Family Life of Ancient Rome

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Ancient Roman culture and society placed a high value on family. Roman law was mostly created to safeguard the foundational unit of the family. Whether you were regarded as a patrician or plebeian in Roman society depended a lot on the family you belonged to.

The Familia

Rome’s concept of “familia” went beyond the traditional family unit of a mother, father, and child. It also covered all household members, including slaves, household help, clients, and freedmen. Because of this, several families in Rome expanded considerably. There were frequently thousands of people in the emperor’s family.

Families Paterfamilias

The father, often known as the “paterfamilias,” was the family’s legal head. He was the house’s oldest surviving male. The other family members were subject to the paterfamilias’ legal authority. He chose the spouses for his children and punished any members of the family who disobeyed him. He might even order the execution of family members in ancient Rome, though this rarely occurred.

Rome’s Mighty Families

For the Romans, a family’s ancestry was crucial. Every family belonged to a larger group known as a “gens” that had a common ancestor. The oldest and most influential families in ancient Rome belonged to a gens known as “patricians.” A person’s rank in Roman society was guaranteed by birth into a patrician family.


In most cases, the paterfamilias had the last say in who his offspring would wed. Politics played a significant role in a number of the elite families in Rome’s marriage arrangements. Roman men could only wed one lady at a time, in contrast to many other ancient civilizations. However, divorce was a rather common occurrence and may be started by either the husband or the wife.


Roman families typically loved and looked after their children. Boys in particular were crucial because they would uphold the family name. The midwife would lay the newborn baby down on the ground. It could only become a member of the family if the father took it home. If not, the kid would be left outside to perish from exposure. Sometimes other families would rescue abandoned babies and raise them as slaves.


The Roman family that owned the slaves included them as members as well. Even freedmen, often known as former slaves who had purchased or earned their freedom, were frequently still regarded as members of the family.

Fascinating Information About Roman Families

The term “potestas” refers to the father’s influence inside the family. The paterfamilias’ “potestas” were in effect for the remainder of the family.

If they could not afford to feed their children, poor families would occasionally sell them into slavery. This occasionally meant a better life for the child, as awful as that sounds.

The family’s mother was referred to as the “materfamilias.”

The actions of the members of his family were under the control of the paterfamilias.

Romans often included adopted children in their families. If there was no heir, it was not uncommon for a family to adopt a male adult. This contributed to maintaining the family name.

In general, once a family member, one was not permitted to leave the family without the paterfamilias’ approval.

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