The Roman family was a larger unit than our modern nuclear family. It included generations of relatives living together and the household slaves all under the dominance of a patriarch.
The Roman family was called familia
, from which Latin word 'family' is derived. The familia could include the triad with which we are familiar, two parents and children (biological or adopted), as well as slaves and grandparents.
The head of the family or pater familias
had more power in the Roman family than the father in an ancient Greek family. He might even maintain power over his married daughters.
In ancient Rome, if you planned to run for office, you could increase your chances of winning by creating a political alliance through the marriage of your children. Parents arranged marriages to produce descendants to tend the ancestral spirits. The name matrimonium
with its root mater
'mother' shows the principle objective of the institution, the creation of children. Marriage could also improve social status and wealth. Some Romans even married for love.
One aspect of Roman society that tends to horrify modern people, an aspect that isn't limited to the Romans, but was practiced by many others, excluding the Hebrews and Etruscans, is the practice of abandoning their infants. This is generally known as exposure because the infants were exposed to the elements. Not all infants so exposed died. Some roman infants were picked up by families in need of a slave. In contrast, the most famous case of exposure of a Roman child ended not with slavery, but the throne.
The basic unit of ancient Rome was the family headed by a father who had life and death power over his dependents. This arrangement was repeated in the overarching political structures, where it was moderated by the voice of the people.
Romans had meals that changed time with the fashions. Jentaculum was the optional breakfast and prandium the lunch, but vesperna and cena were treated somewhat like our "supper" and "dinner".
Roman society, like most ancient societies was heavily stratified. For the Romans, it was not true that all people are created equal. Some Romans were slaves, who lacked any power of their own. Unlike modern era slaves the Roman slaves could win or earn their freedom.
In the early years of Rome there were kings who held supreme power, but just as the kings were thrown out, so the rest of the social hierarchy was also adaptable. The lower class, by nature the majority of the population, wanted, demanded, and got more. A wealthy class developed between the nobles and plebeians.