Women In Ancient Rome

In theory Roman women were little better off than their sisters in Athens. Under Roman law women went from the authority of their fathers to the authority of their husbands, and even a wealthy, old widow needed a male to supervise her finances, but by the beginning of the First Century BCE women began to achieve greater freedom in practice if not intheory. 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. Athenian men 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 notime in Rome’s history were women allowed to hold office. In the early days of the Republic women were not even allowed to make suggestions. By the beginning of the Empire many men were seeking and 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 bewandering around alone outside, but somehow they managed to have a life beyond the home. 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 protestwere in vain. Emperor Augustus introduced a series of laws to promote traditional values but even he was unable to stem the tide of progress. It is interesting to see the same issues being argued about two thousand years later.

CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING FOR INFORMATION ON THE LIVES OF WOMEN IN SPECIFIC AREAS OF ANCIENT ROME The Augustan Reformation Intrigue and the Emperor’s Women Julia, Daughter ofAugustus Justinian’s Law as it Applied to Women and Families Legal Status of Women in Ancient Rome Vestal Virgins Women and Marriage in Ancient Rome Women and Slavery in Ancient Rome[3/31/2010 7:02:48 PM]

Women In Ancient Rome

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Augustus became the ruler of Rome and its empire at the end of a long and bitter civil war. A competent general (he was the only one standing at the end of the war), he transformed himself into a brilliant statesman and created political institutions that would rule Rome for centuries. His political and economic reforms were very successful and earned himthe gratitude of the Roman people; however, as Will Durant in The Story of Civilization said, «He destroyed his own happiness by trying to make people good as well as happy; it was an imposition that Rome never forgave…» The extension of citizenship as a means of gaining support for political reforms; the increasing tendency to emancipate slaves whose children automatically acquired Romancitizenship; the low marriage and birth rates among native Romans—all of these things were causing a major shift in the racial balance. Augustus was convinced that Rome’s success depended on the self discipline, morality , and dedication that could be found only in the native born, aristocratic Roman: this class had declined considerably in number, scorned marriage, and allowed its women far too muchfreedom.

Restrictions were placed on the attendance of women at public spectacles. A father could kill his daughter and her lover if he caught them in the act of adultery. In his own home, a husband could kill his wife and her lover if he caught them in the act of adultery. A husband must divorce his wife within 60 days if it is proven she has committed adultery….