Women in republican and imperial Rome had few rights. Among other things, they could neither vote nor hold magistracies (public offices). Yet, on occasion, some of them influenced politics, either individually or collectively.
Women’s contribution to the economy was not negligible. Some elite women owned and ran large businesses, and others were benefactors of their communities. More than a few non-elite women owned small stores. And many free and slave women labored in economically-productive jobs.
Whatever historical era or society students address, they should remember that women made up half the population, and they should be encouraged to ask the question: “What were women of all social classes doing?” In surveying the lives of free and slave women in ancient Rome from 200 BCE to 250 CE, students may consider changes that have occurred between that era and our own in the legal, social, political, and cultural position of women.
Upon completing this unit, students
will be able to:
1. Explain the contradictions in the ways both the law and the population generally viewed women within and outside their families.
2. Evaluate the roles of women of different classes in the economy, society, and religion.
3. Describe how some women participated in public life and the significance of this involvement.