|Eumachia, priestess of Venus at Pompeii|
MarriageRoman marriage was a simple and private business. A man and woman were assumed to be married if they claimed to be married.
The wealthy often had formal marriage ceremonies, in which the bride traditionally wore yellow clothes, but these were not essential.The purpose of marriage was the production of legitimate children.
Women often married young, at around fourteen or fifteen. Their husbands were usually in their mid to late twenties. Cicero’s daughter, Tullia, was betrothed to her first husband when she was eleven and married at fifteen. Early marriage seems to have applied to the lower classes as well: girls in their mid-teens married men ten years older than they were.
‘Whatever the relative freedoms of Roman women, their subordination was surely grounded in that disequilibrium between and adult male and what we would call a child bride.’ Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Profile Books, 2015).
However, Cicero went too far when in his sixties he married a girl forty-five years younger!
Childbirth was the biggest killer of young adult women. Two prominent deaths were those of Cicero’s daughter, Tullia, and Caesar’s daughter, Julia.
The republican matron: the ideal
There was a constant tension between the ideal of the Roman matron and its reality. The ideal was a life of chastity and simplicity, in which a woman put the needs of her husband and her children before her own, and spent much of her day spinning and weaving. The reality was a world of enormous wealth, aristocratic indulgence and display, and the exercise of leadership during the absences of men on campaigns.
Roman law decreed that all women were to be under the custody of males.
The pater familias: In childhood, a daughter fell under the sway of the male head of the household, the pater familias, whose power extended to the right to determine life or death for all the members of the household (domus). Male offspring outgrew their subjection when they came of age, but the only automatic legal exemption for women from the power of the pater familias was accorded those who became Vestal Virgins.
the wife of Augustus
The Twelve Tables decreed that daughters as well as sons could inherit. Roman women could receive property as a legacy, but in an amount not to exceed what was left to the heir. The trend towards smaller families left many women very well off. By the late Republic some women were independently controlling large amounts of property, even though the laws said this was not permissible.
Patrician women seem to have been better educated than upper class Athenian women. There are many records of women's ability to read and of their love of books, and educational and accomplishments were thought to enhance a woman's reputation, though Juvenal was scathing about intellectual women. There were even female orators. Hortensia, the daughter of a famous orator, was praise for the speech she delivered in 42 BC; she spoke in the Forum on behalf of the 1400 women whose male relatives had been proscribed, and who themselves had become subject to taxation in order to pay the expenses of the triumvirs.
Their lives are far less documented than those of patrician women. They included the overlapping categories of slaves, freedwomen, prostitutes, the wives of the plebs and working women. Some of them are mentioned in saucy graffiti at Pompeii.
Women served as priestesses, the most important of these being the Chief Vestal and the Sibyl at Cumae. Women played a prominent role in many of the Mystery religions - the wall painting in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii apparently (but we can't be sure!) shows a woman's initiation by flagellation into a mystery cult. Married women had a particular devotion to Juno, the patron of marriage and of women in childbirth.
Ruins of the building funded by Eumachia