• Almost all the information we have about Roman women derives from elite Roman males
  • Usually women we portrayed stereotypically
    • Chaste wives, mothers, daughters
    • Evil seductresses, scheming power-mongers

Women and Public Life

  • Women had no political rights
  • They could not vote
  • They could not be elected magistrates
  • Could exemplify an idea
    • Embody the values of the state
    • Self-sacrifice to preserve those ideal
  • Some women did play a role in political life
    • Through the men in their lives (e.g. Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi)
    • In their own right (e.g. Servilla, lover and friend of Julius Caesar and mother of Brutus, who chaired political meetings in a time of crisis)
  • Livia (Augustus’ wife) combined virtuous and old-fashioned behaviour with a very active political agenda
  • Roman men considered women frail and weal of mind, and so could not participate in business
    • They required a legal guardian (tutor -> safekeeper

§  Cf. the kyrios of Greece

  • The reality was that they worked independently of their tutores
  • Cicero’s wife Terentia managed the household finances
    • His daughter Tullia was a keen student of philosophy

The Married Ideal

Women typically married in their teens

  • Husbands were 10-15 YEARS OLDER

§  SIX CHILDREN ON AVERAGE (3 would die)

Ideally a woman would be married to one man and, after his death, remain devoted to his memory (UNIUIRA)

The chaste (casta or pudica) uniuira is a highly praised ideal!


In reality… divorces and remarriages were common!

MARRIAGE… The MOST important way of creating alliances between households

  • Among the elite these alliances would be political
  • Among the lower classes they would often be more practical


Matrimonium was an institution for making mothers (matres)

Children “than which nothing is more dear to the human race” (Livy)

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