Navigation banner for Diotima (6k)

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 12: Working Class Roman Women

Pomeroy, chapter 9
Lefkowitz and Fant: 118, 133, 179, 295, 314, 319-21, 334-35, 370- 72, 375, 380, 381-82

Composition of Working Classes

  1. FREEBORN: born of two free parents and so a citizen by birth
  2. FREED: originally born into slavery or enslaved; becomes a citizen upon manumission but cannot hold office
  3. SLAVE: may live and work together with free and freed persons

Activities of Working Classes (L&F 179)

  1. Tombstones our major source of information--even relatively poor took pains to insure they would be commemorated
    1. Large chamber tombs erected by well-to-do families for slaves and freedmen (columbaria)
    2. Common burial chambers maintained by burial societies: individual pays dues, shares in communal meals
  2. Information obtained from tombstones: demographical statistics, occupations, marriage patterns
  3. Occupations for women (L&F 295, 314, 319-21, 334-35):
    1. Slaves--highly specialized work in large households
      1. Women slaves tend to work for a mistress
      2. Jobs are non-administrative
      3. Working mothers: provisions for child care
    2. Free and freed women
      1. Wealthy courtesans and entertainers (infames)
      2. Shopkeepers, usually in family-owned business
      3. Woolworking, clothing manufacture, laundry work
      4. Artisans
        • - intermarriage of free and freed
        • - association with male workers, perform same roles

Physicians and Midwives

  1. Primary source of gynecological and obstetrical care; treated all diseases of women (L&F 369-71)
  2. Requirements for midwife in Soranus' Gynecology (L&F 375)
  3. Life and career paths of midwives, as indicated on tombstones
  4. Financial status of women's health care workers

Wet Nurses

  1. Soranus: emphasis on control of woman's body by employer, since most wet nurses were household slaves (L&F 380)
    1. Moral climate of wet nursing
    2. Nurse viewed as provider of milk, not emotional nurturer
    3. Strong emphasis on physical continence, self-control
  2. From nursling's perspective: the nurse is idealized as source of loyalty, care, devotion
  3. From nurse's perspective: ambivalence (L&F 381-82)

Marriage (L&F 133)

  1. Legal conditions for marriage: no formal ceremony, merely cohabitation between eligible partners
  2. Legitimacy: all children legitimate except those born of invalid unions
  3. Status of children depends on that of mother
  4. Intermarriage between freeborn and freed poor and slaves
  5. Slave unions (L&F 118):
    1. Contubernium - recognized cohabitation
    2. Family life of slaves: motives for marriage and gaining freedom
    3. Status consciousness


  1. Legal minimum age: 30 (except in special circumstances)
  2. Economic incentives for manumission (for slave owner, slave)

Alimenta: aid to poor children from state or wealthy patrons

  1. Incentive for child rearing among working poor
  2. Special interest of empresses, elite women
  3. Effects of sex discrimination