In the stone-age society of hunting and gathering, clothing, food and shelter were the things that people desired the most. Although the best hunter may have been given the right to have the meat cut of his choice, all the people were almost equally the same. It is the agricultural economy that caused change as people obtained surplus food that they could use in exchange for other things that were beyond the basics. Despite the changes in technology, the lives of women in the ancient society were similar in various parts of the world in that majority of them served as household servants, did not have access to family land and generally worked in order to provide for the entire family rather than for themselves (Thompson, 2005).
Lives of Women in Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece
Women in ancient Egypt are noted to be among those who received the best treatment compared to women in other ancient societies. For the Egyptians, happiness and joy were genuine aims of life hence the primary source of enchantment was the family and the home. In Egyptian society, offspring and marriage were taken to be desirable but in some of the societies, wives were household servants. In addition, marriage, emotional support as well as love were considered to be fundamental. Despite the fact that there are no records of marriage ceremonies from the ancient Egyptian society, love and affection were considered to be important and marriage was a natural condition that applied to all groups of people irrespective of the class in which the individual belonged to (Thompson, 2005).
Love and affection were not considered in Roman marriages but often love was expected to grow while the couple was in marriage. The Roman marriage was similar to that of the Egyptians in that Roman men held the marriage issue in high regard. For them, the home and the family were of immense significance. Women in early Roman society worked and followed instructions from their husbands and were not allowed to make any suggestions. However, with time, they were valued by their husbands and men begun to seek and follow advices from women (Thompson, 2005).
The age of marriage in all the three ancient societies was similar but not necessarily the same. For instance, ancient Egyptian girls were married when they were either in their late teens or early twenties while the Greeks married off their daughters at the age of twelve or thirteen. Roman girls on the other hand were married off at the age of fourteen and it was the girl’s father who chose the husband and made marriage arrangement including the quantity of dowry. Conversely, for Egyptians and Greeks as well as Romans, husbands were older and in most cases they were twice the age of the woman being married (Thompson, 2005).
Ancient Egyptian women were fortunate because the law applied equally to both men and women hence it was possible for a woman to become a Pharaoh. Women of ancient Egypt were allowed to own properties, sign contracts, scrounge funds, give witness in courts, and initiate divorce among others. These rights allowed them to undertake the responsibilities associated with them. Men dominated women in Rome and Greece. For example, according to the Roman law, it was the man who was in charge of all the property hence he was the one who controlled it because he was the head of the household. However, like the Egyptian women, Roman women were allowed to own properties, manage farms, work on farms and lease properties. They were in a position to lease or own houses, they could use wealth as collateral to obtain loans, and they could work as moneylenders. Greek women were also allowed to own slaves hence they used them for various economical purposes particularly in the textile industry (Thompson, 2005, p.3, 5).
Majority of women in the ancient society worked as household servants. They worked full time to provide food and make cloths for the family. For instance, Egyptian women housewives would spend the whole day in the home grinding flour and baking bread. The most important jobs for Roman women were taking care of the children and managing the home. Even though upper class women owned property and the lower class women worked as slaves or household servants, both would work as wet nurses. Lower class women as well as well to do and respected women worked as wet nurses and nursed infants of other women especially of the slave women (Thompson, 2005).
The Greek law on the other hand was quite different as it required every Greek woman to have kyrios or a guardian. The guardian in this case was a male individual who could either be the woman’s father, spouse or a male relative. The Julian law of marriage in Rome was also similar to that of the Greeks since guardianship passed from the woman’s father to her husband (Thompson, 2005, p.3). Roman women lived under the authority of their fathers and once married, they would be ruled by their husbands. In addition, widows were not allowed to take charge of their properties but rather a male supervisor was assigned to manage and monitor her finances. Women were protected in the Greek society in terms of ownership of wealth through dowry payments. The management of wealth was by the male guardian but girls still had a share of the family’s wealth in their homes and in their homes. Dowry was a source of security for the Greek woman. The case is similar for Roman women due to the reason that the girl’s family provided the bride with dowry in the form of a gift so that the dowry could be used as capital in the family’s start of a new household. It acted as part of the girl’s inheritance as well as some form of economic security for the woman in case of divorce. Egyptian women were also protected in marriage because men were expected to return their wives’ belongings in case of divorce but each managed his or her property separately in marriage (Thompson, 2005).
Adultery was not allowed in the ancient society. In Egypt, adultery was not allowed and it was only under special circumstances that a man could openly engage in sexual activity with other women and in particular maidservants. One instance where adultery was permissible is situation where the wife could not conceive. Adultery in the Roman society was also not accepted and women were punished more than men in case of adultery. For instance, a man could commit adultery but in a case where the woman was not married, the man was not subject to punishment since there was no law governing that. On the contrary, Roman women could even be punished by death by their husbands in case of adultery (Thompson, 2005).
In conclusion, it is evident that women in the three ancient societies were exposed to similar conditions and lived similar forms of lives. Marriage was consented by the daughter’s father with the groom’s family. Love and affection were not a consideration for marriage because it was expected that love would develop while the couple was married. Dowry was paid and often given to the couple as a gift and a source of economic security for the women in case of divorce. Adultery was punishable in the three societies but women were the ones who were more likely to be punished because the law did not include punishment for adulterous men.
Thompson, J. C. (November 2005). Women in the Ancient World: The Status, Role and Daily Life of Women in the Ancient Civilizations of Egypt, Rome, Athens, Israel and Babylonia. Retrieved July 6, 2009, from,