Women in ancient Rome lived very different lives to women today. They played an important role in society and culture but were considered second class citizens.
Women could not vote, work in politics or choose who they wanted to marry. Regardless of their age, women had to have an adult male guardian – this could be their grandfather, father, husband or even their eldest son!
Although women could not vote or hold office (i.e. work in a position in government), they often influenced politics through their husbands or male family.
Women would advise their husbands on important laws and debates in government. For example, Livia Drusilla Augusta was the wife of Emperor Augustus and advised him on how to rule the Roman Empire.
Before marriage, girls were considered equal to their brothers. All children had to obey their father – the pater familias – and they received an equal share of the inheritance if their father died without a will.
The pater familias was the oldest man in the house and owned everything in it. They were responsible for educating the young men of the house and for arranging marriages of the women.
At around 14 or 15 years old, girls were considered women and married off. Once married, women had even fewer rights than before!
In the early years of Rome, the husband had all legal rights over the children and the women were considered property. However, this changed in around 27 BC, just before Rome became an empire.
Married women were expected to run the household. Like with men, the oldest woman in the house was called the mater familias. The wealthy used slaves to help kept the house clean and well maintained.
Roman women also were responsible for entertaining guests and visitors, either by organising banquets or hiring musicians. When their husband was away, they ran the estates and properties which involved checking the finances and production of things such as cloth.
Most households produced their own cloth. The women and slaves got good quality wool and then spun it to create cloth for the house.
This cloth was used for clothes, storing food and as a fabric for decorations like rugs. If the household needed something special, women often visited markets to purchase these items.
Roman women took part in religious ceremonies and festivals but they were not allowed to carry out sacrifices. These were the most important rituals and had to be done by men.
If women wanted to hold a religious position, they joined the Vestal Virgins. These were female priests who ensured religion was correctly practiced.
Vestal Virgins were very important people and sat next to the emperor and the emperor’s family for important events. They never married or had children themselves.
Facts about Women in Ancient Rome
- Women could not vote, work in politics or have a say in who they married.
- Women influenced politics through their husbands by advising them on rules and business.
- The pater familias was the male head of the family and the oldest man in the house.
- The pater familias organised education for the boys and marriages for the girls.
- Women were married around 15 years old and were expected to run the household.
- Married women organised banquets and entertained guests in their house.
- Households produced their own cloth to make their clothes.
- The Vestal Virgins made sure religion was correctly practiced and sat next to the emperor at important events.
- Who was the mater familias?
The mother or eldest woman in the household.
- What could women not do in ancient Rome?
Vote, work in politics or arrange their own marriage.
- Why did women influence their husband’s work?
Women could not hold office themselves so worked in politics through their husband.
- How were women involved in religion?
Women could join the Vestal Virgins or take part in religious ceremonies but not run sacrifices.
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