The role of women in the early Roman Empire is much different than the roles of women today. In the early Roman Empire, women were not given many rights, with Roman law not concerning women as equal to men. In the Roman Empire, women were not allowed to participate in the political areas either. Very few Roman women, mainly the wealthy and those with a high social status enjoyed the freedom on owning a business. For example, one Roman woman made lamps, while others conducted their own businesses as midwifes, hair stylists or even doctors.
This research paper will speak of several aspects of the Roman woman, childhood, adulthood, marriage, housing, family life and fashion. Childhood of Roman Women Roman children played a number of games, and their toys are known from archaeology and literary sources. Girls are depicted in Roman art as playing many of the same games as boys, such as ball, hoop-rolling, and knucklebones. Dolls are sometimes found in the tombs of those who died before adulthood. The figures are typically 15–16 cm tall (about half the height of a Barbie doll), with jointed limbs, and made of materials such as wood, terracotta, and especially bone and ivory.
Girls coming of age dedicated their dolls to Diana, the goddess most concerned with girlhood, or to Venus when they were preparing for marriage. Some and perhaps many girls went to a public primary school. Children of the elite were taught Greek as well as Latin from an early age. Children of both genders learned to behave socially by attending dinner parties and other events. Girls did receive some informal education inside the home, learning to read and write. Both parents would often play the role of educator; unfortunately it was frowned upon for a girl to be too educated.
Girls from the lower classes of life would receive just enough education to aid them with running small businesses, like dressmaking, or becoming a sales woman. The skills a Roman girl needed to run a household required training, and mothers probably passed on their knowledge to their daughters in a manner appropriate to their station in life, given the emphasis in Roman society on traditionalism (Pinchuk). Adulthood Since Roman women often times married at extremely early ages, not much is said about single adulthood.
Although women were considered citizens, they were not allowed to vote or hold any political offices. The only genuine control that women had was over their connections with family and friends. Women were expected to know their place, remain modest, be tireless, loyal and obedient to their families-emotionally, physically and financially. That was what Roman men were looking for in a wife (Mason). Marriage and Family Life Marriages in Roman times did not carry any romantic undertones, as they do today.
Roman women, still often very young girls, were usually married by the time they reached puberty, and unfortunately, the life expectancy was not very high, as compared to the lives of women today. In Roman times, marriages were pre-arranged between families, and most likely included a dowry, in these cases, a gift from the brides’ family for the groom. The dowry was meant to serve as the wife-to-be’s contribution to the new household. Roman marriages did not require elaborate wedding ceremonies, like today. The ceremonies were quite simple or there was no formal ceremony at all, like we have today.
A person capable of declaring the power to be legally married was not necessary in Roman times. There were only four things necessary to be married: 1. both parties must be free citizens and past the age of puberty; they must intend to and consent to being husband and wife and they must have the consent of any relevant guardian. 2. The bride must then be escorted to her new husband’s home, and it is this deed that actually completed the marriage. 3. Written documentation of a wedding was not necessary and sleeping together did not make a marriage. . Separation did not break one up, what counted was the intent of the individuals involved (B. M. James C. Thompson). Women were expected to have as many babies as they could, because there were never sure how many of the children would reach maturity. Many women died in childbirth or because they were weakened from having too many children without reprieve, or rest (Mason). Infertility was a ground for divorce, and women would often offer a divorce, so that their husbands would have the opportunity to have children with someone else.
Women really did not have any authority over their children. Husbands had the authority to decide whether a child survived, and the wife would not overrule her husband, if he decided to “expose” a child. At birth, a child was deposited at the feet of the father. He-without explanation or justification- either recognized the child as his by picking it up, or withheld his recognition by leaving it where it was. The recognized child became a member of the family; the unrecognized child was abandoned to the river or left to die by starvation. Divorce
When or if marriages dissolved, unfortunately, women did not have many legal rights over children or property. Any man or woman, who wished to divorce, could simply send the spouse a letter or even by declaring in front of witnesses that the marriage was over. There was no such thing as joint marital property and any children of the marriage belonged to the father. If the husband initiated the divorce, he must return the full dowry (B. M. James C. Thompson). There were a number of additional reasons that a woman in the eastern half of the empire could get a unilateral divorce without any penalty.
If her husband plotted to murder her, whipped her, brought prostitutes into the family home or had an affair with a married woman, then a wife could divorce her husband and recover her dowry (B. M. James C. Thompson). Housing When a woman married she moved to her husband’s home: never the other way round. Since young people entering into their first marriage invariably stayed within their class, the home the new bride entered would not be dissimilar to her old one. The richer they were, of course, the larger and grander the accommodations would be, but there were no prestige neighborhoods and a palatial home could be surrounded by a slum.
The residents would have nothing to do with each other, but the very rich and the very poor could be neighbors, perhaps as we will see in a moment even living in the same building. Other than a door at the front, the outer wall of a detached, single family dwelling was an unbroken perimeter completely enclosing a house whose inside rooms all opened onto an unroofed courtyard in the center. The size of the building determined the number of rooms that could be lined up along each side.
If such a house were located on a busy, down-town street there might be one or more shops across the front, to provide some extra income. From the front and side walls the roof over the front half of the house sloped upward as you would expect, but before it could reach a peak at the top, the slope turned down until it reached a rectangular opening that allowed rainwater to drain into a pool whose size and location on the ground exactly matched. The open-air courtyard in the rear half of the house had a garden, perhaps a pond, and provided light and fresh air to all of the rooms that surrounded it.
While it would not have worked in a location with cold, snowy winters, the design allowed residents to enjoy fresh air and sunlight and still keep inquisitive eyes out. A private unit in a multi-story apartment building was the best that most urban dwellers could expect. These structures generally occupied a full city block and could on occasion be as much as six stories tall forcing the bride whose new home was on the top floor to make quite a climb every day without an elevator, although if her new home were on the ground floor, she could possibly have a residence only slightly down the scale from a detached mansion.
Most of these apartment buildings, called insulae by the Romans, were rectangular structures built around a central courtyard. While the earliest ones built of mud-brick, gravel fill, and timbers, were subject to sudden collapse, building codes in Rome were gradually strengthened and the workmanship improved. The invention and use of fired bricks added considerably to safety, but conflagration remained an ever-present danger. The ground floor often consisted of shops opening onto the street.
Most of these had a loft which could be used as a residence by some of the employees. Occasionally the entire ground floor was occupied by a single family, providing a standard of magnificence not too far removed from the fully detached dwelling. The level of luxury was, of course, directly related to the amount of rent a family could afford to pay. The more you spent, the more rooms you got, the better built and safer was the building you were in, and the closer to the ground was your apartment.
Those close to the ground could have 4 or 5 rooms while the ones on the top floor had only a single, small room. Running water was a convenience usually restricted to the ground floor forcing everyone else to get their water in the courtyard or at a public fountain. Ground level apartments might have private lavatories, but most people had to use a chamber pot and then dump their waste down a chute at the end of the hall. Since the law code contained measures that could be taken by passersby hit on the head with waste, it must be assumed that such occurrences were not unknown.
Detached houses and the ground-floor apartments had heated floors to keep residents warm in the winter, but no such luxury was available higher up, where heating and cooking were accomplished with a charcoal brazier. As is the case even today, the need for windows and access to light had a strong influence on the design of the units in an apartment building. A popular layout for those with the money to pay for it featured two large rooms at either end, joined by a wide hall stretching across the front of the building and providing living space, light and access to several smaller bedrooms.
If the terms of the lease permitted it, some families took in lodgers to help pay the rent, but such a step was too risky for some as the law clearly held the leaseholder liable should anyone in his unit cause injury by throwing waste out the window. There was less furniture in the homes of all classes in Ancient Rome than we would expect to find today. Probably the most important item was the bed, usually consisting of legs, a wooden frame, leather straps and a set of cushions or blankets that served as a couch in the daytime and a place to sleep at night.
Chairs were few in number and used only by honored guests and the elderly, leaving most people to sit on folding stools. A table and boxes for storage completed the inventory of furniture. By our standards, there was not much: the rich distinguished themselves not by the quantity of pieces but by the quality of workmanship and materials in their furniture and by the value of the frescoes and mosaics (B. M. James C. Thompson). Fashion and Attire Ancient Roman women took immense pleasure in the way they dressed.
They often wore make-up and made different concoctions for their skin. Women used white chalk to whiten their faces, or rouge made of lead or carmine, or red color, to add color to their cheeks, as well as using lead to highlight their eyes, and spent much time arranging their hair and often dyed it black, red or blonde (Pinchuk). Throughout the duration of both the Republic and the Empire the tunica was a standard item in every woman’s wardrobe. It tended to be long, floor length in fact for matrons, but color, eight, fabric, texture, fit, sleeves and method of construction varied according to social class and the dictates of fashion. In its simplest form the tunica was a rectangular piece of cloth sown in a way that formed a tube with slits for the head and arms. Stitching across the shoulders was usually done so as to allow the front of the dress to be a little wider than the back, letting the neckline droop and form a V. Two identical rectangles could be sown together in the same way to produce a similar tunic.
It is possible to weave a piece of cloth so that the top portion is wide enough to extend from one outstretched hand to another while the bottom portion is narrow enough to make half a tube dress. Sew two such pieces together and the result is a tunic with sleeves. A popular variation involved stitching the bottoms of the sleeves but tying the tops only at intervals, producing what has become known as the gap-sleeved tunic. This version is known to us only through art work and the nature of the fastenings has been the subject of much speculation.
The Romans loved color and made use of it whenever possible. Clothing was labor intensive and very expensive, and colored garments were even more so. As might be expected, slaves and the poor wore the cheapest clothing possible. A belt was the most common accessory. Sometimes made of fabric and in the late Empire even leather, belts were usually cord and almost always tied under the bust rather than at the waist as is common today (B. M. James C. Thompson) . If the weather required it, a woman could wear an extra, short sleeved tunica as an undergarment for additional warmth or add a palla to her costume.
The palla was a large square of material that could be folded in half and draped in a variety of ways over the shoulder or pulled atop the head for extra warmth. It was used by a Roman in much the same way a modern woman uses a stole. Except for a few who deliberately cut their hair short to accommodate the wigs they wore every day and the slaves who lost it to make wigs for others, almost all adult Roman women wore their hair long. Instead of letting it fall over their shoulders, hair was plaited, folded and tied to the head.
The specifics of how this was accomplished was subject to the whims of fashion. When a new Emperor ascended the throne his wife’s favorite hairstyle spread quickly through the city and more slowly but just as inexorably to the farthest corners of the Empire. At times in the early Republic women simply parted their hair in the middle, pulled it back on the sides and tied it in a chignon. In the First Century a popular alternative to the chignon saw the ends of the hair rolled in numerous tight curls on the forehead and down the sides of the head.
In the Empire hairstyles got so complex that the fashionable upper-class women kept a specially trained slave to do nothing but her hair. At times this involved piling the hair on layer after layer of pads until it reached a high peak at the centre. Hair dyes were available. Blond and red were particularly popular colors. Wigs were available to those who needed them and had the money. Ovid, a Roman poet and contemporary of Augustus, wrote The Art of Love in which he claimed to teach men and women how to be attractive to each other.
Discounting the poetic style which probably has only limited appeal to modern readers, how up to date is the advice? If Ovid passed through a time warp and showed up today, some two thousand years later, willing to write a revised edition of his poem in contemporary English, what changes would he have to make in his counsel? Beauty, he argued, is a gift offered to some and denied to others, but art can easily replace anything that nature left out. Dress well but avoid too much brocade or embroidery for overly rich apparel checks desire.
Cleanliness is most important. Hair should match the face: a woman with a long face should avoid piling her hair too high on top of her head and a woman with a round face should not let her hair hide her ears. A woman whose hair has begun to turn grey should use herbal juices to color it and restore her youthful appearance. Many dyes are available to color clothing, but a woman should pay less attention to trying to impress through the use of expensive dyes and more attention to choosing colors that match her hair and skin tone.
Use art to repair a face, and let people see the end result but not the means by which the result was achieved. A face dripping with melted grease is not a pleasant thing to see. Finally, of course, said Ovid, a woman should not clean her furry teeth when men are watching (B. M. James C. Thompson). Works Cited James C. Thompson, B. A. , M. Ed. DIVORCE IN ANCIENT ROME. July 2010. December 2011 <http://www. womenintheancientworld. com/divorceinancientrome. htm>. James C. Thompson, B. A. , M. Ed. WOMEN IN THE ANCIENT WORLD-Fashion. July 2010. December 2011 <http://www. omenintheancientworld. com/womenandfashion. htm>. —. WOMEN IN THE ANCIENT WORLD-Housing. July 2010. December 2011 <http://www. womenintheancientworld. com/housinginancientrome. htm>. —. WOMEN IN THE ANCIENT WORLD-Marriage. July 2010. December 2011 <http://www. womenintheancientworld. com/marriageinancientrome. htm>. Mason, Moya. Ancient Roman Women: A Look at Their Lives. 2011. 01 December 2011 <http://www. moyak. com/papers/roman-women. html>. Pinchuk, Maryana. Women in Ancient Rome. n. d. December 2011 <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Women_in_Ancient_Rome>.