You’re going to wear that?:
, Behavior, and Clothing in the trials of Postumia and Gaius Sempronius
in Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita

T. Davina McClain

            Livy carefully links three individuals–Gaius Sempronius, Aulus Sempronius, and Postumia–in the narrative of Book 4 of the Ab Urbe Condita through the themes of innocence, trials, and clothing.  Although some attention has been paid to the Vestal Virgin Postumia (Hermann 1964, Ogilvie 1965, Hallett 1984), scholars have not explored how Livy ties together these seemingly unrelated episodes within his historical narrative.

            At 4.37.3-41.12 Livy details the actions of Gaius Sempronius.  Although as consul and commander of the troops facing the Volsci he displayed negligence during the beginning of the battle against the Volsci, he won the respect of his men by his subsequent actions, so much so that when the tribune Lucius Hortensius threatens to prosecute Gaius immediately following the battle, four other tribunes of the plebs beg him not to harass “their innocent general" (4.42.2: imperatorem suum innoxium) and threaten to dress in mourning clothes unless the charges are dropped (4.42.8-9).  A short time later, however, angry that no plebeian is elected quaestor (an office newly opened to them), because they believe that Aulus Sempronius (Gaius’ nephew) tampered with the elections, Hortensius and some tribunes renew the charge against Gaius, because they could not prosecute Aulus “who was protected both by his innocence (innocentia tutum) and by being in office" (4.44.6). Because Gaius refuses to back down and refuses to support the tribunes’ call for land distribution for the plebs, he is found guilty and fined. 

            Next comes the trial of the Vestal Postumia on the charge of incestum (4.44.11).  Livy states that she is innocent of the crime (crimine innoxia), but that her behavior–dressing too elegantly, acting without restraint, and telling jokes–bring her under suspicion.  Although her first trial is dismissed, she is retried and acquitted, but she is ordered to dress more with an eye to chastity than fashion (colique sancte potius quam scite).

            The two trials demonstrate clear parallels: Postumia and Gaius have incurred blame through their behavior and must change in order to act in a manner appropriate to their positions. Both suffer being put on trial, not once but twice: the first aborted attempted to try Gaius is parallel to the first aborted trial of Postumia; the trial of Aulus via Gaius matches Postumia's second trial, and Postumia's acquittal compares to Gaius' conviction.  The difference in the outcomes of the two trials reflects the difference in the offences: Gaius was actually negligent, albeit for only a short time, whereas Postumia never actually broke her vows.  Despite Gaius' conviction, Livy marks all three as innocent of the charges (Gaius, 4.42.2: innoxium; Aulus, 4.44.6: innocentia tutum; Postumia, 4.44.11: crimine innoxia).         

            Finally, the stories of Gaius and Postumia are connected by an insight into the power of one's clothing.  Postumia is charged in part because her clothing was unsuitable for a Vestal, and she is specifically told to dress appropriately. Similarly, the tribunes’ threat to dress in clothes of mourning if Hortensius proceeds with his prosecution of Gaius Sempronius is the factor that encourages Hortensius to drop his case: "The Roman people will not see their own tribunes in soiled (sordidatos) clothes" (4.42.8).  The dress of the tribunes, something that would display their pietas (4.42.9), parallels the implied lack of pietas in the clothing of Postumia.

            Through these episodes, Livy provides exempla of the behavior of political and religious figures, men and women, and he demonstrates the repercussions for failing to remember all aspects of one's duty to the state. 

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