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Women in Antiquity: CLAS 330/HUM 330/WS 330 (3 units)
Presession, Summer 1995: Monday, May 15 - Saturday, June 3
9:00 -11:50 AM MTWTHF ML 312
Instructor: Marilyn B. Skinner (

Lecture 10: Women in Roman Law and Society

Pomeroy, chapter 8
Lefkowitz and Fant: 112, 120-23, 127-28, 173

Familial and Legal Terminology: Definitions

the Roman household, including slaves and dependents

head of the household (wife is a materfamilias)

Patria potestas:
the paterfamilias' absolute authority over children, including power of life and death; ceases upon legal emancipation or upon his death; supercedes magisterial power

Sui juris:
freedom from patria potestas due to emancipation or father's death; women are still subject to tutela, "guardianship"

authority over a wife; if possessed by a husband, she is legally in the status of his adoptive daughter; marriages are either sine or cum manu

a legally married Roman woman of respectable background (not someone infamis, "disreputable")

Roman society is divided into several recognized social ranks--

those qualified by property to sit in the senate and whose immediate ancestors had done so

having a slightly lower property qualification, including members of the senatorial class who had chosen not to pursue political careers

freeborn working classes

former slaves who had been manumitted (freed); took their patron's name; could not hold office or marry senators or equites

chattel under law; could not marry and their children were likewise slaves

Legal Conditions Affecting Elite Women

  1. Guardianship (L&F 112):
    1. patria potestas - life or death power
    2. tutelage - guardianship of female after father's death
    3. gradual lessening of formal supervision
      1. jus liberorum - exemption from tutelage (Augustus)
      2. abolition of automatic guardianship by male relatives
      3. abolition of guardianship as institution
  2. Marriage:
    1. cum manu marriage - wife passes into husband's family
      1. assumes legal status of his child
      2. dowry passes into husband's keeping
    2. sine manu marriage - wife remains member of natal family
      1. natal family retains interest in dowry - if divorce or death occurs, it must be repaid (one-fifth retained for each child)
      2. wife and children belong to different families - consequences for inheritance
    3. demographic imbalances
      1. legal obligation to raise only one daughter
      2. intermarriage among free and freed, except for senators
    4. marriage ages: 12 for girls, 14 for boys
    5. sequential marriage and the ideal of the univira
  3. Augustan Marriage Laws (18 B.C. - 9 A.D., L&F 120-23, 127-28): aimed at controlling adultery, promoting childbearing, and regulating marriage between social ranks
    1. penalities for adulterous wife and lover
    2. incentives to produce children
    3. restrictions on marriage for senatorial class
  4. Inheritance:
    1. daughters' right to inherit equally recognized in law
    2. increasing wealth of women from 2nd century B.C. onward
    3. property confiscations and Oppian Law (L&F 173)
    4. Voconian Law of 169 B.C. - regulated female inheritance
      • - right of woman to inherit from senatorial class man, even if sole child
      • - could not be executrix, only legatee
      • - could not receive more than the chief heir took
      • - possibly to discourage woman receiving both dowry and bequest