The role of women in ancient Rome

Women are the backbone of a society. They play a vital role in building and developing a community. In ancient Rome, women carried out different roles and responsibilities. Although there are just a few works of literature that discuss the history and life of women. Different poems paint a picture of their daily lives.

One of the major roles of women was religious activities. Women priests who were also known as vestals were not allowed to get married or have sex. They were supposed to carry out rituals that were regarded as essential in sustaining Rome. Men priests could not carry out these rituals. Any woman priest who broke the oath of not engaging themselves in sexual activities was entombed alive.

Apart from religious roles, women also engaged in business. They were allowed to own property just like their male counterparts. Women from the upper class owned and run businesses such as brick factories and shipping corporations. They engaged in investments, lending and borrowing money, and management of estates. Some women managed businesses together with their husbands. Women also managed workers and slaves who worked in their businesses. For instance, Megallis and her husband were killed for mishandling slaves.

Women were exempted from political roles. Only men could get leadership positions. Women could not even vote. Men were not allowed to take their sons to senatorial meetings to prevent them from exposing secrets about the government. Some women used their husbands to influence political decisions, for example, Livia Augusta was a faithful advisor to her husband.

Women occupations included; acting, prostitution, wet nursing, dancing, secretarial and midwifery. Prostitutes and actresses were infamous. Ancient Rome cherished sexual purity and virgins were valued. Wet nursing and secretarial jobs were regarded as decent. Ladies with good handwriting worked as secretaries.

Boys mostly got married at the age of thirteen and girls twelve. This was during puberty. Women were supposed to take care of their husbands and their families. They also engaged in the production of woolen clothes. Women socialized a lot. They met in public places such as baths. They put on makeup and dyed their hair blonde, white and black. They also put on wigs, beautiful attires and jewelry.

Although women in ancient Rome did not engage in political roles. They actively engaged in household chores, religious activities, and business. While some women helped their husbands manage family businesses and assets, others owned and managed businesses all by themselves. Women were allowed to own businesses just like men.


Bauman, Richard A. Women, and politics in ancient Rome. Routledge, 2002.

D’Ambra, Eve. Roman women. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Gardner, Jane F. Women in Roman law and society. Routledge, 2008.

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