The ancient city of Pompeii is best known for bein

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The ancient city of Pompeii is best known for being covered by an erupting volcano and being almost forgotten. From the time the city was rediscovered in the 1700s scientists and archeologists have managed to piece together evidence to show not just how people died but how they lived. We now know that before the eruption of Mt Vesuvius on August 24 79 AD Pompeii was a resort town. From the remains of Pompeii scholars have deducted the socioeconomic, religious and political life of Pompeii’s last inhabitants. Pompeii was a city where women declared themselves the equal of men. Women could own land, operate businesses, be priestesses and were often educated.

Despite these equalities Pompeiian women were still mostly owned by men and from birth knew their position. New born boys were placed at the father’s feet while newborn girls were given straight to the nurse. Most girls were bought up by their mothers at home learning weaving and other domestic skills. Upper-class girls however were taught to read and write either at school or at home by slave tutors. It was believed by some that educated women made better wives and mothers. Literacy amongst the upper class (both women and men) was a symbol of status and respect. One of the most famous Pompeiian artifacts the fresco of the merchant Terentius Neo and his wife, depicts her holding a wax tablet and a stylus.

Girls were considered grown up by the age of 14 when marriages were usually arranged by their family with the objective of uniting good families. At this time a woman would leave her father’s ownership and become the property of her husband. As many women as possible were kept married and bearing children. Women were expected to be married by the age of 20 and it was law to remarry after the death of ones husband. As at this time in Roman history there were fewer females than males so women could marry and remarry with ease. A woman’s major role was to be a good wife and mother. Motherhood was considered the esteemed occupation.

In Pompeii women often entered into a business partnership with their husbands. They were allowed to keep profits themselves. It was common for a widow to take over her husband’s business. Wives of traders and craftsmen often ran the front of the shop while their husbands made the products or dealt with other aspects of the business. Women could own property and could decide how to administer it. Julia Felix is an example of an independent woman who inherited a large fortune in her own right. Tablets found at Herculaneum (a smaller city destroyed by the same eruption) show that women could buy sell and lease but were not allowed to become bankers. Women in Pompeii worked in, owned and operated many of the taverns, inns and bars, which often served as brothels a topic I will cover later. (more detail)

Archeologists have uncovered written evidence recording the role of women in the medical profession. These women’s status was recognised by law and their fees were regulated. Many women worked in this profession as midwives, physicians and doctors. Records have also been found mentioning husband and wife medical teams.

As Pompeii had a large foreign trade it is not suprising that women from the East came to Pompeii selling luxury items such as dyes, perfumes, clothes and food stuffs. Lower class women also worked in the trades. Some worked independently sewing and mending garments, while others worked as bakery assistants or in the fulling mills. However the status of these women was low like their pay rate.

Like in most places female slaves existed in Pompeii. These women performed a wide range of tasks depending on the owner’s needs. Apart from household duties some of these slave women operated as nannies or wet nurses while others managed their owner’s businesses or worked as labourers. Wealthy women had their own personal attendants which was another duty of these slaves.

Eumachia was Pompeii’s most prominent woman . She came from a wealthy and respected family and rose to hold a position of unusual importance as a priestess. She was also patroness of the fuller’s guild (cleaners, dyers and clothing makers).

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