In early Rome, before the third-century BC, children were generally raised by their mothers or a female relative; however, by the first-century BC, this task had largely been passed onto wet nurses and slaves. A girl from an upper-class family would learn the skills of running a household, such as weaving and spinning, from an early age. She would then receive schooling in literature and Roman culture, and would possibly learn to play an instrument. When the girl reached a mature age, she would be trained in the managing of slaves and the budget of a household.
In the writings of the early Roman historian, Tacitus, refers to the changing role of women in society by stating “in the old days, every man’s son, the child of his loyal wife, was brought up not in the room of some hired nurse, but in the lap of his own mother… But nowadays the infant is handed over to some little Greek slave-girl. ” Women were initially, in early Rome, given little individual freedom from men; however, by the first century BC, women began to experience greater freedom in a variety of roles.
The law of ‘sui iuiras’ was introduced by the time of the Emperor Augustus, this law stated that a ‘matrona’, married woman, with three children or more, or a freedwoman with more than four children, would be legally independent, not requiring a guardian, if their husband died. As slaves became more prevalent in Rome, women were freed from their domestic duties and were allowed the freedom to attend more social events away from the home; some women also became managers of small businesses. By first-century BC, women had also been granted the right to divorce their husbands.
Women were not; however, allowed to vote or run for public office, and this underpinned their status in society as being lower than men. Commenting from a male perspective on the changing status of women, Juvenal stated “If you’re looking for a woman with decent old-fashioned moral standards, you must be out of your mind. ” Women had a number of important roles in the daily routine of Roman life. They were expected to oversee the smooth running of the household by ensuring that slaves were performing their duties well and, if that was not the case, to discipline them; omen were also responsible for shopping to provide for the family.
Women were quite active socially and regularly received visitors, or made visits themselves to other households. During meals were guests were invited, women were expected to act with gentility and would therefore sit with an upright posture, instead of reclining as did her male counterparts. This extract from epitaph written in the first-century BC gives an illustration of a woman’s role in Roman society, “She loved her husband with her heart: she bore two sons… With charming conversation, then indeed with a fine way of walking, she looked after the house. She made wool. I have spoken.
Go your way. ” These factors combined to situate women in a particular social standing in Roman society. Initially, in early Rome, women had a much lower social standing then they later attained, and were valued for their ability to bear children. However, by the first-century BC, Roman society had adopted a much more progressive stance on the role of women, and they were now allowed much more freedom and were considered more important in daily life. This was reflected as some women now began to venture into opening small businesses, and other women also attained independence from male guardians.
Women were still considered to be subservient to men in social standing and remained barred from involvement in politics. However, in the household, a woman was the materfamilias, or ‘head of the house’, and was considered to be equal to her husband; this was shown in women being allowed to join in festivities, and in meals with invited guests. In conclusion, women in Roman society were considered subservient to men, but this social status began to weaken as Rome entered a time of progression towards closer equality between third and first centuries BC.
Roman girls were trained in the traditional skills of Roman women, such as managing a house, weaving and spinning yarn. Women in Rome did not enjoy the same privileged legal rights as men did and were not given choice to vote or run for public office, but they were granted more legal rights as Roman society progressed into the first-century. The daily routine of an upper-class Roman woman would consist of overseeing the smooth run of the household, managing slaves, and social visits.