Role of Women in Rome, Mesopotamia, and India Civilization
Today, most women enjoy equality although society is still largely patriarchal. The same can not be said for ancient women. Indeed, gender discrimination was rife, in fact, it was a way of life. In the ancient civilizations, most societies regarded women as of low social class; thus, accorded them less respect compared to men. Women in the Roman, Mesopotamian, and Indian civilizations were deemed unworthy of playing significant roles in society and most of the cultural norms disadvantaged them.
Role of Women in Rome Civilization
In the Roman civilization, the main role of women was majorly domestic. They were considered anchors of every household. In this capacity, they performed the roles of raising and educating children and engaging in the day-to-day running of the households. They were also responsible for passing down traditions from one generation to the other and give birth and initiate their children into society. Furthermore, the woman’s body was viewed mystically due to the processes of menstruation and child-bearing (Mosier-Dubinsky 2). Perhaps men lacked an understanding of these natural feminine processes and dubbed them as related to magic or mysticism.
In the wider society, women could take part in some activities but not others. For example, they could handle farming, crafts, going to the markets, and midwifery. Indeed, in their own way, the women found ways of generating economic value for their societies and families. Additionally, women could hold religious positions even though males held most positions. Some women performed the role of priestesses of Isis and the Vestals, and they served the goddess of the hearth for 30 years. Consequently, they participated in many religious ceremonies, including performing sacrificial rites that were a male preserve in most civilizations. However, these women could not speak about politics or attend political assemblies. They could also not vote for their leaders as their opinion did not count, and neither could they hold any position of political nature.
In the Roman civilization, social class was mainly determined by birth such that boys were considered more advantaged compared to girls. Women’s voices regarding political subjects did not matter since opinions used for governing the society were solely contributed by men. Even worse, women did not study the basic roman literature resulting in them being perceived as low thinkers who could not provide substantial ideas that could influence the public. Women were also treated as underclass when it came to the health sector within the Roman civilization (Duiker & Spielvogel, 2016). The medical profession at the time comprised of doctors and midwives. Doctors were meant to treat more “serious” illnesses, which were perceived to be diseases that affected men. On the other hand, women were treated by midwives since their diseases were “less serious” and did not need much precision and care (Mosier-Dubinsky 3). This state affairs in the Roman civilization period points to the treatment of women as less important compared to the men in that society.
The Role of Women in Mesopotamian Civilization
The Mesopotamian women had specific roles in society, such as being wives, mothers, and housekeepers. In those days, the administrators of schools were scribes and priests. However, many of the young girls did not go to school except for those who were from royal families. Ideally, girls stayed home learning the household chores that were fundamental in their growing up as women. As soon as they got to the adolescent stage, the girls’ fathers had a duty to arrange marriages for their daughters. These traditional marriages were considered legal contracts between families of the boys and girls with obligations that had to be met. Thus, most girls became wives and mothers whose household roles were defined as taking care of their families, raising children, cleaning, cooking, and weaving. Women did not abhor this work. Instead, ancient literature indicates that they valued their caregiving and housekeeping roles (Nowicki 41). It is for this reason that they pursued peace and unity in their families that resulted in strong societies in ancient Mesopotamia.
Some women engaged in trading of crafts, sale of clothes, foodstuff, beer and wine, perfumery, and incense. Additionally, since weaving and selling cloths led to great sources of income for Mesopotamians, many women were employed in temples to make cloths. One of the active businesswomen that existed during the Mesopotamia civilization was called Umma, who was the wife of governor Ayakalla (Nowicki 43). Other activities that women in Mesopotamia engaged in included midwifery and prostitution.
The women inhabiting the southern Mesopotamian region during the Sumer civilization possessed more privileges compared to other civilizations like the Babylonian, Akkadian, and Assyrian, and Babylonian empires. They were allowed to help in running businesses alongside their husbands and could also purchase and own property. Additionally, they also acted as religious leaders, judges, doctors, and court witnesses (Nowicki 44). It is believed though, that as Mesopotamian cultures gained popularity and extended their boundaries, women started becoming less worthwhile in the society with the strong patriarchal structure in communities favoring male rights to women’s rights. As the rights of women reduced, so did the positions that they held in society.
The laws favored men over women. For example, women in the Mesopotamian civilization could easily be divorced by men without evidence of their wrong and for any reason that the men saw fit. For instance, a husband had the audacity to divorce their wives if they were barren, lost money, or if the man felt he was not granted enough respect by the woman. While the women could initiate divorce, they had to prove their husband’s mistakes that warranted the divorce, and monies paid in the form of dowry had to be returned if a divorce was granted. Furthermore, women were judged harshly in relation to adultery. Whenever a Mesopotamian woman was caught in adultery, she was killed. On the other hand, such conduct by men only warranted financial punishment. Besides, the expectation that married women had to be monogamous only applied to them and not their husbands who had the freedom to take in concubines and prostitutes for their enjoyment. Women could inherit the wealth of their parents, but only if their families did not have male children (Nowicki 41). Thus, women received some amount of respect with regards to wealth acquisition within the Mesopotamia civilization but only in the absence of an eligible male.
In the Mesopotamian civilization, some women became very powerful religious leaders. This form of leadership allowed women to become priestesses at a time when society had many polytheistic religions (Duiker & Spielvogel, 2016). Unlike in many other roles that dishonored women, families received an honor for having a priestess daughter, resulting in the families attaining higher status in society. Thus, one could rightly state that among the many roles of women, being priestesses was the most respected role during the Mesopotamian civilization.
Role of Women in India
Indian women played a role in the leadership and professional fields. They occupied royal positions, such as that of the queen and administrators. Some of the women who enjoyed serving in prominent political roles included Pandya women, Nayanika, and Pravabati. Additionally, women were provincial and village administrators in the Kannada region. Professionally, Indian women took jobs to develop themselves and their families; for instance, they took up teaching such as is seen in Acharyas in Rig Veda’s society. During this period, women also earned money through the spinning and weaving of clothes at home, while also helping their husbands with agricultural activities.
Indian women also performed the role of “wives” to Indian men. According to the Hindu religion, women were supposed to be good wives so that the gods and the goddess could respond to their requests and needs. An altar, constructed mainly by husbands, was overseen by the wives when they were not home. In this regard, her job was to keep the flame burning 24/7. Women were also meant to recite and sing hymns to the deities. The women’s economic contribution was equally important in ancient India since it was an agricultural country. Women were needed to assist the men in various seasonal farming activities.
Most Indian women, like those of the other civilizations, were disadvantaged. Indian women enjoyed equal rights with men in society and good living conditions during the Pre-Vedic period of history, as exemplified by Rig Veda (Punam and Sharma 1). Women were given opportunities to achieve high intellectual and spiritual expectations. Additionally, there was no Sati system or early marriage (Bala, 2014). By the later Vedic and Epic periods, however, Indians began to discriminate against women in terms of education and other rights. For example, initially, women performed very well in public debates and usually occupied a prominent place in social gatherings. The only place that women could not access were the Sabhas that usually had men engaging in political debates and decisions, drinking, as well as gambling among other activities. Nonetheless, in the wake of the later Vedic period, even the involvement of women in public debates and meetings receded.
Indian women were seen as underclass due to the heavy burden of poverty that majorly affected girls and women in India than it did the boys and men. A report written by Oxfam regarding India’s gender inequality ratings indicated that Indian women get 24% fewer salaries and wages with reference to their male counterparts performing similar roles (Oxfam International, 2020). Besides, women girls did not attend school due to financial constraints and the fact that men did not see the importance of educating girls. They often remained home to look after the children and the elderly. Thus, essentially the ordinary girls and women in the Indian civilization period were not appreciated and valued as they deserved (Kapur 1). According to Kapur (1), only women borne in royal families were respected. In fact, they allowed to make decisions and participate in the administrative duties expected of the royal family.
The birth of Indian women was not celebrated during the Post-Vedic period of Indian civilization. After the Vedic period, it is said that the value of the ordinary girls and women reduced to such an extent that their birth was considered a bad omen to not only their families but also to society (Kapur 1). As such, girls and women were not thought to add any value to Indian society at the time. The mistreatment of female children prevailed so much that some women who thought they were pregnant with girls carried out abortions. As a result, the terms female foeticide and female infanticide were born (Kapur 5). On the other hand, the male child and men were treated as assets to their families and society. Mothers who conceived boys were very happy and were treated honorably by members of society.
Indeed, ordinary women were treated as second-class humans as opposed to the men within ancient civilizations, who enjoyed the majority of the rights and freedoms. Women were mainly considered as child-bearers and persons only meant to take care of their children, husbands, and homes. Additionally, they were not allowed to slack in their duties and were meant to be silent observers of the activities that went on around them rather than be active participants. Many women could also not pursue their education, vote, or speak before men. Additionally, women were meant to respect their husbands and follow their lead and not expect the same from their husbands. Their husbands’ opinions were taken as theirs too. The Indian women hated giving birth to females as they were liabilities to them and their families, resulting in female feticide and female infanticide. However, some women engaged in economic activities, such as weaving, farming, and midwifery that helped them to contribute to their economies.
Bala, Indu. “Status of Women in Vedic literature.” The International Journal of Humanities & Social Studies, vol. 2, no. 6, 2014, pp. 123‑127.
Duiker, W. J., & Spielvogel, J. J. (2016). World History, Vol. 1: To 1800. 8th Ed. Cengage Learning
Kapur, Radhika. “Status of Women in Ancient India,” pp. 1-14, 2019.
Mosier-Dubinsky, Joy. “Women in Ancient Rome,” JCCC Honors Journal, vol. 4, no 2, 2013, pp. 1-13.
Nowicki, Stefan. “Women and References to Women in Mesopotamia Royal Inscriptions: an Overview from the Early Dynastic to the End of UR III Period.” Studia Orientalia Electronica, vol. 4, 2016, pp. 36-52.
Oxfam International. “Why the Majority of the World’s Poor are Women.” (2020). https://www.oxfam.org/en/why-majority-worlds-poor-are-women. Accessed 5th February 2020.
Punam, Shashi and Sharma Naina. “The Role and Position of Women in Ancient Society to Modern Society in India.” In Development and Change in Agrarian Society, pp. 127-141, 2017.