Notable Women of the Roman Republic: Aemilia Paulla
Lucius Aemilius Paullus was one of the two Roman Consuls in 216 B.C. when the disastrous battle of Cannae took place. Killed in the battle, he left a widow and at least two young children. His son, Lucius Aemilius Paullus was born around 228 B.C., as he was said to have been about sixty when he campaigned against King Perseus of Macedon in 168 B.C. He must have been about 12 when his father died. It is uncertain when his daughter Aemilia Paula was born, or whether she was older or younger than her brother. She was called Aemilia Tercia, which indicates that she may have had two older sisters, but, if so, nothing is known about them.
Aemilia Paulla eventually married Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the conqueror of Carthage in the second Punic war. The marriage was reputed to have been a good one and Scipio was said to have been an indulgent husband who allowed Aemilia to do pretty much anything she liked. They had four children who survived to adulthood, two sons, Publius and Lucius, and two daughters, Cornelia Major and Cornelia Minor. Cornelia Minor is believed to have been born around 191 B.C. The dates of birth of the other children are uncertain. The date of the marriage of Scipio and Aemilia is also uncertain but if the story of Scipio’s refusal to compromise the virtue of a beautiful Celtiberian woman is credible (and it may well be if it is derived from Polybius’ interviews with Gaius Laelius.) then it would seem that Scipio did not marry Aemilia until he returned to Rome from Spain in 206 B.C. In the matter of the Celtiberian woman Scipio is quoted as saying to the maiden’s fiance “As soon as your intended bride, having been captured by my soldiers, was brought into my presence, and I was informed that she was endeared to you, considering that I should myself wish that my affection for my intended bride, although excessive, should meet with indulgence, could I enjoy the pleasures suited to my age (particularly in an honorable and lawful love) and were my mind not engrossed by public affairs, I indulge as far as I can your passion.”*1
If this is the case, than the oldest son, Publius may have been born around 205 B.C. Lucius and Cornelia Major may have been born after their father returned from conquering Carthage in 202 B.C. Both of the sons became priests of Jupiter and neither became soldiers as might have been expected of sons of a great general. Publius, in fact mentions “not wanting to pass on the family infirmities.” in his explanation of why he had no children. It is unclear what those infirmities may have been.
Scipio and Aemilia were fabulously wealthy by the standards of their day. They owned villas and estates and numerous slaves. The historian Polybius says of Aemilia:
- “This lady whose name was Aemilia, used to display great magnificence whenever she left her house to take part in the ceremonies that women attend, having participated in the fortune of Scipio when he was at the height of his prosperity. .. For apart from the richness of her own dress and of the decorations of her carriage, all the baskets, cups, and other utensils for the sacrifice were either of gold or silver, and were borne in her train on all such solemn occasions, .. while the number of maids and men-servants in attendance was correspondingly large. (Polybius, translated by John Dryden, Book 31 Fragments: 26)
While there is no direct historical documentation of this, it seems likely to me that Aemilia may have been active in organizing the street demonstrations by thousands of Roman women in 195 B.C. to agitate for the repeal of the Lex Oppia, the sumptuary laws passed after the battle of Cannae that forbade woman to ride in carriages, wear purple or own more than a small amount of gold jewelry. At this time, Aemilia’s husband Scipio was vying for power and influence with Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder. Cato was vehement in his opposition to the repeal, saying: “Indeed, I blushed when, a short while ago, I walked through the midst of a band of women. I should have said ‘what kind of behavior is this? Running around in public, blocking streets, and speaking to other women’s husbands! Could you not have asked your own husband the same thing at home? Are you more charming in public with other’s husbands than with your own? And yet, it is not fitting even at home for you to concern yourselves with what laws are passed or repealed here.’”
The Tribune Lucius Valerius Flaccus answered Cato, speaking in favor of the repeal: “By Hercules! All are unhappy and indignant when they see finery denied them and permitted to the wives of the Latin allies, when they see them adorned with gold and purple, when those other women ride through the city and they follow on foot, as though the power belonged to those other women’s cities and not to their own.”*2
Ultimately the Oppian Law was repealed. This repeal must have been of great benefit to Aemilia Paulla since she could now ride through the streets of Rome in the splendor that Polybius describes.
Aemilia Paulla outlived her husband Scipio by some 24 years, dying in 163 B.C. She was survived by both of her daughters, but not by her sons. Both of her sons were childless. Her elder daughter Cornelia Major, married Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum who became Pontifex Maximus, and her younger daughter Cornelia Minor married Tiberius Gracchus, a Consul and Censor, and they had three children who survived into adulthood, a daughter, Sempronia, and the famous reformers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.
*1. Ab Urbe Condita by Titus Livius, Book XXVII #XVII.
*2. Ab Urbe Condita by Titus Livius, Book XXXIV #s II, VII