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Upper Class Roman Women

Life for upper class Roman women

Bust of a Roman womanThe upper classes saw their womenfolk in very much the same way the lesser classes saw theirs. Their primary purpose of upper class women was considered to be the producer of children. Unlike the lower orders, these women were meant to provide the empire with a future emperor or great military leader who would go down in Roman history and admired for generations to come. Essential she was the homemaker. While the husband was out for the day developing his career and working, she would be at home carrying out her daily duties. Seeing to the children, organising the servants, preparing the classic dinner party.

In many ways the perceptions of how man and woman were to behave was distinct. The woman was seen as having specific roles in the home, not only to be the homemaker and the spiritual guardian of the home, but also to help her husbands career and so do her part to make a better life for the family. The man was the provider. Bringing the money to give his family a better life.

The Roman home was very much a showcase in that it was not just a domus, but also a place where friends of both partners and colleagues of her husband could visit and marvel at the latest acquisition. It was very much a possession to be displayed to all and sundry. Every home would have a shine to the gods and images of great achievers from the empires history. If an of these were also ancestors of the family, this was considered total one-upmanship.

The woman's place in the relationship

Busts of a Roman husband and wifeIt was a rarity for any upper class woman to marry for love. She had to possess immense self-discipline in the face of any crisis. If the dinner party was late in preparation, she was not allowed to show and panic or stress; she had to remain calm and do her best to resolve the situation to the satisfaction of not only her husband, but an guests that may be present. Emotional self control was a virtue instilled in every woman right from the first moment of her birth.

Generally the woman was chosen more for her ability—through her family connections—to further her husbands career and her fertility in producing offspring to carry on the family name and tradition. Usually her marriage was arranged by her parents. Her husband was pushed into the marriage because his parents too, but—unlike the woman—he did a least have a say in his choice of partner.

Physical displays of affection between husband and wife were considered unacceptable. In fact, the man had unlimited powers over his wife and children. He alone could decide the fate of the marriage and could end if if he so wished. His wife did not have any say in the. She was just existed to do his bidding

For he that is in love, soon as ever he has been smitten with the kisses of the object that he loves, forthwith his substance vanishes out of doors and melts away. 'Give me this thing, my honey, if you love me, if you possibly can. 'And then this gudgeon says: 'O apple of my eye, be it so: both that shall be given you, and still more, if you wish it to be given. 'Then does she strike while he is wavering; and now she begs for more. Not enough is this evil, unless there is still something more--what to eat, what to drink. A thing that creates a further expense, the favour of a night is granted; a whole family is then introduced for her--a wardrobe-woman, a perfume-keeper, a cofferer, fan-bearers, sandal-bearers, singing-girls, casket-keepers, messengers, news-carriers, so many wasters of his bread and substance. The lover himself, while to them he is complaisant, becomes a beggar.
Plautus, The Pot of Gold

Marriages as long as ours are rare, marriages that are ended by death and not broken by divorce. For we were fortunate enough to see our marriage last without disharmony for fully 40 years. I wish that our long union had come to its final end through something that had befallen me instead of you; it would have been more just if I as the older partner had had to yield to fate through such an event. Why should I mention your domestic virtues: your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance? Why dwell on your love for your relatives, your devotion to your family? You have shown the same attention to my mother as you did to your own parents, and have taken care to secure an equally peaceful life for her as you did for your own people, and you have innumerable other merits in common with all married women who care for their good name.
Unknown author.

The elite

Woman reading in roomBy the elite, I mean the wives and female members of the families of the emperor and senators. For them, life was similar in some ways, but vastly different in others.

Most of the women of the elite classes were home builders, wives and mothers as much as their lesser counterparts. The women of the powerful took a greater part in their husband activities. They ravelled with their spouses to meetings, functions and on official business, often in foreign provinces.

Many, such as the legendary Julia Domna—wife of the emperor Septimius Severus—were very influential on Roman policy. Even to the point of plotting to assassinate not only their husband's opponents, but also their own partner if the means brought about a satisfactory end.

The elite women had more servants then the slightly lower - but still upper - class women and so could afford to spend more time with their own schemes, free of the constraints of much of the daily routine they would otherwise have endured.

Claudia Severa to her friend Lepidina, greetings. On the third day before the Ides of September, sister, I cordially invite you to be sure to come to us for the day of the celebration of my birthday; if you come the day would bring me greater pleasure because of your presence. Please give my greetings to your (husband) Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send greetings.
Vindolanda tablet, 2nd century, AD

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