Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Duties of the Houswife in 155 BC

What were the duties of a housewife in about 155 BC? Enter a foreign Roman world over a century before the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. On some issues the people were surprisingly well educated. They knew agricultural practices and food preservation techniques almost unknown today. Slavery was common and accepted. Slaves were of any race. Slaves were made up of those who had lost in wars against Rome, or had simply been born into slavery. Greek and Roman gods were worshipped.

Cato was a Roman military leader, statesman, farmer, writer. He wrote On Agriculture, a farmer’s notebook. It reveals fascinating details of farm life and agricultural practices in the second century BC. Many of these practices were common through the centuries until the mid 1900s.

Following is some of Cato’s advice about the housekeeper:

“See that the housekeeper performs all her duties. If the master has given her to you as wife, keep yourself only to her. Make her stand in awe of you. Restrain her from extravagance. She must visit the neighbouring and other women very seldom, and not have them either in the house or in her part of it. She must not go out to meals, or be a gadabout.

She must not engage in religious worship herself or get others to engage in it for her without the orders of the master or the mistress; let her remember that the master attends to the devotions for the whole household. She must be neat herself, and keep the farmstead neat and clean. She must clean and tidy the hearth every night before she goes to bed. On the Kalends, Ides, and Nones, and whenever a holy day comes, she must hang a garland over the hearth, and on those days pray to the household gods as opportunity offers.

She must keep a supply of cooked food on hand for you and the servants. She must keep many hens and have plenty of eggs. She must have a large store of dried pears, sorbs, figs, raisins, sorbs in must, preserved pears and grapes and quinces. She must also keep preserved grapes in grape-pulp and in pots buried in the ground, as well as fresh Praenestine nuts kept in the same way, and Scantian quinces in jars, and other fruits that are usually preserved, as well as wild fruits. All these she must store away diligently every year. She must also know how to make good flour and to grind spelt fine.” -Cato, c. 155 BC.

What similarities do you see with housewives today?
What similarities do you see with women’s work up until about 60 years ago?
Would your grandmother or great-grandmother relate to any of this?
What differences do you see with the work of women today?
Have you ever preserved your own food?
What do you know about producing and preserving meat, grain, vegetables, fruit?
Have you ever told your children, or written about, your early experiences and jobs?
Do we have it better than in Cato’s day?
What differences do you see with your faith in Jesus Christ today?

-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, December 14, AD 2010.


  1. Wow, David. A lot of questions. I see a great similarity as far as food preparation. I love to grow our own food and can. Haven't done it in several years now, but plan to start next year. Don't know much about Oklahoma growing veggies. Hear the heat does a number on things, but would like to can beans and tomatoes. My grandmother use to can meat. She had a root cellar that was a basement under a shed near the house. The shelves were covered in peaches, pears, juices, jams, jellies. And there was carrots and potatoes, turnips and stuff like that stored there, too.

    I don't imagine she had much time to be socializing and she didn't have any faith that I know of. Today's women do a lot of lunching with other women and socializing...and sharing of faith. So that is a big difference, isn't it? selahV

  2. SelahV,
    Interesting comments.

    Some years ago, a few fruit trees, a garden, and a root cellar were considered necessities in a home place. With freezing, electricity, and pasteurization we have forgotten many of the food preservation practices of ancient people. It is amazing what they could do; they had knowledge very few of us possess.

    Hope you had a great Christmas.
    David R. Brumbelow


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