The Role of Women in the Roman Republic

Essay by welloverparCollege, UndergraduateA, July 2013

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Traditionally, women were viewed as weak-minded, or levitas animi, and because of this, they would be closely scrutinized by a male who would act as her guardian. Women were also strictly monitored by not only their husbands and fathers but also by the social restrictions and laws of the time. All is not lost for the women of the Roman Republic however, the contributions of Roman women to history amount to much more than just child rearing.

The paterfamilias was the wielder of power within the traditional Roman household and did so over all members of the family. As long as the children remained under his potestas, which for girls was typically much longer than was for boys, the paterfamilias held the power of life and death. The supposed "law of Romulus" gave fathers the right to raise only one daughter, after which they could either choose to keep or kill the other daughters�.

Livy, by way of his story of Horatia, tells us essentially that girls never truly "come of age" because they are always under control of either their fathers or another man, and in some cases, even their brothers. Horatia's three brothers had challenged three Alban Curiatii brothers to single combat wherein only one Horatii brother survives. When Horatia sees the cloak of her fallen Curiatii fiancé, she openly mourns his death, not her fallen brothers. For this action, the lone surviving Horatii brother slays his sister. The brother, rather than be punished for this action, was commended for killing Horatia. His father "judged his daughter to have been killed rightly. Had things been otherwise he would have exercised his father's rights and killed his son himself"�.

Most Roman girls were married off at a very...