History Travels with Nancy Padgett: Seeing History
Women in Ancient Rome: Interesting Facts 

Interesting Facts about Ancient Roman Women

Love and Affairs

Most marriages were arranged for the family's political interests, not love. A "chaste" wife was one who was (politically) loyal to her husband. It wasn't always necessary for a wife to be physically faithful as well. Wives as well as men had affairs, though with more downside risk for the woman.

The Dowry

Legally fathers had to provide their daughters with a dowry to enable them to marry. How large was the dowry? About one year's worth, not very large by later European standards.

Women's Rights and Identity

A Roman woman did not have a unique, identifying name of her own. She usually took the feminine form of her father's family. For example, "Julia" meant a female of the "Julian" family. If a couple had more than one daughter, there could be several "Julias" in the same family.

Family, loyalty, and divorce

Legally, a woman, even after marriage, continued to belong to her father's family, not just to her husband's. Upon divorce, she automatically lost her children to her husband; he would keep them, as they now belonged exclusively to his family.

Mothers, children, and adoption

The purpose of marriage was to produce children. But the rate of infant death in the ancient world was shockingly high, perhaps as much as 75%. Women were perpetually pregnant. Even so, a couple could still end up with no surviving male child. As a remedy, the husband could adopt a male heir, even if the adoptee was an adult, even after death--just name the adoptee in the will.

Notable women

Women did not have the right to a public life, to have a profession, or to be elected to office. Many elite women could read and write. Some were well-educated. Little has survived of their writings.

"Notable women" are known only through legend, myth, and what male writers wrote about them. Most of the love/hate diatribes were directed at those at the very top of the pyramid, the wives and mothers of the Roman Emperors. Writers were either strongly opposed or strongly supportive of the Emperor.

Even less is known of lives of women outside the political and social elite. Funerary inscriptions, background figures in art, and passing references in general literature are about it.

Daily Life: To See and Be Seen

In the ancient Greek world, elite, married women were considered bound to the home. But in Rome, wives of the political elite could be seen in public, if escorted.  But there were limits:  a Roman female was not free to go out alone where she wanted when she wanted. Could she go and see the world? Forget it--respectable Roman women did not travel to distant lands.

Updated 04-August-2015. You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at NJPadgett@gmail.com