Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Sisterhood surviving in a man's world





It might almost surprise a lot of people, but there were actually women in ancient Rome. I know, go figure. Somehow women's lives seem to get lost in the percolations of testosterone that attract most interest in the ancients...they couldn't be soldiers, they couldn't be politicians and they couldn't be Emperors, so we don't hear much about them - except when a sordid affair or two effects the storyline for a high profile male. But they were there, and not just by default - in fact Roman women had more rights and freedoms than those in the Victorian era barely a century ago.

Roman women enjoyed the same citizenship rights as men - apart from the right to vote. They could buy and sell property, run businesses, lend money or take out a loan independently of family or husbands. They could learn a trade and continue in it after they were married. They could represent themselves in criminal courts, and act for others in civil courts. They ran anything from shops to brick factories to shipping lines and worked in all kinds of trades - from gilding, making expensive clothes dyes, high status fashion design and the more mundane like laundries, hairstyling and fast food stalls. And while most marriages were arranged, women entered into them with their own dowry and possessions, none of which could become the property of the husband. A divorce was as simple as the woman taking her leave from the house. Men had no legal recourse to prevent her or keep her property. Domestic violence was also frowned upon in Roman society and the social need to appear "a good and proper husband" demanded moderated behaviour in a marriage.

Obviously it wasn't the perfect world, but Roman women enjoyed far more freedoms than their descendants through the middle ages and even in the recent past. In the ancient world, perhaps only the women of Gaul had more rights than their Roman sisters...but I guess that's another story.     

Find out if Calvus was an avid supporter of women's rights