The Changing Status of Women in Ancient Rome: From Subordination to Emerging Autonomy

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In the early days of Roman society, women were under the rule of men and couldn’t manage their property. But generally, the position of women statues had changed profoundly. In ancient Rome, only male citizens who owned property could attend the assembly and be eligible for political participation. Women couldn’t vote in elections or serve as senators and officials. It determined that ancient Rome could only be a country governed by men and benefited of men.

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In a patriarchal society, women were used to obeying the rule of men and think it as a natural right. That was the case with the early Roman women. By the late Roman period, the situation had improved. At this time, women’s female consciousness began to awaken. They gradually have self-esteem personality characteristics. Women have a strong desire to express themselves. They take a part in social activities, have a strong political consciousness, and have the spirit to fight for their own rights. Women are no longer willing to be confined to the corner of the male world but to pursue a broader living space. All these indicated that women’s social status had been greatly improved at that time.

The conquest war around the end of the Roman Republic brought huge wealth and changed the political and economic situation of Roman society, making Rome unprecedentedly strong and prosperous. Also, these wars affected the social custom of Rome. In upper-class families, women had been paid more attention to and their family status had been improved. Since the end of the Roman Republic, the funeral of a woman shows that women's value, status, and identity were beginning to be recognized. The husband orated in Laudatio Turiae: “Why should I mention the virtues of your private life: your sexual morality, your obedience, your considerateness, your reasonableness; your attentive weaving, your religious devotion free of superstition, your unassuming appearance and sober attire?” In the family, women are gradually respected and begin to participate in the daily management of family affairs. Meanwhile, the mother role of them was much valued. They became to have the right to say before their children. In marriage, women in ancient Rome had certain autonomy of their marriage and property. They could control their property independently and take part in managing economic affairs. In A son’s funeral oration for his mother, the son praised his mother: “My dearest mother deserved all the greater praise, because in modesty, uprightness, purity, obedience, wool-working, diligence, and faithfulness. she was equal and similar to other good women, and she did not yield to any of the dangers that can threaten virtue, work, and wisdom.” The two funeral orations showed the respect and love of the husband and son for their wife and mother.

During the transition from Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, the social position of Roman women in Roman was severely impacted by the historic flood of political, economic and social changes, and they began to dispose of the shackles from their families. Woman in ancient Rome put on new clothes, participated in social events, and demanded their husbands and sons to share honor and power with them. Some women even played important roles in the political area. In Laudatio Turiae mentioned about women has the right to guard, and the distribute of their property: “Through careful management together we kept intact all of your fortune, as it was handed down from your parents, there was no effort on your part to acquire what you handed over in its entirety to me. We shared the duties in such a way that I stood as protector of your fortune, while you kept a watch over mine. ” In ancient Rome, it’s a law that a dowry must be prepared when a daughter marring. The amount of dowry changed from few too much, and the rights of wives to manage their dowry had evolved. This is a development of transferring Roman property. In A son's funeral oration for his mother also talked about women divided her inheritance: “She made all her sons equally her heirs, after giving a share to her daughter. ” For women, it is not only to obtain their dowry, but more important to participate in the distribution of social property. Women from upper-class began to share their husbands’ political rights and use collective protests and other fighting strategies to fight for their rights. Their outstanding performance in political activities proved that it was not only men who were able to get involved in the political field, but also women.

In conclusion, from the source of Laudatio Turiae we know that although the women in ancient Rome could not completely get rid of the rule of patriarchy, their self-consciousness showed that they had obtained certain freedom in economy, rights in politics, cultural literacy and improvement in social status. 

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