Why Were Men Regarded Higher Than Women In Ancient Rome

Gender Roles in Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome, the societal structure was heavily rooted in gender roles. Men were held in a much higher regard than women and were seen as the authority figures in the household, in religion and in politics. This pervasive attitude is one of the reasons why women during this period were more often seen than heard. To gain a better understanding of the roles and standing of women in Ancient Rome, we must first look at the history of the Roman Empire and its laws and customs.
The Roman Empire evolved from nomadic warring tribes to a monarchy and then a republic by the 5th century BCE. Rome was also a slave-owning society where free women could own property, hold economic and political power, and manage their own affairs. This gave them more freedom than their Greek or Egyptian counterparts.
The fact that Roman society was a slave-owning society and that freed slaves could move up in society created the belief that the ability for upward mobility was endless. This ideology further continued Rome’s patriarchal structure as men had an upper hand in other aspects, such as legislation and the military, which had a significant influence on the gender roles of the time. Women were treated as second-class citizens and viewed as dependants of their fathers or husbands with limited rights to oversee their own affairs.
The Roman law prevented women from holding high office, participating in politics, and law was a male-dominated field. Women were also never allowed to serve in the military and did not have freedom of speech in public forums. This subtle exclusion of women gave men a higher social status and they were regarded as the heads of their households and the only entities who had the right to make decisions.
Also, in Ancient Rome, men had the right to divorce their wives without any legal consequence. Divorces during this period were easily granted, and men were allowed to end marriages without any consequences. Women, however, could not get a divorce unless it was done through their husband. This system allowed men to have the upper hand in decision-making, as well as in economic and political affairs. Women, who were seen as dependants of their fathers or husbands, had to abide by the decisions of their husbands and could not, by the law, seek legal action against them.

Gender Equality in Roman Religion

Roman religion was dominated by male officials, but this did not mean that women were completely overlooked. In fact, the worship of the female gods Athena, Venus and Diana had a significant influence in the society. Women who played a prominent role in religion had to be of noble birth. Examples of these include Vestal Virgins, or priestesses who served in the temple of Vesta, and the flaminica Dialis, or high priestesses who served Jupiter. In addition to these priestesses, matrons and female nobility served as Vestal Virgins. This allowed women to have some active role in the religious life of Rome and gave them a certain amount of power and influence.
Furthermore, Ancient Roman religion had many gendered categories for gods and goddesses. The male gods were responsible for justice and wisdom and were depicted as active forces in the universe. On the other hand, women were seen as powerless and were associated with motherhood, fertility, childbirth and domestic life. This further perpetuated the patriarchal structure, as men had a higher social standing than women.

Status of Women in Roman Society

Women in Ancient Rome were seen as dependants of their fathers or husbands and had limited rights to oversee their own affairs. Women were mostly excluded from decision-making, economics, and politics and were not allowed to serve in the military. Although there were some female priestesses and matrons who played a prominent role in religious life, they had to be of noble birth in order to be allowed to do so. Furthermore, women did not have the right to end marriages unless it was done through their husbands.
Despite the fact that women were seen as subservient to men in Ancient Rome, there were some women who defied the established norms and made their mark in history. Women such as Livia Drusilla, the wife of Augustus Caesar, and Agrippina the Younger, the wife of Claudius, had great influence and authority over their husbands. They are some examples of women who had an important role in Roman society, despite the restraints of the social structure at the time.

Legacy of Gender Roles in Ancient Rome

The laws and customs of Ancient Rome shaped much of the gender roles that exist today. Throughout much of history, men were regarded as the head of the household, in religion and politics and were given a higher social standing than women. Though Rome did not invent this pervasive attitude, they certainly perpetuated it and its effects can still be seen in many countries today.
Despite this, the position that women hold in society has greatly evolved since Ancient Rome and women around the world have been making strides in gaining autonomy and equality. This is largely thanks to the brave women who refused to accept the status quo of the time and continually fought for their rights. Without their actions, it is likely that gender roles today would be much more rigid and restrictive than what we see now.

Female Agency and Power in Ancient Rome

Although there is much evidence to suggest that women were considered second-class citizens in Ancient Rome, there are examples of powerful women who defied this expectation. Women such as Livia Drusilla and Agrippina the Younger used their positions to enact political change and had a great degree of agency within the Roman Empire.
In addition to these exceptional people, there is evidence that women had far greater independence during this period than is widely thought. Women were able to own property and could conduct business, which meant they had greater access to financial resources. Furthermore, freed women could even obtain high social standings and some were even able to serve as priestesses.

Role of Imperialism in Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire was one of the most powerful and influential empires of its time, with its army and law code spreading far and wide. This era of imperialism is often seen to be a major contributor to the gender roles of the time, as the patriarchal structure of Rome was imposed on the regions it controlled. This took away many of the freedoms that some of these regions had and imposed the law and customs of the Roman Empire on them.
Furthermore, by propagating their laws and values to foreign lands, Ancient Rome was able to influence their beliefs about gender roles for centuries. Many of the customs, expectations, and ideologies of the Roman Empire still linger today in some parts of the world, illustrating the long-lasting effects of its imperialism.

Collapse of Ancient Roman Empire

The decline of the Roman Empire is seen as one of the main factors in the collapse of the patriarchal structure. As the empire disintegrated, divisions between gender roles weakened, allowing more women to gain access to traditionally male-dominated fields. This period marked a shift in the power dynamic and enabled women to assume new roles in society.
The fall of the Roman Empire is seen as an important moment in the fight for gender equality. By the 6th century CE women had more rights and more opportunities available to them than they had in the past. This allowed them to participate in a variety of fields, such as politics and education, that had been previously forbidden.

Role of Christianity in Gender Equality

The spread of Christianity during the period of Roman decline is seen as another contributing factor to the changing gender roles. Christianity fundamentally changed the views on gender roles, as it proclaimed equality between men and women. This ended the idea that women were subservient to men and instead allowed the two genders to co-exist on equal footing.
This belief in equality greatly changed the perception of gender roles in both religious and social settings and allowed for more freedom for women. The role of Christianity, in particular, was instrumental in the breakdown of Rome’s patriarchal system and the emergence of greater gender equality.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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