Family


The basic units of Roman society were households and families. Households included the head (usually the father) of the household, pater familias (father of the family), his wife, children, and other relatives. In the upper classes, slaves and servants were also part of the household. The head of the household had great power (patria potestas, "father's power") over those living with him: He could force marriage (usually for money) and divorce, sell his children into slavery, claim his dependents' property as his own, and even had the right to punish or kill family members (though this last right apparently ceased to be exercised after the 1st century BC). 
 Patria potestas even extended over adult sons with their own households: A man was not considered a paterfamilias, nor could he truly hold property, while his own father lived. During the early period of Rome's history, a daughter, when she married, fell under the control (manus) of the paterfamilias of her husband's household, although by the late Republic this fell out of fashion, as a woman could choose to continue recognizing her father's family as her true family. However, as Romans reckoned descent through the male line, any children she had belonged to her husband's family. 

 Little affection was shown for the children of Rome. The mother or an elderly relative often raised both boys and girls. Unwanted children were often sold as slaves. Children might have waited on tables for the family, but they could not have participated in the conversation. 
Groups of related households formed a family (gens). Families were based on blood ties or adoption, but were also political and economic alliances. Especially during the Roman Republic, some powerful families, or Gentes Maiores, came to dominate political life. 

In ancient Rome, marriage was often regarded more as a financial and political alliance than as a romantic association, especially in the upper classes. Fathers usually began seeking husbands for their daughters when these reached an age between twelve and fourteen. The husband was usually older than the bride. While upper class girls married very young, there is evidence that lower class women often married in their late teens or early 20s.