about Ancient Roman Women
Most marriages were arranged for the
family's political interests, not love. A "chaste" wife was one who was
(politically) loyal to her husband. It wasn't always necessary for a
wife to be physically faithful as well. Wives as well as men had
affairs, though with more downside risk for the woman.
Legally fathers had to
provide their daughters with a dowry to enable them
to marry. How large was the dowry? About one year's
worth, not very large by later European standards.
Women's Rights and
A Roman woman
did not have a unique, identifying name of her own. She usually took the
feminine form of her father's family. For example, "Julia" meant a
female of the "Julian" family. If a couple had more than one daughter,
there could be several "Julias" in the same family.
Family, loyalty, and divorce
Legally, a woman, even after marriage, continued to
belong to her father's family, not just to her husband's. Upon divorce,
she automatically lost her children to her husband; he would keep them, as they now belonged exclusively
to his family.
Mothers, children, and
The purpose of marriage was to produce children. But the rate
of infant death in the ancient world was shockingly high, perhaps as
much as 75%. Women were perpetually pregnant. Even so, a couple could
still end up with no surviving male child. As a remedy, the husband
could adopt a male heir, even if the adoptee was an adult, even after
death--just name the adoptee in the will.
Women did not have the
right to a public
life, to have a profession, or to be elected to
office. Many elite women could read and write. Some were
well-educated. Little has survived of their
"Notable women" are known only through
legend, myth, and what male writers wrote about
them. Most of the love/hate diatribes were directed
at those at the very top of the pyramid, the wives and mothers of the Roman Emperors.
Writers were either strongly opposed or strongly
supportive of the Emperor.
Even less is known of lives of women outside the
political and social elite. Funerary inscriptions,
background figures in art, and passing references in
general literature are about it.
Daily Life: To See
and Be Seen
In the ancient
Greek world, elite, married women were considered bound to the home.
But in Rome,
wives of the political elite could be seen in public, if escorted.
But there were limits: a Roman female was not free to go out alone where she wanted when she
wanted. Could she go and see the world? Forget it--respectable Roman women did
not travel to distant lands.
You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at