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The Roman Family

Marriage

More of This Feature
Ages of Man

Related Resources
Daily Life - Rome
Books on Ancient Roman Marriage and the Family

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Roman Virtues
The Family in Classical Antiquity

The Roman Family
Daily Life in Ancient Rome
By Florence Dupont
Translated by Christopher Woodall
Blackwell; 1994.
ISBN: 0631193952

According to Florence Dupont, in The Roman Family, Republican Roman citizens were taxpayers, soldiers waiting to be mobilized, and political entities, but before they could fulfill their civic obligations they were members of the family, the vehicle for the transmission of moral character.

Purpose of Marriage

Roman marriage wasn't a love match. Procreative sex was utilitarian and recreational sex (which must be kept to a minimum lest it make a man effeminate) didn't involve one's spouse. Nor was it a ticket to freedom. When married, a Roman woman was under the jurisdiction of either her husband or her father, depending on the type of marriage contracted. The only time a freeborn woman enjoyed relative freedom was when she was infertile, divorced, and returned to her father's home to live a life of taking noble lovers and managing her own affairs. The purpose of marriage was to carry on the family line so the spirits of the dead could be honored.

Ancestor worship was an integral part of life, but more than that, the Romans were a sociable people defined by their familial and civic ties. Being a bachelor who didn't have a dinner invitation condemned one to the everyday frugality of an evening meal composed of a plate of beans sprinkled with olive oil.

The Household

Romans sought to expand their family by marriage, divorce, adoption, and re-marriage. Ex-in-laws were important and children weren't lost through divorce. Bonds of love between the generations were strong. Romans needed large families obligated to support their political ambitions. Fertile wives were divorced and remarried to form alliances for political expedience -- sometimes while pregnant. Clients also augmented the support network. The patron, patronus, from which comes the Italian padrino, godfather, protected his clients if they got in trouble with the law, but expected their full, visible support on public occasions and loyalty on others. In addition to wives and children, the family unit, familia, included household slaves.

It wasn't just grandma and grandpa living upstairs, but great-grandfather ruling the roost, along with the subordinate uncles, first and second cousins. This may have been more the ideal than the practice, but as long as that pater familias was alive, no Roman could do business in his own name unless the progenitor had emancipated him.

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