Women in Ancient Rome: Women were accorded an important place in ancient Roman society. They enjoyed and shared almost equal rights with Roman men and were provided similar opportunities to excel in education, business and trade. Women from higher class of society were invariably educated to a high degree.
Although, women were not entitled to vote or hold a political office, they still played an important role in politics indirectly through their influential male relatives (husbands, fathers, sons and brothers). Roman women openly indulged in business and trade and could own property. However, Roman society did not extend such high status to slave women. These unfortunate women were treated badly by their masters and were tortured and abused. They were considered as the property of their masters and did not have any legal rights.
Standing in Family: Roman women were considered equal to their male siblings by their parents. They were a part of family just like sons and were subject to the overall authority of their fathers, called ‘pater familias’, just like their brothers. In case the father died without a will, daughters had the right to receive share of inheritance equal to that of sons. After marriage most women did not change their family names and were expected to remain loyal to their ‘pater familias’ even at the cost of deference to their husbands.
Married Roman women were given the responsibility to run the household and manage everyday affairs of estates and households. Many women married to influential Roman men managed domestic affairs during prolonged absence of their husbands which was very common as they indulged in lengthy military campaigns and travelling around the empire.
Law: Roman women enjoyed considerable rights in the law. Apart from the right of equal inheritance they were also protected against domestic abuse by the law. Women who were victims of domestic abuse could seek divorce or legal action against their husbands. Women were allowed to own property and write their own wills. If a head of a family denied share to a female offspring in his will without any solid reason, it could be challenged in the court of law.
Politics: Roman women were not allowed to vote or hold a political office. However, many women indirectly played an important role in political matters. They influenced decision making through their association with ruling men. Livia Drusilla Augusta, wife of Emperor Augustus, was a very powerful and influential woman, and is remembered in history for her role as a regent and advisor of her husband.
Agrippina the Younger was another very prominent woman in Roman history. She was the sister of Emperor Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius and mother of Emperor Nero. She played a very significant part in the politics during the time of Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Religion: Roman women actively participated in the religious ceremonies and festivals. However, male clerics were far greater in number. Women were also not allowed to carry out the all important ritual of sacrifice during these religious ceremonies. The most important religious appointment reserved for women alone was the college of ‘Vestal Virgins’. It comprised of six female priests who were responsible for ensuring correct observance of religion. They were accorded great respect and were seated alongside the imperial family during public events.
Daily Life: Roman women were responsible for managing the daily affairs of their households. They were expected to use the slave force at their disposal for keeping their residential complexes and homes clean and well maintained. They were also responsible for entertaining guests and visitors. They looked after the cloth production in their household, which was a very important aspect of their duties.
They ensured that good quality wool was spun in adequate quantity to meet their family and household’s needs. When the husband was not present, women were also burdened with the responsibility to look after the estates and properties. Women regularly gathered in streets to meet each other and visited markets for purchasing supplies. They also frequently visited public baths and socialized there. Roman women also indulged in fashion and groomed themselves for social gatherings by applying makeup to look beautiful.