Gold and amethyst earring with two hanging pearls
Gender and clothing
Ownership of this type of object was linked to high social status during the Roman period. Roman matrons wore a great deal of jewellery. Ornatrices were female slaves responsible for doing up patrician women. This object is associated with an upper-class woman, but it also reminds us of the work of female slaves. It also brings to mind a women’s revolt against the Roman Senate. During the Second Punic War, the Lex Oppia was enacted in Rome. This law banned public displays of wealth such as jewellery, as impoverishment caused by the war had roused the poorer classes, who might take offence at seeing such wealth. After Scipio’s victory over Hannibal, economic conditions improved, but a faction in the Senate, headed by Cato, refused to repeal the law, favouring a continuation of austerity. The day on which the Senate voted on keeping the law, a large group of women assembled in front of the houses of some of the senators in order to prevent them from attending the vote. Cato asserted that if women were allowed to state their opinions, men would lose their freedom and also that: ‘The very moment they begin to be your equals, they will be your superiors’ (Livy). Despite the debate and outrage, the Lex Oppia was repealed.