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Roman Women and Cleopatra

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Roman Women

Roman Women’s Clothing


Over the centuries, clothing changed little for Roman women, as style was simple and cut. Ordinarily, adult women dressed in a subligaculum, which was similar to present-day undergarments, and an outer tunic (stola), which was a long dress with a colored border around the neck.  They often wore a scarf indoor and a palla (shawl) outdoors. A belt or sash could be used underneath the tunic to support the breasts.

 Learn how to make a stola here!



          Colors were used as a symbol of a Roman's place in society during the era. The women of the richer classes wore Tyrian “royal” purple. The wealthy felt it was important to show that they were of higher class than others, and used these colors to do so. Wool dyed violet, a popular shade, was twenty dollars a pound, while cloth of genuine Tyrian purple was ten times as much money. Those of the less fortunate class wore dark neutral colors, so that they would not have to be washed as often.



The street shoes of women were similar to men's, but weremade of finer and softer leather. Women wore very brightly colored leather sandals indoors. Street shoes were made of leather and offered better protection for the feet. Winter shoes often had cork soles, and thick soles were occasionally worn to appear taller, a desirable trait in Romans. Shoes and sandals of Roman women would sometimes be decorated with jewelry and pearls.


Back Laced Boot Grecian Boot Roman Cavalry Boot

Gladiator Boot                                 Roman Sandal                                  Roman Soldier Sandal 



Women of the lower classes only wore amber jewelry, which was the most widespread of the age. The higher classes regarded such jewelry as vulgar, for these women of higher standing would only wear gold and precious stones. Alhough, in public, it was considered elegant to hold a small ball of amber in one hand and to rub it occasionally to smell its delicate fragrance.  This helped to disguise any foul smells, which the woman feared they might encounter.



          Women did not wear hats, but hair was always very carefully arranged. Over time, the styles of hair were always changing and becoming more elaborate. Hairdressers were female slaves, but only the most skillful slaves, who could arrange hair in a popular style, would be chosen to perform such a job. Also, the women need to be experts in the use of dressings, oils, and tonics to make hair soft and lustrous, and also to encourage its growth. Young girls usually wore their hair in a knot at the back of their necks. However, some girls had curls or bangs that were portrayed as straight or curled. The statues of the Roman time period that have survived the aging process show every puff, curl, and wave of detail. Hairpins were commonly used by women to keep their hair in place.  These came in a variety of styles, and were usually made of ivory, silver, or gold, and often set with jewels.


     During this time period, it was very common for women to dye their hair using different mediums. Most women tried to imitate the color of Greek women's hair by dying their own hair golden-red. They also added false hair, which soon became a major commercial item. Wreaths of flowers or leaves and coronets of pearls with other precious stones enhanced the beauty of the hair, whether it be natural or artificial.


Women Role in Society

          Women were respected, yet were expected to work in the home. This was considered their most important place in Roman society. They were expected to cook, clean, sew and maintain the household. The Roman Mistresses of houses in the city, commonly known as a Domus, would either choose to go out into the streets and shop for herself, or shop for the household, yet this was generally done by slaves.




  In marriage, Romans could only marry someone from their class or a lower one, even this matchup was unlikely. Divorce was unknown to the Roman Society, so the vows of marriage were permanent, as it was believed they should be. The patrician would take his bride from her father's family into his own, with the direct consent of the gods. In this form, the wife passed in manum viri, where she became a daughter to her husband’s family. Her husband would also become, in a way, her master.


          Woman had to have guardians, their father took that role then their husband would claim that position. If there were an early death to one of the guardians the closest male member of the family would take the responsibility. Until the end of the Roman republic, only the six vestal virgins were free from such guardianship. After the reign of Augustus, guardianship was no longer applied to women whose father and husband had died and who had already borne three children.

     Couples were matched up for marriage at a very young age, but the marriage would not take place until later in life. These children knew their match when they were young and had time to meet before they wer much older and ready to marry. When married, women could not flirt or even associate with other men, as it was a breech in the arrangements of marriage and sticking to what was promised at the marriage was of vital importance to all in society.



          Girls enjoyed a similar, if not the same education as boys in early childhood. Although beyond primary education it was generally only daughters of aristocratic families who continued with their education. Though such training was not required as the young men of patrician families would learn. Instead, women were taught in the fineries of Greek and Latin literature as well as how to play a lyre, how to dance, and to sing.


Everyday Life

          Women shared authority over the children, slaves and the household. They could freely receive visitors, leave the house, visit other households, or leave to go shopping. Women could not drink wine, but instead resorted to grape juice. Women could not recline, like men, at parties but remained sitting upright. There was such thing as the Oppian Law, where no women could possess more than half an ounce of gold, or wear a dress dyed in a variety of colors, or ride in a horse-drawn carriage in a city or town or within a mile of it except on holy days. Twenty yeas later this law was repealed.

Click for more on Roman Women



          Cleopatra’s father provided his children with the best foods and with clothing of the highest quality. He also believed that education was very important and ensured that each of his children deserved their own tutor. Cleopatra studied philosophy, literature, art, music, medicine, and was able to speak six different languages. These languages were Aramaic, Egyptian, Ethiopic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. On March 51 B.C., Cleopatra’s father died. He left her, who was 18 at the time, and her twelve year old brother, Ptolomy XIII, into a joint monarch. Ptolomy wanted total power and he found that Cleopatra was the only thing standing in the way of that, so he found ways to blame her for the economic troubles. He took away her power through these blames.  She tried to start a rebellion, but ended up fleeing instead.  Her first connection to Rome was through Pompey, who was assigned by her father to protect her. After her brother killed Pompey, Julius Caesar made her ruler again, but with her other brother as well. She then had a son with Caesar, but he refused to make her an heir. When Caesar was killed she went back to Egypt and made her and her son the rulers. Cleopatra had twins, a boy and a girl named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, with Antony.  After a while Antony returned to her, married her, and resigned in Alexandria. They had a son, named Ptolemy Philadelphus. Rome eventually declared war on Cleopatra. Octavian killed Antony, and burdened with her loss and humiliation, Cleopatra committed suicide. 



Why is she so famous?

     Cleopatra became so famous because she was a ruler during a very pivotal time in ancient Rome. During her reign, she promoted herself relentlessly, making public display of her power, her image as pharaoh and goddess, and her links with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. In addition, she personally led significant rituals and was identified with Isis, the most important Egyptian goddess of the day.

          After her death, Cleopatra's Roman enemy, Octavian, spread tales about her. He unintentionally began spinning her story into a legend within the people. Prior to her death, Cleopatra's story had taken on mythic proportions. Since then, each generation has put its own spin on her legend. The legend grew through the writings of Plutarch, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, and through the many film versions of her story.

Click for more on Cleopatra 


Works Consulted



"Ancient Roman Empresses - Crystalinks." Crystalinks Metaphysical and Science Website. 28      Apr.2009 http://www.crystalinks.com/romewomen.html.




"Ancient Roman Women: A Look at Their Lives - women's rights, Rome, citizenship, Cornelia, Oppian Laws,      divorce, aristocracy." Moya K. Mason - Resume, MLIS, Freelance Researcher, Book Research      Consultant, Fact Checker, Writer, Editor, and Information Scientist. 02 May 2009 http://www.moyak.com/papers/roman-women.html.




"Cleopatra." Yahoo! GeoCities: Get a free web site with easy-to-use site building tools. 30 Apr. 2009 http://www.geocities.com/thetropics/shores/7037/cleo.htm.



"Cleopatra (queen of Egypt) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia -     Britannica Online      Encyclopedia. 03 May 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/121230/Cleopatra>.



"Cleopatra of Egypt : From History to Myth." Welcome to The Field Museum. 02 May 2009 http://www.fieldmuseum.org/cleopatra/cleopatra.html.





"Roman Clothing, Part II." VROMA :: Home. 01 May 2009      <http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/clothing2.html



"Rome Exposed - Marriage and Customs and Roman Women." Classics Unveiled - Main Page. 03 May      2009 <http://www.classicsunveiled.com/romel/html/marrcustwom.html>.







Comments (3)

user7 said

at 12:49 pm on May 2, 2009


user2 said

at 9:58 am on May 4, 2009

its not funny

user7 said

at 1:00 pm on May 4, 2009

it was :/

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