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Status of Roman woman

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Woman in ancient Rome certainly had much more free life than in Greece. For example, during the classical period (up to 323 BCE), Greek women not only did not have civil rights, but they were also under the rule of a man. First, fathers, later husbands, from whom they were completely dependent. The whole life of an Athenian woman was limited to focusing on the home and children; on weekdays the woman was locked in her room, and only during the holidays she could leave hit. The relative improvement of the Greek woman’s status took place in the Hellenic period (323-30 BCE).

Roman woman could not neither vote in elections nor hold public offices, and just like in Greece they were under the so-called patria potestas (“father’s power”), which was valid until father’s death. In the simplest terms, father had over his daughter and other children the law of life and death. He could have given his child a mancipium, rented or pledged. In the end, he could even sell them into slavery (“beyond Tiber”) – ius vendendi. He consented to the marriage of a child subjected to him and could it dissolved in certain circumstances.

According to Roman messages, there was a law permitting her husband to kill his wife with a stick, once she drink a glass of wine. It seems to be, however, only a myth, because we have no example of such a situation. What’s more, the woman did not take her husband’s name and did not go completely under his control.

In comparison with Greece, in Rome women had certain social amenities. After the death of her father, an adult woman could:

  • own property, buy and sell, run a business, inherit, take out loans, make a will or release slaves (many of these rights were obtained by women only in the 19th century in England);
  • overtake priesthood positions (vestals, for example, were not under paternal authority and did not have to sacrifice themselves with bringing up children and dealing with the household);
  • share the father’s estate with her brothers;
  • fight as one of the gladiators (so-called gladiatrix – rarely but nevertheless);
  • go to a public school, which is worth emphasizing, was coeducational. There, women learned the basics of Latin and other useful things up to the age of 12.
  • devote to the development of body, and even start in athletic competitions.
Sources
  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016
  • Koper Sławomir, Życie prywatne i erotyczne w starożytnej Grecji i Rzymie, Warszawa 1998

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