The Life of Women in Ancient Rome

Are you a Nobles student who is sick of school?

Well, then, you may be envious of Ancient Roman women.

Most women did not receive an education and spent their days developing skills to be a good  housewife after marriage . Even girls from wealthier families only received a rudimentary education before they, too, were married off. Regardless, most girls were at least taught how to maintain conversations to please their husbands.

Are you also a female between the ages of 12 and 19 looking for a significant other? 

If so, you may be jealous again to know that Ancient Roman women in this age range were generally already married!

Often, these marriages were arranged by the paterfamilias (head of the family) in order to put the family in the highest possible social class. As a result, many women ended up marrying men twenty years older. Sometimes, they even married their own fathers!

Still jealous? Well, you may be interested to learn that there were two different types of arranged marriages: “with the hand” and “without the hand.” In a “with the hand” marriage, women retained no legal rights. Women’s property was given to their husbands through a dowry. Additionally, husbands could even control their wives’ right to life or death. This is further demonstrated in Book 6, Chapter 19 of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico when he explains, “Viri in uxores, sicuti in liberos, vitae necisque habent potestam” (the men have the power of life and death over their wives just as over their children). Therefore, a man could impregnate his wife, kill her, take all her money and children, and receive no punishment. However, Caesar goes on to write that when the husband dies, “eius propinqui conventiunt et, de morte si res in suspicionem venit de uxoribus in servilem modum quaestionem habent et, si compertum est, igni atque omnibus tormentis excruciatas interficiunt” (his relatives convene and if the reason of death comes into suspicion, they hold an interrogation with the wives in a slavish manner and if proven, after having been tortured with fire and suffering she is killed). Through this custom, the husband’s relatives are legally allowed to torture and even kill the wife based on their own “suspicionem,” and then take the family’s money and properties. Women married “with the hand” have no voice in their relationship as they are seen as only a dowry to men, and essentially worthless. 

In contrast, in a “without the hand” marriage, there is no dowry, and women possess  slightly greater degree of freedom. However, women ultimately have no identity in Roman society, as they are merely valued as the property of their fathers, husbands, or other male relatives. 

Studying the role of women in Ancient Rome (753 BC- 476 AD) reveals the long history of the objectification of women and the origin of our current society’s stereotypes. With women constricted to solely the role of housewife during these times, even 2773 years later, women still struggle to break out of this social construct and pursue education and their own careers today.

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