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The Pater familias owned his Roman family

Pater familias
One should understand the difference between a Roman family (familia) and a Roman clan (gens). A Roman family consisted of living members, headed by a paterfamilias, where a gens consisted of people sharing the same family name; living or in history. 

Patricians vs Plebs
Belonging to a certain gens was very important in Rome. It meant belonging Patricians or Plebeians. It meant having one or more clan members, who had held the office of consul or not. It meant having influence and power or not.

Roman senator with waxtablet

A clan name was handed over from father to son or even from father to an adopted son. Adoption was very common in Rome. Not for poor orphans, but for adult persons. Generally this was done to keep a clan alive or to get a good successor:

Gaius Julius Ceasar claimed to be a descendant from Iulus, son of Aeneas and headed an very important and influential clan. In his last will he adopted his nephew Gaius Octavius. The latter now named himself Gaius Julius Ceasar (Octavianus). He propably never used this cognomen. The "ianus" indicated his adoption and the clan he came from. Since this was an insignificant clan, he didn.t like to be reminded.
This adoption would change the Roman world forever.

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus
There would be two Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus(es). The one having adopted the other. The adopted one would take a third cognomen: Aemilianus because he was the grandson of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, the one killed in the battle of Cannae.

Sell your own son into slavery
The head of a Roman family, the paterfamilias, owned his children and grandchildren (potestas). His sons could not perform any legal act without his consent. Not even when they were adult and married, with children of their own. He could sell a son into slavery. He had power over life and death in his family. It was uncommon though, that he would kill anyone without having held a family council first.

Murdering your father was a horrible crime (as was the penalty)
A parricide (murder of one's parent) was seen as an utmost  unthinkable crime. The punishment was harsh: The perpetrator was sewn alive in a sack; together with a dog, a cock an ape and a viper. Then the sack was thrown into the river. In the late republic this would also be the punisment for the murder of one's mother.

Murdering your child was not a crime
See for example Livius (3.44)
Where Verginius killed his own daughter to prevent her from being raped by Appius Claudius, nobody even questioned him, but he was praised for protecting his daughter's chastity.

Young man mending his foot

Property of your father
This potestas could end in one of two ways:  When the paterfamilias died or when he emancipated one or more of his children. Emancipation made them independent, but this also meant that if the father died without a will, that stated otherwise, they would  inherit nothing.
Since Roman males married usually not before the age of 25 and their life expectance was 35 years not more than about 30% of the 25 year old males would have a living father.

Girls went from hand to hand
A girl would marry into a family and then go from her father's potestas into the manus of her husband.
This meant she had no property an could perform no legal act. There was a way though trough which she could keep her property. She had to pass to her new husband by a so called usus, and stay from home every year for at least three consecutive days. When not, she went into her husband's manus.


Children's education depended on how rich or poor the father was. The rich would buy one or more slaves to educate their children. Others would send their children to a teacher, who educated more children in a kind of school. The slave who accompanied the child to and from the school and carried his books was called a pedagogus. The children learned to read the old classics like the Ilias and Odyssee.
Obviously the proletarians would stay illiterate and the children would be educated by their fathers.

Reading was important then as it is today. Who wishes to improve his or hers reading capabilities should visit:

Dragon reading http://www.learning-disabilities-reading-tutor.com

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