Essay Sample. How Upper-Class Roman Women Exercised Autonomy

Published: 2023-03-01
Essay Sample. How Upper-Class Roman Women Exercised Autonomy
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Women History Public relations Social issue
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 858 words
8 min read

Letters of Pliny are significant in the study and understanding of the living standards of Roman women. They offer resourceful information about the lives of the upper-class women at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century CE. Pliny's letters speak about more than 30 women who she calls by name. He also addresses letters to others as well as quoting other anonymous women. Through the letters, we learn numerous aspects of the upper-class Roman women as well as his friends. The letters give a broad view of the duties and responsibilities of women in Roman society. The notes address issues relating to families, marriages, as well as general households. The letters also address women's participation in court cases, property ownership, religious matters, social affairs, and political affairs.

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Letters of Piny offers an opportunity to study the courage and heroism of the women. Piny records of the brave acts for grandmother prosecuted in 93CE. Piny talks about the life events of Arria, the Elder who killed herself by plunging a dagger into her heart. Arria, the elder, had a son who died in childhood. During the death of this son, Arria the elder was devoted and remained steadfast in serving her husband. Piny records this in Letter 3.16. Thus, we learn the strong personality and character of Arria, the Elder, in serving her husband. She puts her interests aside so that she can help her husband better. Arria concealed the death of her son from her husband so that she could protect her from distress as he was also sick and suffering. Letter 3.16 states that she deceived the husband that the son had eaten and was now resting.

The Roman women, whether married or single, were required to have a male guardian. The guardians played a critical role in supervising the management of the finances of the women under their protection. However, Vestal Virgins were exempted from the guardianship of women. Letter 1.14 gives an example of guardianship. In this example, Junius Mauricus served as a guardian for his brother's daughter. Though the guardians usually came from the agnate families, a nonagnate familiar could be chosen to play a role in case there was no living member to step up for that role (Letter 9.13). Paterfamilias who was the old male member of the family was in charge of the management of all the properties of the families (Birley, 1999). Through these letters, we learn that the Roman women had all the legal rights to own properties. They were also allowed to inherit properties upon the death of the paterfamilias. They could on these properties separate from those of their husbands. Thus, the letters offer an opportunity to learn the right approach in terms of the ownership of properties in Roman society.

Initially, women would remain at home raising kids, protecting family's interested as well as informing the husband on local matters when they had traveled for administrative duties. However, things changed at the beginning of the second century. Women would accompany their husbands when they went for governmental or military missions. As a result, they would be charged for any misconduct together with their husbands. For example, Arria, the elder traveled with her husband when he was going to Dalmatia.

The Role of Marriage in the Lives of Upper-class Roman Women

Marriages consolidated and brought together different families. It played an essential role in ensuring the continuity of moral values of Roman society. Women in Roman society were expected to be obedient and show respect to their husbands. Thus, they were supposed to ensure that their marriages were stable with no cases of divorce till death. They were supposed to do their best to support their husbands. Therefore, women were expected to have the virtues of faithfulness, kindness, selflessness, supportive, respectful, and caring in serving their families (Zurita, 2014).

Women were the central part of Roman marriages. They acted as helpers to their husbands as well as gave them companionship. The primary role of women in Roman society was to give birth and raise children. They trained their children and taught them about the virtues and moral standards of the Roman community. They ensured that the children were well fed and that they were living in desirable environments.

The Upper-class women also supervised their household activities as well as estates. The early roman women were viewed as domestic workers and performed delicate tasks. Cases of divorce and separations were highly condemned and disregarded. Women also participated in administrative and political decisions. They would accompany their husbands to regulatory and legislative journeys. They could also inherit and own properties left in the family upon the death of the paterfamilias. The upper-class women in Roman society were actively involved in court cases as well as inactive political affairs. The upper-class women had legal access to inheritance and were allowed to own properties separate from those of their spouses. They were actively involved in religious matters and social affairs, affecting society.


Birley, A. (Ed.). (1999). Agricola and Germany. OUP Oxford.

Zurita, A. L. C. (2014). Algunas respuestas latinas y griegas a la dinastia Julio-Claudia. Departamento de Ciencias Historicas y Sociales Universidad de Concepcion, 41.

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