Back to Archaeology: Men and Women in Rome

Well I haven’t actually written anything educational in a while, I thought I might share some key things we have been talking about in Roman Identity. I should also mention I am writing an essay on Christianity in the Roman Empire, and when that is finished, oh boy will I have a post for here (I never realized how early the church became a institution rather than a faith!).

But for today, lets talk about men and women in the empire. I had to do a report on virtus, and I must say, it actually wasn’t that easy. Virtus, essentially, is masculine, it can only be used for a man and comes from the word vir, meaning man. It changed meaning often though, it’s traits included that of strength, worth, bravery, honor. These however seemed to differ, at one time virtus may only be won in military career, in another only in political or lawful career, then it seemed to change again and include all this as well as how a paterfamilias cared for his family. One thing is certain that Virtus was truly public image, your private life was not taken into consideration. By the description I really think of charisma as being the best equivalent. One of the interesting points that came up was that though we might think of past ideas of masculinity so military based, and so directed by men etc etc. We actually use the same idea of Virtus to choose our political leaders (which was what virtus was essential for in the Roman times). Think about it, we always look at how educated a presidential candidate is, we love hearing they spent time in the military and that they were brave and reached all these great feats, we love hearing they are religious and also are truly family men. We use the exact same ideas in order to judge our present day male leaders as the Romans did thousands of years ago. It is incredible that throughout all this time, masculinity has stayed the same!

Now onto women. Well women were always mothers and wives, nothis surprising there. What is really interesting is how women could go about freely in Rome, they could visit friends, go to market, or just wander and all this was accepted. What is also interesting is that women could divorce (under permission of the paterfamilias) and actually had a say in their “arranged” marriages. If you think about it, a society thousands of years ago had figured that out, when most women weren’t allowed divorce until very recent years in our Western societies. The rights of women really changed when Augustus came around, They were allowed more rights in terms of divorce, childbearing, etc. I think his choices were really great and thought he helped women a lot. But my professor and peers pointed out he only gave noble women rights which actually further helped him politically because it meant more high class babies would be born and swear allegiance to him. This I am still pretty torn about.

So for anyone who has studied this what are your thoughts?


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