Women in ancient Greece and ancient Rome

Categories: Odyssey

My paper will compare and contrast women in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. It will cover three areas to the woman’s life; marriage, inheritance and social life. Marriage in ancient Greece was considered one of the most important aspects of a woman’s life, yet she had no control over it. When a woman was to be married she “given” in marriage by her father or other male authority figure. Women were seen as objects, thus they were “given”. They had no say in who they would marry.

Marriage was not for love, it was more along the lines as a business relationship between two men, the father and the bridegroom. Men were free to establish relationships with courtesans and prostitutes after marriage, “but with the institution of matrimony, lines of heredity could be established, and marriage established who was in charge of the woman.” (Gill) Marriage in ancient Roman times was an arrangement between two families. “Men would usually marry in their mid-twenties, while women married while they were still in their early teens.

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As they reached these ages, their parents would consult with friends to find suitable partners that could improve the family’s wealth or class.” (PBS1) A Roman wedding could not take place unless both the bride and bride-groom were Roman citizens. Inheritance for women in ancient Greece was pretty straight forward.

Inheritance Laws for Women

Wives did not inherit from husbands, or daughters from fathers; but sisters could inherit from brothers. This made it very difficult at best for women to show any worth.

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So basically all property was handled by the father, husband or son. As you can tell this period in time was one of great discrimination and prejudice against women. Inheritance of the wife from the deceased husband was almost nonexistent in ancient Rome. “The surviving spouse stood outside the four classes of relatives. He or she was to succeed only if there was no relative at all. As long as any relativecould be found, the family wealth was not to be diverted from the bloodline.” (Glendon, M.A., et. al.) The four classes are (1) the direct descendants of the man that had died, (2) his brothers and sisters of the full blood, and the children of brothers and sisters of the full blood, (3) the dead man’s brothers and sisters of the half blood and the children of these brothers and sisters, and (4) the other relatives of the dead man.

Women's Role and Challenges in Ancient Societies

Women in ancient Greece and Rome struggled to exist. There was no way they would ever be equal to men in either culture, but even to be seen was unheard of. Women either married, had menial jobs, or others were slaves. Their role in society was essential, however, no matter how poorly they were treated. The woman’s main purpose was to produce an heir for her husband. She was not completely accepted by the husband’s family until this was done. Women were mainly busy with taking care of their children and carrying out household duties. Women were restricted and kept in the house. The life of a wife and mother that women lived was now seen as a necessity and a duty. The two main functions for women were child-bearer and housewife. Bearing children was demanding and stressful. It was this because women did not have a choice when it came to carrying on the family’s name. If a woman never gives birth to a son, her daughter then had to carry the responsibility of producing a son. Giving birth to a girl was seen as an embarrassment and disgrace. Females were looked down on beginning with the day they were born. It was seen as normal for thirteen or fourteen-year-old girls to marry men who were in their thirties. Because the women were so young many of the women died during childbirth.

It has been compared to the rate at which men die during war. Also before many babies reached the age of one many of them had died. All of the children the women gave birth to would belong to the husband’s family. The children were treated as property in this respect. Other than living the role of the child bearer, women served as housewives. In ancient Greece, wives were expected to stay in the house and fulfill domestic duties. The ancient Greek believed that a woman’s job was to supervise the household. Women had a lower social status than males. In ancient Greece, women were mistreated, degraded and controlled. “In Ancient Rome the degree of freedom a woman enjoyed depended largely on her wealth and social status. A few women ran their own businesses or had careers as midwives, hairdressers or doctors, but these were rare. On the other hand, female slaves were common and filled a huge variety of roles, from ladies’ maids to farm workers, and even gladiators.”(PBS2) Women in both Greece and Rome were treated as second class citizens. The only way a woman was useful was as a wife and mother. You were only good as a mother if you delivered an heir, a son. Greece and Rome had more in common when it came to women than they had differences.


  • Gill, N.S., Greek Marriage, about.com, http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/women1/p/GreekMarriage.htm (accessed March 23, 2014)
  • PBS1, Weddings, Marriage and Divorce, PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/weddings.html (accessed March 23, 2014)
  • Glendon, M.A., Rheinstein, M., Duignan, B., Murray, L., Nolen, J.L., Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/288190/inheritance/13096/Intestate-succession#toc13098 (accessed on March 23, 2014)
  • PBS2, Women, PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/women.html (accessed on March 23, 2014)
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Women in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. (2016, Mar 09). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/women-in-ancient-greece-and-ancient-rome-essay

Women in ancient Greece and ancient Rome
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