Deleted member 42445
- Apr 23, 2022
- 6d 15h 25m
Romans existed in a society where patriarchal dominance over women wasn't just tradition, but established law. A woman having power was going to be a viewed as a sure sign of the breakdown of society to most of that era. For example, Cato the Elder has some truly delightful things to say on the idea of women being involved in politics, even if it was just asking to be allowed to wear jewelry . . . he basically says it's a short step from that to the women killing them all in their sleep.
Women in the early to mid-Republic were usually known by their family name (nomen). A woman from the gens Aemilia would be called Aemilia; from the gens Cornelia, Cornelia; from the gens Sempronia, Sempronia; and so on. If there were many daughters, a cognomen such as Tertia (Third) could indicate birth order, for example, Aemilia Tertia.
Unlike the romantic weddings of today, marriage in ancient Rome was an arrangement between two families. Like much of Roman society, it was highly structured but also logical and, in some ways, even modern. Marriage in Roman times was often not at all romantic. Rather, it was an agreement between families.
Rome did not regard women as equal to men before the law. They received only a basic education, if any at all, and were subject to the authority of a man. Traditionally, this was their father before marriage.
Freeborn women in ancient Rome were citizens (cives), but could not vote or hold political office.
In many cases Roman women were closely identified with their perceived role in society - the duty of looking after the home and to nurture a family (pietas familiae), in particular, to bear legitimate children, a consequence of which was an early marriage, (sometimes even before puberty but typically around 20 years old), in order to ensure the woman had no sexual history which might embarrass the future husband. The Roman family was male-dominated, typically headed by the most senior male figure (paterfamilias). Women were subordinate and this is reflected in Roman naming practice. Male citizens had three names: praenomen, nomen, and cognomen, whilst all women in the same family were referred to using the feminine version of the family name.
Roman women could be separated (not always absolutely clearly) between those who were considered respectable and those who were not. Many Roman males had the somewhat hypocritical stance that their female relations should be honourable and chaste guardians of morality while at the same time they were more than willing to avail themselves of the services of lovers and prostitutes.
To remind everyone of who was who clothes became a useful tool. Respectable women wore a long dress or stola, a mantle (palla) and had ties in their hair (vittae) whilst prostitutes wore a toga. If a respectable woman was found guilty of adultery, one of the punishments was to wear the toga. It is interesting that women were considered to belong either in one group or the other (there was no third category) but at the same time it was felt necessary to identify them with visual signs lest an embarrassing confusion occurred. The distinction between these two groups was not just a moral one for prostitutes and other lower class women had even fewer rights than women of a higher social status. Prostitutes and waitresses, for example, could not prosecute for rape and the rape of slaves was considered merely as property damage sustained by the owner.
Roman law and social norms were, then, heavily weighted in favour of males but the full practical application of these laws and attitudes in specific cases is often difficult to determine, especially as almost all source material is from a male perspective, and an elite one at that. That women were regarded as inferior in legal terms seems clear but there are also countless texts, inscriptions, and even idealised portrait sculpture which point to the Roman male's appreciation, admiration and even awe of women and their role in everyday life. Roman males did not think women their equal but neither did they hate them. Perhaps the ambivalent attitude of Roman men to their women is best summarised by the words of Metellus Numidicus who was quoted in a speech by Augustus when the emperor addressed the assembly, 'nature has made it so that we can not live with them particularly comfortably, but we can't live without them at all'.