Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita X.23: Pudicitia

statue of Roman woman in Pudicitia pose
The “Pudicitia Pose”

Livy recounts how the noblewoman Verginia, daughter of an ancient consular family, the Verginii, and spouse of a plebeian military hero and political leader, confronted the patrician matrons over the right to worship at the state patrician shrine in the Forum Boarium (the precise location of the shrine is unknown) of the personified female virtue Pudicitia (see coin for an image). Devoted to the modest behavior expected of noble matrons, the cult was open only to married women of the patrician class who were both chaste and univira (married only once). The patrician women judged that Verginia had lost her elite class privileges by marrying out of her rank, an option open to citizens from 445 BCE and the first victory in the long struggle between the orders for equal constitional rights. Although by this time plebeians had access to consular office—in 296 BCE Verginia's husband was in his second term as consul—yet another secession of the Plebs, the third and final, would take place in 287 BCE. Livy's account of the origin of the cult of Pudicitia Plebeia demonstrates the extension to women of the class warfare and, under the leadership of a strong, articulate, intelligent woman, their arrival at a typically Roman compromise that avoided civic violence, retained division between the classes, and satisfied both sides, if only temporarily. For more information, see the article by I. Maehle on female cults.

XXIII. Eo anno prodigia multa fuerunt, quorum averruncandorum causa supplicationes in biduum senatus decrevit;

[2] link publice vinum ac tus praebitum; supplicatum iere frequentes viri feminaeque.

[3] linkInsignem supplicationem fecit certamen in sacello Pudicitiae Patriciae (quae in Foro Bovario est ad aedem rotundam Herculis) inter matronas ortum.

[4] Verginiam Auli filiam, patriciam plebeio nuptam, L. Volumnio consuli, matronae quod e patribus enupsisset sacris arcuerant. Brevis altercatio inde ex iracundia muliebri in contentionem animorum exarsit,

[5] cum se Verginia et patriciam et pudicam in Patriciae Pudicitiae templum ingressam, ut uni nuptam ad quem virgo deducta sit, nec se viri honorumve eius ac rerum gestarum paenitere vero gloriaretur.

[6] link Facto deinde egregio magnifica verba adauxit. In Vico Longo ubi habitabat, ex parte aedium quod satis esset loci modico sacello exclusit link aramque ibi posuit et convocatis plebeiis matronis conquesta iniuriam patriciarum, link

[7] link “hanc ego aram” inquit “Pudicitiae Plebeiae dedico; vosque hortor ut, quod certamen virtutis viros in hac civitate tenet,

[8] hoc pudicitiae inter matronas sit detisque operam ut haec ara quam illa, si quid potest,

[9] linksanctius et a castioribus coli dicatur.” eodem ferme ritu et haec ara quo illa antiquior culta est, ut nulla nisi spectatae pudicitiae matrona et quae uni viro nupta fuisset ius sacrificandi haberet

[10] volgata dein religio a pollutis, nec matronis solum sed omnis ordinis feminis, postremo in oblivionem venit.

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