For Romans, family was the most important
thing. The whole family would all live together in one house or
apartment. The family would include all unmarried sons and
daughters, as well as married sons and their wives. Married
daughters went to live with their husband's family.
family was ruled by the paterfamilias. (Also spelled pater
familias) This was always the oldest
male in the family. Father, grandfather, uncle, oldest brother,
whoever was the oldest male was the absolute ruler of the family.
The paterfamilias owned all the family's property and had the power of
life and death over every family member. The paterfamilias was
also responsible for teaching all the younger males both academics and
trades, but also how to act in society. The paterfamilias was
responsible for all the actions of the family. If someone in the
family got in trouble, the paterfamilias had to pay the
consequences. The paterfamilias could exile members of the
family, beat them, sell them into slavery, even kill them with no threat
The paterfamilias was expected to treat his family with fairness and
compassion and if he did not, the that person would be shunned by the
rest of Rome.
Under the kingdom, and then under the
republic women had no rights. They were considered property.
Women were there to teach daughters and to bear and raise
Under the empire women got some
rights. They could own property, inherit, even get a paid
loved. They were educated to the best of a family's ability to do
so. They were allowed to play and visit friends. But they
were also trained to obey elders. You never talked back to an
elder Roman. You never talked back to your family. Doing
those things could actually get you thrown out of the house, exiled by
the paterfamilias, and never allowed back.
Romans did adopt
children. If children were captured in a conquest, they were
brought back to Rome. Some were made into slaves, but many others
were adopted into Roman families and raised to be good Roman
citizens. A wealthy family could also adopt a plebian child. This happened
when the patrician family had no children or heirs.
In fact, you
could be adopted into a Roman family even if you were an adult.
Julius Caesar adopted Octavian, after he had proven himself
in battle. He was to be Julius Caesar's heir. (Octavian
changed his name to Augustus,
and ultimately became the first Roman emperor, after Caesar was assassinated,
and after a civil war placed him in power over the objections of several
statesmen, including Cicero.)
people were treated with honor. The family respected the wisdom
and experience that older people had. Within a family, the elders
were allowed to work or play as they wanted. This is because
Romans believed that the spirits of the elders would bother them if they
were treated badly in life.
Most slaves were well
treated. Since they were property and cost money, they were
given good care so that they could provide good work.
However, they were property and could be sold. On the reverse
side if they gave good service, they could be freed and even
adopted into the family.