CLAS/HIST240 Ancient Societies: The Family

Department of Classics, Monmouth College

The Ancient Family focuses on various aspects of family life in the ancient world. Many types of evidence will be discussed, including readings in translation from several ancient Greek and Latin texts, painting, sculpture, and archaeological remains. Some of the topics to be discussed include:

relationships between parents and children
attitudes, customs, and laws of marriage and divorce
the role of women in ancient societies
the family in ancient religion
sexuality in antiquity

Specific issues to be addressed include ancient attitudes towards infanticide, homosexuality and the legal rights of wives and children.

The basic premise of this course is that the family is the central social unit of the Greco-Roman world and reveals inter-personal relationships upon which those societies were based. For example, Roman attitudes towards the state and government were clearly formed from Roman family relationships. The Roman state had the same rights over its citizens as a Roman father had over his family. Roman society cannot be fully understood without an understanding of the Roman family. So, too, our own family attitudes cannot be understood in isolation. Study of the ancient family will inevitably confront the student with attitudes and social structures different from his own and will put contemporary attitudes on the family in a more historical and universal perspective.

This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at

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