This article analyzes the prominent role played by a particular vehicle, the matronly carriage (carpentum), in the construction of Roman gender. Its focus is on the conveyance’s two most significant appearances in literary representation. First, I examine the various accounts of the vehicle’s best-known and most dramatic tableau, Tullia’s use of a carpentum to drive over her dead father king Servius Tullius’ body, arguing that the conveyance functions to articulate the cultural anxiety surrounding the passage from daughter to wife. I suggest that the story of Tullia’s carpentum, as a quasi-mythic exemplum of “feminine transportation,” looms as a dangerous threat in need of accommodation. Next, I examine the story of the Roman matrons’ demonstration in favor of the repeal of the lex Oppia, which had prohibited, among other things, their right to ride in carpenta. I argue that the accounts of Livy and others seek to offer a solution to the challenge posed by the physically protesting women by redefining their vehicular mobility as state-authorized, and as directly tied to their reproductive function. Thus, while Latin literature often articulates urban traffic as a familiarly frustrating system of obstacles, my analysis uncovers a contrasting Roman discourse, one that identifies traffic with the fertility of the city and its ability to reproduce Roman citizens.
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