Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.
But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

Essay/Family Life
Illustration by DC Pae

How to be a patriarch

His duties are many, his challenges weighty, but his glory can be great. A guide to family management, by a Roman nobleman

Marcus Sidonius Falx & Jerry Toner

Illustration by DC Pae

Marcus Sidonius Falx

is a Roman of noble birth. After serving with distinction in the legions, he retired to manage his substantial country estates. He now divides his time between his properties in Campania and the province of Africa and his luxury villa on the Esquiline hill overlooking Rome. He is the author of How to Manage Your Slaves (2014) and Release Your Inner Roman (2016), with his assistant and amanuensis, Dr Jerry Toner of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge.

Jerry Toner

is director of classical studies at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. He is the author, with Marcus Sidonius Falx, of the Roman self-help books, Release Your Inner Roman (2016) and How to Manage Your Slaves (2014).

Brought to you by curio.io, an Aeon partner

2,800 words

Edited by Sam Haselby

Syndicate this Essay

Raising a family is the most important duty a man has. Without children the state has no future, and if those children are not brought up properly then that future is bleak. When there is so much at stake it is vital to get it right, and in this article I will explain how to make sure your family is a source of great pride to you. No man could ever be happy if his wife ignored his needs or his children disobeyed his instructions, but if you follow the simple principles laid out here you can make sure that your household runs smoothly and efficiently.

The most important decision is choosing a good wife. Use your head more than your heart. Draw up a list of candidates and think about what each one would bring to the marriage. If you marry a woman just because she is beautiful, then she will feel she never has to do anything else for you. She will not mind if the house is a mess or your meals are badly cooked. And you will have to put up with this because you married her just for her beauty and not for her domestic skills. The same is true if you marry a woman just because she is rich or from an important family. She will always think she has done enough just by being with you.

Of course, you do need to take her looks and her background into account. But wealth, good family and beauty do nothing in themselves to make a wife think kind thoughts towards her husband. In fact, the opposite is more the case. These attributes are more likely to make your wife feel superior to you. She will feel you do not deserve to have her as a wife and resent doing anything you tell her to do. Make sure you check to see whether her family has a good track record in producing healthy, male children. When it comes to a potential wife’s physical appearance, all that really matters is that she is strong, healthy and looks normal. If she is less than beautiful she will be less hassled by other men’s attempts to seduce, and if she has a strong body she will be better suited to hard work and bearing children.

Most girls get married in adolescence and your duty as an older husband is to teach your young bride how to become a good wife. She should be loyal, obedient, affable, reasonable, and work hard at her wool-making. She should be religious without being superstitious, dress modestly and use little make-up. She must be devoted to her family and show as much attention to her mother-in-law as she does to her own. The following checklist for a happy marriage will help her:

1. The passion of newlyweds soon burns out. Marriage starts with lust but will only last if a more sustainable fuel can be found.
2. When the husband got married, yes, he wanted his wife to have children. No, he did not want her to stop looking after him.
3. A modest wife should be seen in public mostly with her husband, but when he is away on business she should stay at home.
4. A wife should have no emotion of her own but should reflect the mood of her husband. She should laugh at his jokes when he is happy and be sad when he is low.
5. A wife should have no friends of her own but should cultivate those of her husband.
6. A happy marriage is one where the words ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ are seldom heard. All things, whether good or bad, should be shared, and the bond will be strengthened all the more by it.
7. A woman should never try to rule her husband. It is the man’s lot to govern his wife, not as a master does his slave, but as the soul does the body by sympathy and goodwill.
8. A sensible wife will stay quiet during her husband’s tantrums.
9. If there is one golden rule, it is that wives should be submissive. As my dream interpreter, Artemidorus, says: ‘If a man dreams that he has sexual intercourse with his wife and that she yields willingly and without reluctance to the union, then it is good for all alike.’

Subscribe to Aeon’s Newsletter

Wives must produce children. You should aim to have at least five or six children because so many of them will be taken from you in infancy. At least half of your offspring will be lost to illness and it is important to make sure you have some to spare. You should understand how to get pregnant. Just as there are seasons that are better for sowing seed on the ground, so too the seed ejaculated in sex will not always bear fruit. In order to achieve the right result, you must be careful to have intercourse when menstruation is ending, when you have the urge, and when your body is neither too hungry nor full from excessive eating or drinking. If you are hungry, it is best to have a light snack first. The woman should not move excessively during intercourse as this is likely to result in a child of unstable mind.

Giving birth to many children does not mean you should keep them all. If you are poor and do not earn enough to be able to support your family, you should throw away weak infants at birth. A child does not become a full human being until the eighth or ninth day when the father has accepted it into his household. Only at this point does human life begin and weeding out unwanted babies in this way is a perfectly acceptable form of abortion. So if your wife does produce an unwanted child, you should instruct her to abandon it at the town dump or by the roadside so the slave-dealers can pick it up. Whether the infant is a girl or a boy will probably influence your decision, since it never hurts to have a spare boy or two, whereas girls are a costly expense who will require a dowry in due course.

Childbirth is not the only way to acquire children. You can buy children from those who can no longer afford to feed them. If you wish to do this, make sure the child looks healthy and then get the mother to sign a contract relinquishing all claims over her child in the future unless she reimburses you of all the costs of raising it. If you later decide you no longer need the child you can always give it to one of your slave women.

The education of daughters should be entrusted to the mother. She should instruct them in weaving wool, sewing and managing the household slaves, especially in the kitchen. Teaching a girl to read will also enable her to engage in conversation at table and so make her more attractive to a potential husband. The father must ensure that his boys are brought up properly. Never leave it to the mother as she will just embrace them and try to stop them from ever being unhappy or having to do anything difficult. A father’s love is more strategic. He will get his boys up early so they can start their studies and will not let them lay about even during the holidays. He is always prepared to extract both sweat and tears from his children.

Obviously, a father cannot always be there for his children. You will often need to use a slave as a nursemaid. Make sure she speaks properly and has good morals. Children are highly impressionable and can pick up bad habits easily just as a new cooking pot can easily absorb strong flavours.

When educating boys, you should be careful not to make them angry or to blunt their natural spirit. Freedom nurtures the spirit, repression crushes it. But if freedom is left unrestrained, the child will grow insolent and moody. You must try to steer a middle course between these two extremes, using both carrot and stick to keep the child on a steady path. Do not humiliate the child or treat him as if he were a slave. Never let whining reap a reward. Only ever reward good behaviour.

He should not take big mouthfuls, lick his fingers, or eat too much meat. Meat slows the mind and makes a boy fat 

Education must above all teach the child to tell the truth. Telling the truth is the best of virtues, whereas telling lies is the worst error. Telling lies will never lead to prosperity. The boy must show respect for his parents, his teachers and other educated people. Any child who fails to do this will never be successful. The young must be taught to serve others. This is particularly so with the children of the rich, who have no need to do what they are told. The boy must be made to hate money and be taught to treat it like a poisonous snake, whose venom enters the body and damages it. He should be allowed time to play but this should be relaxing to give him energies for his studies.

Mealtimes are very important in a child’s education. The boy should never be allowed to rush up at meal times and gaze at his food greedily. The importance of food must be minimised in his eyes. If he shows signs of greed, you must tell him that greed is a characteristic of pigs. When he is sitting at the table, do not let him stretch out and grab whatever he wants. He should be allowed to take only a little food, which he should eat slowly. He should not take big mouthfuls. He should not lick his fingers. He should not eat too much meat. Meat slows the mind and makes a boy fat and prevents him from growing properly. Let him have only a few sweets and a little fruit or else he will develop a love of luxury and pleasure. Give him plain bread sometimes to get him used to simple food and to teach him self-control. This will be a very useful attitude for him to possess in later life. Keep his breakfast small to keep his mind alert for his lessons. Never let him drink wine. Wine alters the minds of men and makes them stupid, rude, reckless and angry. How much more is it likely to corrupt a boy? He should not mix with people in the street as he will be exposed to a lot of rude language and ignorance.

He should not be allowed to sleep for pleasure but only as long as he needs. Too much sleep is harmful as it softens the body and deadens the heart. Make sure his bedding is not too soft because it will make the boy develop an equal softness. The boy needs toughening up and for his soul to grow strong, for which only a firm bed will do. He should do lots of exercise but when he walks he should not walk too quickly as this is a sign of recklessness and excessive busyness. The boy must be warned about the dangers of sexual intercourse or of gaining any knowledge of it in any respect until he is married. It will teach him self-control and also keep his reputation clean. Abstinence from sex will also help him grow strong physically, just as it will make his soul virtuous.

Praise the child if he is successful but do not do it too much as it will make him have too high an opinion of himself. This is particularly true of only children who are more likely to be indulged and so have their characters spoiled. Such children can never cope with criticism or failure because they have never been denied anything they wanted, and their tears have always been wiped away by their anxious mothers.

Wealth and luxury threaten the family from all sides nowadays. We live in an age soaked in decadence. Women think they can criticise you in public or while reclining at table if you make some small factual error. Women used to be chaste, and hard work kept their hands tough and their hearts honest. Now they rule their men. Women drink late and drink more than their male drinking companions. They have become the equal of men in their lust and even take the active role in sex.

If you find your wife behaving is such a way, or she fails to provide you with heirs, you should divorce her. If you decide to end the marriage, all you have to do is inform your wife, either verbally, by letter or by sending a slave to announce it to her. Marriage is based on willing agreement and so once consent has gone there is no longer any basis for it to continue.

Of course, the reality is never so simple and in truth it normally takes long negotiations between both families before a settlement is reached. There is no such thing as joint property. Let the woman take back what she brought into the marriage as her dowry. For this reason, I always advise new husbands to keep the full value of the dowry separate so they will be able to repay it quickly should divorce become necessary. If the divorce is her fault, you are entitled to take off child-related costs from her dowry in the ratio of one sixth per child up to a maximum of one half. You may also retain between one eighth and one sixth of the value of the dowry as punishment for any moral failings she has displayed, such as committing adultery.

If the wife has been barren, she returns to her father, taking her dowry with her (subject to any deductions for adulterous behaviour)

Children belong to the father. Many bitter husbands forbid their former wives from seeing their children again. While this is understandable, you should overcome such anger. It does not benefit your children to be deprived of all maternal influence ­– however wickedly she might have behaved – and it could even turn them against you. Also, if your wife believes you might act in this vindictive fashion, she might decide to limp on in an unhappy marriage when you could both be free to start again. You would be better advised to separate as amicably as possible and come to a private arrangement whereby the young children stay with the mother whereas those who have entered education reside in your household. Wherever they live, the children will remain your financial responsibility.

Women thinking about getting divorced should take into account the following considerations: if she has been fertile enough to produce three or more children, then she will re-enter single society as a respected mother and a desirable potential wife. What man would not want a woman whose womb has proved so productive? But if she has been barren and failed to provide her husband with any heirs, then she will not look like an enviable catch. She will return to her father’s household, taking her dowry with her (subject to any deductions for adulterous behaviour). This is not as bad as it might seem. When he dies, she will inherit and be free to do as she please. She might decide to take over his business affairs or amuse herself with various love affairs. She will be free to choose her own path.

Finally, a word of warning about stepmothers. If a man remarries, he must keep a close eye on how his new wife treats his children from a previous relationship. It is only natural that a stepmother would never love her stepchildren by inclination or by choice. She will lavish affection on her own children but hate the ones produced by another woman’s birth pangs. She will give them less food and pass it to her own children instead. Before you know it, you will find half your children happy and well-fed, while the others sit emaciated and covered in bruises.

These then are the principles of managing your household. Armed with them, you can confidently expect to have at your side a loyal and dutiful wife and a brood of healthy, well-mannered children. Your ordered and disciplined home will be the envy of your friends and a source of great pride. You will, indeed, have become a proper head of the family.

Syndicate this Essay
aeon.co

Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

Essay/History
The other side of the curtain

During the Cold War, US propagandists worked to provide a counterweight to Communist media, but truth eluded them all

Melissa Feinberg

Essay/Subcultures
Touching the sky

At their best, daredevils rival philosophers and mystics in their exploration of human mortality and spirit

Lary Wallace