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In 215 B.C., a defeated and cash-strapped Rome passed a new law. The context was their greatest military defeat ever. On August 2, 216 B.C., the Carthaginian general Hannibal destroyed their army at Cannae during the Second Punic War. Sources tell us between 50,000 and 70,000 Roman soldiers died that day. That is seven times as many soldiers killed at Gettysburg. As the first century Roman historian Livy cried, “Certainly there is no other nation that would not have succumbed beneath such a weight of calamity.”
Except Rome wasn’t like other nations (which was Livy’s point). Rome did not succumb. They tightened their belt, raised a new army, and kept going. Rome epitomized grit.
Which - Group - Women–the - Wives - Daughters
Which is also why they cracked down on a growing group of independently wealthy women–the wives and daughters who inherited the land and money of their dead husbands and fathers. Rome did this for probably two reasons (historians still argue about it). One reason was certainly the war effort. Rome needed money from everyone. So they passed the Oppian law–“which put severe restrictions on women’s wealth.” Women could no longer dress in luxurious clothes, could no longer ride in carriages (in Rome) except on special occasions, and could only possess half an ounce of gold. Some even had to turn over their war-inheritances to the state. These women were encouraged, including by taxation, to spend more money on the war and less on themselves.
The second reason Rome probably passed the Oppian law was to limit women’s public display of wealth. Rome was in mourning after the Battle of Cannae. It wasn’t a time to have parties and wear fancy clothes. It was a time to batten down the hatches and fight to the death (which is pretty much what they did). It was especially not a time for...
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