Conditions of Women in Western Europe

The gender norms and roles in the Roman Empire and Early Germanic society had some similarities, but they vastly differ when it came to penalties or punishments. However, we can conclude that the conditions of women improved in Western Europe as barbarians adopted the Roman customs toward women.

Like the Romans, the Germanic society had a patriarchal structure and “the children belonged solely to the father.” Men were the head of the families and women were expected to do the household. However, they took part in battles in a way. During encounters, women “stayed behind the barricade of wagons, from where they must have spurred the men on and in dire need help them.”

Yet, the Germanic women weren’t treated better than the Roman women. A Germanic woman was subject to the guardianship of her father and husband. After the death of the Roman woman’s father, the guardianship lapsed so it was not passed to her husband. However, the Senate’s resolution of AD 76 “deprived women of the ability to stand security for others, which placed a limitation on their role in commercial life.”

Moreover, in terms of marriage, the Romans had a law called dos or a bride’s dowry. The husband only had a formal right over the wife’s property, but the wife had the right to deny the husband from accessing the dowry if he was squandering it. The Germanic woman’s guardian had the right to choose her future husband. The Germanic law called leges was different from Roman’s dos. The bridegroom had to give a gift to the bride instead before their wedding.

The Romans were far more civilized so when the Germans invaded and settled in Rome, they were willing to be taught. According to Ennen, “the great migrations of people, the clash with Rome and the foundation of Germanic empires on former Roman territory, brought profound changes in the material life and social structure of the Germanic tribes.” As time went by, the conditions of women in Western Europe eventually got better. At 1030, the Germanic woman’s consent became essential for a marriage contract. The legal position of women also transformed in England even before the Norman Conquest.