Women in Ancient Rome

Women in ancient Rome had a unique position when compared to women of other cultures. “Unlike some other ancient cultures such as the Greeks who had formed a creation myth where woman was a creature secondary to man and, more specifically, in the form of Pandora, a bringer of unhappiness and vices, the Romans had a more neutral approach where humanity, and not specifically the male, was created by the gods from earth and water (ancient.eu).” Roman women were educated and went to school. In different ancient writings, it is suggested that girls and boys were educated together. Upper class women seemed to have been well educated but most are not remembered for their educational endeavors. In religious affairs, women could participate very little. “Of this exclusive religion of the family, the father was the high-priest…. Before the family altar women had no independent place. They took part in the ceremonies only through their fathers or husbands (Women in Early Roman Law).” They usually had marriages arranged for them and generally noble women would marry younger to ensure she was a virgin (ancient.eu).  They could refuse the match, but only if they could prove their expected husband had a bad character. “For it was a lasting principle of Roman law that not only connubium (right of intermarriage), but also consent, were necessary to a valid tying of the nuptial knot. The term “consent” here included not only the woman’s consent but his also in whose power she was (Couch).” After she married, she left the legal protection of her father and she and her children came under the rule of her husband. Marriage did not require a ceremony, even though it was customary to prove they had married. Divorce was unusual but occurred usually on the grounds of adultery. “Here all that was necessary was simply an expression of a desire or commandy by the husband that the wife should no longer dwell in his house (Couch).”  The woman would leave her husband’s house and take her dowry, and it was socially acceptable. Remarriage and concubinage was also common among the Romans.

Roman_fresco_with_a_Woman_on_a_Balcony_-_Getty_Villa_CollectionFresco of a Roman woman on a balcony

Women, if free, were considered citizens but could not hold any sort of political office or vote. There was little difference in status between a noble woman and a freedwoman, but only freedwomen could work outside of the home as a noble woman was expected to rely on her husband to provide for her. In the early empire, daughters had the same rights as son, even if they played different roles. “[I]n the inheritance of her father’s estate the daughter took an equal share with the son, provided she had not by marriage left her father’s family (Couch).” But through all of this they were not recognized by public law. They could not own property, witness in court, or make wills (Woman in Early Roman Law).  During a woman’s adult life, especially if she was an aristocrat, she was expected to be able to run a large household, which included entertaining guests, living frugally, and producing clothing. Women were not expected to be idle and took an active part in business. Women could own their own land and help in their husband’s businesses to earn their own living. “Lower class Roman women did have a public life because they had to work for a living. Typical jobs undertaken by such women were in agriculture, markets, crafts, as midwives and as wet nurses (ancient.eu).” Women also enjoyed active social lives. They traveled around the city, gathering in streets with friends, attend religious ceremonies, and visit baths. “In our eyes these seem very trivial privileges; but if we call to mind the absurd restrictions place upon the movements of Greek and other women of antiquity, we must confess that these trifling concessions were a great stride towards that perfect equality of the sexes finally reached in Rome (Couch).”

Bibliography

“Women in Ancient Rome – Crystalinks.” Women in Ancient Rome – Crystalinks. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.crystalinks.com/romewomen.html&gt;.

“Women in the Roman World.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.ancient.eu/article/659/&gt;.

“Honors3.html.” Honors3.html. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

<https://www2.bc.edu/~mcglynka/honors3.html&gt;.

Couch, John A. “Woman in Early Roman Law.” Harvard Law Review 8.1 (1894): 39-50. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

<http://web.ebscohost.com.hal.weber.edu:2200/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=dba75734-

31c6-4ba5-be84-843f033362e2%40sessionmgr114&vid=1&hid=125>.

“ Roman Fresco With a Woman on a Balcony “By Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup (Flickr: Getty Villa – Collection) [CC BY-SA 2.0

<http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons>

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