Roman Girl, ca. 50 AD, from the Riley Collection of Roman Portrait Sculpture at Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Roman Girl, ca. 50 AD, from the Riley Collection of Roman Portrait Sculpture at Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Compared to later historical periods, girls in Ancient Rome had considerable freedoms. Girls spent the first six to seven years of their lives being cared for by a wet nurse, though they usually saw their parents quite often. Parents didn’t become involved with their children until the age of 6 or 7, since nearly a third of all kids died during infancy (thus parents tried to avoid making emotional attachments until it was certain the child would survive).

At the age of 7, a young girl was presented with the same opportunity as her brothers: education. Especially in the upper class, education was considered very important. Her parents would now choose whether to send her off to school, let her attend the public schools nearby, or hire a private tutor. She would be taught Latin and Greek, art, literature, how to manage a household, and some skills in politics and money so that she could manage her husband’s affairs if he went off to war.

Often, girls were educated side-by-side with boys, and also played with boys regularly. A typical young girl’s day would be much like yours: school, playtime, and time learning how to manage a home with her mother. She would also learn, primarily from her mother and her Avunculus (maternal uncle) the womanly virtues of chastity, beauty, fertility, and grace as well as skills in weaving, cleanliness, tidiness, obedience, politeness, and how to manage slaves.

At age 15, a girl would be married. At this point, she would choose whether to live with or without “manus” (total control by her husband). If she chose to live without manus, she would be required to spend three days a year living with her father so that he could retain control of her dowry and oversee her economic and political status. Either way, control over her life remained under a man.

Yet it wasn’t all bad. Women were not confined to the house: they could visit the market or temples and talk in public. Once Rome became an Empire, women were also granted significant rights: they could own property, run a business, free slaves, inherit wealth, make wills, and work paid jobs.

For an interesting look at the daily lives of Ancient Roman girls, check out the TedEd video, “Four Sisters in Ancient Rome,” by Ray Laurence.

-Tiffany Rhoades
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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