Women in Roman Society
Women in Roman society were not given much power. Politics and trades were the domain of men. In fact, the Romans often feared powerful women such as queens. For example, the Romans did not look favorably on Cleopatra, fearing that their Emperor Julius Caesar was under the spell of this foreign queen. Another woman, Queen Boudicca, lead a revolt in Britain. Yet there were times in which women influenced the political process. For example, in the time after the assassination of Julius Caesar, the political leaders targeted 1,400 rich women to raise taxes for their war. Hortensia, the daughter of a lawyer, spoke out against the tax which caused the political rulers to tax only 400 of the women.
The lives of woman varied greatly based on their position in society. The women who came from the wealthy level of society had much of their daily labor done by slaves. A slave would help wash the female master's face, give her a rubdown with scented oils, and spend hours setting her hair into curls. The wealthy women would spend much of their days socializing and planning their next entertainment with their friends.
Few women were fortunate enough to lead a life of leisure. Women were in charge of raising children and keeping house. Since there was no birth control in Roman times, women were often pregnant. Men would leave the house in the morning for work till about noon, and then spend the afternoon relaxing at the baths or a public entertainment event. When a man returned home, he expected to find his house in order.
Women would have to wash clothes by hand on a weekly basis. Clothes were washed in a large tub with a type of soap know as lye. They would be laid on bushes or on the ground to be dried by the wind and the sun. Large blankets were taken to a local stream, while small items were washed in a bowl in the kitchen. Rich women would have slaves do all the work, or they would take the clothes to a wash store.
Women were also expected to keep house. They cleaned the house with twig brooms and brushes made of animal hairs. Fire and oil for lamps were the women's responsibility as well as providing fuel for the fire in the cold months. Shopping for food and essentials at the local market was also on the daily task for many a Roman woman. On top of these responsibilities, women were in charge of spinning yarn and making clothing for the family by hand.
Many women also worked in areas outside the home. In the countryside,
men were in charge of working the fields and the harvests. Women were put in
charge of making cheese, pickling and washing of wool. In the cities, women
often worked with their craftsmen husbands running the store. There was a good
number of women entertainers, though the position was not highly thought of
in the society. There is even some evidence that women may have even been gladiators
at different times in the society.