The Re-Creation of a Young Roman Girl
Roman girl, ca. A.D. 50
Riley Collection of Roman
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At seven years old this young, upper-class1
Roman girl, daughter of a prominent political figure, is posing for a portrait
of her face. Her father is demanding her whole family have one done so
that everyone can see their family displayed for years to come. As predicted
by her father, Roman art historians are very interested in these portraits
and the past they represent. In 1998 this bust is a rare and exceptional
find among art collectors. This portrait is now one of twenty-one sculptures
found in the Riley Collection of Roman Portrait Sculpture at the Cedar
Rapids Museum of Art.
This portrait is rare, first because it is a portrait
of a child, and second because it is portrait of a young girl. Children
were often exposed in ancient Rome, especially young girls. The reasons
for exposure are probably monetary. Poor families could not afford many
children, and wealthy families did not want to have to divide their inheritance
any more than necessary. Boys were most often kept because they would be
the heir to the family and preserve the family wealth, while daughters
would require a dowry to be given to her husband.2
When the portrait is finished, this young girl and her
two older brothers, would be immortalized in stone. This portrait may have
been chosen to be made at this time because the girl's father had reached
a certain political status, or because this girl had reached an age where
it was believed she had survived the hardest part of her life, her childhood,
or a combination of both.3 It is unlikely
this portrait is a funerary memorial due to the simple fact that it is
a round sculpture rather than relief. Most grave markers were decorated
with relief in the ancient times.
INFANCY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD
Infant mortality rates in Rome4 were exceptionally
high. Parents did not become attached to their children right after birth,
but rather waited until they knew the child would survive the younger years
before becoming intimately involved in the child's life. The historian
Polybius, in fact, points out that there is no Latin word for baby. The
child was not ignored by the parents, as they saw the child daily, but
placed her under the more watchful care of a wet nurse slave until the
child got older. The nurse cared for the child in slave quarters until
the child reached schooling age and then returned the child to the parents'
care.5 Wet nursing served two purposes in
upper-class families. Not only did it prevent attachment to a child that
may die, but it kept the parents available for social and political engagements.
When the child was placed in the full care of her parents, she would
be able to basically care for herself.
RAISING A YOUNG GIRL
Once children were under the more direct care of their
parents, at age six or seven, they were valued a great deal. Cicero states,
"If a child dies young, one should console himself easily. If he dies in
the cradle, one doesn't even pay attention."6
Parents adapted to their children and treated them with great affection. Children
were treated with the respect of young adults and expected to think rationally
and intellectually.7 They were educated
in school and at home to learn these qualities.
This young girl would begin attending school with her
brothers soon. Her father had three options of schooling; he could send
her away, place her in public schooling with boys and girls at her level,
or he could have her taught at home by a tutor along with her two brothers.
Because the girl is in the upper-class of Rome, she will probably be educated
at home by a tutor.8
Roman school was extremely disciplined.9
If a child worked diligently, he or she was praised. However, if the child
was lazy and performed badly, he or she was flogged or threatened with
flogging. Upper-class children, both boys and girls,
were taught in Latin and Greek, as both languages were important, in the
subjects of art and literature.10 Boys
would have had some games
integrated into their education to sharpen their wits. Often they would
have been taught the language of leadership in the forum, military, and
law; as they needed to know to give orders and speak publicly. In contrast,
girls would have learned how to manage a household and the language involved
for this task, following their mother's footsteps. This would have included
weaving, cleanliness, tidiness, obedience, and politeness. In addition,
girls would have learned to give orders so they could have commanded their
team of slaves.11
This girl was loved and cherished a great deal by her
parents and brothers. Her father would have looked on her with great pride
and valued her as a descendant of his blood.12
Her brothers would have protected her from any harm, and when she was married
with children, they would have protected them just as strongly as they
protected her.13 Her
Avunculus, her maternal uncle, would have been a close, loving figure who
taught her social and political roles. He would not have had any financial
role, as the child belonged financially to the father and the male agnate
kin. The Patruus, the paternal uncle, would have been more distant and
very stern as an authority figure to the children.14
As a child, this young girl would have had a similar
life to that of her brothers. They would have been under the control
potestas, their father, and have had little say in life decisions.
Their father, until his death, would have had complete control of his children,
even when they are adults with greater political and social ranking than
himself.15 In addition
to their parents, who were seldom involved in their child rearing, the
children would have had a tutor to look after them and guide them socially
and morally.16 This tutor would have
played a large role in teaching the children; as upper-class parents interacted
little with their children until they became older.
A mother, although not as dominant an authority figure
as a father, may have been the most influential figure in a daughter's
life. Mothers would have taught their daughters the cultural
ideals for a young girl and how to manage the household.17 The
young girl would have been taught to be graceful, beautiful, fertile, chaste,
and virginal. Women should also be obedient and hard working for their
husbands. They should not seek power or be promiscuous.18 Daughters
were trained to be wives and mothers foremost. Secondly, they learned about
wealth and politics so that they may substitute for their husbands if they
should ever need to.19 Above all,
women were to serve as wives and to produce many children.
MARRIAGE AND ADULTHOOD
As the children grew, however, the gap would widen in
their privileges. The most important rite of passage for her brothers is
when they assume the toga virilis, the toga of a man, and will become more
independent. In contrast, the female rite of passage is marriage, when
she becomes more committed.20 When
the boy assumes the toga virilis he will still be under patria potestas
as long as his father lives, but when his father dies, the boy will be
free to make his own decisions and manage his own affairs.21 The
boy will be able to attend meals and special occasions every time. He will
also be included in the drinking and discussion of the adults.22
The young girl, on the other hand, will not gain any
privileges or independence until marriage, and even then there will be
few privileges of her own. She will always be under the control of a man.23
When the young girl gets married she can either live with manus
or without manus. If she is married with manus her husband will manage
all her affairs, control her dowry, and manage all her financial and social
needs. She would no longer be of any legal or financial responsibility
to her father.
If she chooses to live without manus, she will live
at her husband's home most of the time, but will be required to live at
her father's for three days out of the year. Her father will control her
dowry. He will also be responsible for seeing that she is well taken care
of politically, socially, and economically.24
Either way, with manus or without manus, a man will be overseeing all of
her transactions and appointments. If her father
or husband should die at any time in her life, a tutor will manage her
financial affairs until she is married again.25
When married, this young girl, now considered a women,
will gain some privileges her brothers gained at toga virilis and she will
begin to use the skills her mother taught her as a young child. Managing
the house, as well as producing heirs for her husband, will be the girl's
main job. Managing the house in the upper-class of Rome meant presiding
over the slaves and seeing that all was done correctly. However, no where
in ancient sources are upper-class women shown working physically to prepare
a meal or clean a home, slaves did all the labor, wives were simply overseers.
Although this role may seem unimportant to a modern women, it was regarded
highly by a Roman woman.26 Yet, women,
after all their preparation of the feast, had very little influence in
the actual dinner. A woman had to be invited to a feast by her husband
(or whoever was her guardian) and then play a back seat role.
Immediately after she was married, this girl would
begin to have children and play the same role in their lives that her mother
played in hers. In addition, she will continue to visit her mother regularly
and respectfully, doing what her mother wishes until she passes on. One
day her children will do the same for her.27
1 This girl is believed to be upper-class
due to the elaborate hair braid she wears down the center of her head.
Generally only the elite of Rome had time and servants to do their hair
in braids. Back.
Boswell, 18-19. and Harris, 14. Back.
3 During Augustus' reign, family lines
and heirs became increasingly important in the Roman Empire. Augustus
passed a series of laws involving childbirth, marriage, and patria potestas.
Also forthcoming was the period of dynasty rule. No longer was Rome
a pure republic, but rather the emperor could nominate people to be elected
and promise them positions in the counsel and the senate. Heirs became
increasingly important for family lineage.
Also at this time period, children played an important political
role for their fathers. Men who had many off-spring had many privileges
over those who had lesser amount of heirs, especially men running in political
elections. Priority in an election was given, not to the older candidate,
but to the one with more children. If they had the same number of
children, the one who was married had first priority. Then after
children and marriage were considered, age was examined. If both
had the same number of children and both were married the older candidate
would become senator. For further information see Jane
Zablocki. "The image of a Roman family in Noctes Atticae by Aulus
4 Infant mortality rate in ancient Rome
was 319/1000. See Andrew
Riggsby. "Roman life expectancy." Back.
5 There are several arguments on the issue
of child abandonment and the raising of children by wet nurses in ancient
Rome. Romans cared for their children and were very proud of them.
However children had little chance of surviving the harshness of infancy.
Parents guarded themselves against grieving by distancing themselves from
their babies and gradually getting attached to them over time (Golden,
152-163.). For more information on wet nursing see Rawson, 1986,
chapter 8. See Valerie
French, "Midwives and Maternity Care in the Roman World." Back.
6 Golden, 156. Back.
7 Saller, 1994, 71-74. Back.
8 Upper-class children tended to be taught
at home with private tutors. If not, they attended public school
and their tutor, as well as a slave, went along with them. The slave
carried their belongings; the tutor was responsible for helping the child
develop socially and educationally (Hopkins, 1993, 27). Back.
9 Discipline and control were very important
to the Romans. Children were expected to be obedient and work hard
on their own. There is no room for laziness in a Roman child (Hopkins,
1993, 27). Back
10 Through some daily children's writings,
Hopkins has pieced together the basic leanings of a Roman child between
the ages of seven and eleven. Children would have gone to school
at dawn and learned, as well as literature and art, cleanliness, tidiness,
quietness, and politeness, all important to the Roman society. Roman
education for the elite has been described as conservative, ritualistic,
and unimportant in the real world. However, this type of frivolous
education was typical of the Roman elite. The more elite a family
was, the more idealized education became. Higher education was a
privilege often only the rich could afford (Hopkins, 1993, 28). Back.
11 These parts of education would begin
after the child has learned to read and write in both Greek and Latin.
Often, only the elite got to partake in this higher education. Rural
children had to immediately go to work on the farm after basic education
was learned (Hopkins, 1993, 25-29). Back.
12 Hallett also notes, on page 78, that
in the Latin language the terms for sons and daughters are coordinate terms
--filia and filias and gnata and gnatus -- for daughter and son.
This may reflect equal pride felt by fathers toward there children (Henry,
1989 and Hallett, 1984, 64). Back.
13 Hallett notes in her chapter on "Sorores
Familiae" the sister-brother bond was much stronger than the brother-brother
bond. This may be due to competition for inheritance (Hallett, 1984
and Henry, 1989). Back.
14 Hallett, 1984 and Henry, 1989.
and Fant on the twelve tables of Rome. Back.
16 Tutors are discussed in the previous
section on education. Refer to Hopkins 1993.
17 Dixon, 1987, 210. Back.
18 Polybuis speaks of how a woman
is never a free agent, so to speak. A women always has a male companion
to attend to her affairs. It may be a tutor, husband, or father that
looks after her financial and political business (Dixon, 147-160).
19 For further discussion on women's
roles as a Roman citizen refer to Gardner, 1993, chapter 4. Back.
20 Gardner, 1986, 5. Back.
21 Dixon, 1992, 123. Back.
22 (Foss, 1995.) Pedar
Foss discusses the importance and significance of Roman meals.
To be included in a large feast was an important rite of passage into adulthood.
23 Dixon reminds that marriage was arranged
by the pater familias, not the young girl and her husband. Usually
girls were married at 15, and boys at 25. The biggest concern in
Roman marriage was that the children born of that marriage would be legal
roman citizens. In order for that to occur, both parents had to be
legal Roman citizens. Marriage was a necessary function for survival
of lineage, not something any Roman man wanted to be trapped in (Dixon,
1992, 60-65). See
Lefkowitz and Fant on guardianship and the Julian Marriage Laws.
24 Dixon, 1992, 72-75. Back.
25 Women were seen to be too careless
to manage their own affairs, even as adults. However, women could
appoint their own tutor, and may have chosen one strictly for social purposes
and managed their own money. See
Lefkowitz and Fant on the laws of guardianship. Back.
tells the story of Pomponia,
the wife of Quintus Cicero, when she is a guest somewhere. She was
not invited to have the responsibility of organizing and supervising the
feast at the estate. Because she is treated as a guest, she refuses
to attend the meal. Back.
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