Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Glimpse into the Life of a Roman Woman

Colin Hart
Honors 201

Dear Diary,

            The date today is 25 BCE. I really have no idea what that means, but apparently I am living in an "uncommon era." Diary, can I tell you something? Being a Roman woman is about as bad as the time that flock of birds relieved themselves in the aqueducts. Let me explain. I mean, everything started out as nice as a trip to the bathhouse; I went to school with all my friends and learned to read, write, perform poetry, and work on logic puzzles. After school I could amuse myself by playing knucklebones or rolling hoops with my friends (Rawson). Then I turned eleven. Oh that horrible age! I was taken out of school, practically locked in the confines of my house, and pretty much not allowed to do anything but practice looking nice. Apparently you're not allowed to use your head once other circular organs start to appear. Oh sure, I had fun ordering around slaves with my mom. But even that gets old after the hundredth time of, "No. I said put wine IN the vats." The only respite from the monotony was when my tutor would come and give me private lessons. These visits weren't as exciting as learning from the ludi magister who would whip you for no good reason, but apparently the feminine psyche is too weak for that sort of thing. Anyway, my tutor taught me more poetry, literature, and music - basically, as my mother often reminded me, a hundred and one ways to attract a prestigious husband. Not that attraction really made much of a difference in getting married; when I was thirteen, my father met with another man, and they must have gotten pretty friendly with the wine skin, because my dear old dad decided to betroth me in some shrewd business deal that involved a couple of sheep and part of an olive grove (Shelton 37). I was never given the full details. Nevertheless, one year later I found myself wearing an iron ring and sacrificing a goat in hopes of a blissful union with lots of babies. Sounds peachy, right? Well, it wasn't all bad, my husband was a handsome man and even let me own a little bit of land on which to grow a garden. And, when my family fell victim to some hard times, he was generous enough to take my sister as a concubine to ease the financial strain on my father (Rosenstein, 324 - 345). Actually, come to think of it, I have deeply mixed feelings about that move. Now I see myself more and more filling all those roles I watch my mother perform growing up. I manage the household, boss around the slaves, make clothing, organize social events for my husband, and try to fit giving birth to a baby in my schedule whenever possible - I get extra wife-points if it's a son. Until last month, I had even been allowed to help my husband in his business of selling wine and earn some money in my own name. I specify last month, because at that time my husband got on the wrong end of bad cold and died. Now I am expected to seclude myself in mourning for ten months at my father's house, and then hope some gent still wants my less than youthful body. So I guess its really back to square one. And that, dear diary, is why being a Roman woman sucks.

            Wouldn't it be great if historians uncovered a journal entry like this? Unfortunately, no one has. While all of the above information was drawn from creditable sources, much of what we know about the way in which women fit into Ancient Rome, and certainly how the women felt about their roles, is highly speculative at best. Moya K. Mason writes in her article entitled Ancient Roman Women: A Look at Their Lives:

One can read the ancient sources concerned with women and their place in society, but to a large degree, they are all secondary sources that were written by men about women. No ancient journals or personal diaries written by Roman women were uncovered, so it is not known what their hopes and dreams were, or if they had any. (Mason 1)

While our knowledge of women in this time period will have to remain largely a shot in the dark, it is certain from the records of the day that women were seen as inferior to men, were not allowed to participate in politics, had limited roles in business, and were primarily esteemed for their domestic accomplishments. (Rawson 45). All that said, Nancy Thomson concludes that, "Despite their disenfranchisement and limited career options, Roman women did have considerably more freedom than women of Classical Greece" (Thomson 144). Plus, they got to flaunt some rockin' hair styles!

Works Cited:

"Bust Of Roman Woman With Hairstyle Typical Of Flavian Period." (n.d.): Art Museum Image Gallery. Web.

Mason, Moya K. "Ancient Roman Women: A Look at Their Lives." MKM Research (2010)

Rawson, Beryl. Children and Childhood in Roman Italy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.

Rosenstein, Nathan Stewart., and Robert Morstein-Marx. "Finding Roman Women." A Companion to the Roman Republic. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2006. 324-45.

Thompson, Nancy L. Roman Art: A Resource for Educators. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007. Print

1 comment:

  1. This. Was. Wonderful :)
    I appreciated the Diary style and the wit.