The role of women in ancient Rome is not easily categorized; in some ways they were treated better than women in ancient Greece, but in other matters they were only allowed a very modest degree of rights and privileges. One thing that does seem clear is that as the city-state of Rome evolved from its early days into a more complex society; women were not always limited to secondary roles. In some areas of Roman society, women were allowed more freedoms than in many other ancient civilizations.
This paper will explore the historical research that indicates what roles women were allowed to play in Rome, including the Ellis textbook for some of the basic facts. Additional research information comes from another book by Bauman which contained some more detailed information on the topic of the role of women in government and politics in Rome. I also used three internet websites, one of which is an encyclopedia (Wikipedia) for general overview information, and the other two of which are highly respected organizations, PBS and BBC. I also accessed two articles from the EBSCO Academic Search Complete library databases which helped me to understand some of the complexity of trying to explain the role of women in Rome.
I was surprised at some of the facts I discovered while researching this paper topic. It is not a “black and white” simple answer topic; explaining the role of women is more complicated than that. During the early years of Rome, the role of the woman was minimal; however as Rome evolved so too did the place of women in Roman society. Rome, and its men, eventually grew to understand that women could be helpful, indeed, more than that, they could be a working partner in a successful family, or business, or even a city-state. In some ways, Roman women eventually occupied a role that women would not hold in most countries until the 20th century, and even today, some nations still exist that limit the role of women much more severely than did Rome, for example, some of the Islamic nations.
Early Years during the Roman Republic
The role of women in ancient Rome started out initially to be a limited one, primarily which consisted of being at home with the family. Furthermore, the man was the head of the household, and his authority was not challenged by his wife; she was expected to take a secondary role. This original role for women is often the lasting image that people have.
Under original Roman law women went from the authority of their fathers to the authority of their husbands, and a woman was required to have a male supervise her finances. However, by about the beginning of the 1st Century BC women began to achieve greater freedom.
Therefore, general assumptions to one extreme or the other on the status of women in the ancient world of Rome are difficult, because theory and reality were often far apart. For example, whereas Greek men usually regarded their wives as unimportant,...