Prof. ucz. dr hab. Jakub Urbanik

Faculty of Law and Administration. Chair of Roman Law and the Law of Antiquity

The Woman in the Roman Society: Ideal – Law – Practice

The chronological and topographical framework of the course shall be delimited by Graeco-Roman and Roman Antiquity (Rome State and Society from regal period until Byzantine times as well as nations and states of the conquered Greek oikumene). On this background we shall try analyzing the role of a woman in the ancient society. We will take a look at her duties, roles, rights varying according to her different social standing (slave-maid, prostitute, priestess-nun, matron), try to observe the changes undergoing in the Roman mentality under the influence of different cultural tendencies and customs (especially vis-à-vis conquered Hellenistic societies, Egypt, new religious movements: mysteries, Christianity, Judaism). Finally we will try to confront the ideal preached by rhethors and moralists with the reality of every day-life and the actual legal standing of women. One of the main issues will be obviously marriage as it illustrates well the legal and social role of women in ancient societies. The course will also allow the students to learn how to deal with different sources: legal, literary, iconographic, and last but not least documentary. The course is therefore intended to be a workshop.


1. Meeting 1. Introduction: a woman in antiquity. Methodology: different sources, (literary, iconographic, archaeological, legal, sub-literary), handbooks and literature. What is history of mentality?


2. Meetings 2–3: A true Roman woman – 
a true woman? An ideal 
or a revolutionary factor? Lucretia – Virginia – Cornelia – Octavia – Cleopatra – Messalina – Theodora and Elagabalus. Literary topos and reality

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3. Meetings 4–5: Legal standing of a woman in Roman law. The Twelve Tables and Beyond. Women under authority and autonomous. Guardianship (Capacity to Legal Transactions / Legal Capacity)

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4. Meetings 6–7–8: Legal standing of a woman in Roman law.  Women under authority and autonomous. Guardianship  (Capacity to Legal Transactions / Legal Capacity)  Legal Standing under pre-Classical and Classical Law: Towards Legal and Economic Independence.Ignorantia Iuris Nocet? Women: how Ignorant at Law? Mothers and other women representing their children. Women in Trade.

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5. Meetings 9–10:  Women and Marriage.  Biology of marriage. Roman marriage: aim, social function.  Why should one marry? Marriage in law and in customs. Ways of  contracting.  The reasons for Introduction of affectio maritalis as the Main Factor of Contracting. Augustean Laws on family relations, ius trium liberorum. Adulterous wives & Adulterous husbandsWomen and Marriage.

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6.  Meetings 11–12:  Financial side of marriage: dowry, matrimonial property, severed at law, joint in pratice. Everyday life of a couple: children.

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7. Meeting 10:  Divorce between Law and Practice.  Divorce : why so easy? Obligation to Divorce. Abused Wives, Deserted Husbands.

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8. Meeting 11: Does  Christianity bring any change?.  Limitations of Divorce:A Christian Inspiration or the Ancient Misogynism?  A “Christian” divorce in theory and practice.

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9. Meeting 12: Marriage. Some bizarre cases of Social Practice. Unions of Soldiers. Incestous Marriages. Priestly Divorce. A Tomb of Two Helenas.

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10. Meeting 13-14: Working Women. Lower Classes and Richbusiness-ladies. Women as Their Children’s Guardians.

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11. Meeting 15: Holy Women in The Roman Society. Vestals. Heathen Priestesses. Hypatia: a Pagan Martyr. Christian Saints: Travestite Nuns

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Disclaimer: the translations of the texts used in the presentations/handouts are taken from the commonly accessible sources