How important was a woman's role in the family in Rome and what was her Status in society?

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How important was a woman’s role in the family in Rome and what was her Status in society?

        In this essay I am going to look at how women affected the society of Rome. I will explore their responsibilities in the home and their duties as wife and mother. I will also focus on marriage and divorce in Roman times and the status women had at the time comparing the rich and poor women. I will be examining the evidence I find in poems, books and pictures in order to support the points I will make.


I will firstly focus on marriage, in this topic I will cover engagement, ceremonies and traditions of the time.

        Engagement was a lot more complicated than today as in wealthy families the custom was an arranged marriage where the girls father would have chosen a suitable man for his daughter, the decision was not based on character but more his families social status. This was because the fathers main aim was for the daughter to achieve a high social status so that his family would not loose their status. We can see this in this quote

What prospective son-in-law ever appeared acceptable if he was short of cash to match the girls dowry?”      (Juvenal:Satires III.160)

 There was a formal method for engagement which included written documentation signed by witnesses. We can see from the picture an engagement ring which would have been worn on the third finger just like today. The engagement or betrothal ring shows two clasped hands joined together.

There was also an engagement party (sponsalia) where both families made speeches to find the advantages of the relationship but unfortunately engagements were often broken off.

        The ceremony of the wedding was planned with great care avoiding any unlucky days such as days linked with Roman disasters that may bring bad luck to the couple. The most common time for weddings was late June. On the morning of the wedding the bride gave her family her childhood possessions this represented her moving on to a new family. Her hair was styled and held in place with ribbons and she wore a long gown (usually a jacket or tunic) held in place with a traditional knot tying a belt around her waist. She wore a headdress made from flowers which sat on her head and she would have also worn a veil but it would not have covered her face.  At the start of the ceremony an animal would have been sacrificed to draw the god’s attention to the proceedings. Then the couple signed the marriage contract along with the witnesses. The bride would then have been led to the altar by her bridesmaid (pronuba).

Then the bride and groom joined right hands as shown in the picture. The picture also shows the typical clothes worn by the bride at the wedding as I explained previously. This was very traditional and a significant act in the ceremony. Then the vows would have been given and after this the reception would begin. The celebrations usually finished in the early hours after a lot of food and wine had been consumed. When it was time for the couple to go home the couple were followed by torch bearers and flute players through the streets. The guests and any passers by would shout greetings and good wishes whilst the husband scattered coins around him and children gathered these up. Once at their house the bride would smear fat on the doorposts then her husband would pick her up and carry her across the threshold. This usually did not happen if it was the second marriage for either the bride or the groom. Instead there was a less elaborate ceremony with fewer guests.

        From this we can see there were many traditions in engagement and the wedding ceremonies, some like today but others completely different, it has showed me that women  didn’t have as many rights to decide who they married especially if they were in a richer class.

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Next I am going to explore divorce which is the opposite to marriage. I will look at who gets custody over the children and the woman’s rights along with how frequently divorce happened in Rome. Marriages failed for many reasons in roman times the main reason being childlessness but there were others such as constant quarrelling and objectionable behaviour. Cicero wrote about his brother and wife;

        “We lunched at Arcanum. When we arrived, Quintus said quite politely, “Pomponia, you invite the women and I will call the slaves together.” There was nothing to get angry about in my ...

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