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Gender Relations in Roman Society


Roman culture has always attracted special attention on the part of both scholars exploring ancient societies and ordinary people enriching their knowledge in ancient history. Sometimes it seems that modern society has much to learn from the ancient one for different kinds of values were an essential part of it and going against these values was a crime. It seems that gender relations are the most important aspect of Roman culture because namely this aspect, apart from the warfare, characterizes the Roman culture in the best possible way. The aspect of gender relations in Rome should be paid special attention to since it presents a complete opposition to the same aspect in modern society. The modern society, especially its female part, would resent the way the Romans treated their women, as well as the role a woman played in Roman society. The aspect of gender relations in Rome encompasses some smaller aspects, including patriarchal values, an attitude of men towards women, and ideals of Roman masculinity; modern society has to pay attention namely to this aspect because it can show how much gender relations have changed in the society since the Roman times.

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Patriarchal Roman family

To begin with, patriarchal values were especially important in Roman gender relations. A typical patriarchal Roman family, where a man wields authority over both his wife and his children, is a vivid opposition to the modern democratic family, where all members have equal rights and freedoms and where children are sometimes taken exceed care of. The powers of the Roman father within his family were, according to Roman law, almost unlimited. He was the one who could decide whether to raise or to kill his children after their birth; it was also up to him to punish using execution, which was allowed to practice for disobedience. Romans father had also had a right to choose spouses for his children and his will was incontestable. Romans father was the owner of the whole property of his family with his children, irrespective of their age, being unable to possess the property while the father was alive. In the course of the social-historical revolution, Roman patriarchy declined, which resulted in relative independence for wives and children. Father was still an authority in the family, but he had no more power over his family members; his wife and his children were no longer his property; they also obtained a right to own property and to dispose of it. Children started to choose spouses by themselves without asking their father’s permission or consent. This aspect is of great significance for modern history for it helps to understand how much family values have changed since those times when men ruled the households and enjoyed supreme authority in their families.

Discrimination against women

Moreover, the way Roman men treated their women would be regarded as discrimination these days. Their attitude towards women was indeed discriminating. The primary role of a Roman woman was that of mother and wife; a woman was not allowed to leave the house unless she obtained permission from her husband. Even after she got that permission, she still could not leave the house without a companion, but she had a right to visit the temples and the theatre. Thus, a Roman woman was of great dependence on her husband or another male representative of her family. Adultery was the unforgivable crime for which a woman could be sentenced to death, whereas it was considered to be a minor offense for a man.

Roman women, to be more exact girls, married at the age of twelve, some of them even earlier. This may seem to be unacceptable in modern society but this fact should be considered in the social context of those times. The matter was in life expectancy which was different in ancient Rome; there, of course, were people who died at the age of sixty or seventy, but the majority hardly reached their thirties or even twenties. Girls had to marry at a young age because their mission was to give birth to children; they were expected to give birth to as many children as they were able to because infancy rates were rather high and some of their children did not even manage to reach maturity. With time, the status of a Roman woman improved slightly and she could inherit property after the death of her father; however, the rest of women’s rights remained rather limited.

Ideals of masculinity

Finally, Roman ideals of masculinity were quite simple. Apart from courage, an ideal of masculinity was all about the possession of such virtues as endurance, restraint, calmness, moderation, self-control, tolerance, and the like. However, chastity has never been on this list. It was a weakness rather than virtue and possessing this quality even after creating a family was regarded as unwillingness or inability to acquire sexual experience. Fortitude and physical strength were the characters feature a Roman man should have necessarily possessed since otherwise, he would not have had any powers within his family. Effeminacy was a feature that betrayed the ideals of Roman masculinity; manliness, in its turn, consisted in the ability to take control over such passions as greed, lust, or anger. Having enough courage for self-sacrifice was crucial for Roman men; one of the greatest deeds was giving life on behalf of somebody else when it came to battles. Roman ideals of masculinity hardly differ from the modern ones. Modern society also demands men to be enduring, tolerant, and courageous; the meaning of some of these notions has changed with time, as well as the perception of men by the society, though the fact that men are physically and emotionally stronger cannot be denied. Modern society does not have a definite canon of virtues for men to follow due to feminism and womens emancipation; the only thing which vividly distinguishes Roman men from the modern ones is that the latter do not have to sacrifice their lives in battles to deserve respect.

Comparison of family values

Discussing the aspect of gender relations in Roman society it is possible to notice how much different mores and values changed in the course of human development. This aspect of Roman culture is significant because it allows comparing family values, roles of women, and masculine ideals of ancient times with those which the society has these days. The most obvious change in gender relations has occurred at the end of the 20th century when women gained complete independence from men. This influenced greatly family values as well as ideals of masculinity in modern society.


In sum, the aspect of gender relations in Rome involves some peculiarities which help to perceive the whole essence of the Roman culture. The patriarchal values of Roman people allowed the father to be the highest authority in the family who could make decisions on the part of any member of his family; gender relations were discriminative, as compared to the role of women in the modern society, but such attitude was normal for Roman men. They never displayed disregard toward women; they simply treated them as mothers and housewives who were deprived of all their rights. At this, Roman’s ideal of masculinity was a brave, restrained, and tolerant man able to control his passions and emotions and ready to sacrifice his life for somebody else in a battle.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 8). Gender Relations in Roman Society.

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"Gender Relations in Roman Society." StudyCorgi, 8 Dec. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Gender Relations in Roman Society." December 8, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Gender Relations in Roman Society." December 8, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Gender Relations in Roman Society." December 8, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Gender Relations in Roman Society'. 8 December.

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