First Century Rome AD

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Marriage, Divorce and the Power of the Father
The Romans believed strongly in marriage and were always monogamous (they only had one
wife/husband at a time) and the goal of marriage was the production and education of children. In
upper class families the marriage was often arranged and dissolved for political or financial reasons
and even in poor families it was rare to marry for love. The parents saw it as their responsibility to
select the `right' partner for their child. Children could be betrothed (promised in marriage) as young
as two years of age. It was legal for girls to get married at the age of 12 and for boys to marry at 14.
There were originally two types of marriage:
1. There was a special ceremony and the woman passed from her father's control to that of her
new husband.
2. A man and a woman were considered to be married if they were living together for the
purpose of having children. This form of marriage became increasingly popular in the first
century AD, especially among poor Romans.
Before a couple could get married they had to each get their father's permission. Once the father
gave his consent for a marriage the couple became informally engaged. This was followed by a
banquet at which the man, who was usually about 10 years older than the woman, gave his fiancée a
large present and the father-in-law was promised a dowry in return. At this point the girl usually
received a gold ring from the man in order to show she was his fiancée.
The night before the wedding, the bride would offer her bulla and childhood toys to the lares (spirits)
of her family home to demonstrate she was leaving this household for that of her husband and
becoming a woman. She would sleep in her wedding dress. On the day of the wedding ­ June was a
popular month because Juno was the protector of marriage ­ the groom and his friends would arrive
at the brides house early in the morning. The matron of honour would join the couples right hands for
the marriage ceremony, an animal was sacrificed, they would share a special wheaten cake and then
the marriage contract was signed. The groom paid for a reception (party) after the ceremony at
which there was food dancing and music.
The bride wore a long white tunic style dress tied at the waist by a woollen girdle with a saffron
coloured cloak over it, an orange veil and yellow shoes. After the reception she would be escorted
by all her guests to her new home. Her husband would seize her from her mother in order to show
he now possessed her. He would then carry her over the threshold of the new home. At the new
home she did a set of symbolic acts: she painted the doorpost with oil and covered it with wool and
touched the hearth fire and the water inside the house.
Either a man or a woman could ask for a divorce. There was very little stigma attached to it.
Divorce was easy in Rome. If a man wanted to divorce his wife he simply sent her back to her father
and returned her dowry. Any children of the marriage legally belonged to the father.
A woman could be divorced for:
not being able to have children
being out of doors with her head uncovered
talking in public to a freedwoman
going to the Games without her husbands permission
The family
The family was very important to the ancient Romans. The family consisted of the father, his wife, his
sons and his unmarried daughters. If his sons were married then their wives and children also were

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The Roman word for household was familia. The family
was the basis of Roman society. The father was the head of the family and firmly in control of his
household. In the Roman family everyone was taught to respect authority and discipline.
The main aim of the Roman family was to teach loyalty to the gods, to the family and to Rome. The
Romans believed a strong family made a strong Rome.
The paterfamilias
The father was the head of the family.…read more

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Children, education and upbringing
The Romans had a low birth rate, possibly because their water was carried in lead pipes and lead is
thought to cause infertility. There were few methods of birth control and many children died in the
first few years of life. For these reasons parents were not allowed to mourn any child younger than
three years of age.
Some babies died because they were exposed at birth (abandoned and left out in the open) but
Romans were generally against this.…read more

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If both parents were freeborn Romans then their children could become Roman citizens. By the end
of the 1st century, children of slaves and even ex-slaves could also become citizens. Women could
have citizen status but they were never allowed to vote. This was because they were always
considered to be under the control of their father or husband. Men had to be 25 years old before
they could vote, which was fairly old in a world where the average lifespan was 30 years.…read more

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The responsibilities of the patron and client were:
A Patron: A Client:
Explained laws to his clients Provided money to his patron for a
Defended his clients in court dowry
Gave his clients food or money Helped raise ransom money if his patron
Helped his clients if they were in trouble or his children were captured in war
Was like a father to his clients.…read more

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Household slaves performed many important jobs. Many were well educated so they ran the
household accounts and educated the children. Some slaves were even given businesses to run so
that they could make profits for their owners. Many of these slaves were able to save up and buy
their freedom, and many others were set free by their grateful owners. This was called
manumission. Some female slaves even married their masters once they were free.
Slaves were bought and sold at public auctions.…read more

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Family gods: Roman religion in the early days centred around the family. People were mainly
farmers and their gods were closely connected to the needs of the farm. There were spirits for
fields, doorways of the house, the fireplace and the house itself. There were also spirits that looked
after the sowing of seed and even one for baking bread! The father was in charge of making sure
that important services to the spirits were closely observed.…read more

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By the first century AD there were more than 200 festival days a year. On
these days public games were held and businesses shut down so people could celebrate.
Two important festivals were:
Ludi florales: (28 April ­ 3 May) when flowers were displayed and people wore brightly
coloured necklaces of flowers and danced.
Saturnalia (17-24 December) which was a time of giving presents. On one day of the
festival, owners served their slaves and gave them dinner and gifts.…read more

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Romans believed that the dead haunted the living and that they had to be kept happy with offerings
and games. Romans were very serious in honouring the dead. The family death masks were kept on
prominent display in the home and taken out and paraded through the streets on special occasions.…read more

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Novice (trainee) gladiators learned to fight with wooden swords and wicker shields, attacking a
wooden post before they practiced with each other. It took several years to train a skilled gladiator
so they did not usually fight to the death (this would have been a waste of money).…read more


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