7 Unknown Facts Around Women in Ancient Rome

We often hear historic facts about the Roman Empire - about its rulers, its laws, wars and intrigues. But much less information there are about Roman women. Yet at all times not only the family but, to some extent, the cornerstone of society was based on the woman. And Ancient Rome was no exception. We have found for you 7 little-known and curious facts about women of Ancient Rome.

Unusual Cosmetics

Roman women sought to look good. It was believed that the appearance of a woman indicates the capabilities of her husband. In Ancient Rome there was a thriving cosmetic industry. Although some recipes made perfect sense, such as masks from shredded rose petals and honey, others - could make you very surprised. For example, spots on the skin were recommended to be treated with chicken fat and onions. Oyster shells were used as an exfoliant, and gray hair was masked with a mixture of ground earthworms and oil. Some authors mentioned the crocodile litter used as a blush. During archaeological excavations in London in 2003, they found a small box containing the remains of a 2000-year-old Roman face cream. The analysis found that it was made from a mixture of animal fat, starch, and tin.

Women's Education

Women's education was a controversial subject in the Roman period. Most girls in Roman schools taught basic reading and writing skills, and some families used home teachers to teach their daughters more advanced grammar or Greek.

All this was intended to facilitate the future role of the girl in managing the household, and also served to make her more literate, and therefore more interesting, as a companion to her husband. Although very few examples of women's writing have been preserved since ancient times, this does not mean that women did not write. For example, during the excavations of the Roman fort of Vindoland, letters of soldiers' wives were found.

However, many Romans believed that over-education could turn a woman into a pretentious creature. Even worse, intellectual independence could be considered synonymous with sexual licentiousness. However, some elite families encouraged their daughters to learn as much as possible.

Girls and Dolls in Ancient Rome

Childhood ended very quickly for Roman girls. According to the law, they could get married at the age of 12 years. The reason for this was that the girls were expected to start giving birth as soon as possible (because at that time the infant mortality rate was very high). On the eve of the wedding, girls threw away their childhood things including their toys.

These same toys could be buried with a Roman girl if she died before reaching the age of marriage. At the end of the 19th century, a sarcophagus was discovered that belonged to a girl named Crepea Tryphena who lived in Rome in the 2nd century. An ivory doll with hinged arms and legs was buried with her. Next to the doll was even a small box of clothes and jewelry made especially for her. But unlike the modern Barbie, the Crepea's doll had wide “child-bearing” hips and a rounded belly.

Roman Women and Breastfeeding

Wealthy Roman women usually did not breastfeed their children. Instead, they passed them on to a nurse (usually slaves or employed women) with whom they entered into an agreement on feeding. However, some ancient healers and philosophers condemned such habits - they believed that mother's milk is better for a child but.. on the grounds that “a nurse can transmit slave character traits with her milk.”

After Divorce

Divorce was a fast, simple, and common process in Ancient Rome. Marriage was commonly used to facilitate political and personal ties between families. Nevertheless, marriage ties could be broken in a short time, when they were no longer useful for one or another side.

Unlike today, there was no legal procedure for obtaining a divorce. The marriage was actually considered to be completed when the husband (or, which was much less common, the wife) announced this. Fathers could also initiate a divorce on behalf of their daughters, because the father retained legal custody of his daughter even after her marriage. This allowed the bride's family to return the dowry in the event of a divorce. However, some husbands tried to exploit a legal loophole, claiming that they could leave the dowry at home if their wives were found to be infidel.

Women were reluctant to get divorced, as the Roman legal system favored the father, not the mother in the event of a divorce. In fact, Roman women did not have any legal rights in relation to her own children. However, if it was more convenient for the father, then the children remained to live with the mother after the divorce.

A famous example of this was the case with the daughter of the emperor Octavian Augustus, Julia, and her mother Scribonia whom the emperor refused after meeting his third wife, Libya.

Model Wives

Roman women could not hold any political positions but they could influence, for example, the election results. The frescoes preserved on the walls of Pompeii indicate that women supported certain candidates.

Wives of politicians, meanwhile, played a role that did not practically differ from the role of spouses of modern presidents and prime ministers, building the image of a "family man". Most Roman emperors tried to build idealized images of themselves for the public. Even coins and sculptural portraits were created to present the “first family of Rome” as a harmonious and strong family unit, regardless of what was in reality.

Treacherous Empresses

Many empresses of Rome were portrayed in literature and cinema as poisoners and nymphomaniacs who went a great length to reach their goals. It was claimed that Libya, the wife of Augustus, killed him after 52 years of marriage by smearing with poison green figs, which the emperor liked to pluck from the trees around their house. Another empress, Agrippina, poisoned her elderly husband Claudius by adding a deadly toxin to his mushroom lunch. Agrippina's predecessor, Messalina, the third wife of Claudius was remembered primarily for the fact that she systematically killed her enemies and also had a reputation for being insatiable in bed.

It is quite possible, however, that all these stories were speculations spread by people who were worried about the proximity of women to power.

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