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Ancient Rome

Family Life

History >> Ancient Rome

Family was an important part of Ancient Roman culture and society. Much of Roman law was written around protecting the basic structure of the family. The family you belonged to had a lot to do with your place in Roman society and whether you were considered a patrician or a plebeian.

Family of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus
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The Familia

The "familia" in Rome included more than just the basic family of father, mother, and children. It also included all the people who were part of the household such as the slaves, servants, clients, and freedmen. As a result, some families in Rome grew quite large. The emperor's family often included thousands of members.

The Paterfamilias

The legal head of the family was the father or "paterfamilias." He was the oldest living male in the household. The paterfamilias had legal authority over the other members of the household. He decided who his children would marry and issued punishment for any family member that disobeyed him. In early Rome, he could even have family members put to death, but this rarely actually happened.

Powerful Roman Families

The ancestry of a family was very important to the Romans. Each family was part of a larger group called a "gens" that shared the same ancestor. The oldest and most powerful Roman families were members of a gens called "patricians." Being born into a patrician family assured a person a high status in Roman society.


The paterfamilias generally had the final say over who his children would marry. Many marriages between the elite families of Rome were arranged based on politics. Unlike many ancient civilizations, Roman men only married one woman at a time. Divorce, however, was fairly common and could be initiated by either the husband or the wife.


Children were generally loved and taken care of in Roman families. Boys were especially important because they would carry on the family name. When a child was born, it was placed on the ground by the midwife. It was only accepted into the family if the father picked it up. Otherwise, the child would be put outside to die of exposure. Sometimes abandoned infants would be rescued by other families and raised as slaves.


Slaves were also a part of the Roman family that owned them. Even slaves that had earned or purchased their freedom, called freedmen, were generally still considered a part of the family.

Interesting Facts About Family Life in Ancient Rome
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Works Cited

History >> Ancient Rome

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