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Boudicca : Marriage, Rape, and Revenge

Dateline: 05/05/98
Contra ea pleraque nostris moribus sunt decora quae apud illos turpia putantur. Quem enim Romanorum pudet uxorem ducere in convivium? Aut cuius non mater familias primum locum tenet aedium atque in celebritate versatur? Quod multo fit aliter in Graecia. Nam neque in convivium adhibetur nisi propinquorum, neque sedet nisi in interiore parte aedium, quae gynaeconitis appellatur, quo nemo accedit nisi propinqua cognatione coniunctus.
Corneli Nepotis Vitae - Praefatio
If as a woman you were to choose another period in which to live, you probably wouldn't pick Ancient Athens -- unless like Xena (who fought with Boadicea against Julius Caesar one day and confronted the Argonauts the next) you could make everyone else hop around through time. You might pick Rome, for, as Nepos points out in the passage above, at least you could enjoy a social life.

Life among the Ancient Celts seems even more desirable, since there women could enter a variety of professions, hold legal rights -- especially in the area of marriage -- and have rights of redress in case of sexual harrassment.

They could govern, took prominent roles in political, religious and artistic life, even becoming judges and law-givers; they could own property which marriage could not deprive them of; they chose when they wanted to marry and, more often than not, who [sic] they wanted to marry; they could divorce and, if they were deserted, molested or maltreated, they had the right to claim considerable damages.
P. 18 Celtic Women
In Celtic Women , Peter Berresford Ellis claims the early Celts had a sophisticated, unified law system. Today two of the Celtic legal codes survive:
  • The Fénechas (known as THE BREHON LAW), codified during the reign of the High King Laoghaire (428-36 A.D.), and
  • The Welsh Law of Hywel Dda, codified in the tenth century.


Celtic women were free to marry in one of nine ways (in the Brehon system) starting at age 14. As in other civilizations, marriage was an economic union. The first three types of marriages required formal, pre-nuptial agreements. With the others -- even the ones that would be illegal today -- marriage meant the assumption of financial responsibilities for child-rearing.
  1. In the primary form of marriage (lánamnas comthichuir), both partners enter the union with equal financial resources.
  2. In the second type (lánamnas mná for ferthinchur), the woman contributes litle or nothing.
  3. In the third category (l&aacutenamnas fir for bantichur), it's the woman who is financially better off.
  4. Cohabitation with a woman at her house.
  5. Voluntary eloping without the consent of the woman's family.
  6. Voluntary abduction without the family's consent.
  7. Secret rendezvous.
  8. Marriage by rape.
  9. Marriage of two insane people.
The Welsh system is equivalent except that it lacks the ninth category.

Marriage did not mean MONOGAMY and there were three categories of wives -- again, a main difference was the attendant financial obligation; nor was there a DOWRY, although there was a "BRIDE-PRICE" which the woman could keep in certain cases of divorce.

There are reasons listed allowing a wife can divorce her husband and retain her bride price, including the husband repudiating her for another woman, the husband failing to support her, the husband telling lies or satirizing her or seducing her into marriage by trickery or sorcery. If a husband struck his wife and his blow caused a blemish, she could also divorce him. There are sexual reasons listed for divorce as well including impotence, gross obesity that prevents sexual intercourse, the husband spurning the marriage bed to exclusively practice homosexuality ... sterility .... A woman could divorce a man if he was indiscreet enough to tell tales about their love life.
(clannada.zimnet.net:8080/clannada/docs/marriag.html) Marriage, Separation and Divorce In Ancient Gaelic Culture

Rape and Sexual Harrassment

Happily married, I can look at all the U.S. scandals about sexual harrassment with some detachment. Still, I'm apprehensive about what my son will be going through in a few years. What will happen to the hormonally based dating and mating rituals with the fomalization of written contracts conferring osculatory permission? I think about the he said-she said battles in court and the cases where, with both parties mildly intoxicated at the time, the man's action is later judged to be rape while the woman's loss of judgment is deemed to be victimhood.

Looking to Celtic law, we see similar situations, but, with the punishments directly helping the rape victim (financially) while permitting the rapist to remain free, perhaps there's less incentive for the man to lie. Then again, failure to pay could lead to castration.

The woman, too, had an incentive for honesty. She had to be sure of the man whom she was accusing of rape because if she made an allegation that later proved to be false, she would have no help raising the offspring of such union; nor could she charge a second man with the same crime.

The Celts didn't demand written contracts for liaisons; however, if a woman was kissed or interefered with bodily against her will, the offender had to make compensation. Verbal abuse also fetched fines valued at the person's honor price. Rape could be forcible, violent rape (forcor) or seduction of someone asleep, mentally deranged, or intoxicated (sleth). Both were regarded as equally serious. But if a woman arranged to go to bed with a man and then changed her mind, she could not charge him with rape.

Unfortunately, the Romans did not abide by these equitable laws.

To be continued...

Main source

Celtic Women , by Peter Berresford Ellis, 1995.


  • (clannada.zimnet.net:8080/clannada/law/brehon.html) Introduction to the Brehon Law
    Legal system of Ireland probably dating from 100 B.C. written down in the fifth century A.D.
  • (clannada.zimnet.net:8080/clannada/law/lawref.html) Brehon Law Master Reference Resource
    Bibliography on Brehon Law.
  • (www.dalriada.co.uk/Archives/brehon1.htm) The Brehon Laws Part I
  • (www.dalriada.co.uk/Archives/brehon2.htm) Brehon Law Part II
    Penal System.
  • (www.witchhaven.com/shadowdrake/brehon.html) Brehon Law
    Individual laws.
  • Chapter IV - The Brehon Laws
    From A Much Smaller Social History of Ireland.
  • (clannada.zimnet.net:8080/clannada/docs/marriag.html) Marriage, Separation and Divorce In Ancient Gaelic Culture
    By Alix Morgan MacAnTsaoir.
  • (unet.univie.ac.at/~a8700035/celtlaw.html) Celtic Law - A Summary
    Extensive article.
  • (www.ealaghol.demon.co.uk/celtenc/celt_c3.htm) Celts in Battle
    Polybius, Livy, Diodorus Siculus on how the Celts fought.

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