Skip to Main Content

Women in Ancient Times : Women in Ancient Rome

Year 11 Ancient History



Search for items using the Library Catalogue Accessit

Women in Ancient Rome

Any historical investigation into the experiences of women in ancient Rome needs to be mindful that almost all of the information we have comes from male sources. Compounding this is the knowledge that while some women in ancient Rome could read and write, the references to literary works by women are largely dead ends for historians as very few of those texts survive.


Women in ancient Rome were considered second class citizens and Roman society used certain measures to ensure that women in ancient Rome stayed that way. In this video, we will look at the role of Women in ancient Rome in the areas of Mythology, Family life and women in the wider society including women in religion. We will also cover the Madonna/Whore dichotomy in Roman times which can be said to be at the root of sexism in the modern world.

Professor Beth Pollard gave a talk entitled, "Deliberating Bodies: the Conventus Matronarum and the Senaculum in Severan Rome." After her presentation, we asked her questions about some of the interesting information she shared.

Learn about the lives of women in Ancient Rome – lives which often go untold in history books. In this fascinating and deeply insightful presentation, Professor Kathryn Welch highlights the complex and nuanced existence of women during these times.

In ancient Rome, a woman was defined in relation to her family. Any fame she won was supposed to be confined to the private, domestic sphere. She wove such fine wool; she kept such a fine house; she was so very chaste and never made her father look bad! They weren’t welcome in the public sphere of governance. They couldn't vote or hold office. Theirs was a distinctly patriarchal world, true fame and public achievement was supposed to be reserved for men. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and in a society that coveted public glory, ambitious women found their way into the history books too. In this episode, we dive into that shining beacon of female goodness: Cornelia Africana. What did she do and what did her world look like? Was she really as virtuous as our sources claim?

Last time, we saw Agrippina the Elder making some big power plays for her children, but ultimately she lost the imperial game. Her daughter Agrippina the Younger watched as half of her family was murdered, her remaining brother Gaius sent off to the island of Capri to hang out with Tiberius in what has to have been a very tense situation. But that’s all over now. Tiberius has died, and brother Gaius has become emperor. In the years to come, Agrippina will face exile and heartbreak, power and prestige, threat and conspiracy. Ever resilient and ambitious, she will achieve feats that no imperial woman has before. Grab a golden cloak, a sharp tongue, and your best swimming stroke. Let’s go traveling.

Last time, we saw Agrippina the Younger survive her exile AND a jealous young empress, only to marry her uncle Claudius and become empress herself. What a comeback! What will she do, now that she's finally achieved the kind of power she's always dreamed of? You can be sure she's about to shatter some imperial glass ceilings, but her position will also force her to make difficult and dangerous choices, and confront unimaginable loss. For a transcript of this episode, images, and more, check out my website. To become a patron, head over to my Patreon page: you'll find a special bonus episode there full of Agrippina insights from our special guests, Dr. Rad and Dr. G. Make sure to listen to their The Partial Historians podcast

World History Encyclopedia

The exact role and status of women in the Roman world, and indeed in most ancient societies, has often been obscured by the biases of both ancient male writers and 19-20th century CE male scholars, a situation only relatively recently redressed by modern scholarship which has sought to more objectively assess women's status, rights, duties, representation in the arts, and daily lives; and all this from almost exclusively male source material dealing with a male-dominated Roman world.

History Answers

When it comes to Roman history it tends to be just that: His Story. The tale of the Republic and Empire focuses on the heroic generals, stout lawmakers, and honest citizens, all of whom were male. A close examination of the texts and monuments of Rome show that there were women who wielded considerable power, though often veiled modestly behind the role of wife and mother. Here we pull back the curtain to reveal ten women who shaped the Roman world.


WIFE OF ONE EMPEROR, sister of another, mother of a third, and - if rumors are true - the incestuous lover of the latter two, Julia Agrippina the Younger dominated Roman imperial politics in a way that no woman before her had ever attempted.

Gerkens- Public Domain

Only twice in the History of Mankind, have women been considered legally equal to men. As far as we can see, this has occurred but twice : in Rome in Antiquity, and now in North America and Europe. We would like to tell you the amazing story of women’s emancipation in Rome.

Mosier- Public Domain

When we view the women of Rome, we see them closest to the roles of nature: daughter, wife and mother. While the nature of Roman culture allowed for a relatively generous amount of freedom for its women, a sense of fear and trepidation toward women of the time existed. Within the core of Latin, we can note that those phenomena that are tempestuous or uncontrollable phenomena are typed feminine nouns. Notably, both the volatile natura (nature) and fortuna (fortune; luck), over which the Romans had absolutely no control in their age are solidly gendered as “woman”. Fortuna, when embodied, is a terrible goddess, as like to vengefully smite as she is to gently smile. This may show us something of the conceptions of women, while evincing something of the role expected of women: the force and influence they wielded was unpredictable, and must still be respected.