Matrons, Plebeians And Prostitutes, The Women Of Ancient Rome

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Roman Street Scene by Ettore Forti (late 19th century) (Public Domain)

Matrons, Plebeians And Prostitutes, The Women Of Ancient Rome

Rome was the very essence of a male dominated society, being militaristic, proud, go-getting and determined on expansion. The man of the house, the Paterfamilias, was the head of the family with absolute control over his wife and children, and in earlier times he even had the right to kill, in certain circumstances, without suffering punishment for it. The Roman woman of status carried the feminine form of her family’s name, even if there were several daughters within that family. The daughters would be differentiated by diminutives or by nicknames. This was further evidence of the lack of individuality allowed to women. So where did the Roman woman fit in, both within the family unit and in the wider social world?

Roman children enjoying a bath in an affluent private villa, by Ettore Forti (19th century) (Public Domain)

Roman children enjoying a bath in an affluent private villa, by Ettore Forti (19th century) (Public Domain)

Roman Children

As a child she would be taught obedience and her duty towards her natural family, which carried the expectation that she would do nothing to disgrace herself or them. If from a wealthy family she would have her marriage arranged for that family’s political or financial benefit, with sentiment pushed aside, and it would be an arrangement from which children, to carry on the name of the husband’s family, would be expected. If the marriage proved to be barren, then the husband could “adopt” a son to carry on the family name, often from another branch of the same family. Adopting a daughter would have been very unlikely.


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