September 29, 2017
Word count: 809
Underprivileged Women as Part of a Hierarchy
Social class in ancient Rome was hierarchical, with the three main classes being patricians, plebeians and slaves. Overall, social class was based on family relationships, wealth, and free status. Gender also played a major role in social status, as seen throughout the works of many ancient authors. Specifically in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome, it is highlighted that being a woman on the lower end of the social status spectrum meant that you had to be more careful and thoughtful of your life decisions because your actions determined the fate of your lifelong reputation, thus suggesting that Romans put emphasis on individuals’ behaviors and the image they portray throughout their society.
Romans strongly believed that in order to live a full and prosperous life, there were certain values they had to abide by and obligations to the gods that needed to be fulfilled in order to guide their lives in the right direction. However, this did not apply to everyone because social status restricted individuals from living a righteous life. In Ancient Rome, Martin states, “people born to families without prestige were believed to have a lesser ability to behave well” (Martin, 25). Individuals had to take on roles suitable to their social status in order to be able to support their families, and these roles were oftentimes jobs that people of higher status could never imagine taking on. For women, this is where prostitution comes into play.
In ancient Roman society, prostitutes were considered to be equivalent to slaves on the basis of their treatment. According to item 162 in Women’s Life, Justinian explains how laws protect men who commit adultery with free women, but the women, both prostitutes and servants, are not protected by any means “since their lowly way of life does not call for them to observe these requirements of the law.” The only time a man’s reputation suffered was when he had relations with a female slave. While the laws did not seek to protect those women who chose to sell their bodies, it did protect the reputations of those who were “violated by force and against their will” (Women’s Life, item 167). This divide in gender roles is explained by Martin when he speaks about the value of faithfulness. He states that “women demonstrated their faithfulness by remaining virgins until marriage and monogamous as...