WOMEN AND MARRIAGE IN ANCIENT ROME
Roman weddings were the source for many of our own marriage traditions. A ring on the third finger of a girl's left hand symbolized engagement. At the wedding ceremony the bride was dressed in white, wore a veil and was accompanied by a bridesmaid.
A Roman girl was considered ready for marriage at the age of 14. Her father would choose a husband and conduct the required arrangements, including the size of the dowry, with the groom's family. Economic considerations and inter-family relations were far more important than love.
Care was taken in choosing a lucky day that would avoid any ill omens; June was an especially favored month. A ceremony involving religious elements and the signing of the marriage contract was followed by a feast for all of the friends, relatives and business associates of the two families.
Throughout most of the history of the Roman Republic marriage transferred a woman from the authority of her father to the authority of her husband or her husband's father or grandfather, if he were alive. The senior father was the pater familias who had total control over all members of his family. In theory that control extended even to life and death, but in reality it was limited to economic matters. The pater familias owned and controlled all of the family's wealth. Any money or property a woman possessed at the time of her marriage passed to the control of the pater familias of her new husband's family.
Towards the end of the Republic and throughout the history of the Empire a new style of marriage became popular in which the woman retained control of her own money. Such a system made divorce a more viable option for women.
Raising the children and managing the home were the most important jobs of a woman. In the poor families she would have to do the work herself, but in middle and upper classes she could expect to have servants and slaves to help.
While romance was seldom a factor in choosing a spouse, love and affection often grew between husband and wife. The legal status of a woman in Rome did not appear to be much better than that of a woman in Athens, but in practice there was an enormous difference. A Roman wife expected to be the hostess if her husband had friends in to visit, and a Roman mother exercised genuine influence in making family decisions. Her epitaph might praise her spinning and her modesty, but beneath the surface there was a real woman.