Women in the Augustan Period

This webpage is for all to learn about the Augustan Period from 43 BC to ad 18. The Augustan Age is a term that can be used to describe a period of time. Augustus was the first emperor of Rome during this time period. He was viewed as one of the most successful leaders as he had changed nearly every aspect of Roman life throughout his ruling, restoring stability and prosperity to the Roman state. This topic is worth discussing because it is interesting to see how women were during this period and how they were viewed as they had many laws and men around them to keep them from doing anything that was different from their roles. I found this topic interesting because even though Augustus was seen as a great ruler, there were still many things that women struggled with that does not occur in todays society. I will be discussing different concepts related to women in antiquity within the Augustan period, including male dominance, marriage, family roles and responsibilities, as well as the jobs they have. 


Male Dominance

 Augustus’s family is the most powerful in Rome, “and his influence over the other fathers draw their children to him” (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 54). This demonstrates that the appearance of the children is important in the family for the father to bring them to Augustus who has the most successful family of Rome (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 54). Bauman states, “with ultimate power now concentrated, at least in theory, in the hands of one man, the spotlight was on women who stood closest to the throne” (Bauman 1994, p. 99). Augustus made a lot of changes for the Romans to enrich the lives of the people. Roman women were often viewed as objects in Ancient Rome because of the lack of power they had. Even though there was male dominance, Augustus knew that women were important to the people of Rome, so “he drew attention to women as significant participators in the system: their good behavior was partly responsible for the health of the state” (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 44). During the Augustan period, women’s roles were controlled but they were seen by the work they do as it also was more politicized (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 44).

Women may be legally killed by their husbands when unfaithful, but men were only exiled or had their property and parts of their dowry confiscated in part for having extramarital affairs. The ‘restoration of the republic’ happened because of Octavian, in which he founded the ‘Principate in 27 BC’, he ushered a change that was an importance in Roman history. It had an intense impact on all aspects of life, which included women and their role in politics (Bauman 1994, p. 99). Bauman describes, “that role was still dominated by the upper echelons of society, but with a difference, for there was now an elite within the elite” (1994, p. 99). An aristocratic Roman male named Ovid represents this colonial vision of female bodies and household control in his responses. Ovid portrays female bodies in subordinate and dependent postures that are remarkably similar to the imagery that pervades the time (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 44). Ovid sardonically portrays himself in many of these cases as a “pater/poeta/imperator figure” someone who had learned and became great at the art of seducing females (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 45). Pictures depicting the empire as a series of feminized or a maternal assistant all around a masculine male figure in the center that is a Roman authority are not uncommon in the Augustan era (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 45). Gender had played a role in social relationships that demonstrated the differences of the sexes and showing the power of men over women. Ramsby and Severy-Hoven stated that, “such images draw upon some republican forebears, particularly monuments of Pompey and Caesar, and a vast Hellenistic artistic repertoire” (2007, p. 45). 


Marriage Laws

During the Augustan era, there were new laws created to encourage marriage and children among the Romans. The concern of Augustus was to encourage marriage and to restore both the stability of family life and the reproductivity of the ruling class in Rome. It is helpful to look at Augustan literature for a reflection of the importance of marriage and the role of women as mothers (Fantham, Foley, Kampen, Pomeroy, and Shapiro 1995, p. 296). Augustus was willing to help those that were married and had children, but punished men and women of a certain age who were unmarried. Liveley and Shaw argue, that Augustan marriage laws that were developed for Roman citizens created a system of marriage rewards and punishments (praemia et poenae) and brought private (including sexual) activities into public authority and state control. They were punished for being spouseless and were unable to inherit a will unless under other conditions. Many people disliked the length of time allowed for remarriage so, “the revisions of CE. Social, economic and political incentives accompanied the legislative provisions” (Liveley and Shaw 2020, p. 247). The time ended up being extended to allow those more time to remarry. They were also banned from attending public activities if sill unmarried by their twenties (Liveley and Shaw 2020, p. 247). It was against the law to marry a woman who had been convicted of adultery, and this was enforced by strict conditions. When a woman has committed adultery, the Julian marriage law on repressing adulteries enabled the adulterous woman and her lover to be killed by the husband and the wife’s father. In Augustan Rome, the marriage laws sent a strong message to men and women about what is expected of them in their physical, marital, reproductive conduct. They were expected to raise a family and to be faithful to one another. Women who have been unfaithful in their marriage may be exiled or have their property and dowry confiscated. Augustus’ daughter Julia, happened to be charged and exiled because of not obeying Augustus’s rules and having an affair with a man.

In the event of a spouse passing away, the marriage legislation includes, “widows were expected to re-marry within a year of their husband’s death, and divorces expected to remarry within six months of their divorce” (Liveley and Shaw 2020, p. 247). These laws compelled higher-ranking men to marry women from a social class that was deemed appropriate for their status which would be of the same class. The concern of Augustus was to encourage marriage and to restore both the stability of family life and the reproductivity of the ruling class in Rome. Fantham et al. discusses that, “it is useful to look to Augustan literature for a representation of the high official valuation of marriage and women’s role as mother” (1995, p.296). 

Jobs for Women

In the Augustan period, women’s jobs all mix together, making it virtually impossible to differentiate between them. There are jobs women do outside of their home which are things they also normally do in the home such as cooking, sewing and others. Women have often found themselves in jobs involving clothing and fabrics, food, and the treatment of infants. Women’s roles in the Augustan period were viewed by men as mainly being wives and mothers, which was what many women were seen as during this period. The roles of women remained a caregiver within a Roman family such as being in charge of taking care of children and making sure they are all well-nourished.  There were roles that, “women were also responsible for the early education of their children and for the reproduction of social knowledge in the very young” (Schillace 2013, p. 112). Women had primary and secondary purpose such as procreative and educational to be more important than other duties (Schillace 2013, p. 112). Schillace states that, “domestic tasks underpinning men’s work and lives” (2013, p. 112). It shows that women’s roles were not as important as men’s roles and lives in general. Augustus saw women as important participants in the system in which he rooted Roman wealth and unity in the Roman family. Even though women were seen as an important part of Roman families, they were rarely praised for jobs that they did. When Augustus was present, all women were seen in the same light: “idealized and domesticated, properly old-fashioned in style and demeanor, they all silently and willingly bear the burden” (Ramsby and Severy 2007, p. 53). Schillace further argues, “in both legal and philosophical terms, women were not considered persons; they had few rights and, even if proven men’s equals in nature, few practical alternatives to their roles as mothers and (secondarily) as wives” (2013, p. 129). 

Woman in Ancient Rome

Roman artists in the Augustan period begun to use women’s bodies, as well as men’s and children’s, to represent the place of power as a family with Augustus at the helm (Ramsby and Severy-Hoven 2007, p. 78). It demonstrates how Augustus has changed things for the Roman society to better the lives of Romans. 

Roman sculpture


In conclusion, women have come a long way since the Augustan period, we are able to speak up more and have control over our own lives instead of someone else guiding the way. Women are allowed more jobs outside of the domestic labour, they are not treated differently for not having children, and are seen more independent people. Even though women are still expected to get married, people are more accepting if they do not marry. Women during the Augustan period were controlled by men as male dominance overpowered the Romans. Marriage and jobs were made with laws that must be followed, making it difficult to be an individual that wanted different for a family and career. Overall, Roman women were seen as people that took care of husband and children while following laws that are placed. In modern society, it is now becoming easier for women to do things for themselves and allow the father to do more work with the children, but there are people that still see women only doing the roles of the household. Times are changing and will continue to change for the better of women.


Fantham, E., Foley, H. P., Kampen, N. B., Pomeroy, S. B., & Shapiro, H. A. (1995). Women in the classical world: Image and text. ProQuest Ebook Central, 294-330. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.acadiau.ca:9443

Liveley, G., and Shaw, R. (2020). Marriage Plots: A New Narratological Approach to The Augustan Marriage Laws. Laws and Humanities, 14(2), 244-266. 

Ramsby, T.R and Severy-Hoven, B. (2007). Gender, Sex, and The Domestication of The Empire in Art of The Augustan Age. Arethusa, 40, 43-71. 

Schillace, B.L. (2013). “Reproducing” Customs: Mechanical Habits and Female Machines in Augustan Women’s Education. Feminist Formations, 25(1), 111-137. 

Bauman, Richard A. “WOMEN IN THE AUGUSTAN PRINCIPATE.” Women and Politics in Ancient Rome. Routledge, 1994. 99-120. Web.






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