Growing Up and Growing Old in Ancient Rome: A Life Course Approach

By Mary Harlow; Ray Laurence | Go to book overview
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Roman marriage is a topic that has been the subject of extensive discussion, culminating in the encyclopaedic treatment by Susan Treggiari (1991a). It is not our intention to represent this material again. Instead, we wish to examine the variety of meanings and social conventions associated with marriage in Rome according to the age of the participants. Marriage created a new form of identity for both the woman and the man, but this identity was subject to variation according to the age of the participants and whether those participants had been married before or had children from an earlier marriage. Our evidence for such marriages is partial and we may only find in our sources an indication of the potential variety of meanings of marriage. What is made clear by this evidence is that marriage was a key experience for nearly all adults, but the nature of marriage and its characterisation by others varied according to the age of the participants. In these cases, their age affected their expected behaviour within marriage and ultimately their character or what we might call today their psychological profile, or personality.

On marriage the husband’s life might continue much as before, with the exception that now other men’s wives could visit his home with no danger to their reputation. His wife’s life, especially if this was a first marriage, was irrevocably transformed. The Roman matrona’s life was characterised by ambiguity: the ideal wife as expressed on epitaphs was beautiful, chaste, devoted to her husband, a good mother, pious, modest, stay-at-home, accomplished at wool-working and thrifty (e.g. CIL1.1007; 6, 29580, 34268; 8, 11294; 9, 1913; Gardner and Wiedemann 1991:53-4); as a member of the upper classes a wife was endowed with a certain amount of authority, the lived experience of her life was at odds with this ideal image. As materfamilias her responsibilities could include running the household, organising childcare, attending and providing social functions with and for her husband, particularly in respect of female guests, and maintaining social links with her own family (see Chapters 2 and 7); if legally independent she could be managing her own estates and incomes (Saller 1999). While the two images were not necessarily mutually exclusive, it is clear that at times the demands of social class could conflict with the prescribed norms of female behaviour. Only a


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