Women in Ancient Rome: Facts, Daily Life & History | Study.com

Women in Ancient Rome: Facts, Daily Life & History

Sarah Bostock
Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In this lesson, you will learn about the difficulties women faced in ancient Rome strictly because of their gender. Additionally, you will understand what daily life was like for the average Roman woman during this time period.

Born a Girl of Ancient Rome

Can you imagine growing up and never having complete freedom? What would it be like for you if the only identity you had belonged to that of your father or husband? Women born in ancient Rome rarely had any identity that wasn't connected to a male family member.

Ancient Rome existed between the 8th century B.C.E. and its fall around the 5th century C.E. Female children of this time and place were born into immediate patriarchal control. Girls were named once they had survived at least eight days, and they were typically named after their father or other male relative. For example, Julius Caesar named his daughter Julia, and many female children were named Augusta after the Emperor Augustus. Once these young girls were married, usually around 14 years of age, they often took a derivative of their husband's name.

Female children rarely received any formal education, especially prior to the 1st century C.E. However, they did learn basic subjects such as reading and mathematics. These skills were considered necessary to help their husbands run businesses and even manage the family finances. Additionally, girls learned the skills of running a household from a very young age as they were expected to do so once married. Daughters would help their mothers with spinning, weaving, and preparing meals as well as tending to the younger children.

The Daily Work of Roman Wives

Once married, women of Ancient Rome were expected to produce children quickly. Birthing children was considered to be the most important responsibility of wives. In fact, those women unable to become pregnant were often divorced by their husbands. It was also the role of a woman to take care of the children along with running the household. Women from more wealthy families had slaves to help them, but it was still the responsibility of the wives to make sure all tasks were completed each day.

In addition to running the home, many women provided services for extra income. Some of the most common professions included hairdressing, midwifery, and shop keeping. A very select few women became priestesses or doctors. Women who practiced medicine were often referred to as medicae.

Females Without a Say in Politics

Women were not allowed to have any active roles in politics. They were not even allowed to express their opinions on the subject in public. Women of ancient Rome could not vote or hold any type of public office, and they were even forbidden to make speeches in public. However, there is some speculation that wives did influence their husbands politically behind closed doors. For instance, Mark Antony's third wife, Fulvia, encouraged her husband in voting for certain political leaders.

Women were seen as the weaker sex and were not allowed to participate in any military services. In fact, they were not allowed to watch military exercises as it was considered inappropriate for the female sex. However, there were instances when women participated in military campaigns, although very little is recorded about them.

Achieving Freedom

Women of Ancient Rome were allowed to have some pleasures during their lives. They were very active in religious activities, and they were allowed to perform religious rituals in public. Furthermore, married women usually attended and were expected to attend religious festivals. Women were also allowed to watch gladiator fights with their husbands. This was one of the most popular forms of entertainment during ancient Rome.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Women in Ancient Rome:

Essay Prompt 1:

In at least two to three paragraphs, write an essay that explains what childhood was like for ancient Roman girls.

Example: Begin your essay by explaining the patriarchal system that ancient Roman girls were born into, and how they were often named after their fathers.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay of approximately three to four paragraphs that explains how societal views of women in ancient Rome shaped their involvement (or lack thereof) in politics and the military.

Example: Women in ancient Rome were viewed as the weaker sex, so they were not even allowed to watch military exercises.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay of about one to two pages that describes some of the pleasures and freedoms afforded to women of ancient Rome. Be sure to discuss the concept of sui iuris, as well as how education for Roman girls improved during the first century of the common era.

Example: The improvements in female education allowed some ancient Roman women, such as Hypatia, to become scholars in subjects like mathematics and philosophy.

List Prompt:

Pretend you are an ancient Roman wife. Make a to-do list of your weekly activities. Get creative, and try to include as many aspects mentioned in the lesson as you can.

Example: 1) Give birth. 2) Attend to shopkeeping.

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