Roman Marriage Practices

In Roman society there were a series of laws and customs that characterized the institution of marriage. For example, marriages were often not love matches but rather marriage was used as a means to obtain political or “financial gain.” Marriage thus provided a way to make an alliance that would be helpful later on to the individual. If one could not secure a useful alliance through marriage this could lead to failure in personal wealth or a person’s career. Another custom that characterized Roman marriage was for the groom to give his future wife a present before they were married. “These gifts might be tokens of esteem; they might also be a reward, sometimes substantial, given to the bride for her virginity- a highly valued quality.”

This is not surprising considering the fact that Rome was a very sexualized society. However, these gifts were not given after marriage because it was illegal according to Roman law for married partners to exchange gifts. The exchange of gifts between marriage partner was illegal because it did not keep the property of the husband and wife separate. This law meant that if the couple later divorced the woman would not be required to give the gift back to her husband. However, if the gift was given after the marriage started and the couple later divorced then the husband could take the gift back because it wasn’t lawful to give in the first place. This brings up another good point that if a woman started living with her fiance then the couple was considered to be married and no ceremony had to be performed for this to be a legally bound marriage. Marriage without a ceremony meant that the woman still held the title as wife and not concubine unless the woman starting prostituting herself out.

This is why monogamous marriage is an aspect that stayed constant over time. Divorce on the other hand is an institution that changed over time. At first marriage was an institution that was thought to last forever. However, “By the first century BC and subsequently…divorce became common, and remarriage after divorce was quite frequent.” The later toleration and frequency of divorce led some to believe that values had denigrated in Roman society. Although divorce later became acceptable marriage was still an institution that was prized in ancient Rome. This is why even in the event of a divorce remarriage commonly followed.

A marriage ceremony as depicted in this picture was not required in Roman law to be considered legal.

586px-Roman_marriage_vows

Ad Meskens, latter part of 4th century. Sarcophagus of the Dioscures, detail depicting a marriage. Marble. Database online. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roman_marriage_vows.jpg. (accessed 9 April 2015).

This picture is the fragment off the front of a sarcophagus showing that even in death marriage was considered to be a special institution.

El-matrimonio-romano

Statue depiction of Ancient Roman Matrimonium. relief in blue-veined marble with large crystals (probably Proconnesian). Database online. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El-matrimonio-romano.jpg (accessed 9 April 92015).

Works Cited:

Josiah Osgood. “ “Nuptiae Iure Civili Congruae”: Apuleius’s Story of Cupid and Psyche and the Roman Law of Marriage.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 136, no. 2 (Autumn  2006): 415-44.http://www.jstor.org.hal.weber.edu:2200/stable/4543298?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&%26amp%3Bq6%3D%26amp%3Bq1 (accessed April 9, 2015).

Archie C. Bush and Joseph J. McHugh. “Patterns of Roman Marriage.” Ethnology 14, no. 1 (January 1975): 25-45. http://www.jstor.org.hal.weber.edu:2200/stable/3773205?Search=yes&Bq6%3DBf6%3Dall%26amp%3BSearch%3D%26a%3D%26amp%3Bar%3Don%26amp%3Bc1%3DAND%26amp%3Bacc%3Don%26amp%3Bwc%3Don%26amp%3Bc2%3DAND%26amp%3Bpt (accessed April 9, 2015).

Ad Meskens, latter part of 4th century. Sarcophagus of the Dioscures, detail depicting a marriage. Marble. Database online. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roman_marriage_vows.jpg. (accessed 9 April 2015).

Statue depiction of Ancient Roman Matrimonium. relief in blue-veined marble with large crystals (probably Proconnesian). Database online. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El-matrimonio-romano.jpg (accessed 9 April 92015).

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