WOMEN IN ANCIENT ROME

 

When a young woman married in the early years of the Roman Republic she left her childhood home and the authority of her father and entered not only the home of her husband but his power and control as well. In law her status was not very different from that of her husband’s daughter. As Rome’s empire grew and more and more money poured in things began to change. Any amendments to the law probably seemed quite insignificant at the time they were made, but the reality of day to day life gradually began to transform the way society viewed women and the way they viewed themselves. By the end of the First Century women had achieved a level of freedom they would not see again in Western Society until the last half of the Twentieth Century.

Life was hard in the Ancient World and death, disease and hunger lurked around every corner. If told about the new liberty for women, those on the bottom rungs of the social ladder would have laughed and said it did not apply to them for they were too busy earning a living to take advantage of whatever liberation was going on elsewhere in society. Outside of the lower classes women could not work but they did not want to do so either.  In fact "work" was seen as something to be done by slaves and low class people who did not know any better.  Nevertheless women were demanding and getting greater freedom.  Some men objected, of course, but their cries of protest were in vain.  Emperor Augustus introduced a series of laws to promote traditional values but even he was unable to stem the tide of progress. 

Generalizations on the status of women in the ancient world are always difficult, and never more so than in the case of Rome where theory and practice were often so far apart.  Many Athenian men seem to have regarded their wives as at best essential inconveniences, but Roman men placed a very high value on marriage, home and the family and this made quite a difference to society's treatment of women. At no time in Rome's history were women allowed to hold public office or work in the government.  In the early days of the Republic women were not even allowed to make suggestions, but by the beginning of the Empire many men were seeking and even following the advice of their wives.  It was all right to do so, provided the advice was given in private and the husband did not make a big deal of it.  Respectable women were not supposed to be wandering around alone outside, but somehow they managed to have a life beyond the home.

 

CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING FOR INFORMATION ON THE LIVES OF WOMEN IN SPECIFIC AREAS OF ANCIENT ROME

The Augustan Reformation

Bacchanalia

Divorce

Dowry

Fashion

Housing

Intrigue and the Emperor's Women

Julia, Daughter of Augustus

Justinian's Law as it Applied to Women and Families

Marriage

Patria Potestas

Vestal Virgins

Women and Slavery in Ancient Rome

 

 

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