["Sappho," 50 CE, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli]
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]
In response, the women marched on the Forum to address the triumvirs. There, Hortensia, the woman chosen as spokesperson, gave her famous speech. In words that were praised by Latin grammarians for decades afterwards, she argued that the last time Roman matrons had given money to pay for a war, they had given freely, not by coercion, that this was a war the women of Rome had no say in, and finally, that they should not be taxed if they had no part in the government.*** She asked whether the government would take their property when it had already taken their husbands through proscription. The triumvirs were, unsurprisingly, angered by both what she said and the fact that a woman had dared orate publicly in front of them and tried to dismiss the women from the forum. They were unsuccessful. Public opinion was on Hortensia’s side and in the end they reduced the number of women to be taxed to 400.
We don’t actually know that much about Hortensia’s life beyond her speech. Both Appian and Valerius Maximus considered her as eloquent as her father, high praise considering he was one of Cicero’s main rivals. Quintillian felt that her speech should be studied as an exceptional example of rhetoric.
*Translation: Augustus, Marc Antony, and whatsisface (well, if he gets mentioned at all). Sorry. It’s a joke I can never pass up. Poor Lepidus.
**Translation: Declared a bunch of guys enemies of the state, took their stuff, and executed the ones they could catch. It’s worth pointing out here that they couldn’t take anything belonging to the guy’s wife, just property that was legally his.
***Oh hey, look! No taxation without representation.