Roman Women

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History, Facts and Information about Roman Women

The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about life in Ancient Rome including lives of Roman Women. Laws relating to women, restrictions and freedom allowed, their education, marriage and different roles or jobs undertaken by matrons.

Roman Laws relating to Women
Many aspects of the lives of Roman women were dictated by the Law of the Twelve Tables which was the ancient legislation that stood at the foundation of the Roman constitution and law. The Twelve Tables included laws relating to inheritance, marriage, the rights of a father, laws relating to property and different laws relating to Roman Women. There were also Roman Sumptuary Laws which restricted women from wearing certain types of clothing, such as the Toga.

  • Roman Women could not transact any business of importance without the agreement of their father, husband or guardian (guardians were normally male relatives)

    • Guardianship was no longer applied to women whose father and husband had died and who had already borne three children

  • Paternal power: A father had the power of life and death over his children. He could not only expose them when infants, but when grown up he might imprison, scourge, send them bound to work in the country, and also put them to death by any punishment he pleased as decreed by the laws in the Twelve Tables

    • Women did not have the right to choose her own husband. Marriages were arranged by the father

  • Roman Women could not partake of magistracies, priesthoods, triumphs, badges of office or receive gifts, or spoils of war. Elegance, finery, and beautiful clothes were the women's badges

  • Only married women were permitted to wear the stola

  • A woman could not be a witness or act as a surety, a tutor or a curator

  • A woman could not adopt or be adopted

  • A woman could not make a will or contract

  • Upon her death the property of a woman with no direct heir dies passed to her nearest male relative

  • Women and Marriage: The original form of marriage with 'manus' meant that all the goods of the wife passed to the ownership of the husband. A married woman was no longer permitted to possess anything in her own name. In the later form of marriage marriage 'without manus' only the dowry became the property of the husband. The wife remained mistress of all her other belongings and all that she might acquire

  • In the home the woman was mistress and equal to her husband, joining guests at meals attending festivals etc.

  • Women were allowed to go out alone and attend the theatre and gladiatorial games

Roman women were certainly restricted by many aspects o Roman Law but once they were married the enjoyed far more freedom than the Greek women did.

Roman Women - Marriage
Roman women entered into arranged marriages. Contracts between families were drawn up at a very early age. Young girls were therefore expected to live highly morale lives. If a girl was discovered flirting this would be seen in breach of the betrothal contract. Dowries were settled according to the wealth and status of her family. A girl from a good patrician family was seen as a good political 'catch' benefiting the aspirations of her husband. In the home the woman was mistress and equal to her husband, joining guests at meals and attending festivals etc. Wives were expected to act with some decorum and would generally sit upright during meals rather than adopt reclining positions. The wives of Romans during the period of Empire were allowed to drink wine but never to join in drinking parties. In many households it would be the wife who would oversee the slaves, ensuring the smooth running and discipline within the household. Romans allowed married women far more freedom than the Greeks, who virtually imprisoned their wives at home. Roman wives were not expected to live secluded lives and could freely receive visitors and leave the house on visits to other households or on shopping expeditions.

Roman Marriage

Roman Women - Education
Roman Women enjoyed a similar, if not the same education as boys in early childhood. As young men went on to learn about law and rhetoric the women were expected to learn how to run a household, play musical instruments and to study poems and literature. A Roman woman was expected to support the political aspirations of her family although she could not become directly involved.

Roles and Jobs of Roman Women
The role of the vast majority of Roman Women was as the supportive wife to her husband. However, some free Roman women did perform duties and the roles of teachers, secretaries and saleswomen. There is also evidence of female doctors. One of the most surprising of all roles or jobs undertaken by women were that of Female Gladiators.

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