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Quintus Asconius Pedianus, Enarratio Orationis Ciceronis In Pisonem 13

Warp-weighted loom used in late Republican Rome (reconstruction)

Spinning and weaving and the supervision of handmaids involved in those tasks were traditional duties of the materfamilias, whether patrician or plebeian. The historian Livy records (Ab Urbe Condita I.57) that when in the year 220 AUC her husband Collatinus and the princely nobles visited their homes late at night to test their wives, Lucretia alone was found weaving with her maids. For the Romans, these activities became symbolic of the purity and dedication to family of the woman of the house. The grammarian and historian Asconius (c. 9 BCE-76 CE), in his commentary to Cicero's oration against Piso, describes how, in 53 BCE, political thugs who supported Pompey against Caesar invaded the house of the interrex, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a Caesarian, and destroyed the items they found in the atrium, among which were a threaded loom. Asconius pauses in his description of this violation of the integrity of family space to praise Lepidus' wife Cornelia as an exemplum of womanly virtue.

Sed Scipionis et Hypsaei factiones, quia recens invidia Milonis erat,
cum contra ius postularent ut interrex ad comitia consulum creandorum
descenderet, idque ipse non faceret, domum eius per omnes interregni  
dies -- fuerunt autem ex more quinque -- obsederunt. Deinde omni vi  
ianua expugnata et imagines maiorum deiecerunt et lectulum adversum
uxoris eius Corneliae, cuius castitas pro exemplo habita est, fregerunt,
iterumque telas quae ex vetere more in atrio texebantur diruerunt.

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Ann R. Raia and Judith Lynn Sebesta
Return to The World of Family
May 2006