The Historical Background

  • O. F. Robinson


One point should be stressed at the outset of any chapter on the historical background to discrimination based on gender.1 Sexual discrimination as a specific legal concern is a novelty; it is an anachronism to see it, in the modern self-conscious sense, in any earlier period. In so far as expectations are involved in discrimination, one can argue that, where expectations appear to have been largely satisfied, what the historian sees are the structures of discrimination rather than the experience of it. Nevertheless, even if largely unquestioned, disadvantage on grounds of gender was certainly prevalent. The mere (involuntary) membership of a particular group, the female sex, put people into an inferior position, and one that was described as inferior, with the widespread use of terms such as ‘frailty’, ‘weakness’, and so on, to justify it.2


Married Woman Historical Background Roman Woman Public Duty Independent Woman 
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  1. 1.
    For general background reading see J. P. V. D. Balsdon, Roman Women ( London: Bodley Head, 1962 )Google Scholar
  2. S. B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves ( New York: Schocken Books, 1975 )Google Scholar
  3. see also G. Clark, ‘Roman women’, Greece and Rome, 28 (1981), pp. 193–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. O. F. Robinson, ‘The status of women in Roman private law’, Jur. Rev. (1987), forthcoming.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See S. Dixon, ‘A family business’, Class. et Med., 34 (1983), pp. 91–108.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See R. MacMullen, ‘Women in public in the Roman Empire’, Historia, 29 (1980), pp. 208–18.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Quoted by J. A. Crook, Law and Life of Rome ( London: Thames and Hudson, 1967 ), p. 115.Google Scholar
  8. See also S. Dixon, ‘Family finances’, Antichthon, 18 (1984), pp. 78–101Google Scholar
  9. T. Carp, ‘Two matrons of the late Republic’, in H. P. Foley (ed.), Reflections of Women in Antiquity ( London: Gordon & Breach, 1981 ).Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    The principal book in English is still P. E. Corbett, The Roman Law of Marriage ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930 ).Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    See O. F. Robinson ‘Canon law and marriage’, Jur. Rev. (1983), pp. 22–40.Google Scholar
  12. 28.
    For discussion see O. F. Robinson, ‘Women and the criminal law’, Ann, Fac. Giur, Perugia, 8 new series–In memoria di R. Moschella (1985), pp. 527–60.Google Scholar
  13. 39.
    See O. F. Robinson, T. D. Fergus, W. M. Gordon, European Legal History (Abingdon: Professional Books, 1985), chs 1 and 2.Google Scholar
  14. 40.
    See A. C. Murray, Germanic Kinship Structure ( Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1983 ).Google Scholar

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© Sheila McLean and Noreen Burrows 1988

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  • O. F. Robinson

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