Role And Influence Of Women In The Roman Republic

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During the Roman times, women were always under the rule of men. The Romans had the strong belief that all women, regardless their status or age, were characterized by a general inborn incapacity of the female gender. Therefore, the Roman family was male-dominated, and men were the head of the household, the paterfamilias, women were subjects to be under custody of the nearest male relative in their family, commonly her husband or father. Although women did not hold an imperative role like men, it was common that their families would use them for their convenience. For instance, the lower classes and peasant families would have their daughters to contribute in the work fields in simpler ways as they could not perform physical labor. Whilst, the noble and upper classes would see their daughters as a mean for very profitable and astute marriage strategies or arrangements. Similarly, it was common practice to use marriage to consolidate political relations among the upper classes. Women were raised at home with the sole purpose of becoming a suitable wife and received the appropriate education for this role, mostly household chores.

Accordingly, for the community the main purpose of marriage was procreation, in this way women’s role was indispensable. Women did not have a choice in regard of having children, Roman wives were expected to be both chaste and fertile. In the lower classes, they procured to increase the work force. On the contrary of the noble classes, they did to ensure numerous descendants. Given that the only fundamental role of women was conception they solely aimed for fertility, since women who successfully performed this duty were respected, but when they failed to bear children, their infertility would be grounds for divorce. Undoubtedly, every aristocratic family wanted male children in order for them to carry on the family name and lineage, this is the major reason they expected their wives to be constantly pregnant. In case of failure to bear legitimate children, women usually would offer divorce to their husbands giving them the opportunity to procreate children with someone else. In reality, the lower-class community was not expected to bear many children due to the lack of means to support them, also since women would actually work to help support their own families. Yet, men would still want a son to carry the family name and help by working at the farms and labor fields. Without doubt, there was a big difference between Roman social classes, overall upper-class women had more children. As a matter of fact, women did not stay long in their parental home, they were promptly passed over from the power of one man, her father, to the hand of another, her husband since it was very common for them to get married at a very early age around fifth teen years old. For these reasons, women were mainly valued as wives, mothers and daughters, they were not acknowledged for any other role.

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Moreover, women were not regarded equal to men before the law. In regard of women’s property, it was not until the end of the third century BCE that women could be named as heirs or entitled as beneficiaries in a will to own property. A woman’s right of inheritance was derived from her husband and his family if she had married cum manu (meaning her husband gained full authority over her), and from her birth family if she married sine manu (where she remained under her father’s control). In either case she was subject of patronage, and a woman could not dispose of properties such as land or agricultural implements without his permission (res mancipi). Roman women had a restricted role in public life. Women in all means were kept out of positions of power, they were not allowed to possess an imperative job or duty in the legal department, nor official positions involved in running the Roman Empire. Women could not hold any position of political responsibility, since they were not able to vote, attend or even speak at political convocations. However, there were some exceptions in which women with powerful husbands had some sort of impact over public affairs through their partners.

Nonetheless, some distinguished Roman women defied their society-imposed role and submissiveness to men and obtained real influence. A very notable woman was Livia Drusilla Augusta (58 BCE – 29 AD), who was wife of Emperor Augustus and considered one of the most powerful women in the Roman Empire. In her remarkable year 35 BCE Livia was granted the authority to act in legal matters without a guardian’s approval (as only vestal virgins did) and had also gained the right to be honored by statues. Livia was proclaimed sacrosancta, a privilege acknowledged by the tribune of the plebs indicating that no one could harm or lack respect towards her. Livia’s role in her husband’s political work became crucial and was always performed undercover on account of her gender. Although Augustus possessed a personal council of advisors specifically for this matter, he turned to his wife in writing for his most important decisions. The only way Roman women could participate in public affairs was in hidden manners, Livia took part in Roman politics through her written responses of Augustus’s notes, not only persuading him but other men’s decisions as well. Livia became the most powerful woman ever been before in Rome by receiving Augustus’s petitions for advice and influencing him with answers allocated to her own aims without need of directly addressing to the senate or the people’s assemblies. She was in a position to influence the way the empire was run and played an imperative role in shaping of the Roman Empire. Her status and power displayed herself as an old-fashioned Roman matron above many others.

Similarly, the ideal matrona Cornelia Gracchus was the most memorable and influential woman at the beginning of the political and intellectual reforms in Rome. Daughter of Scipio Africanus, wife of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and mother of the Gracchi brothers, she is essentially the figure of the virtuous Roman wife and mother. She owned her public prestige by being daughter of Africanus and mother of the Gracchi, but her prominence not only depended on her noble descent and righteous behavior but most notably on her cultural and erudite abilities. She was idealized as the perfect matron and as a model of exceptional fertility. Besides being a patrician, she was also acknowledged for her pride and support of the political efforts of her sons to strengthen the plebeian cause, and for her contribution on the eloquence of the Gracchi. Her sons Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi attempted social reforms that brought immediate violence and prolonged political change and her daughter Sempronia married the eminent Scipio Aemilianus. At this time, Rome had no royalty, but surely Cornelia held the status equivalent of a ‘princess’; she had even remarkably rejected the marriage proposal from King Ptolemy of Egypt. Alternately, Cornelia devoted herself to the education of her two sons by facilitating the bringing of Greek scholars to Rome, Diophanes from Mytilene and Blossius from Cumae.

In similar fashion, another notorious woman was Fulvia, wife of Mark Antony, and previously married to Publius Clodius Pulcher and Caius Scribonius Curio, three of the most powerful men in Rome. She became a dominant figure in the political setting after the Ides of March, by the side of her husband at the time Mark Antony, who after the assassination of Caesar he occupied the highest governmental position. Fulvia was a vigorous woman, who became one of the most influential people in the city. By becoming a war commander in the Perusian War and her notable role in the Proscription of 43 BC, Fulvia fulfilled her fierce acknowledged role of the toughest woman, who also exceeded the bounds of her role as a wife. Evidently there is an admiration for her intelligence and courage since Fulvia as an aristocratic woman handled a considerable influence in politics. By all means, she was very astute and knew how to play her role alongside Clodius, Curio and Antony. Certainly, she overstepped beyond the limits that had been established by men then, that kept women from participating in politics as it is resembled in her audacious actions within her decisions, and the exercise of her power in her husband’s place.

With the arrival of the emperors, their sisters, mothers, wives, and even daughters possessed powerful political influence. Another remarkable woman of the Roman times was Julia Agrippina (15 – 49 AD) also known as the empress who scandalized Rome as she held relationship with three powerful emperors; sister of emperor Caligula or Gaius, wife of emperor Claudius and mother of Emperor Nero. She married her uncle Claudius who was emperor of Rome at the time and induced him to adopt her son Nero as heir to the throne. She had powerful influence on her son Nero during the early years of his reign (54 – 68 AD).

Altogether, the Roman women life was not as entitled as it was for men. Ancient Rome was indeed a strongly patriarchal society where men prevailed society, public life and held major authority in legal matters and over their families. Even though, women were considered citizens of the empire, still they were depraved from all their legitimate rights as inevitably they had no voice and vote in election or could not hold public office. These restrictions decreased the relevance of women in public life reason by which not many Roman women could be known. Nevertheless, despite the many restrictions, some women did achieve and rise to important administrative and even military positions leaving a mark on history for women in Roman times.

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Role And Influence Of Women In The Roman Republic. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
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