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Ho did Roman society's expectations of women in the first century AD differ from those of society in Britain today?

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Introduction

How did Roman society's expectations of women in the first century AD differ from those of society in Britain today? In a letter informing a friend of a young girl's death, Pliny praises the girl for having the "judgement" and "dignity" of older women. He comments on the fact that she preferred reading to playing, and mentions that when she did play she did so "demurely". Pliny also admired her for her bravery and for the respect and affection she showed her father's friends and her teachers. This shows that in Roman society girls were expected to mature early, and to socialise with adults and read instead of participating in childish games because they were supposed to be unnoticed, and not cause their fathers any embarrassment. There are similarities between these expectations, and those which Britain's society has of girls; reading is still seen as an admirable pursuit today, and being able to socialise with adults is a good quality to have. However today girls are frowned upon for growing up too quickly, which is very different to Roman views. Sallust's critiscism of Sempronia for being too educated, and the lack of mention of girls in the account of a school day show that it was unusual for girls to receive more then a basic, primary education. This was because at that time women were not expected to get jobs, or have careers because their role was as a wife and mother, so they did not need much education. ...read more.

Middle

Roman wives were the property of their husbands, and they had to obey them. Valerius Maximus' account of a man killing his wife for drinking, and not being reproached for it because she "deserved the punishment" shows the power men had over their wives lives. This was because women had to be disciplined so that they did not embarrass their husbands by acting immodestly, or receiving any unwanted attention. In Britain today domestic violence is a crime, and men no longer have such extreme control over their wives existence. Married women were also expected to put up with their husbands affairs. Valerius Maximus praises a women for being tolerant of her husbands adultery, and "completely ignoring" it. Adultery was common in those times because wealthy citizens married for social position, not love, so there was often little affection between a husband and wife. In today's society attitudes towards adultery are very different, because people normally marry for love, and women are not expected to accept the fact that their husbands will have affairs. In the first century AD married women also had to be careful they were not expressing too many opinions, or appearing to have too much knowledge about poetry or ethics, because this was "really annoying." In public women were supposed to be appreciative of their husbands, and not try to upstage, or appear cleverer, than they were, because women were seen as being intellectually inferior to men. ...read more.

Conclusion

Ovid's advice on how women can "appear bright and radiant" by using face masks shows that at that time women used cosmetics to make themselves more attractive so that they could get men's attention. This shows it was men who pursued women, as women had to get their attention through the way they looked. It also suggests that women were desired because of their appearance, not their mind, probably because at the time it was thought that women could not understand the same things as men anyway, so how clever they were was not significant. Although women still use cosmetics nowadays, and are still judged on their appearance, their personality is also important. Legally women in the first century AD had no rights. Their father, or guardian if their father was dead, "deaf, mute or insane", had to authorise all of their lawsuits, "legal or financial obligations" and their transactions in civil business, and they also had to arrange their dowries. This was because it was thought that women could not understand law or business, as they were not clever enough. It is a demonstration of the inferior position that Roman women held in society because it shows that they were treated as if they were children. In Britain today men and women have to have a parent or guardian until they are sixteen, but after that they are legally considered adults so they no longer need a guardian. ...read more.

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