The household was considered by Cicero (Off.1.53-5) to have been the bedrock on which Roman society was built. The experience of life was conducted with reference to the home to a far greater extent than to that of the politics of the city in the forum. The forum was an adult male space that had less relevance to women, children and the elderly. The house, in contrast, was the central location for all participants whether young or old, male or female. Some confusion can arise in the discussion of both the house and family, because there is no direct equivalent of these English words in the Latin language of antiquity. The Latin word familia covers a range of meanings far wider that that of the close conjugal unit or wider kin group. In legal terms the familia was all those under the power of a paterfamilias. This could include his wife and would certainly include his children and household slaves (Ulpian, Dig.50.16.195). The word the Romans used to most nearly equate to a western sense of family was domus, which was also used to mean the physical fabric of the house (Saller 1984, 1999). In this chapter our use of the term household refers to the domus, both as a physical location and as a definition of the group that inhabits it. We must always be cognisant of the constant presence of slaves within the household as providers of services and silent witnesses to the lives of those within the house. Confusion can also arise over the way we see the head of the household or paterfamilias in relationship to both the property of the household and his family. It has recently been shown (Saller 1999) that the Latin term paterfamilias was most often used to refer to an estate owner and could even be used as a legal term to define that owner, whether male or female. However, in the works of many modern scholars, the term is utilised to indicate head of a family or simply as the father of sons.
In this chapter, we wish to set out the centrality of the structure of the household to an understanding of the life course. It was a constant throughout the life of a person: as a child, they grew up within its structure, as adults they left their childhood home, but might return, in the case of daughters, upon divorce; at marriage, a new household was created with the groom conducting his new wife into their new home where, having raised their own children,