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Please help us pay for the servers and web services required to operate our non-profit organization's website. The exact role and status of women in the Roman world, and indeed in most ancient societieshas often been obscured by the biases of both ancient male writers and th century CE male scholars, a situation only relatively recently redressed by modern scholarship which has sought to more objectively assess women's status, rights, duties, representation in the arts, and daily lives; and all this from almost exclusively male source material dealing with a male-dominated Roman world.

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Writing for History Extraauthor and classicist Annelise Freisenbruch brings you seven surprising facts about the lives of women in ancient Rome…. Wealthy Roman women did not usually breastfeed their own children.

The role of women in the roman world

Instead, they handed them over to a wet-nurse — usually a slave or hired freedwoman — who was contracted to provide this service. He did not approve of feeding on demand, and recommended that solids such as bread soaked in wine should be introduced at six months.

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Soranus also pointed to the possible benefits of employing a Greek wet-nurse, who could pass on the gift of her mother tongue to her charge. Yet this flew in the face of advice from most Roman physicians and philosophers. These same men opined that women who did not suckle their own children were lazy, vain and unnatural mothers who only cared about the possible damage to their figures.


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Childhood was over quickly for Roman girls. The law decreed that they could be married at as young as 12, thus capitalising on their most fertile, child-bearing years at a time when infant mortality rates were high.

On the eve of her wedding, a girl would be expected to put away childish things — including her toys. These same toys might be buried with her if she were to die before reaching marriageable age.

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In the late 19th century, a sarcophagus was discovered belonging to a girl named Crepereia Tryphaena, who lived in second century Rome. Among her grave goods was an ivory doll with ted legs and arms that could be moved and bent, much like the plastic figurines that some little girls play with today.

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The doll even came with a little box of clothes and ornaments for Crepereia to dress her in. Clearly, the message this young girl was expected to internalise was of her own future role as a mother — the achievement for which Roman women were most valued. Divorce was quick, easy and common in ancient Rome. Marriage was the grease and glue of society, used to facilitate political and personal ties between families.

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However, marital ties could be severed at short notice when they were no longer useful to one or other party. Unlike today, there was no legal procedure to go through in getting a divorce. The marriage was effectively over when the husband — or more unusually, the wife — said so.

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Fathers could also initiate a divorce on behalf of their daughters, thanks to the common practice of fathers retaining legal guardianship over their daughters even after their marriage. However, a few husbands tried to exploit a legal loophole that stated they could keep the dowry if — according to them — their wives had been unfaithful.

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Women may sometimes have been dissuaded from leaving their husbands due to the fact that the Roman legal system favoured the father rather than the mother in the event of divorce. In fact, a Roman woman had no legal rights at all over her own children — the patrilineal relationship was all-important.

Sometimes, however, if it were more convenient to the father, children would live with Housewives looking sex Rome mothers after divorce, and strong ties of affection and loyalty might remain even after the break-up of a household. When Julia was later also cast into exile by her father on of her rebellious behaviour, Scribonia voluntarily accompanied her grown-up daughter to the island of Ventotene known in Roman times as Pandateriawhere she had been banished.

Roman women were under immense pressure to look good. Yet, at the same time as women tried to conform to a youthful ideal of beauty, they were mocked for doing so. No hair worth mentioning left to dye.

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There was clearly a thriving cosmetics industry in ancient Rome. Though some recipes would probably win cautious modern approval for their use of recognised therapeutic ingredients such as crushed rose petals or honey, others might raise eyebrows. Recommended treatments for spots included chicken fat and onion.

Ground oyster shells were used as an exfoliant and a mixture of crushed earthworms and oil was thought to camouflage grey hairs.

Other writers spoke of crocodile dung being used as a kind of rouge. But it is clear from archaeological discoveries that the recipes for some beauty products were indeed somewhat bizarre.

A small cosmetics container discovered at an archaeological dig in London in contained remnants of 2,year-old Roman face cream. When analysed, it was found to be made from a mixture of animal fat, starch and tin.

Women in ancient rome

The education of women was a controversial subject in the Roman period. Basic skills of reading and writing were taught to most girls in the Roman upper and middle classes, while some families went further and employed private tutors to teach their daughters more advanced grammar or Greek.

However, many Romans believed that too much education could turn a woman into a pretentious bore. Worse still, intellectual independence could become a synonym for sexual promiscuity. Nevertheless, some elite families encouraged their daughters to cultivate an unusually educated persona, particularly if the family had a track-record of intellectual achievement. She was one of very few Roman women to be celebrated Housewives looking sex Rome her abilities as a speechmaker — an accomplishment that was traditionally the exclusive preserve of men. Roman women could not run for political office themselves, but they could — and did — play a role in influencing the of elections.

7 things you (probably) didn’t know about roman women

Graffiti from the walls of Pompeii provides evidence of women urging support for certain candidates. Most Roman emperors broadcasted idealised images of themselves with their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers across the empire. Since wool working was considered an Housewives looking sex Rome pastime for a dutiful Roman matron, this helped foster the image of the imperial household as a haven of reassuring moral propriety. Having passed stringent legislation against adultery in 18 BC, Augustus was later forced to send his own daughter Julia into exile on the same charge.

Agrippina is said to have committed a similar act against her elderly husband Claudius, slipping a deadly toxin into his dinner of mushrooms. Where once power had resided in the Roman senate, now women presided over a household that was also the epicentre of government.

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The question of how much influence women did — and should — have in that set-up was one that preoccupied the Romans as powerfully as it preoccupies us today. Writing for History Extraauthor and classicist Annelise Freisenbruch brings you seven surprising facts about the lives of women in ancient Rome… Advertisement. : 10 key Roman dates you need to know Call the Roman midwife. Wooden doll from the sarcophagus of Crepereia Tryphaena.

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Getty Images. Marble bust of Julia, who was exiled by her father, the emperor Augustus. Second-century relief portraying a lady having her hair styled. Fresco detail of a young girl reading, from the first century BC. : Ancient Rome — 6 burning questions Boudica: scourge of the Roman empire.

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