Verginia

We welcome November with a brand-new Women’s Wednesday. Today’s Mulier Clara is Verginia, a Roman maiden and daughter of the centurion Lucius Virginius.

Verginia’s story is quite a tragic one. According to the ancient Roman historian Livy, the judge Appius Claudius was captivated by the young maiden. Known as one of the ten corrupt Decemvirs, Appius had been elected in 451 B.C..; taking advantage of his powerful position, Appius built a court case in which one of his clients, Marcus Claudius, claimed ownership over Verginia - only to be later forced to give her up to the judge himself.

As luck would have it, the next day the maiden’s father returned from war and uncovered the plot. Virginius quickly pled for Verginia to return to him, but Appius chose to ignore his request. The centurion refused to lose ownership over his daughter and, not wanting her to become another man’s slave, decided to kill her by slicing her throat with a knife.

Verginia’s story is very important, it being the catalyst for a significant change in Rome. In fact, the outcry that followed her murder led to the end of the reign of the Decemvirs. Sadly, Virginia’s story is also another example of a woman being the pawn in the hands of powerful men. The maiden is not allowed to choose her own fate and ends up being sacrificed by her father for fear of being emasculated.


“Verginia”, illumination from the manuscript “Livre des femmes nobles et renommees”, ms. Français 598, f. 90r, 1403, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris.

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