Contents - Previous Article - Next Article

The Father of the Roman Family

Even today, it is the custom that the father, grandfather, or great grandfather has the position of greatest power and respect in many Italian families. The eldest father, or patriarch, holds this position not only in Italian families living in Italy today, but also in families which have emigrated to countries all over the world where they have brought their old country traditions with them. At times these patriarchs were so powerful in the United States that they were able to organize their entire families into an effective fighting machine devoted to criminal activity. Because they were so respected and obeyed by loyal family members, men like Al Capone could give orders for holdups, executions, and restructuring of their criminal organizations even while locked up in a maximum security prison.

That such customs could endure for almost 2800 years testifies to the important place family customs and taboos held in the Roman family from the earliest days. The father of the Roman family had the power over everyone and everything in the home. he could even sell his wife or children into slavery and order their deaths if he so chose. This power extended to the man's slaves and tenant farmers as well.

The Roman father also had the duties of pietas, or offering proper sacrifices to the household gods at the right times. These family gods were the lares, or gods of the fields and the penates, or gods of the household stores and food supply.

Go to next article:
Go back to previous article:

Return to Roman Society Table of Contents