and excited for a fortunate day,
singing wedding songs
with ringing voice,
beat the ground with feet, with a hand
shake the pine torch.1
Like a Greek woman,
a Roman woman was usually under the guardianship, manus, of her
paterfamilias, male guardian, her whole life. However, during
the end of the Roman Republic and at the time of the elegiac
poets, women tended to have more freedom:
ostensibly factual texts and in imaginative writing a new kind
of women appears precisely at the time of Cicero and Caesar:
a woman in high position, who nevertheless claims for herself
the indulgence in sexuality of a woman of pleasure.2
This 'new woman'
both affected and was affected by a new attitude towards marriage,
the beginnings of which are seen in Catullus' poems.3 This section will examine
the traditional Roman marriage4
and the transition to a different kind of relationship at the
time of the elegists.
could either be traditional, with coniubium and manus,
or unconventional, without coniubium and manus.5 In order for a marriage
and the children resulting from the union to be legitimate, both
partners needed to have ius coniubium, the right to marry.
This right was both inherent in Roman citizenship and bestowed
upon certain people as a special privilege. Under Augustus' laws,
if a couple had a sexual union, but did not have coniubium,
the union was considered stuprum and the couple was subject
to penalties. There were certain unions, however, that allowed
people without coniubium to have a marital like union.6
Types of Marriage
The first and most
traditional type of marriage was called confarreatio.7 This was a marriage limited
to patricians whose parents were also married with confarreatio.
The wedding was an elaborate ceremony with the Flamen Dialis
and Pontifex Maximus presiding, as well as ten witnesses present.
The woman passed directly from the manus of her paterfamilias
to that of her new husband. Divorce for confarreatio marriages,
diffarreatio, was a difficult process and therefore rare.
Not much is known about how diffarreatio was carried out
except that there was a special type of sacrifice that caused
the dissolution of the relationship between the man and woman.
She would then pass back into the manus of her paterfamilias.
The second and more
common type of marriage with manus was called coemptio.
It represented a "bride purchase," as the groom paid
nummus usus, a penny, and received the bride in exchange.
While this purchase was not a real sale, it symbolized the traditional
bride purchases of earlier societies. Only five witnesses were
required and the wedding ceremony was much less formal8 than confarreatio,
but the bride still passed to her husband's manus.
A third type of
marriage is a bit more unusual and was obsolete by the end of
the Republic. Usus was a practical marriage that did not
require an actual wedding ceremony; it was a transfer to the
manus of the husband by default after cohabitation. There was
probably some honorable intention stated at the beginning of
the cohabitation, an adfectus maritalis. The only requirement
for an usus marriage was that the man and woman cohabitate
for one full year. The woman would then pass into her husband's
manus. There was one loophole, however. If, within that
year, the woman was away for three consecutive nights, she would
not pass into the manus of her husband.
There were also
marital unions that did not require the women to pass into her
husband's manus. One, for instance, was free marriage.9 The wife would retain her
independence as filiafamilias to her paterfamilias. If
the father was dead, and had so stipulated in his will, she would
be suae iuris, responsible for herself. She, under suae
iuris, could then manage her own property and even initiate
a divorce. Concubinatus was another alternative to marriage.10 A concubine, or paelex,
was a woman who had regular sexual relations with a married man.
Often the man and his paelex would live together, but
without the adfectus maritalis that characterized usus
marriages. Children of this type of union were not legitimate,
indicating that the relationship was not itself legitimate. If,
however, the couple did have adfectus maritalis and there
were no legal disqualifications to marriage, the relationship
could become a matrimonium. Like Greek concubinage, concubinatus
was an acceptable alternative unless the paterfamilias gave the
woman as a concubine because he could not afford a dowry for
her (in which case it was an embarrassment). While not an actual
marriage, contubernium was a marital-like union often
practiced by slaves.111
Again the defining factor was cohabitation. This situation was
not a permanent one, but existed only until both partners gained
an alternative to marriage, though not for honorable women.12 Prostitutes were called
scortae, meretrices, or lupae, but did not
have the same status in Roman society as hetarai did in
Greek society. Like their Greek counterparts, they were usually
foreigners and were easy to identify with their make-up and flamboyant
attire that contrasted sharply with the austere look of the matronae.
They registered with the aediles and later were required to pay
taxes. As is the case today, prostitutes could work independently
or for a brothel owner, the leno or lena.
Closer to the Greek
hetarai were the courtesans, doctae puellae. Often
these mistresses would live with their mothers and sisters, under
a lena, or in an apartment provided by their lovers.13 Unlike prostitutes, courtesans
were usually of respectable Roman origin, although some were
freedwomen. They did not live with their lovers, but, unlike
prostitutes, usually had only one lover at a time.
Catullus, carmen 61, lines 211-15, the Wedding of Junia and Manlius.
The translation is my own.
Fantham, Elaine, Helene Peet Foley, Natalie Boymel Kampen, Sarah
B. Pomeroy, and H. Alan Shapiro. 1994. Women in the Classical
World. New York and Oxford, 280.
For more on women during the time of the elegists, see Wyke,
Maria. 1989. "Mistress
and Metaphor in Augustan Elegy," Helios 16.1: 25-49.
For a comprehensive overview of Roman marriage, see Treggiari,
Susan. 1991. Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time
of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian. Oxford.
For more on all marital options, see Corbett, Percy Ellwood.
1969. The Roman Law of Marriage. Oxford, chs. 3 &
Concubinatus and contubernium are two examples of marital options
for people without ius coniubium.
For more on the first three types of Roman marriage (confarreatio,
coemptio, and usus), see Cantarella, Eva. 1987.
Pandora's Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek
and Roman Antiquity. Baltimore, 116-118 and Grimal, Pierre.
1986. Love in Ancient Rome. Translated from French by
Arthur Train, Jr. Norman, OK, 57-62.
The Flamen Dialis and Pontifex Maximus, for instance, were not
required at the wedding ceremony for coemptio marriages.
For more on free marriage, see Grimal, 62.
For more on concubinage, see Grimal, 89 and Gardner, Jane F.
1986. Women in Roman Law & Society. Bloomington, 56-59.
For more on contubernium, see Gardner 1986, 59-60.
For more on prostitution, see Lilja, Saara. 1965. The Roman
Elegists' Attitude to Women. Helsinki, 35ff.
See Plautus' Mostellaria, l. 230 for the cost of keeping a courtesan.
Philolaches says "... By gods, I'll not see you in wanton
poverty as long as I live. I'd sooner sell my father, if it comes
to that." Watling translation.