Welcome back to Rome Across Europe! Yesterday we took a look at Pars I of our look into Roman Marriage, which can be seen here.
As we mentioned, most young women didn’t have a say in to whom or when they were to be married. As the young ladies grew up they became the matronae (matron) of the household and possibly even holder of the estate.
A man or woman who was subject to patria potestas required his or her father’s consent for marriage. Since no paternal consent was required for illegitimate children or those whose fathers had died, this gave the father of legitimate children a very substantial say in at least the initial marriage of his children.
Though a father could deny the right to marriage by refusing a prospective son- or daughter-in-law, he could not legally force his children into marriage nor could he prevent a divorce by one of his children.
One of the most important aspects of the practical and business-like arrangement of Roman marriage was the dowry. The dowry was a contribution made by the wife’s family to the husband to cover the expenses of the household, but it was more customary than compulsory.
Ancient papyrus texts show that dowries typically included land and slaves but could also include jewelry, toiletries (used to make women more attractive) and clothing. These items were connected with legacy and the woman herself.
The dowry was also how Roman families maintained their social status relative to each other. It was important to ensure that upon the end of a marriage, the dowry was returned to either the wife or her family.
If the wife died early in the marriage, the dowry could be returned to her family. The dowry items could then be buried with the deceased to give a more elaborate interment, or in order to improve her chances of remarriage as well as to maintain the family resource.
In Ancient Rome, the dowry became the husband’s full legal property. In actuality, however, the purpose of the dowry often affected the husband’s freedom to use the dowry.
For example, if the dowry was given to help in the maintenance of the wife the husband was restricted as to how he could make use of the dowry. A legal provision could be made for the wife or her family to reclaim the dowry should the marriage dissolve.
The fate of the dowry at the end of a marriage depended on its original source. A dowry of dos recepticia was one in which agreements were made in advance about its disposal, thus determining how this dowry would be recovered.
One of dos profecticia was a dowry given by the father of the bride. This type of dowry could be recovered by the donor or by a divorced daughter if her pater familias died.
A dowry of dos adventicia was given by the daughter herself, though it came from her pater. This dowry usually came in non-traditional forms.
For example, in lieu of a debt settlement the dowry was given as a direct charge on the pater’s estate. The wife usually recovered this dowry, however, if she died then the husband retained this dowry.
The evidence for rules of age in Augustus’ marriage legislation would be applied to either sex. A marriage could be terminated for women who could not give birth or in menopause (aged 20-49), and men who were considered incapable of fathering children (aged 25-59).
Under the terms of the lex Iulia, unmarried persons, caelibes (unmarried as defined by laws), were incapable of taking either inheritances or legacies. Married persons who had no children, orbi, could take no more than 1/2 of either inheritances or legacies.
In the Augustan legislation a husband and wife could enjoy complete capacity to inherit if, apart from the rules of age, they were otherwise related to within the 6th degree, or the husband was absent for a certain period of time (a temporary privilege), or the couple had a living communis child or a certain number of children who had survived to certain ages, or they had otherwise been granted the ius liberorum.
If the married couple could not claim under any of these conditions, then they were capable of taking only 1/10th of the estate of the other.
Divorce (divortium), like marriage, changed and evolved throughout Roman history. As the centuries passed and ancient Rome became more diversified, the laws and customs of divorce also changed and became more diversified to include the customs and beliefs of all the different people.
Divortium had always been a common occurrence in Rome. From the beginning of ancient law in Rome men had the possibility of divorcing their wives.
Although this custom was usually reserved for serious marital faults, such as adultery, making copies of the household keys, consuming wine or infertility, it could be employed by a husband at any time. For many centuries only husbands had this privilege but wives were finally included in this process and given permission to divorce their husbands as Rome entered into the classical age.
Since marriage was often used as a political tool in ancient Rome, especially in the upper classes, divorces were common when new political opportunities presented themselves. When a new opportunity arose, a man or woman might divorce their current spouse and marry a new one.
A man or woman could form valuable family ties through their various marriages and divorces to different families. A motivated man or woman might marry and divorce a couple times in their lifetime if they thought it to their advantage.
One of the main reasons for divorce, besides serious marital fault, was a desire to no longer remain married to a spouse. Since one of the defining characteristics of marriage was a will to be married and an attitude of regarding one another as husband or wife, the marriage ended when the will or attitude ended.
A husband or wife would notify their spouse that they no longer desired to be married and the marriage would end. It is interesting to note that only a single spouse’s will was required for a divorce and that a divorce was still final even if the other spouse did not receive the notice of divorce.
All that mattered was that one spouse wanted it to end, and it ended.
Divorce in ancient Rome was usually a private affair and only the parties involved were notified of it. A divorce, or marriage even, did not have to be recognized or ratified by the church or state and no public record was kept of a divorce.
This lack of divorce records often led to some confusion with the numerous marriages and divorces going on.
The Manus Marriage custom ended in the 1st Century BC and the Free Marriage divorce emerged. With this, the reasons for any divorce became irrelevant.
Either spouse could leave a marriage at any point. Property during a marriage was kept separate under Roman Law, and this left only the dowry in common.
In cases of adultery, husbands got to keep a portion of the dowry, but without the involvement of adultery women would take most if not all of their dowry with them, as well as their personal property.
However, the woman had to get permission from the government to have a divorce, while the man did not.
Adultery was a sexual offense committed by a man with a woman who was neither his wife nor a permissible partner, such as a prostitute or slave. A married man committed adultery mainly when his female partner was another man’s wife or unmarried daughter.
The punishment varied at different periods of Roman history and depending on the circumstances. Adultery was normally considered a private matter for families to deal with, not a serious criminal offense requiring the attention of the courts, though there were some cases when adultery and sexual transgressions by women had been brought to the aediles for judgment.
A wronged husband was entitled to kill his wife’s lover if the man was a slave or infamis, a person who, though perhaps technically free, was excluded from the normal legal protections extended to Roman citizens. He was not allowed to kill his wife, who was not under his legal authority.
If he chose to kill the lover, the husband was required to divorce his wife within 3 days and to have her formally charged with adultery. If a husband was aware of the affair and did nothing, he himself could be charged with pandering (lenocinium, from leno, “pimp”).
If no death penalty was carried out and charges for adultery were brought, both the married woman and her lover were subject to criminal penalties, usually including the confiscation of 1/2 of the adulterer’s property, along with 1/3 of the woman’s property and 1/2 her dowry.
Any property brought by a wife to the marriage or gained during marriage normally remained in her possession following a divorce. A woman convicted of adultery was barred from remarrying.
Scholars have often assumed that the Lex Iulia was meant to address a virulent outbreak of adultery in the Late Republic. An androcentric perspective in the early 20th Century held that the Lex Iulia had been “a very necessary check upon the growing independence and recklessness of women”.
A more sympathetic view in the late 20th to early 21st Century saw love affairs as a way for the intelligent, independent women of the elite to form emotionally meaningful relationships outside marriages arranged for political purposes.
The law should perhaps be understood not as addressing a real problem that threatened society, but as one of the instruments of social control exercised by Augustus that cast the state, and by extension himself, in the role of pater familias to all Rome.
Augustus himself, however, had frequent recourse to his moral laws in choosing to banish potential enemies and rivals from Rome. So, the effect of the legislation seems to have been primarily political.
Concubinage (contubernium; concubine=concubina, considered milder than paelex) was the institution practiced in Ancient Rome that allowed men to enter into certain illegal relationships without repercussions, with the exception of involvement with prostitutes.
This de facto polygamy, since Roman citizens could not legally marry or cohabit with a concubine while also having a legal wife, was “tolerated to the degree that it did not threaten the religious and legal integrity of the family”.
The title of concubine was not considered derogatory in Ancient Rome, and was often inscribed on tombstones.
Emperor Augustus’ Leges Juliae gave the first legal recognition of concubinage, defining it as cohabitation without marital status. Concubinage came to define many relationships and marriages considered unsuitable under Roman law, such a senator’s desire to marry a freedwoman, or his cohabitation with a former prostitute.
While a man could live in concubinage with any woman of his choice rather than marrying her, he was compelled to give notice to authorities. This type of cohabitation varied little from actual marriage, except that heirs from this union were not considered legitimate.
Often this was the reason that men of high rank would live with a woman in concubinage after the death of their original wife, so that the claims of their children from this primary marriage would not be challenged by the children from this later union.
Concerning the difference between a concubine and a wife, the jurist Julius Paulus wrote in his Opinions that “a concubine differs from a wife only in the regard in which she is held,” meaning that a concubine was not considered a social equal to her patron, as his wife was.
While the official Roman law declared that a man could not have a concubine at the same time he had a wife, there are various notable occurrences of this, including the famous cases of the Emperors Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, and Vespasian.
Concubines did not receive much protection under the law, aside from the legal recognition of their social stature. They largely relied upon their patrons to provide for them.
Early Roman law sought to differentiate between the status of concubinage and legal marriage, as demonstrated in a law attributed to Numa Pompilius, the 2nd King of Rome, circa 716-673 BC: “A concubine shall not touch the altar of Juno. If she touches it, she shall sacrifice, with her hair unbound, a ewe lamb to Juno”.
This fragment gives evidence that concubines existed early in the Roman monarchy, but also notes the banning of their involvement in the worship of Juno, the goddess of marriage. This seems to make sense since if you aren’t legally married, then you shouldn’t be allowed to worship the goddess of marriage.
We hope you enjoyed learning about married life in Ancient Rome. Expectantly, this doesn’t cause any of you who are married now to start rethinking your own marital conditions.
Stop by again soon to see what we have in store. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Bradley, K.R. Remarriage and the Structure of the Upper-Class Roman Family. In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, eds. Beryl Rawson, 79-98. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814918-2.
Corbier, Mireille. Divorce and Adoption as Roman Familial Strategies. In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, eds. Beryl Rawson, 47-78. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814918-2.
Fantham, Elaine. Julia Augusti: the Emperor’s Daughter: Women in the Ancient World. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-33146-3.
Gardner, Jane F. Women in Roman Law and Society. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-20635-9.
Holland, Barbara, and Lane Yerkes. The long good-bye. Smithsonian 28, no. 12 (March 1998).
Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Fant, Maureen B. Women’s Life in Greece and Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-4474-6.
Parkin, Tim G. Old Age in the Roman World: A Cultural and Social History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7128-X.
Saller, Richard P. Patriarchy, Property, and Death in the Roman Family. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32603-6.
Treggiari, Susan. Divorce Roman Style: How easy and how Frequent was it?. In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, eds. Beryl Rawson, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814918-2.
Treggiari, Susan. Roman Marriage. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-19-814890-9.