The modern Western crime of rape is commonly defined as "[u]nlawful sexual activity (esp. intercourse) with a person (usu. a female) without consent and usu. by force or threat of injury," and it is often seen as an assault of the person's body and a violation of self-autonomy. However, this differs significantly from the conception of rape in ancient Rome. In fact, "there is no single word in... Latin with the same semantic field as the modern English word 'rape.'” For the Romans, the act of rape was covered under a variety of legal terms, but each of those words possessed wider definition fields than the modern word "rape." Thus while charges of seduction, attempted seduction, adultery, abduction, or ravishment all covered rape, there was no legal charge consisting solely of rape itself. Similarly, determination of whether rape occurred greatly differs from Roman times to modern times. While in modern times, attention focuses mostly on the actions of the rapist and sometimes the victim, for the Romans, the occurrence of rape, the possibility of a legal charge, and also the punishment thereof, depended on the victim's status. That is, what actually occurred did not have legal consequences unless the victim fit in a particular social category. Indeed, socio-political factors played a very important role as legislation on sexual activity underwent changes throughout the course of Roman history, and accordingly, the development and refinement of rape-relevant laws strongly reflected this influence.
Nghiem L. Nguyen,
Roman Rape: An Overview of Roman Rape Laws from the Republican Period to Justinian's Reign,
Mich. J. Gender & L.
Available at: http://repository.law.umich.edu/mjgl/vol13/iss1/3