Final Draft

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Naoko Little-Jackson
Bergen/ Downer
English 10-3/ Latin 2-2
27 October 2011
Role of Women in Ancient Rome
Imagine being born female in ancient Rome during a time of war, economic crisis and
hardship. Women in ancient Rome were not expected to do more than be an obedient wife, have
children, and tend to the household duties however Roman women still positively influenced
their home life, politics, and their community by maintaining a visible role in their society.
Having the ability to marry in one’s society provides for basic human rights. Marriage in
ancient Rome was an agreement to live in harmony with one another and to produce children.
There were legal requirements for a marriage to be valid, the three conditions were: consent from
both families, age of puberty, and eligibility to intermarry. Women in Roman society were given
the right to marry however slaves were not because they were not considered Roman citizens.
The duties of the wife in Ancient Rome were to provide for her family. Roman women
did this by maintaining the cleanliness of their household, preparing food, and supporting the
family financially by working. Women took on a major responsibility when transitioning into
being a wife not only because they had to maintain a household but a “big house” required more
work. A “big house” was not based on the size of the home but referred to the large number of
people in one home. A “big house” included the husbands’ family, the wife’s family, their
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children, and the house hold slaves. Not to mention the number of clients that would come in and
out the house daily to have their meetings.
Wives supported their family financially by working in their communities. Some women
produced food from land they owned or received their earrings by spinning yarn for weaving etc.
Women strived to ensure that their family was financially secure: “Women are also documented
borrowing wheat in quantities which suggest that it was intended not merely to provide food for
a household, but to finance a year’s agricultural activities on credit.” (Rowlandson, 221) This
demonstrates that women contributed and provided for their family and possessed important
skills relating to business.
Women in ancient Rome played a huge role in their children’s upbringing. They had a
desire to teach their children values and morals. These values and morals were educational
achievement and teaching young girls how to be a domestic wife. This idea was wide spread, for
instance when Quintilian recommend parents take an active role in their child’s live by stating
the following: “Above all else we must take care that a child who is not yet old enough to love
learning should not come to hate it and to dread, even when he is older, an experience which was
once bitter … Encourage him with the rewards or prizes in which his group age delights.”(JoAnn Shelton, 102) Young girls were taught “a variety of skills which prepared them for their
adult lives as wives and mother’s such as spinning, weaving, clothes-making , the preparation of
food, and the direction of domestic works” (Rowlandson, 299) Women in ancient Rome wanted
their children to prosper in life and they were devoted to their child’s education. In conclusion,
women were influential to their child’s future and played an active role in decision making and
advocating for their children.
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The dynamics between the husband and wife were “ a husband and father rules over the
wife … the male is by nature fitter for command than the female” (Lefkowitz, Fant 38) Males
dominated the marriage and when women entered marriage “She had no legal independence and
no independent property.” (Gardner 67). This demonstrates that the wife was solely defined by
her husband. The role of the women in this exclusive relationship were to also take on the social
status of her husband which also meant to maintain his reputation depending on his rank because
it sometimes included legal implications. Husbands did not have all power over her, he did not
have the right of life or death over her and domestic abuse was not allowed. However women
were still considered property to their husband. “Some husbands made their wives a yearly or
monthly allowance.” (Gardner 69). Although women were given money from their husbands
they still were inferior to men and in some sense treated as children, lacking independence.
Women had no stand in politics. For example, “women are excluded from all civic and
public duties and so they cannot be judges, hold magistracies, bring legal claims for others,
represent others in court, or act as procurators.”(Rowlandson, 457) They were not allowed to
state their opinions but to only to agree. When the Oppian Law was passed which lessened
women’s purchases of luxury items, women began to have strong opinions about the new law
and advocated for themselves. Women proposed a repeal however that was not enough. Women
filled the streets and the forum’s where assemblies were held. They tried to persuade men to vote
for the repeal. However, powerful men such as Marcus Porcuis Cato expressed his dismay
towards the women’s behavior. The fact that women would even propose a repeal and cause
public disruption demonstrates Roman women’s breaking point where they wanted to be heard
and were brave enough to bring attention to an issue they felt strongly about.
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Women in ancient Rome had the same legal standing as men in business life. In 30 BC
the Roman administers categorized land by private and ‘bought land.’ “A slave of either sex, or
a man’s son or daughter, could manage a business on behalf of the owner or pater or work for
hire a third party.” (Gardner 233) Women were comparable to men in business and did not have
to supervised as slaves. Roman male dominated society still sought to hold women down and
hindered them from prospering in the business life. The following demonstrates: “The feeling
that certain functions were properly the province of men, is given also by Callistratus as the
reason that women were not allowed to be bankers.” (Gardner 235) A Man’s perspective of
business life were that the women should be kept only in one area of business and shouldn’t go
any higher than that. On the other hand women of this time could be involved in transactions,
own their own property and administer it themselves, and be considered a working women by
trading, crafting etc. There was a divide between slave girls and “free daughters” because the
slave girls were brought up to trade and free daughters’ were taught how to be a good wife.
Ironically the skills taught to slaves were skills of independence while the skills taught to “free
daughter” were to be a good wife and depend on the husband.
Although a women’s role in Roman society was not as privileged as a man’s role and in
most way overshadowed by their husbands’ role, women still played a very visible role in their
communities. The played an active part in their household and in teaching their children. The
skills that they learned in business and their ability to work in their community gave them the
skills to lead successful lives.
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Works Cited
Shelton, Jo-Ann. As the Roman’s did. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998
Rowlandson, Joe. Women & Society in Greek & Roman Egypt. United Kingdom:
Cambridge University Press, 1998
Lefkowitz and Fant, Mary and Maureen.Women’s life in Greece and Rome. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982
Gardner, Jane. Women in Roman Law & Society. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press,