were just slightly higher in rank than slaves
Women in manus
Though the Roman women played an important role in the Roman society,the Roman community was very much a male community. The father was not only the head of the family. He almost owned the family.
His wife was "in manus" (in his hand) and would stay there until he died or divorced her. His children were in his "potestas"
The Roman women were better off than the Greek women though. (In Greece it had been necessary to make a law the ordered the men to sleep a least thee times in a month with his wife) Roman women were seen as creatures somewhere between men and animals.
Romans didn't trouble themselves by thinking up a name for their daughters: They simply numbered them (Tertia, Quintia). When a girl was married off into another family, she would get her own family name in the female form. So Iulius Caesar's daughter would be called Iulia as soon as she was married.
Return into potestas
When the girl married she went from her father's potestas in her husband's manus. She would have about the same status as her daughters to come. She would come with a dowry, that had to be
returned in case of a divorce. In that case or when her husband died, she would return in her fathers potestas. If he (had) died she would come in manus of a guardian.
Abguß Museum München
She could not bring any legal action without the consent of her guardian, husband or father. She was excluded from all civil and public offices.
The great exeption, of course, were the Vestal Virgins. They were in nobodies manus and very much needed at public sacrifices.
Beaten to death
To really understand the women's position:
When Egnatius Mecennnius had beaten his wife to death with a club, because she had been drinking wine,nobody would accuse him. Nobody would criticize him. On the contrary, he was praised: "A Roman woman who even only wants to drink alcohol, not only closes the gate to virtue, but also opens every gate to every vice."
Yet we shouldn't observe this with our modern (western) eyes. Most men loved their wives and children. And vice versa. Consider this text on a grave stele:
"Stranger my message is short,
stop and take a moment to read this
This is the loveless grave for a loving woman
Form her parents she got the name Claudia
She loved her husband with all her hart
She had two sons, of which she one
leaves on this earth and the other has buried
Her conversation was charming, her behavior correct
She did the housekeeping and made wool
I have said. You may go"