That’s One Way to Deal with Sexual Assault

This, from Livy, 38, 24: the Romans were conquering Galatia in Asia Minor, which the Gauls (the Romans’ frequent opponent) had occupied.  This incident tells us that Celtic women were as strong willed then as now:

The wife of the Gallic chieftain Ortiago was one of a number of prisoners.  She was a very attractive woman, and charged with guarding her was a centurion with the sexual appetite and the greed of a soldier.  This man at first attempted to seduce her, but seeing that consensual sex was abhorrent to her, he assaulted her person, which fortune had enslaved to him.  Later, to temper the humiliation of the assault, he gave the woman hope that she might return to her people, but even that was not offered free of charge, as by a lover.  The centurion negotiated the payment of a certain amount of gold and, not to have any of his men privy to his dealings, he allowed the woman to send any one of her fellow-prisoners she wished as a messenger to her people.  He picked a spot near the river to which no more than two of the prisoner’s kinsmen were to come to fetch her the following night, bringing the gold.  It so happened that a slave actually belonging to the woman was amongst the prisoners in custody with her.  This man was chosen as the messenger, and the centurion took him out at dusk beyond the guard-outposts.

The next night the woman’s two relatives came to the appointed place and the centurion also came with the prisoner.  Here they were showing the centurion the gold, which amounted to a full Attic talent–the price he had negotiated–when the woman told them in her own language to draw their swords and dispatch him while he was weighing the gold.  After they killed him she cut off his head, wrapped it in her dress and came with it to her husband Ortiago who had made good his escape home from Olympus.  Before she embraced him she threw the centurion’s head at his feet.  Ortiago was wondering whose head this was and what was the meaning of such unfeminine conduct, and she openly confessed to her husband the sexual assault and the retribution she had taken for the violation of her honour.  And it is said that by the moral purity and propriety she showed in the rest of her life she maintained to the end the esteem won by this act of a decent woman.

Polybius records her name as Chiomara.  it’s interesting to note that Livy implies that the centurion has the right to sexually assault her.  By the law and custom of the time that was correct; slaves had no rights to personal integrity.  That was the case until Christianity challenged that more than two centuries later.  But whatever was accepted custom did not dim Livy’s–or our–admiration for this woman.

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