A wealthy family

These figures represent the members of a wealthy familia like those who may have resided in the luxurious townhouses of Augusta Raurica. The mistress (mater familias) runs the household with a firm hand. The wet nurse takes care of the baby and a private tutor teaches the older daughter. The master of the house (pater familias) receives his business partners at his home and invites them to partake in sumptuous feasts.

Pater familias

Augusta Raurica - pater familias - drawing Bernard Reymond, Yverdon

The pater familias was the highest-ranking member, the head of the Roman family. He had unlimited power over his familia, owned the property and wealth, and represented the household in public.

Augusta Raurica - couple from a funerary relief. Sandstone. AD 210-250. Augusta Raurica, Lower Town. Photo Susanne Schenker

Couple from a funerary relief. Sandstone. AD 210-250. Augusta Raurica, Lower Town.

Mater familias

Augusta Raurica - mater familias - drawing Bernard Reymond, Yverdon

His wife ran the household and reared the children. Marriages were often arranged, particularly among the upper classes. Matches were made for the families’ financial and social gain.

Augusta Raurica - lamp with couple - Photo Susanne Schenker

Lamp with couple. Pottery. AD 50-100. Augusta Raurica, women’s baths.


Augusta Raurica - daughter - drawing Bernard Reymond, Yverdon

In the families of Roman citizens girls were prepared for their future roles as a wives and mothers, while boys were made ready to take up their position as head of the family and to be a good citizen. Children of wealthier families went to school from the age of 6 or 7. They learnt to read, write and do arithmetic. Children from poorer backgrounds, however, had no option but to work.

Photo Fibbi-Aeppli, Grandson

Ivory doll from the grave of a 14 or 15-year-old girl. Yverdon-les-Bains, VD.

Wet nurse

Augusta Raurica - wet nurse - drawing Bernard Reymond, Yverdon

It was fashionable in wealthy Roman families to have a wet nurse. Breast-feeding was often regarded as an onerous task, which was also detrimental to the mother’s beauty.

Augusta Raurica - breast-feeding a baby - Photo Susanne Schenker

A mother or wet nurse breast-feeding a baby. Clay. Late 2nd century AD. Augusta Raurica, Lower Town.


Votive offering, Arcis-sur-Aube (F). Foto Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Troyes (F).

Infant and child mortality rates were extremely high in Roman times. One in every three children died within the first year and only two or three children in every family reached adulthood.

Newborns were shaped into real people in various ways, for instance by swaddling them. Votive offering, Arcis-sur-Aube (F). Now at the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Troyes (F).

Augusta Raurica - feeding bottle - Photo Susanne Schenker

Feeding bottle. Pottery. AD 50-100. Augusta Raurica, Lower Town.