The Roman Family

1521 words (6 pages) Essay in History

23/09/19 History Reference this

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The Roman Family

The Roman family is an extremely interesting topic from acient Rome. The family istself, as well as the way that things are done are extremely different than the modern day American family. To begin, the word that is used for family is different. The term that the Romans use is closer to the latin root. The Roman family in ancient history, as well as today, is called a familia. The historical concept of family is somewhat different than the modern-day idea of family. The familia included parents, children, and grandchildren, as well as in-laws, slaves, clients. The property holdings are also considered to be a part of the familia. The person in charge of this entire household was the father figure, or, paterfamilias. His power over the family was called pater potestas. This power was strongest in the days of the early Republic. The paterfamilias retained control over his son even after the boy had reached adulthood, married and had his own children.

The paterfamilias had more power over the Roman household than just the power over his son. He also had the majority, if not all, of the power of his household. These powers are outlined in the information found in the fifth section of the Twelve Tables. The first law of this table states the following, “A father shall have the right of life and death over his son born in lawful marriage, and shall also have the power to render him independent, after he has been sold three times.[1]. this means that the Roman father has all authority over his son, even into adulthood, unless he is sold at least three times. The next law of this document gives information about the father putting to death a son that is born with deformities. The law states the following, “A father shall immediately put to death a son recently born, who is a monster, or has a form different from that of members of the human race.”1. another law in the twelve tabls provides information about women giving birth to a son after the death of her husband. The details of this law are stated as follows, “When a woman brings forth a son within the next ten months after the death of her husband, he shall be born in lawful marriage, and shall be the legal heir of his estate.[2]. This lends that if a woman has a son after ten months of his passing, the baby would not have any legal rights to the father’s estate.

Although the men in the Roman family was given large amounts of authority over the family, the woman was not. The following is a passage from an ebook conataining information about the Roman families, “Ancient Roman women did not enjoy as much freedom or social standing as women do today.”[3]. This same source states the following about daughters in the Roman household,  “When the daughter of a paterfamilias was married, she was forced to leave her family and become part of her husband’s familia.”3. The Roman family household was far more interested and favored towards the males in the household, while the females got the shorter end of the stick.

The Roman mother was another position that was present in the household. Sarah McGill states the following information about the Roman mother, “As a mother, a Roman woman was responsible for such duties as raising the children and cooking. The most influential woman in the family was the wife of the paterfamilias. She held the title materfamilias. While this position was respected by the rest of the family, it carried no real decision-making power.”3. In Rome, a woman could not legally hold a public office or act as a witness in Roman court. Due to this, it was not a necessecity for these women to be educated. The women that did receive an education were the wealthiest in the society. However, even when these women could afford an education, it was still extremely limited. Despite all of the short comings that Roman women face, they still hold an extremely extraordinary role in the Roman household.

 The next topic to look at is the aspect of education to the Roman family. In the Roman family, the males were the only members to receive an education. The women were very seldomly given the opportunity to receive an education. The details about the Roman family and their education, is as follows, “traditional education was still seen by Christians and polytheists alikeas a means for advancing the careers of the elite, whether those vocations be political, literary or religious.”[4] Education played a major role in the life of the Roman family.

 Another interesting aspect of the Roman family was the adoption of slaves. In the past, slaves were the property of the family that they worked for. With this being said, a slave could also be adopted by their owner, making them a legal citizen of Rome. Once this was done, the slave took the last name of his or her owner and started their own family with the last name. the families that contain at least one former slave were called freedman families. The following statement lends a sense of how serious the process of adopting a slave was. “As adrogatio terminated the familia of the person adopted, it was not to be lightly undertaken, and the civil and religious authorities of the state are involved.”[5]. The process of potentially setting free a slave for them to go and continue to repopulate is an extremely important process and was not taken lightly. To add on, although these slaves were now considered free, they may not have necessarily received all the birth rights of a free born Roman. In the sense of a freedman becoming a citizen, they were automatically made a citizen of where ever their master was a citizen of. For example, of a slave that was originally a citizen from another place, but was adopted by a Roman citizen, the freedman was now a Roman citizen.

 To wrap up, Roman family life was very similar, yet extremely different from our lives today. The following information from an ebook about the topic of Roman family life in general sums it up well. “Roman society and culture were important to the conceptualization of the family unit and its relations, but in subtler, less sensational ways than constitution of the family through ritual acts. Roman society was characterized by a steep hierarchy and fundamental distinctions of status between the honorable citizen and the rightless slave. Within the rank of citizen, fine divisions of rank and status marked off one Roman from another. These status distinctions had a formative influence on the Roman conceptualization and use of the house, and on relations within the household.”[6]. this information does a great job of explaining the Roman family went about their way of life.

Bibliography

  • Gardner, Jane F. “The Adoption of Roman Freedmen.” Phoenix43, no. 3 (1989): 236-57. doi:10.2307/1088460.
  • McGill, Sara Ann. “Daily Life in Ancient Rome.” Daily Life in Ancient Rome, August 2017, 1.
  • Nathan, Geoffrey S. The Family in Late Antiquity: The Rise of Christianity and the Endurance of Tradition. London: Routledge, 2012.
  • Saller, Richard P. Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
  • “The Laws Of The Twelve Tables.” Constitution Society: Everything Needed to Decide Constitutional Issues. Accessed February 08, 2019. https://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm.

[1]. “The Laws Of The Twelve Tables”, Constitution Society: Everything Needed to Decide Constitutional Issues, https://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm.

[2]. “The Laws Of The Twelve Tables”, Constitution Society: Everything Needed to Decide Constitutional Issues, https://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm.

[3]. McGill, Sara Ann. “Daily Life in Ancient Rome.” Daily Life in Ancient Rome, August 2017, 1.

[4].  Nathan, Geoffrey S. The Family in Late Antiquity: The Rise of Christianity and the Endurance of Tradition. London: Routledge, 2012.

[5]. Gardner, Jane F. “The Adoption of Roman Freedmen.” Phoenix43, no. 3 (1989): 236-57.

doi:10.2307/1088460.

[6]. Saller, Richard P. Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

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