THE WORLD OF FAMILY
Although legally she, like the rest of the
family, deferred to the patria potestas of the paterfamilias, the
world of the family and its locus in the domus was the domain of the
materfamilias, who wielded her not inconsiderable authority over it
through honor and long-standing custom. Marriage and motherhood remained the
defining roles for Roman women; there was no Latin word for a respectable
female who never married. Her first priority was her role as perpetuator of the
family line and progenitor of legitimate citizens; as such she was required to
keep her honor intact and to raise children who would bring glory to the family
and the state. She brought with her to her husband's home a distaff and spindle
and on her wedding night was given by her husband the gifts of fire and water,
symbols of her domestic responsibilities, with the expectation that she as
matrona would manage and increase his household with her labors. While
upper-class women had slaves to help with the weaving (a defining task of the materfamilias, as seen on this tombstone of Regina described below), cooking, cleaning, and
rearing of children, her lower-class counterparts did the same tasks with
little assistance. The poorest families suffered from scarcity which forced
some to expose or sell their children into slavery; most slaves lived
materially better lives than the very poor but they were denied the status and
comfort of marriage and family life, as their partner and children were the
property of their master. The citizen family was the foundation on which the
state was built, where children first learned by training and example from a
stern mater the core cultural values of pietas (dutifulness, reverence),
obsequium (respect, submission), affectio (relationship, caring).
The elite Roman familia was an all-embracing term, including as it did
kin (from the nuclear family through the gens), household members
(slaves, liberti), properties and goods, and unrelated resident
dependents; deaths in childbirth and battle, divorces, remarriages, and
adoptions created complex familial patterns. Given the legally dependent status
of women on male kin or guardians, an upper-class household might contain an
inordinate number of women in a wide variety of relationships: mother, wife,
daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece, granddaughter, ward. For further
information see Bradley (1991) and Dixon (1992) in the
Bibliography; see also
Images of Family below.
|| Additional Readings
|Quintus Asconius Pedianus,
Ciceronis In Pisonem Enarratio Orationis
13: the traditional home
||See the Latin reader
The Worlds of Roman Women for the following
|M. Tullius Cicero,
Caelio 33-34: Clodia Metelli
||C. Cornelius Tacitus,
Agricola 4.1-4: Julia Procilla
Ab Urbe Condita I.46-48, 59: Tullia
||C. Cornelius Tacitus,
Dialogus de Oratoribus 28-29 (excerpts): mater, the first teacher
Macrobius, Saturnalia II.5.1-5, 9:
Julia, daughter of Augustus
||L. Annaeus Seneca (minor),
Ad Helviam Matrem de Consolatione 14, 16, 19 (excerpts): Helvia grieves
for her son
Memorabilia IV.4: Cornelia Gracchorum
Satyricon 37, 67, 76: Fortunata at dinner
|C. Suetonius Tranquillus,
Divus Iulius 6: Julia, aunt of
|| ILS 1046a, Funerary
Inscription: Terentia, for her brother
|P. Cornelius Tacitus,
Annales V.1: Livia, mother of
De Viris Illustribus: Cornelia's letters to her son
|P. Vergilius Maro,
Elegiae 4.11: Cornelia's farewell to Paullus
|C. Plinius Caecilius
Secundus (minor), Panegyricus 84: Trajan's
||M. Tullius Cicero,
Epistulae ad Familiares 14.4, 20: scenes from a Roman marriage
|Silius Italicus, Punica VI.415-451; 497-520: Marcia, Regulus, Serranus
||ILS 8394 Laudatio
Funebris Murdiae (excerpts)
|See De Feminis Romanis at Diotima for the
|for Julia Secunda & Cornelia Tyche
Viris Illustribus, frag. 59: The Letters of Cornelia
|for Aelia Sabina
||M. Tulius Cicero,
Pro A. CluentioV.12-VI.17: Sassia, wicked mother
|for Aurelia Agrippina
||P. Vergilius Maro,
Aeneid V.779-798: Venus seeks aid
|for Caecinia Bassa
for Octavia Arbuscula
|L. Annaeus Seneca (minor),
Ad Marciam de Consolatione III.3 - IV.3: maternal
|by Sextia Psyche
||See Vindolanda Tablets Online:
Claudia Severa to Lepidina
|for Annia Isias
|for the familia Allidia
IMAGES of FAMILY
Outing: relief on a sarcophagus of two families (father, mother, baby)
driving wagons in the countryside; in the center two children play with a goose and a
wheeled scooter. Details: left family, right family. Rome, Baths of
and daughter in an alcove on a marble funerary relief; inscribed in
Greek: Mimia, too soon, farewell; Koartilla farewell." The mother wears native
Mesopotamian costume; the daughter holds a wreath and wears fashionable Roman
jewelry. Roman, from the Euphrates region of Syria, 70-100 CE. Boston, Museum
of Fine Arts.
nursing at his mother's breast while his father looks on; detail of the
marble sarcophagus relief depicting the life
cycle of M. Cornelius Statius. Roman, 2nd century CE. Paris, Louvre
- Mother on a
fragmentary relief seated while nursing her infant before a temple; a male (her
husband?) stands beside her and a veiled woman (priestess?) before her. Roman,
imperial period. Rome, Vatican.
bath: women surround and tend a child on this marble
sarcophagus relief, depicting perhaps the childhood of Dionysus: left
detail with maid and nurse. From a Greek Hellenistic original. Found at
Nepi, Church of San Biagio, 2nd century CE. Rome: Capitoline Museums (Palazzo
- Mourning Family on a three-sided marble sarcophagus relief showing a school scene on the left and the death of a child on the right; surrounded by the household, he is laid out between his mother and father, and caressed by his aged nurse. From the Roman cemetery outside Porta Aurea, Agrigento, 2nd Century CE. Agrigento, Museo Archeologico Regionale.
marble statue of a mother standing with her young daughter. 50-40 BCE. Rome:
- Imperial family in marble relief on the
southern side of the Ara Pacis on the day of consecration of the altar (4 July
13 BCE). Agrippa
leads members of Augustus' family (veiled and garlanded Livia?)
in procession. Child
seeking attention from an adult. Although family members have been identified,
many identifications are contested. Dedicated by the Senate on 30 January 9
BCE. Rome: Campus Martius.
Woman wearing a stola and pointing to her son wearing a toga and bulla.
Her facial features and hairstyle resemble Agrippina the Younger (detail)
and her son Nero. Roman, 1st century CE. Rome, Capitoline Museums (Palazzo
- Materfamilias: Regina is pictured on her tombstone seated in a high-back wicker chair; in her hand are a spindle and distaff (damaged), at her feet are the other symbols of her role as manager of the goods of the domus: the strongbox and the basket of wool (detail). Her monument was set up by her husband Barates from Palmyra for his freedwoman and wife, a British woman of the Catuvellauni tribe. Inscription (RIB 1065). 2nd century CE. From Arbeia, Roman fort & settlement (South Shields, Tyne & Wear). London: British Museum.
- Portrait busts of a family of three in relief on a marble tombstone: the parents in civic dress, clasping right hands, are beside a veiled young woman, probably their daughter. No inscription. 40-30 BCE. Rome, Altemps Museum.
Distaff, an implement for holding wool or flax to spin into thread (see drawing); spinning and weaving clothing and domestic fabrics were traditional duties of the materfamilias. Roman. From a tomb at
Bursa, Asia Minor, early 1 century CE. London, British Museum.
Potestas is memorialized with a marble tablet containing a eulogy in hexameter verses praising the virtues of this materfamilias (see translation). Found in a cemetary near Via Pinciana, 2nd century CE. CIL 6. 37965. Rome, Baths of
- Funerary altars dedicated by Anicia Caecilia, one inscribed for her military husband, Quintus Sittius Flaccus, who died when he was Tribune of the 10th Praetorian cohort, a second by both parents for their son, Quintus Sittius Quintillus. Mid-2nd century CE. Rome, Baths of Diocletian Museum.
- Family at
dinner: restoration of the painted pediment from a family tomb monument
from Neumagen, Germany. The men are reclining Roman-style, while the women sit
in throne chairs. Trier, Landesmuseum.
- Veiled Matrona sits mournfully beside her husband/son on a funeral lectus, her arm around his shoulders and her feet on a stool, on a marble tomb relief. Her hair is arranged in a Flavian hairstyle. On the wall behind them is a clipeus portrait bust of a father/ancestor. A young slave/son stands at the foot of the couch holding an abacus. Possibly from an Ostian freedman family tomb. Early 2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo Nuovo.
- Funerary altar for Claudia Ianuaria, young wife and daughter, dedicated by her husband and mother (inscription, side 1, side 2). CIL VI.15475. Rome: Baths of
- Cippus dedicated by Claudia Balbilla for her mother and brother (CIL VI.18870). Rome: Vatican Museum (Chiaramonte).
- Cippus for Feridia Procula dedicated by her children (CIL VI.17888; see also the funerary inscription dedicated by her mother for her father CIL VI.17887). Rome: Vatican Museum (Chiaramonte).
- Marble stele (fragmentary) dedicated to 15 year old Flavia Ionice by her father, a freedman of the Flavian emperors, and her mother, perhaps a liberta; all bear names that indicate Greek origin. The tomb was intended for themselves and their descendants as well. (CIL X.6609). From Velletri. 2nd half of 1 century CE. Rome, Baths of Diocletian Museum.
- Funerary Altar in marble for Maena Mellusa, a freedwoman, seated with a veil over her head, holding a baby and reaching out to a standing child (earliest representation of identified infants). It was dedicated by her husband Gaius Oenucius Delus for himself as well; the names of their sons Dexter (died at 11 months) and Sacerdus (died at 3 months), apparently both born into slavery, seem to have been added later. Each side of the monument is opulently carved with a funerary wreath (side 1, side 2). Inscribed with red lettering (CIL VI.21805). 1st century CE. Rome: Vatican Museum (Chiaramonte).
- Cornelia Tyche and Julia Secunda portrayed on a marble sepulchral altar dedicated by Julius Secundus, husband and father. Below the column-framed niche containing their portraits is a framed inscription for each (CIL VI.21805). The monument is topped by a pediment-like cornice that contains their names and symbols pertaining to a goddess relevant to each (Artemis and Fortuna). A reconstruction drawing shows the original composition of the monument (1534; Petrus Apianus) and the location of the hexameter poem inscribed on the right side of the altar describing their loss of life in a shipwreck. Found in Rome, Campus Martius. 1st half 2nd Century CE. Paris, Louvre Museum.
- Vecilia Hila is portrayed on a family tombstone with her older citizen husband, Lucius Vibius, and their young freeborn son, Lucius Vibius Felicio Felix. The inscription (CIL VI.28774) mentions another member of the household, Vibia Prima, a freedwoman of Lucius, who is not shown. Hila, a freedwoman, is portrayed as a matrona, veiled and displaying her wedding ring (larger image). 13 BCE-5 CE. Rome: Vatican Museum (Chiaramonte).
- Wife and
husband in iunctio dextrarum with a male child between them
holding a dove on the funeral urn of the Decii; inscribed below each figure:
A[uli] DECI SPINTHERIS, A[uli] DECI FELICIONIS, DECIAE SPENDUSAE. 98-117
CE. Rome: Museo Massimo (from Via Ostiensia).
- Daughter: this marble funerary tablet for young Cornelia Frontina was arranged by her parents. Inscription: DIS MANIBVS/ CORNELIAE FRONTINAE VIXIT ANNIS XVI M[ensibus] VII/ M. VLPIVS AVG LIB CALLISTVS/ PATER PRAEPOSITVS ARMAMENTARIO/ LVDI MAGNI ET FLAVIA NICE CONIVXS/ SANCTISSIMA FECERVNT SIBI/ LIBERTIS LIBERTABVSQ[ue] POSTERISQ[ue] EOR[um]. Found at the 1 mile marker on the Via Appia. 98-117 CE. Rome, Baths of Diocletian Museum.
- Tombstone of marble for the Servilii: Sempronia Eune, freedwoman of Gaius, appears with her freedman husband, Quintus Servilius Hilarus, and their small freeborn son, Publius Servilius Quinti Filius Globulus, who wears a bulla. It is one of the earliest funerary reliefs to include a child. (CIL VI.16410). Rome 30-20 BCE. Vatican: Museo Gregoriano.
- Claudia Pieris: portrait bust on her marble tombstone, dedicated by her husband Annius Telesphorus; inscription (CIL VI.15543). 117-138 CE. Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
- Marble urn in the shape of an altar, dedicated to for Cornelia Cleopatra by her parents: crown with sphinx; reclining deceased relief; heads of Zeus Ammon; side showing patera; side showing jug; inscription (CIL VI.16368). 100-150 CE. Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
- Iulia Synegoris, age 19; her portrait bust crowns her marble tombstone, dedicated by by her father, C. Iulius Agathopus; inscription (CIL VI.20694). Flavian period. Rome: Capitoline Museum, Palazzo Nuovo.
- Apuleia Archaelais was the 16 year old freeborn daughter of Sextus Apuleius, who dedicated this niche cover for her cinerary urn (CIL VI.12215). Rome: Capitoline Museum, Palazzo Nuovo.
- Claudia Arria appears in the hairstyle of the Empress Julia Domna on this marble sarcophagus which is unusually shaped, like a vat for treading grapes; richly carved in high relief on all sides (back view), the front is decorated with the myth of Selene & Endymion (side view). It was dedicated by her daughter Aninia Hilara (inscription). Roman, from Ostia, c. 220 CE. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
All images are courtesy of the
VRoma Project's Image Archive.