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Judith Evans. Grubbs

Subject Roman History » Roman Empire
History » Social History

Key-Topics family

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631226444.2006.00021.x


A comprehensive study of the family in the Roman Empire would have to take into account the vast extent of the empire and the diversity of ethnic and linguistic groups, religions, and social systems under which its inhabitants lived. The life experiences and family relationships of a member of the senatorial elite of Italy, part of a large network of kinship and patronage ties, with a household of perhaps several hundred slaves, would have little in common with those of an Egyptian villager living barely above subsistence level, sharing a tiny house with four or five other relatives, including, perhaps, his sister-wife ( Bagnall and Frier 1994 : 66–71 on household size; 127–34 on brother-sister marriage). Marriage and family life on the Roman frontiers - along Hadrian's Wall in Britain, or at Dura Europos on the Euphrates - would be subject to conditions unknown to the prosperous local elites of the cities of Asia Minor or North Africa, with their theaters, temples, and bath complexes all funded by the generous benefactions of wealthy families. For a full understanding of the multifarious household configurations and lifestyles of families throughout the empire, we would need to draw not only on Latin and Greek literature (especially novels and biography) but on legal and medical writings, funerary inscriptions (of which tens of thousands survive), documents preserved on papyrus ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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