worn. Suffice to say that such adornments were as popular in the ancient world as in any time.

Clothing in the Ancient World

Types of clothing used in the ancient world depended on the technologies that were invented in that time. We have evidence about what people wore then from depictions of people in the art of the time and from archeological findings of fabric fibers and leathers that are sometimes very well-preserved. The actual textile was probably felt. Nålebinding was also another early textile technique and it dates from 6500 BC.

Earliest woven textiles of the Near East may be fabrics dated to c. 6000 BC. They were used for wrapping the dead and are found at a Neolithic site at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia. Flax was cultivated from c. 8000 BC and breeding of sheep with a wooly fleece from 3000 BC.

In Ancient India, cotton was used as material for clothing from 5000 BC.

In Ancient Egypt most of the textile was made out of flax. Wool was known, but was used rarely (only for coats that were for instance forbidden in temples and sanctuaries) because it was considered impure as animal fibers were considered taboo. Complex clothing was reserved for higher classes while lower class wore only the loincloth or schenti. Bothe women and men wore same shoes - sandals braided with leather or, if they were bureaucrats and priests, braided with papyrus. They also wore tunics, robes, short-sleeved shirts, pleated skirts. Women also wore draped dresses made of white or unbleached fabric.

Cretan clothes were made from wool and flax from which loincloths were made. The women of Crete wore longer loincloths as underskirts with belt on which was fixed a large dagger. They also wore a long or short coat and a hat. Dresses were secured with brooches. Loincloths that men wore were in a shape of a short skirt or apron. Long clothing was in a shape of a coat made of wool and was worn for protection against bad weather.

Ancient Greek clothing consisted of lengths of linen or wool fabric which had rectangular shape. They were secured with clasps or pins at the shoulder and belt, sash or girdle at the waist. Women wore peplos which was a heavier woolen body-length garment with shoulder clasps. A simple tunic garment of lighter linen called chiton worn by both men and women. A strophion was an undergarment which women wore around the mid-portion of the body. Men wore a type of cloak from a seamless rectangle of woolen material and called chlamys.

One of the most famous items of clothing from Ancient Rome is toga - a one-piece woolen garment that draped loosely around the shoulders and down the body. There is evidence that toga was worn by all free Romans during the Roman monarchy and the Roman Republic, while slaves and children wore tunics. After the 2nd century BC, togaa was worn over tunic by men while women wore stola, a long pleated dress similar to the Greek chitons. Girls and boys under the age of puberty wore a toga praetexta. It was special type of toga with a purple band on the lower edge.

History of Women's Bathing Suits

It may seem like nothing more than a swath of stretchy fabric. Not even a swath -- more like patch. It's lightweight, quick-drying and leaves little to the imagination.

The swimsuit's current form may seem unavoidable. It's tough to swim (or even wade) fully clothed. And yet, that's pretty much what women did for a hundred years or so and before that, they may have worn nothing at all.

Here, some milestones along the winding road from nothing to everything and back again. It's a path with historical significance, tracing the evolution of sex, gender roles, cross-cultural influence, and the rush to lose 10 pounds before summer.

Which is all the more reason to give it up for the bold ladies of ancient Greece, so we'll start there …

Scantily Clad (Ancient Greece/Rome)

The bath houses of ancient Greece and Rome were not places of modesty -- after all, these were places to, literally, bathe. The more skin you showed, the cleaner you got. Men and women each had their own spaces, so cross-gender viewing was not an issue.

Women in these times, from about 200 B.C. to 500 A.D., most likely were either completely nude or wore a very small bathing suit consisting of a bandeaulike top and small bottoms. Drawings from these ancient civilizations depict women wearing these bikinis, which are very, very similar to those worn by women today. (So much for the "invention" of the bikini in the 1940s -- but we'll get to that later.)

The bath houses of ancient times gave way to the Dark Ages, when public bathing disappeared. The next time we see a bathing suit is in the Victorian era -- and it's barely recognizable as such.

If you didn't see the water and the sand, you'd never know Victorian women were at the beach.

Modesty was, to put it mildly, a virtue, and it helped distinguish the gentility from the lower classes. Accordingly, an upper class woman's bathing suit (which was the only kind, considering the time and money it took to get to the beach) left everything to the imagination. It was, at first, a long "bathing dress," complete with weights along the hem so it wouldn't float up and black stockings to prevent show-through.

There was also, at some resorts, a small, fully enclosed room-on-wheels called a "bathing machine" that carried women from the fully-clothed shore to the water-costumed water, so they were never seen in swimwear by male bathers.

The Victorian-era suit went through a few changes -- at one point it was something of a jumpsuit, a one-piece, wool trouser-and-shirt set -- until the 1800s came to an end. At this point, the bathing suit starts getting (somewhat) functional .

Let Them Swim! (Early 1900s)

Gender roles began to alter slightly at the start of the 20th century. By 1920, women would have the right to vote. About a decade before that, they stopped being arrested for showing their legs and shoulders at the beach.

Part of what changed was that women started swimming -- really swimming. It was a competitive sport by this time, and women swam both in school and recreationally.

Accordingly, the bathing suit became more functional. It was still made of wool, but it was smaller. A bathing suit in the early 1900s was a one-piece, tank-style jumper that stopped at the thigh, and it was snug enough to allow for real movement in the water.

Sexy it was not, although it did look good on women with the boyish figure that was popular at the time. In the '30s, though, the popular shape would change, and it took the bathing suit along with it …

A Little off the Middle (1930 to 1940s)

Here's where we started to see swimsuits that looked like swimsuits. The 1930s version was figure-hugging, made of swim-worthy fabric like latex, and left not only the arms completely bare but also the legs -- cut straight up to you-know-where.

The leg was cut in a not-very-flattering way unless you were Lana Turner, straight across the top of the thigh but if you were Lana Turner, you looked sexy in a way never seen before outside of nudie mags.

By the early 1940s, the two-piece had arrived, but it was not the bikini-style two-piece. It was simply the 1930s one-piece cut in half above the belly button, showing a few inches of skin above the waist.

This belly-button distinction is important. It was the unveiling of the button (and below) that made what happened mid-decade so scandalous even French models were appalled …

Gasp! (Meet the Bikini, 1946)

Whether French models at this time were quite as, um, free-spirited as their reputation implies is unclear, but the fact that they refused to model the invention of the decade says a lot. It was, in the fashion and morality worlds, on the level of the atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll for which it's named.

The bikini stunned the world in 1946 by the simple, scandalous fact that it revealed the navel -- the taboo zone beneath the belly button that no decent girl would show in public.

Two designers came up with it simultaneously, and it made its debut on the beaches of Cannes during the 1946 film festival and on a Paris runway, where it was modeled by a stripper.

The bikini trickled onto beaches and pool decks in Europe over the following years, but in the United States it provoked mostly a collective "I never!" for some time to come. As the '50s came around, women in America actually took a step in the opposite direction …

The curvy ideal of the 1950s (see Marilyn Monroe) was, for many, an attainable one, since "real women have curves." But the question was, were they the right curves?

And the other question was, what were corset manufacturers to do when women stopped wearing corsets?

The answer to both of these questions was the structured swimsuit of the '50s. This one-piece had built-in corsetry, basically boning in the bodice to flatten the tummy, cinch in the waist, pop out the bust, and keep the whole thing generally secure in the water. It had a low leg that, while unflattering on most of the "real women," provided some added modesty for coed sunbathing.

And then, oh my, came the '60s.

The design that provoked a nation-wide gasp of indignation in the 1940s became nothing short of a phenomenon as the '60s took hold.

By the start of the decade, it was not only acceptable but even somewhat common to see young girls wearing bikinis at beaches and backyard pools. It's the rise of the latter that may have paved the way: Suddenly, women had a private swimming area in which to get accustomed to being so bare.

The 1960s bikini was pretty tame by today's standards: The tops covered every centimeter of the bust-line, and the bottoms stretched all the way from just below the navel to the top of the thigh, and they were not, typically, skin tight. -- at least not until about mid-decade, when a swimwear revolution came about. Around 1965, textile makers changed everything …

Like a Glove -- Lycra/Spandex (1960s)

In the mid-'60s, the look of the bathing suit took a turn toward the revealing, but not in the cut. It was the material that began to show so much more.

Spandex came on the swimsuit scene around 1965, and it was a huge hit. Suddenly, bathing suits were shiny when dry, glistening when wet, and left absolutely nothing to the imagination either way. God help the good girl if it suddenly turned cold.

The second-skin bathing suit we know today was born, with all of its quick-dry and easy-swim charms.

In the following decade, women's swimwear designers would take the daring, baring fabric to (what we thought was) the limit of skimpiness -- a move that put Farrah Fawcett on millions of bedroom walls …

Hello, free love. The 1970s saw the death of bras, chastity belts and good old-fashioned decency, and swimwear was right there, inching up the legs of young women everywhere.

Now, the '70s high-cut leg was not the '80s high-cut leg, but it was a whole lot more baring than the '60s bikini bottom. String bikinis hit the scene, covering (what we thought was) the bare minimum, but even one-pieces revealed things never before seen in swimwear. Witness Farrah Fawcett's famous red tank suit, which showed just enough upper thigh to keep boys (and men) staring at that 1976 poster for years on end. Incidentally, that suit was donated to the Smithsonian in 2011.

In more recent times, "advances" in swimsuit design have made Fawcett's attire seem downright prudish. Styles of the '80s and, even more so, the '90s, took some cues from Brazil, thrusting beachgoers into a brave new world of, well, butts …

You won't find a lot of nude beaches in the United States, but really, these days, who needs 'em?

In the '80s, full butt coverage faded practically into oblivion, and side-boob made its first acceptable appearances in public. Thank you, "Baywatch"! The 1990s took it even further, bringing Brazilian beachwear (and the waxing that goes with it) to American shores in the form of the tanga, the thong and the three-inch triangle tops that might as well not be there at all.

But they are there, and that means everything: Somehow, there's a big difference between wearing nothing and wearing the tiny swatch of fabric called the bathing suit. How much a woman reveals can, maybe, say a lot about her. Or maybe it says nothing at all. No one knows. And that's the point.

For more information on swimwear, fashion, and other style topics, look over the links on the next page.

The earliest walls built in Europe were constructed placing stones one upon the other without any mortar to bind them together (dry-stone walls). Near Rome examples of such walls can be seen at Alatri, Segni and at other locations south of the city: they are called cyclopean, because the first archaeologists felt that only the mythical Cyclopes could have moved the enormous boulders which made up these walls.
Improvements in the tecnique used for cutting stones led to the construction of walls with stones having the same size (Isodomum - Vitruvius - De Architectura). In order to strengthen the wall, blocks were placed alternately with the longer side (stretchers) or the shorter side (headers) on the face of the wall (opus quadratum).
Romans were so fond of the texture effect of opus quadratum that they continued to use this technique even after having developed more effective kinds of masonry. The wall built at Foro di Augusto with the blocks projecting from the surface inspired Renaissance architects in designing the bugnato (rustication) of many Florentine palaces.

11 Misconceptions About Ancient Rome, Debunked

Released in 1959, Charlton Heston's Ben-Hur is considered one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Unfortunately, the film helped perpetuate a few mistaken beliefs concerning Rome and her citizenry. With the Ben-Hur remake set to hit theaters on August 19, now seems like a good time to bust some myths.


In his epic poem The Aeneid, Jupiter talks about the future of the Romans as the “masters of the world, the race that wears the toga.” No article of clothing has ever been more synonymous with this ancient culture. Only a Roman citizen could legally wear one, and as years went by, different styles came to be used as a way of displaying the wearer’s socioeconomic status. But for most of Rome’s history, togas were not considered everyday attire.

At first, the toga emphasized function over form. During the Republic’s early days, men, women, and children alike wore these accessories as a kind of durable outerwear. Underneath, they’d don a tunic, which was a sleeved, t-shaped garment that extended from the collar to the knees. Inevitably, though, the region’s fashion standards evolved. By the 2nd century BCE, it became taboo for adult women to put on a toga (prostitutes and adulteresses notwithstanding). Within the next hundred years, the toga turned into a bulky, impractical article of clothing that was mostly reserved for formal occasions like religious services and funerals. In casual environments, the average male Roman citizen would instead wear one of his tunics, sans toga.

Because togas were made with large quantities of costly wool, they were also quite expensive. The Roman poet Juvenal once observed that “there are many parts of Italy, to tell the truth, in which no man puts on the toga until he is dead.” Toward the dawn of the 4th century CE, the toga was more or less replaced by a kind of cloak called the paenula.


You’ll often hear it said that the Romans created this now-infamous gesture. Supposedly, it was then copied by Adolf Hitler’s devotees many centuries later. The whole myth is so widespread that the motion is sometimes referred to as the “Roman salute.” And yet there’s no historical evidence to suggest that such a greeting was ever used in ancient Rome.

Instead, the salute can probably be traced back to a 1784 painting called The Oath of the Horatii. Created by French Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David, it shows three Roman brothers pledging to defend their homeland. While the men do so, we see that they’ve raised their right arms and extended the fingers. Over the next century, other artists started to portray Romans in this pose and playwrights began writing it into their historical drama scripts.

Mussolini’s Italian Fascist Party later claimed the salutation as its own and celebrated the gesture’s allegedly Roman origins. Inspired by il Duce, Hitler created a German variant for his own fascist organization. “I introduced the salute into the Party at our first meeting in Weimar,” he recalled in 1942. “The S.S. at once gave it a soldierly style.”


But they probably weren’t “Et tu, Brute?” On March 15 in the year 44 BCE, Julius Caesar was murdered by a group of over 60 co-conspirators, one of whom was Marcus Junius Brutus, the son of the dictator’s longtime mistress. The Roman historian Suetonius later wrote that, according to bystanders, Caesar’s dying utterance was “Kai su, teknon?” which means “You too, child?” in Greek. For the record, however, both Suetonius and another scholar named Plutarch believed that when he was slain, the dictator didn’t say anything at all. The world-famous “Et tu, Brute?” line was made up by William Shakespeare.


While it’s true that most gladiators were captives who’d been forced into this dangerous occupation, the lifestyle attracted plenty of freeborn citizens as well—including women. The appeal was plain to see: Like modern wrestlers, successful gladiators frequently became celebrities. A few of them even amassed small fortunes, since winning a big fight could mean taking home a cash prize.

Those who willingly became gladiators were usually impoverished people who sought the financial security that the profession offered. A good number of ex-Roman soldiers signed up as well. To receive training, they’d join what was known as a ludus—gladiator troupes that doubled as rigorous combat schools. The typical ludus was owned by a wealthy politician or former gladiator, who’d rent out his fighters for use in organized shows. Julius Caesar himself once ran a troupe which may have contained up to 1000 gladiators.

Eventually, the government cracked down on freeborn combatants. To help keep young aristocrats out of the fighting pits, the Senate issued an age requirement in 11 CE. This made it illegal for free men who were younger than 25 and free women who hadn’t yet turned 20 from joining a ludus. A subsequent ruling enacted in 19 CE barred all upper-class ladies from becoming gladiators. Then, in 200 CE, Emperor Septimus Severus officially turned this into an all-male sport.


Historian Georges Ville has calculated that during the first century CE, out of 100 fights (and 200 gladiators), 19 gladiators died, giving a death rate of around 10 percent (approximately 20 percent for the loser). By the year 300 CE, however, these confrontations became deadlier. In Ville’s estimation, half of all the man-to-man gladiator fights around that time ended with the loser’s demise.

Even so, those odds still might seem low to contemporary movie fans—after all, in “sword and sandal” flicks, gladiator fights almost always result in at least one fatality. However, Ville’s numbers make a lot more sense when you consider the real-life economics involved. Gladiators were expensive, and if one died in combat or was permanently disabled, the venue paid a steep fine to the owner of his ludus. To help keep the body count down, fighters might receive first-rate medical attention after leaving the arena.

But with that said, the crowd often demanded death. Throughout Roman history, most gladiator duels concluded when one party was rendered too weak or injured to keep fighting. Defeated athletes could surrender by throwing down their weapon or shield, or the loser would extend one arm and point upward. At that point, the bested fighter’s fate would be decided by the presiding event chairman, or editor. Generally, his verdict could be expected to appease the audience, whose cheers and jeers helped determine if the fallen warrior lived to fight another day.


In an iconic sequence from Ben-Hur, we see a group of slaves being forced to row a Roman galley ship at increasingly demanding speeds. While a war beating drum sets the relentless tempo, wandering soldiers mercilessly flog those poor souls who collapse from fatigue. Though the scene is definitely compelling, it’s also inaccurate. Roman galleys were actually powered by paid and well-trained freemen unless absolutely necessary. Frankly, handing this job over to slaves would have been foolish—if a ship were captured, enslaved oarsmen might well side with the enemy and attack their masters.


Posterity remembers Rome’s third emperor as a sadistic, incestuous lunatic and a testament to the dangers of absolute power—but claims about his madness may have been grossly exaggerated. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus—better known by his nickname, Caligula—began a brief stint as Rome’s supreme leader in 37 CE. His own guards assassinated him just four years later.

Eighty years after the Emperor’s death, our old pal Suetonius published some truly depraved anecdotes about him in an ambitious set of biographies called The Twelve Caesars. At certain points, Suetonius’s Caligula chapter reads like an excerpt from a particularly vile Game of Thrones screenplay. (Among other things, he accuses the dictator of fornicating with his sisters—sometimes, while his dinner guests looked on.)

One often-quoted passage concerns Caligula’s beloved horse, Incitatus. According to Suetonius, the prized steed was kept in a marble stable, given precious jewelry, and waited upon by its very own slaves. Weirder still, the historian writes that Caligula “planned to make him a consul.” If true, this would have been a really strange power move because the consulship was one of the most prestigious offices in Rome.

But Caligula didn’t actually go through with the appointment, and today, some scholars dismiss the whole story as a myth. (Others, however, think the story has some truth, but it wasn’t because Caligula was crazy. As historian Aloys Winterling writes in Caligula: A Biography, “Besides symbolically devaluing the Roman consulars, Caligula’s designation of Incitatus as a consul sent a further message: The emperor can appoint anyone he likes to the consulship.”) Still, it’s often erroneously said that Incitatus became a genuine consul or, at the very least, joined the senate. This misconception was spread by Robert Graves’ classic novel I, Claudius and the wildly successful BBC television series it inspired, both of which depict Incitatus as crazy Caligula’s favorite senator.


It’s hard to find a film or TV show about ancient Rome in which the actors don’t sound like Royal Shakespearean players. The idea that all Romans spoke with an English accent was popularized by such Hollywood classics as 1959’s Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis (1951). A generation later, the aforementioned I, Claudius television series helped reinforce the trope.

So what sort of accent did the ancient Romans really have? The answer might be several. At its height, the Roman empire stretched from Portugal to Persia. Within this vast area, Latin (and Greek) was no doubt spoken through many different accents. As linguistic historian J.N. Adams has argued, “The combination of lexical and phonetic evidence establishes the existence (in e.g. Gaul, Africa, and Italy) of genuine regional varieties.” We also know that some Romans weren’t above snickering at those who pronounced certain words in a non-typical way. The Emperor Hadrian’s noticeable Spanish accent once triggered a chorus of audible laughter when he read an announcement before the senate. Poor guy.


Gratuitous sex scenes filled with writhing masses of toga-clad aristocrats are a standard fixture in movies and TV shows set in ancient Rome. But firsthand accounts of orgies are fairly rare in the annals of Roman texts. As classics professor Alastair Blanshard contends, “There have been more orgies in Hollywood films than there ever were in Rome.” It would appear that—at least to some extent—religious propaganda begat our misapprehensions about the prevalence of wild, Roman sex parties. Medieval Christian writers would often peddle embellished stories of lecherous get-togethers in an attempt to paint the Empire as a morally-bankrupt cesspool.

Still, no modern person would mistake the Romans for prudes. Inside a typical household, married men would regularly have sexual affairs with numerous slaves. On the other hand, public displays of affection were frowned upon—particularly in the days of the old Republic. One senator was even expelled after word got out that he’d kissed his own wife in front of their daughter.


Today, the marble sculptures left behind by the Romans look bone white. Yet, archaeologists have known for over a century that when these sculptures were first created, they received vibrant, multicolored paint jobs. Using a technique known as multispectral imaging, historians can identify the pigments left behind by various paints on ancient statues. With this information, they can tentatively reconstruct an original coat in all its polychromatic glory.

Of course, the ancient paints were mostly washed away by time. Thus, future civilizations assumed that Rome’s wonderful sculptures had always been devoid of color. By and large, Hollywood has followed suit. Virtually all movies that take place in classical Rome are (anachronistically) filled with drab, white statues.


Conventional wisdom holds that Rome simply adopted the Greek gods and gave them new names. What actually happened is a bit more complicated. As Rome grew increasingly enamored with Greek society, comparisons were deliberately made between Greece’s gods and some of the native Italian deities that many Romans already worshiped.

Early Roman religion had its own divine beings, each of whom came with a name and a role. For instance, the supreme god was Jupiter, an impersonal, ambiguously-defined entity that (among other things) controlled the weather. Over time, Rome’s size and influence grew. This expansion put the rising city into regular contact with the Greeks and, by extension, their gods. Gradually, Romans began to equate Italy’s existing deities with their Greek counterparts. Thus, by the third century BCE, Jupiter had transformed into a hybrid of his original Italian self and Zeus, the leader of Mount Olympus. Legends that Greeks traditionally associated with good old Zeus were now repeated as part of Jupiter’s backstory.

Despite this theological interchange, major differences between the Greek and Roman gods persisted. Many scholars have pointed out that the Greek deities were viewed as being more human-like, both in terms of appearance and behavior. Also, some Roman gods occupied slightly different roles than their Olympian equivalents did. Juno is a perfect example. As Jupiter’s wife, the goddess is seen as Rome’s answer to Hera. However, she was also considered the protector of women and childbirth. In Greek tradition, that job was more associated with Artemis (whose Roman analogue was called Diana) and not with Hera.

Tabula Peutingeriana

A section of the Peutingeriana including Rome.

A copy of a 4th century AD map of the road network of the Roman Empire, the Tabula Peutingeriana dates from the 13th century shows thoroughfares in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Persia and India. The map highlights Rome, Constantinople and Antioch.


The study of ancient cultures began in Italy, particularly in Rome, where citizens lived among the crumbling remains of a long-dead civilization. Scholars of the ancient world, known as antiquarians, searched these ruins for clues to life in lost civilizations. Meanwhile, historians in Britain and other parts of Europe worked to uncover their own countries' distant past.

Greece and Rome. At the beginning of the Renaissance, the ruins of ancient theaters, temples, columns, and arches dotted the landscape of Italy and other Mediterranean regions. However, maps and city guides from the Middle Ages reveal that citizens no longer understood the significance of these ancient monuments. Even in Rome, the ruins had become little more than landmarks in a Christian city. Although residents knew the names of such grand structures as the Pantheon and the Colosseum, they often knew little of their original functions. Nor did the Romans of 1400 have any idea of the full size and spread of the ancient city.

The works of scholars and historians of ancient Greece and Rome suffered much the same fate. The writings had survived, but no one truly understood their meaning. Knowledge of the great poets of the classical* world was even murkier. Medieval* legends had mislabeled the Roman poet Virgil as either a sorcerer or a prophet of Christianity. The Greek poet Homer had become little more than a name, his epics* unread. The dust and debris of centuries lay not only on the ancient cities but on nearly all that their cultures had produced.

Renaissance scholars devoted themselves to finding, unearthing, and collecting relics of the distant past. The ancient world lay closest to the surface in Rome. Residents of the city turned up many long-buried marvels simply by digging in their suburban vineyards or excavating the foundations for new buildings. An immense statue discovered in 1506, for example, proved to be a piece of art mentioned in the works of the ancient Roman writer Pliny.

From these fragments, scholars tried to piece together the societies that had created them. As antiquarians learned more about the values and practices of the ancient world, they began to adopt them as part of their own culture. For example, Renaissance architects such as Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti examined, measured, and sketched the spectacular ruins of ancient buildings, seeking to understand how they had been built and used. They then adapted these classical forms in the designs of their own buildings, linking their own world with the great cultures of the past.

At first, students of the ancient world focused on gathering as many relics and texts as possible. During the 1400s, however, historians developed a concern for the quality of evidence. They began comparing sources, trying to determine which were original and which drew on older works. They also developed standards for judging the value and authenticity of material. This newfound concern with the usefulness of sources formed the basis of the modern approach to history.

Ancient Britain. While scholars in Italy sought to uncover the ancient glories of Rome, researchers in England were busy delving into their own country's past. They pursued knowledge both for its own sake and to serve practical goals. Henry VIII hired the antiquarian John Leland to examine English relics for evidence that would support the king's claims to be the legitimate head of the English church.

An entire field of English antiquarianism focused on King Arthur and other legendary monarchs. Geoffrey of Monmouth had chronicled the reigns of several such rulers in the 1100s in History of the Kings of Britain. Throughout the 1500s scholars and poets debated the accuracy of Geoffrey's history. English patriots saw Geoffrey's accounts of King Arthur and the Round Table as proof of an ancient British history as glorious as that of Rome. Legal historians used them to support their view that English law was even older than Roman law. In the 1600s, however, a younger generation of antiquarians began disproving this legal myth, showing that English law had its origins in European feudal* law.

Some English antiquarians focused on specific regions of Britain. Richard Carew, for example, published a Survey of Cornwall in the 1580s. Others turned their attention to genealogy*, church history, and heraldry*. Explorers of the past shared their findings through groups such as the Society of Antiquaries, formed around 1586 in London. Its leading figure, William Camden, published a detailed survey of British geography and history in Latin. Another member, Robert Cotton, assembled a mass of books and manuscripts dealing with ancient Britain. This assortment later became the core collection of the modern British Library.

Female Fury In The Forum

The Oppian Law was passed following the disastrous defeat of the Romans by Hannibal at the battle of Cannae (216 B.C.). Because of the wars with Carthage, many men had died. Their wives and daughters had inherited their lands and monies, allowing many women to become quite rich. The state, in order to help pay for the cost of the wars, decided to tap into women's wealth by passing the Oppian Law. It limited the amount of gold women could possess and required that all the funds of wards, single women, and widows be deposited with the state. Women also were forbidden to wear dresses with purple trim (the color of mourning and a grim reminder of Rome's losses). Nor could they ride in carriages within Rome or in towns near Rome.

Roman women obeyed these restriction with little fuss. Yet, at the end of the successful Second Punic War in 201 B.C., male Romans and women in towns beyond Rome again donned their rich clothing and rode about in carriages. Women in Rome, however, continued to be denied these luxuries because of the Oppian Law. With the end of the wars, upper class women chafted at these continuing restrictions and now wished to keep their inherited money for their own use.

In 195 B.C., some members of the Tribunal proposed eliminating the Oppian Law. Women throughout Rome kept an eye on these proceedings. When it seemed that the majority of Tribunal was about to veto the proposed repeal, they poured into the streets in protest. It was the first time anything by women on a scale such as this was seen in Rome. As a result of the women's protest, the tribunes withdrew their veto and approved the repeal.

Livy, a Roman historian, described the women's demonstrations and a portion of the debate between Consul Cato and Tribune Lucius Valerius in the Tribunal.

"The matrons whom neither counsel nor shame nor their husbands' orders could keep at home, blockaded every street in the city and every entrance to the Forum. As the men came down to the Forum, the matrons besought them to let them, too, have back the luxuries they had enjoyed before, giving as their reason that the republic was thriving and that everyone's private wealth was increasing with every day. This crowd of women was growing daily, for now they were even gathering from the towns and villages. Before long they dared go up and solicit consuls, praetors, and other magistrates.

When the speeches for and against the law had been made, a considerably larger crowd of women poured forth in public the next day as a single body they besieged the doors of the tribunes, who were vetoing their colleagues' motion, and they did not stop until the tribunes took back their veto. After that there was no doubt that all the tribes would repeal the law."

2) The Debate in the Tribunal

Cato: "If each man of us, fellow citizens, had established that the rights and authority of the husband should be held over the mother of his own family, we should have less difficulty with women in general now, at home our freedom is conquered by female fury, here in the Forum it is bruised and trampled upon, and because we have not contained the individuals, we fear the lot.

Indeed, I blushed when, a short while ago, I walked through the midst of a band of women. I should have said, 'What kind of behavior is this? Running around in public, blocking streets, and speaking to other women's husbands! Could you not have asked our own husbands the same thing at home? Are you more charming in public with others' husbands than at home with your own? And yet, it is not fitting even at home for you to concern yourselves with what laws are passed or repealed here.'

Our ancestors did not want women to conduct any - not even private - business without a guardian they wanted them to be under the authority of parents, brothers, or husbands we (the gods help us!) even now let them snatch at the government and meddle in the Forum and our assemblies. What are they doing now on the streets and crossroads, if they are not persuading the tribunes to vote for repeal? Give the reins to their unbridled nature and this unmastered creature, and hope that they will put limits on their own freedom. They want freedom, nay license, in all things.

If they are victorious now, what will they not attempt?As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors. What honest excuse is offered, pray, for this womanish rebellion? 'That we might shine with gold and purple,' says one of them, 'that we might ride through the city in coaches on holidays as though triumphant over the conquered law and the votes which we captured by tearing them from you. '

Pity that husband - the one who gives in and the one who stands firm! What he refuses, he will see given by another man. Now they publicly solicit other women's husbands, and, what is worse, they ask for a law and votes, and certain men give them what they want.

I vote that the Oppian Law should not, in the smallest measure, be repealed whatever course you take, may all the gods make you happy with it."

Lucius Valerius: "I shall defend the motion, not ourselves, against whom the consul has hurled this charge. He has called this assemblage 'succession' and sometimes 'womanish rebellion,' because the matrons have publicly asked you, in peacetime when the state is happy and prosperous, to repeal a law passed against them during the straits of war. Not too far back in history, in the most recent war, when we needed funds, did not the widows' money assist the treasury.

What, after all, have they done? We have proud ears indeed, if, while masters do not scorn the appeals of slaves, we are angry when honorable women ask something of us.

Since our matrons lived for so long by the highest standards of behavior without any law, what risk is there that, once it is repealed, they will yield to luxury? Shall we forbid only women to wear purple? When you, a man, may use purple on your clothes, will you not allow the mother of your family to have a purple cloak, and will your horse be more beautifully saddled than your wife is garbed.

By Hercules! All are unhappy and indignant when they see the finery denied them permitted to the wives of the Latin allies, when they see them adorned with gold and purple, when those other women ride through the city and they follow on foot, as though the power belonged to the other women's cities, not to their own. This could wound the spirits of men what do you think it could do to the spirits of women, whom even little things disturb?

They cannot partake of magistracies, priesthoods, triumphs, badges of office, gifts, or spoils of war elegance, finery, and beautiful clothes are women's badges, in these they find joy and take pride this our forebears called the women's world.

Of course, if you repeal the Oppian Law, you will not have the power to prohibit that which the law now forbids daughters, wives, even some men's sisters will be less under your authority - [But] never, while her men are well, is a woman's slavery cast off. It is for the weaker sex to submit to whatever you advise. The more power you possess, all the more moderately should you exercise your authority."


Livy, History of Rome, Maureen Fant trans., in Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant, eds. Women's Life in Greece & Rome, Johns Hopkins Press, 1982.

- From Cato's complaints about women, what "freedoms" had he perceived Roman women had?

- On whom does Cato place blame for the actions of the women? What does he think men should do about it?

- Have one student read Cato's debate outloud another Valerius' arguments.

- Hold a session of the Roman Senate at which a debate about women's rights is being held. Some students, using their own words, passionately present Cato's views. Others present Valerius's arguments. Someone could become Hortensia. Other members of the class might create signs, or slogans, which reflect the demands of women.

- Make up a speech about an issue women in the United States today might debate. For example:
Should women be combatants in war?
Should women be paid lower wages than men if the work they do is different than the work men do?
Should businesses provide day care for working families?

Background: Over a hundred years later, in 42 B.C., war again preoccupied the Romans. This time it was civil war, and the ruling triumvirs were badly in need of monies. To raise funds they voted to tax 1,400 of the richest women in the state. Fearing that taxes collected from them might be used in battles against their own families, the women mounted a protest. They chose Hortensia, the educated daughter of the famous orator Quintus Hortensius, to speak on their behalf. Rudely forcing their way into the forum, the women pushed Hortensia toward the triumvirs' tribunal. No female had ever spoken here before. A second century historian, Appian, in later years recorded what he understood to be Hortensia's speech.

"You have already deprived us of our fathers, our sons, our husbands, and our brothers on the pretext that they wronged you. But if, in addition, you take away our property, you will reduce us to a condition unsuitable to our birth, our way of life, and our female nature.

If we have done you any wrong, as you claimed our husbands have, punish us as you do them. But if we women have not voted any of you public enemies, nor torn down your house, nor destroyed your army, nor led another against you, nor prevented you from obtaining offices and honors, why do we share in the punishments when we did not participate in the crimes?

Why should we pay taxes when we do not share in the offices, honors, military commands, nor, in short, the government, for which you fight between yourselves with such harmful results? You say 'because it is wartime.' When has there not been war.

Our mothers did once rise superior to their sex and made contributions when you faced the loss of the empire and the city itself through the conflict with the Carthaginians. But they funded their contributions voluntarily from their jewelry not from their landed property, their fields, their dowries, or their houses, without which it is impossible for free women to live.

Let war with the Celts or Parthians come, we will not be inferior to our mothers when it is a question of common safety. But for civil wars, may we never contribute nor aid you against each other."

Furious at the women's demands, the triumvirs tried to drive them away. But the crowd yelled their support for the women, and the following day the triumvirs reduced to four hundred the number of women subject to taxation.

Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Frant, eds. Women's Life in Greece & Rome, Johns Hopkins Press, 1982.

- What distinctions does Hortensia make between civil war and a war against outside invaders?

- Which arguments against paying taxes does Hortensia use that you have heard speakers use in other times and places?

- From what class were the women who demonstrated in 195 and 42 B.C.?
What issues might concern women of other classes?

- Identify the phrases in these documents that reveal Roman views of feminine "nature."
In what ways did Romans think women were different than men?
Given these views, what roles might they assign to men and women?

Note: This lesson was taken from our curriculum unit:

I Will Not Bow My Head
Documenting Political Women

Selective Bibliography

J.P.V.D. Blasdon, Roman Women: Their History and Habits, Harper & Row, 1962.
Richard A. Bauman, Women and Politics in Ancient Rome, Routledge, 1992.
Marjorie Bingham and Susan Gross, Women in Ancient Greece and Rome, Glenhurst Press, 1983.
John K. Evans, War, Women and Children in Ancient Rome, Routledge, 1991.
Jane Gardner, Women in Roman Law and Society, Indiana University Press, 1986.
Mary R. Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Frant, eds. Women's Life in Greece & Rome, Johns Hopkins Press, 1982.
Sarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives & Slaves, Schocken Books, N.Y., 1975.
Beryl Rawson, The Family in Ancient Rome, Cornell University Press, 1986.

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