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
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.