Female Attorneys in Ancient Roman CourtsLeyla Aydemir
Roman women were denied basic political, legal, and commercial rights. However, as a result of conflicts such as the Punic Wars for Mediterranean supremacy, the male population of Rome dropped, and women were able to take advantage of the situation. Some Roman women, who were essentially forced to perform all kinds of work because of this drop in male population, began to appear more frequently in commercial life and courts of law. In this study, we will examine cases where women defended themselves or others in the law courts of Rome, where legal activities had previously been solely the domain of elite men.
Roma Mahkemelerinde Savunma Yapan “Avukat” KadınlarLeyla Aydemir
Cinsiyeti nedeniyle politik, hukuki ve ticari haklardan uzun süre mahrum bırakılan Romalı kadınlar, Kartaca Savaşları ve sonrasındaki tüm Akdeniz hâkimiyeti için yapılan savaşların doğurduğu bir sonuç olarak, erkek sayısındaki azalmayla birlikte birtakım avantajlar elde etme fırsatı yakalamıştır. Erkek nüfusundaki azalmayla birlikte neredeyse bütün işleri yapmak zorunda kalan Romalı kadınlardan bazıları, ticari hayatta ve istisnai bir şekilde de olsa hukuk mahkemelerinde varlık göstermiştir. Bu çalışmada, hukukun çoğunlukla elit erkeklerin alanı olarak görüldüğü Roma’da, bazı kadınların mahkemelerde kendileri ya da başkaları adına savunma yaptıkları davalar ele alınmaktadır.
Women in Rome generally lacked political, legal, or commercial rights because they were believed to be naturally weaker than men. However, in the period of the seemingly unending Punic Wars, women were obliged to work in and take almost all the responsibilities for many sectors of Roman life, including those previously open only to men. Simultaneously, women gained some advantages for themselves. Following the Punic Wars and the eventual control of the western Mediterranean, the Romans turned their attention to the Eastern Mediterranean; their successes there made them the masters of the entire Mediterranean. This conquest and expansion, in turn, brought Rome into contact with many new sociocultural concepts. The greatest impact on women was that they were able to loosen the guardianship of the men surrounding them. The speed with which men died in Roman wars considerably shortened the length of typical Roman marriages, allowing widowed women to act more autonomously. During these wars for Roman supremacy in the Mediterranean and in their aftermath, women took advantage of the scarcity of men to increase their opportunities in the wider Roman world. These same opportunities presented themselves throughout the 1st Century BCE, during the era of the last Republican civil wars. In this period, women managed to be active in the legal sector, which had previously been open only to men.
As was true of all activities in which women tried to engage outside the household, their roles as “lawyers” in the courts were faced with criticism and condemnation. A typical sanctifier of masculine tradition, Valerius Maximus, argued that Roman society should not stay silent any longer against women who are drifting away from modesty, acting contrary to their nature in the Forum and judicial courts, while he expresses his discontentment for their rise to prominence, on the other hand, he gives examples of three women acting as their own attorneys. According to Valerius Maximus, Amaesia Sentia, who was defending her own case before the praetor and was later praised with the word “androgynous” meaning “having a man’s soul in a woman’s body”; was released because she effectively performed all parts of a legal defense in the court gracefully but with a masculine determination. As Amaesia Sentia was acquitted thanks to her legal knowledge and skills, receiving the respect of society even though alienated from her feminine identity and equipped with masculine qualities, the fact remains that she gained her freedom by acting as her own lawyer.
Defending herself at every opportunity and heavily criticized by Valerius Maximus as a “monster” and a “bad example of feminine bickering,” C. Afrania, unlike Amaesia Sentia, was not deemed a woman deserving the respect of society; in accordance with social norms. Brought before the praetor many times, C. Afrania was, according to Valerius Maximus, defending herself in court because she was shameless and arrogant. Ulpian claims that Afrania’s extreme assumptions caused a change in the law, and women lost their right to represent others in court because of her. In reality, though, it is obvious that Afrania did not need a lawyer; she was a very skillful rhetorician and had great legal knowledge, despite her reputation as an impudent woman with a negative attitude; who did not need the services of an attorney.
The third woman Valerius Maximus discussed is Hortensia. She was spoken of very highly like Amaesia Sentia, but unlike her, Hortensia is distinguished not just for defending herself but also for representing a collective women’s protest. The basis for this protest was the decree of forced evaluation of the properties of the 1,400 richest women in the country to tax them. This valuation was undertaken by Octavian, Mark Anthony, and Lepidus, who were then the political and military leaders of Rome. Hortensia was probably one of the leading protesters. From details of her defense and the legal steps the women took before proceedings, it is understood that Hortensia probably received legal education from her rhetorician father, Quintus Hortensius. Before taking legal action, she followed socially acceptable moral procedures by trying to reach the triumvirs’ spouses, an effort that failed. Only then did the women approach the Forum, which was an important strategy to show their loyalty to the virtuous Roman woman profile, prove their righteousness, and demonstrate that they were deserving of social respect. In her defense, Hortensia cited historical anecdotes, which showed the strong patriotism of her female ancestors, and said that women could even be more devoted and selfless than men when necessary. Hortensia argued that women should be exempted from any punishment for their protest because they had no right to make political decisions, unlike their male ancestors. Her defense was successfully acknowledged, and changes were made in the taxing decree.
Despite the discomfort felt in Rome toward women entering public spaces, there was one other woman who acted as her own lawyer—Turia, known from only her funerary inscription. Turia was a Roman woman whose parents were murdered during the civil war that erupted in 49 BCE between Iulius Caesar and Pompeius. According to her funerary inscription, dating to 8-2 BCE, this young woman, who led a very busy life, managed to have the murderer of her parents receive the appropriate punishment and protect her father’s will, even though her relatives had designs on her properties. As her husband, who dedicated the funerary inscription, stated, Turia, when defending her father’s will, took the case herself. She acted with the qualities of an ideal lawyer, displaying intelligence, perseverance, determination, and a sense of duty. Like Hortensia, Turia was victorious in her legal struggles.
Manilia, a prostitute, is the earliest recorded woman acting as her own defender in Rome. According to Aulus Gellius, in 151 BCE, Manilia was sued for attacking aedilis curulis Mancinus, who tried to break into her house while he was drunk. Manilia allegedly attacked him by throwing stones and injured him. She was probably found guilty in plebian court. However; since Manilia apparently had knowledge of Roman legal procedure, she took the case to tribunus plebis (tribune of the people) and defended herself by stating that Mancinus tried to force himself into her home without his official uniform. She simply tried to thwart him by throwing stones at him. The tribunus accordingly decided that the wrongdoing was that of the adedilis curulis.
Women in Roman courts were usually represented by someone they trusted, mostly men. Based on the cases studied here, there seems to have been no regulation whatsoever preventing them from representing themselves in court or representing others, at least at the end of the Roman Republic. However, since Roman public spaces were reserved for men only, in ancient historical sources, Turia, Amaesia Sentia, and Hortensia were ascribed virtues reflecting masculinity. In other words, the successes of these women were essentially ignored in terms of gender. This attitude shows that women in Rome could only enter public spaces without being condemned under very narrow and specific conditions and then had to assume male roles.