The lives of girls and women

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The lives of girls and women

Mason Any historical investigation into the lives of ancient women involves individual interpretation and much speculation. One can read the ancient sources concerned with women and their place The lives of girls and women society, but to a large degree, they are all secondary sources that were written by men about women.

No ancient journals or personal diaries written by Roman women were uncovered, so it is not known what their hopes and dreams were, or if they had any.

What Roman women felt about most political issues and the numerous wars and upheavals is also a mystery. Nor can we read about what women thought of slavery, marriage, or the fact that they had no legal rights over their children or even themselves.

The scope is truly limited, but many questions can still be asked and considered, such as: Were they considered citizens who had personal freedoms, or were they sequestered away and given little or no education?

The lives of girls and women

Was individuality and personal choice a part of women's lives, or were they overshadowed by the patriarchal society of which they were a part? The answers may be difficult to uncover, but they are important questions to ask when one realizes that so much of Roman civilization went on to lay the foundation of our own modern society.

Understanding the past makes the present that much clearer and hopefully provides insight into the future, thereby helping society not to make the same mistakes again.

When looking at the sources for ancient Roman women, it is quickly evident that most of them deal with the aristocracy. It was men from the upper classes who received the best education and the best positions in society, and this enabled them leisure time to reflect on their world and to write about it.

As is the case with most people, they wrote about their own experiences and when it came to women, it was their own relatives and wives they wrote about.

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Certainly, aristocratic women and those from other upper levels of Roman society did not make up the majority of the female population, but it is pieces of their lives that we have to look at. Evidence for what poorer women suffered during the Roman Republic and the Empire is very fragmentary, however, women of all economic levels shared one overwhelming pervasive role and responsibility, no matter the social position they possessed: Women, or more correctly, girls, were usually married by the time they were twelve years old, sometimes even younger.

Life expectancy was very different in ancient Rome compared with today. Granted, some people would die of old age, but the majority only reached their twenties and thirties, 2 if they were lucky. Girls married very young. Many died in childbirth or because they were weakened from having too many children without reprieve.

The lives of girls and women

But certainly there was a difference between the higher echelon of Roman society and the lower classes: Upper class women had more children. Women did not have a choice between having children or not. They also could not overrule her husband if he chose to expose a newborn.

Many female infants were exposed by their families because they could not carry on the family name and they also required a dowry at the time of their marriage. The earliest power that the father could exercise over a filias familias was that of exposure.

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Any historical investigation into the lives of ancient women involves individual interpretation and much speculation. One can read the ancient sources concerned with women and their place in society, but to a large degree, they are all secondary sources that were written by men about women.

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