Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi (1785) by Angelica Kauffman.

Who was Cornelia Africana and How Did She Become the Prototype of the Virtuous Roman Woman?

(Read the article on one page)

The life of Cornelia Africana could be the basis for a fascinating Hollywood super-production. Since the beginning, her tale was nothing but an adventurous story about a woman whose extraordinary personality made her reach for the stars. Courageous, intelligent, and powerful, Cornelia could be an inspiration for generations of women.

Can you imagine a lady in ancient times who fought like a man, made negotiations like the best politicians, and reached higher than most men in political matters, but who never lost her feminine charms? Cornelia’s life was a story worthy of many ancient poems, but sadly many details about her story have been lost through time. From the resources that have survived, she appears to have been a powerful woman among the most influential people of antiquity.

A statue of Cornelia by Levi Schofield in 1893, now in Ohio, USA.

A statue of Cornelia by Levi Schofield in 1893, now in Ohio, USA. (Steve Grant/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

More Than a Beauty

Cornelia was born the second daughter of a Second Punic War hero. Her father was Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, and her mother was a noblewoman named Aemilia Paulla. She grew up in a house full of war stories and pride in her father’s heroic acts. It’s not surprising than, that she also became a brave warrior woman whose life was full of moments when she had to fight for her loved ones.

She married the grandson of the famous Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. Her husband, Tiberius Gracchus the Elder, was much older than Cornelia. However, they had 12 children together. Such a big family wasn't common in ancient Rome. Sadly, only three of those children lived longer than a few years. The only ones who survived were a daughter, Sempronia, and two sons: Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. While taking care of her family, Cornelia was also active in political disputes. Her huge amount of experience in this realm allowed her to be an anchor and a safe harbor for her sons in the future.

Cornelia Africana, Mother of The Gracchi (1779)

Cornelia Africana, Mother of The Gracchi (1779) by Noël Hallé. ( Public Domain )

 

Putting Her Family First

Apart from her famous family, Cornelia was also a well-known writer. She was very well educated in literature and many other disciplines. Her letters shed light on her unique personality, strong character, and impressive diplomatic skills. As a woman who was active in politics after the death of her husband, she decided that she would not live a boring life as a widow, but use her position as Scipio's daughter and spend the next years of her life teaching her children. In the meantime, King Ptolemy VIII offered her marriage, but she refused it. Instead of preparing of a wedding, she supported her sons.

‘Cornelia rejects the crown of the Ptolemies’ (1646) by Laurent de La Hyre.

‘Cornelia rejects the crown of the Ptolemies’ (1646) by Laurent de La Hyre. ( Public Domain )

Cornelia was extremely active during their conflicts with other nobles. Plutarch wrote about both of her sons and presented her as a powerful woman who had provided them with a great deal of help, especially Gaius. One example of this was documented in a letter Cornelia wrote to Gaius:

''You will say that it is a beautiful thing to take on vengeance on enemies. To no one does this seem either greater or more beautiful than it does to me, but only if it is possible to pursue these aims without harming our country. But seeing as that cannot be done, our enemies will not perish for a long time and for many reasons, and they will be as they are now rather than have our country be destroyed and perish…I would dare to take an oath solemnly, swearing that, except for those who have murdered Tiberius Gracchus, no enemy has foisted so much difficulty and so much distress upon me as you have because of the matters: you should have shouldered the responsibilities of all of those children whom I had in the past, and to make sure that I might have the least anxiety possible in my old age; and that, whatever you did, you would wish to please me most greatly; and that you would consider it sacrilegious to do anything of great significance contrary to my feelings, especially as I am someone with only a short portion of my life left. Cannot even that time span, as brief as it is, be of help in keeping you from opposing me and destroying our country? In the final analysis, what end will there be? When will our family stop behaving insanely? When will we cease insisting on troubles, both suffering and causing them? When will we begin to feel shame about disrupting and disturbing our country?''

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Representation of an ancient Egyptian chariot.
The wheel can be considered mankind’s most important invention, the utility of which is still applied in multiple spheres of our daily life. While most other inventions have been derived from nature itself, the wheel is 100% a product of human imagination. Even today, it would be difficult to imagine what it would be like without wheels, since movement as we know it would be undeniably impossible.

Myths & Legends

An image of Enki from the Adda cylinder seal.
In the belief system of the Sumerians, Enki (known also as Ea by the Akkadians and Babylonians) was regarded to be one of the most important deities. Originally Enki was worshipped as a god of fresh water and served as the patron deity of the city of Eridu (which the ancient Mesopotamians believe was the first city to have been established in the world). Over time, however, Enki’s influence grew and this deity was considered to have power over many other aspects of life, including trickery and mischief, magic, creation, fertility, and intelligence.

Ancient Technology

Representation of an ancient Egyptian chariot.
The wheel can be considered mankind’s most important invention, the utility of which is still applied in multiple spheres of our daily life. While most other inventions have been derived from nature itself, the wheel is 100% a product of human imagination. Even today, it would be difficult to imagine what it would be like without wheels, since movement as we know it would be undeniably impossible.

Opinion

El Caracol Observatory at Chichen Itza (Wright Reading/CC BY-NC 2.0) and Composite 3D laser scan image of El Caracol from above
In 1526, the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and found most of the great Maya cities deeply eroded and unoccupied. Many generations removed from the master builders, engineers, and scientists who conceived and built the cities, the remaining Maya they encountered had degenerated into waring groups who practiced blood rituals and human sacrifice.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article