Roman Families

familyWomen in Ancient Rome: For Romans, family and its structure were very important. Family was considered the basic unit of a Roman society. Romans were identified by their family background and history. Noble and rich citizens took pride in their illustrious predecessors and honored their legacy through various means.

Roman families lived together in one house or appartment and were centered on a father figure called ‘Pater Familias’. Pater familias was always the oldest male of the family. He could be a grandfather, father, elder brother and uncle. Other members included wife, unmarried sons and daughters, married sons and their wives. Married daughters lived with their husband’s family. However, even married daughters were expected to be more loyal to their father than their husbands.

Pater Familias: Roman families were exclusively ruled by the oldest male of the family. He was called pater familias. A pater familias had absolute authority over all members of his family. He could punish them, exile them, beat them or even kill them and no questions were asked. They owned all the property of the family. However, these father figures of family were expected to treat their family members justly, kindly and compassionately.

Romans disliked unjust and cruel pater familias. Pater familias were responsible for the conduct of all the family members. If one member got involved in some crime, the pater familias had to pay off the fine and face the consequences. They were responsible for teaching trade and business to young males of the family. They also imparted social grooming to them.

Women: Roman women enjoyed considerable rights in the law. Their role in family was to take care of housekeeping and manage other house hold affairs. They were also expected to teach young females of the family the art of home keeping. They trained them in manners and duties of motherhood. Some women exerted considerable influence in the family affairs and were consulted by their husbands over important issues.

Children: Children were treated very gently by the elder members of the family. Both male and female off springs were provided equal opportunities of education and were given equal share in inheritance. They were taught to obey their elders and act upon their orders. Roman elders did not tolerate a young one misbehaving with elders. Pater familias exiled ill mannered youngsters from the family.

Elders: Romans respected their elders and consulted them in important matters. Male elders generally acted as pater familias till their death or terminal illness. Elders were provided with comfortable living and were well looked after. Romans honored the legacy of their deceased elders by arranging special commemorative gladiator games (called munus) in their honor. Rich and powerful Romans spent a huge sum on such ceremonies and invited all the citizens of their city to attend the ceremonies.

Slaves: Although Romans considered slaves as property of the family and not members, they were still a part of a Roman family. They were very important for the smooth functioning of family structure. While some Romans took care of their slaves and treated them well, many others committed brutal acts against them. Slaves who worked in the houses were at time close confidants of their masters and were held in high esteem. They attended household chores and helped the lady of the house with housekeeping.