Marriage in Ancient Rome




Marriage in Ancient Rome was treated more so as an arrangement between families, rather than a ceremony marking the eternal union of two lovers. Furthermore, the bride or groom to-be was chosen in regards of wealth or status, rather than love or passion. Consequently, marriage soon became a powerful tool in the battle of politics, as wealthy families started uniting through legal bondage for territorial, financial or status-related benefits. This way, alliance pacts were sealed, wars won and empires expanded. Because it had become such an important political strategy, marriage laws had been strictly and thoroughly announced.


In Republican and Imperial Rome, the woman acquired a certain patrimonial and legal independence. Slowly, the roman aristocracy decided to leave behind the old form of marriage – through which the woman’s possessions would be exclusively and entirely inherited by the husband. By the ending period of the Republic, the man would be entitled to the property mentioned in the marriage act, allowing the woman property rights over her possessions. (Famous women of the ancient world- D. Tudor)


As the roman upper-class population took on an adulterous and immoral lifestyle, the frequency of marriage, and, in relation, the citizen birth rate between aristocracy had increasingly befallen. The Augustan law regarding marriage would promote old traditions and social norms in hopes of reinforcing morality between and multiplying the number of aristocratic and native italian families. Thus, the new legislation would ban adultery and promote reward marriage and having children (lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus). (https://pages.uoregon.edu/klio/tx/re/aug-law.htm)


The purpose of marriage was to create mothers and speed the rate of childbirth. Women as young as 12 years old would be forced into marriage by their families, oftentimes with men much older. Because of that, childbirth would involve many life-threatening risks both for the mother and the child, as infant mortality remained high at the time. As a comfort for facing complications such as infections, hemorrhage, miscarriages or even death after birth, young women would turn to religious and spiritual practices for comfort. They often prayed to Juno – Queen of the Gods for help during the birth, to Carmentis, a water goddess who was also a prophetic goddess of protection in childbirth and to Matuta, the goddess of dawn and young growth. (https://eaglesanddragonspublishing.com/ancient-everyday-childbirth-in-the-ancient-world/)


The roman bride attire consisted of a plain white dress, tied with a wooden belt, which was wore only once - on the day of the ceremony.





The bride’s hairstyle called a tutulus was considered a special ritual meant to drive the evil spirits away. (http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-clothing/roman-wedding-clothing.htm)





The ceremony was quite simple: the bride was escorted to the groom’s house, both the families discussed the dowry, and as long as the two parties gave their approval, the marriage was considered valid.




Divorce was as plain a matter as marriage, due to the fact that the latter could be ended so easily and for many reasons. Divorce was simply viewed as the wish of a couple not to live together. So, the law required for the couple to express that wish in front of seven witnesses. More than that, after the divorce the wife had the possibility to regain full right of her property and reenter patria potestas (the protection of her father) or, if, previous to the marriage, the woman was independent, she would regain that independence. (https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/weddings.html)


In conclusion, marriage in Ancient Rome was a move of political or financial interest, rather than a union between two lovers. Rights of property and possession became quite balanced for women and men and the possibility of divorce was freely offered. However, childbirth overtook many risks, hence the divination of numerous gods and goddesses of protection during pregnancy.


Written for Andrei Weddings by Teodora Oprescu



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