62. Early Forms of Marriage. Polygamy was never sanctioned at Rome, and we are told that for five centuries after the founding of the city divorce was entirely unknown. Up to the time of the Servian constitution (traditional date, sixth century B.C.) patricians were the only citizens and intermarried only with patricians and with members of surrounding communities having like social standing. The only form of marriage known to them was called cōnfarreātiō. With the consent of the gods, while the pontificēs celebrated the solemn rites, in the presence of the accredited representatives of his gēns, the patrician took his wife from her father’s family into his own (§ 35), to be a māter familiās, to bear him children who should conserve the family mysteries, perpetuate his ancient race, and extend the power of Rome. By this, the one legal form of marriage of the time, the wife passed in manum virī, and the husband acquired over her practically the same rights as he would have over his own children (§§ 23-24) and other dependent members of his family. Such a marriage was said to be cum conventiōne uxōris in manum virī (§ 23).
63. During this period, too, the free non-citizens, the plebeians (§§ 177-178), had been busy in marrying and giving in marriage. There is little doubt that their unions had been as sacred in their eyes, their family ties as strictly regarded and as pure as those of the patricians, but these unions were unhallowed by the national gods and unrecognized by the civil law, simply because the plebeians were not yet citizens. Their form of marriage, called ūsus, consisted essentially in the living together continuously of the man and woman as husband and wife, though there were probably conventional forms and observances, about which we know absolutely nothing. The plebeian husband might acquire the same rights over the person and property of his wife as the patrician, but the form of marriage did not in itself involve manus. The wife might remain a member of her father’s family and retain such property as he allowed her (§ 22) by merely absenting herself from her husband for the space of a trinoctium, that is, three nights in succession, each year.1 If she did this, the marriage was sine conventiōne in manum, and the husband had no control over her property; if she did not, the marriage, like that of the patricians, was cum conventiōne in manum.
64. Another Roman form of marriage goes at least as far back as the time of Servius. This was also plebeian, though not so ancient as ūsus. It was called cōemptiō and was a fictitious sale, by which the pater familiās of the woman, or her tūtor, if she was subject to one (§ 27), transferred her to the man mātrimōniī causā. This form must have been a survival of the old custom of purchase and sale of wives, but we do not know when it was introduced among the Romans. It carried manus with it as a matter of course, and seems to have been regarded socially as better form than ūsus. The two existed for centuries side by side, but cōemptiō survived ūsus as a form of marriage cum conventiōne in manum.
65. Iūs Cōnūbiī. Though the Servian constitution made the plebeians citizens and thereby legalized their forms of marriage, it did not give them the right of intermarriage with the patricians. Many of the plebeian families were hardly less ancient than the patricians, many were rich and powerful, but it was not until 445 B.C. that marriages between the two Orders were formally sanctioned by the civil law. The objection on the part of the patricians was largely a religious one: the gods of the State were gods of the patricians, the auspices could be taken by patricians only, the marriages of patricians only were sanctioned by heaven. Their orators protested that the unions of the plebeians were not marriages at all, not iūstae nūptiae (§ 68); the plebeian wife, they insisted, was only taken in mātrimōnium: she was at best only an uxor, not a māter familiās; her offspring were “mother’s children,” not patriciī.
66. Much of this was class exaggeration, but it is true that for a long time the gēns was not so highly valued by the plebeians as by the patricians, and that the plebeians assigned to cognates certain duties and privileges that devolved upon the patrician gentīlēs. With the extension of the iūs cōnūbiī many of these points of difference disappeared. New conditions were fixed for iūstae nūptiae; cōemptiō by a sort of compromise became the usual form of marriage when one of the parties was a plebeian; and the stigma disappeared from the word mātrimōnium. On the other hand, patrician women learned to understand the advantages of a marriage sine conventiōne in manum, and marriage with manus grew less frequent, the taking of the auspices before the ceremony came to be considered a mere form, and marriage began to lose its sacramental character. With these changes came later the laxness in the marital relation and the freedom of divorce that seemed in the time of Augustus to threaten the very life of the commonwealth.
67. It is probable that by the time of Cicero marriage with manus was uncommon, and consequently that cōnfarreātiō and cōemptiō had gone out of general use. To a limited extent, however, the former was retained into Christian times, because certain priestly offices (those of the flāminēs maiōrēs and the rēgēs sacrōrum) could be filled only by persons whose parents had been married by the confarreate ceremony (§§ 81-82), the sacramental form, and who had themselves been married by the same form. Augustus offered exemption from manus to mothers of three children, but this was not enough, for so great became the reluctance of women to submit to manus that in order to fill even these few priestly offices it was found necessary under Tiberius to eliminate manus from the confarreate ceremony.
68. Iūstae Nūptiae. There were certain conditions that had to be satisfied before a legal marriage could be contracted even by citizens. The requirements were as follows:
(1) The consent of both parties should be given, or that of the pater familiās if one or both were in patriā potestāte. Under Augustus it was provided that the pater familiās should not withhold his consent unless he could show valid reasons for doing so.
(2) Both of the parties should be pūberēs; there could be no marriage between children. Although no precise age was fixed by law, it is probable that fourteen and twelve were the lowest limit for the man and the woman respectively.
(3) Both man and woman should be unmarried. Polygamy was never sanctioned at Rome (§ 62).
(4) The parties should not be nearly related. The restrictions in this direction were fixed by public opinion rather than by law and varied greatly at different times, becoming gradually less severe. In general it may be said that marriage was absolutely forbidden between ascendants and descendants, between other cognates within the sixth (later the fourth) degree (§ 32), and between the nearer adfīnēs (§ 33).
If the parties could satisfy these conditions, they might be legally married, but distinctions were still made that affected the civil status of the children, although no doubt was cast upon their legitimacy or upon the moral character of their parents.
69. If the conditions named in § 68 were fulfilled and the husband and wife were both Roman citizens, their marriage was called iūstae nūptiae, which we may translate by “regular marriage.” The children of such a marriage were iūstī līberī and were by birth cīvēs optimō iūre, “possessed of all civil rights.”
If one of the parties was a Roman citizen and the other a member of a community having the iūs cōnūbiī but not full Roman cīvitās, the marriage was still called iūstae nūptiae, but the children took the civil standing of the father. This means that, if the father was a citizen and the mother a foreigner, the children were citizens, but, if the father was a foreigner and the mother a citizen, the children were foreigners (peregrīnī), as was their father.
But if either of the parties was without the iūs cōnūbiī, the marriage, though still legal, was called iniūstae nūptiae or iniūstum mātrimōnium, “an irregular marriage,” and the children, though legitimate, took the civil position of the parent of lower degree. We seem to have something analogous to this today in the loss of social standing which usually follows the marriage of one person with another of distinctly inferior position.
70. Betrothals. Formal betrothal (spōnsālia) as a preliminary to marriage was considered good form but was not legally necessary and carried with it no obligations that could be enforced by law. In the spōnsālia the maiden was promised to the man as his bride with “words of style,” that is, in solemn form. The promise was made, not by the maiden herself, but by her pater familiās, or by her tūtor (§ 27) if she was not in patriā potestāte. In the same way, the promise was made to the man directly only in case he was suī iūris (§ 17); otherwise it was made to the Head of his House, who had asked for him the maiden in marriage. The “words of style” were probably something like this:
“Spondēsne Gāïam, tuam fīliam (or, if she was a ward, Gāïam, Lūciī fīliam), mihi (or fīliō meō) uxōrem darī?”
"Dī bene vortant! Spondeō."
"Dī bene vortant!”
71. At any rate, the word spondeō was technically used of the promise, and the maiden was henceforth spōnsa. The person who made the promise had always the right to cancel it. This was usually done through an intermediary (nūntius); hence the formal expression for breaking an engagement was repudium renūntiāre, or simply renūntiāre. While the contract was entirely one-sided, it should be noticed that a man was liable to īnfāmia if he formed two engagements at the same time, and that he could not recover any presents made with a view to a future marriage if he himself broke the engagement. Such presents were almost always made. Though we find that articles for personal use, the toilet, etc., were common, a ring was usually given. The ring was worn on the third finger of the left hand, because it was believed that a nerve (or sinew) ran directly from this finger to the heart. It was also usual for the spōnsa to make a present to her betrothed.
72. The Dowry. It was a point of honor with the Romans, as it is now with some European peoples, for the bride to bring to her husband a dowry (dōs, Modem French dot). In the case of a girl in patriā potestāte this would be furnished by the Head of her House; in the case of one suī iūris it was furnished from her own property, or, if she had none, was contributed by her relatives. It seems that if they were reluctant she might by process of law compel her ascendants at least to furnish it. In early times, when marriage cum conventiōne prevailed, all the property brought by the bride became the property of her husband, or of his pater familiās (§ 23), but in later times, when manus was less common, and especially after divorce had become of frequent occurrence, a distinction was made. A part of the bride’s possessions was reserved for her own exclusive use, and a part was made over to the groom under the technical name of dōs. The relative proportions varied, of course, with circumstances.
73. Essential Forms. There were really no legal forms necessary for the solemnization of a marriage; there was no license to be procured from the civil authorities; the ceremonies, simple or elaborate, did not have to be performed by persons authorized by the State. The one thing necessary was the consent of both parties, if they were suī iūris, or of their patrēs familiās, if they were in patriā potestāte. It has been remarked [§ 68, (I)] that the pater familiās could refuse his consent for valid reasons only; on the other hand, he could command the consent of persons subject to him. Parental and filial affection (pietās) made this hardship much less rigorous than it now seems to us (§§ 21-22).
74. But, though this consent was the only condition for a legal marriage, it had to be shown by some act of personal union between the parties, that is, the marriage could not be entered into by letter or by messenger or by proxy. Such a public act was the joining of hands (dextrārum iūnctiō) in the presence of witnesses, or the bride’s act in letting herself be escorted to her husband’s house, never omitted when the parties had any social standing, or, in later times, the signing of the marriage contract. It was never necessary to a valid marriage that the parties should live together as man and wife, though, as we have seen (§ 63), this living together of itself constituted a legal marriage.
75. The Wedding Day. It will be noticed that superstition played an important part in the arrangements for a wedding two thousand years ago, as it does now. Especial pains had to be taken to secure a lucky day. The Kalends, Nones, and Ides of each month, and the day following each of them, were unlucky. So was all of May and the first half of June, on account of certain religious ceremonies observed in these months, in May the Argean offerings and the Lemūria, in June the diēs religiōsī connected with Vesta. Besides these, the diēs parentālēs, February 13-21, and the days when the entrance to the lower world was supposed to be open, August 24, October 5, and November 8, were carefully avoided. One-third of the year, therefore, was absolutely barred. The great holidays, too, and these were legion, were avoided, not because they were unlucky, but because on these days friends and relatives were sure to have other engagements. Women being married for the second time chose these very holidays to make their weddings less conspicuous.
76. The Wedding Garments. On the eve of her wedding day the bride dedicated to the Larēs of her father's house her bulla (§ 99) and toga praetexta (§ 246), which married women did not wear, and also, if she was not much over twelve years of age, her childish playthings. For the sake of the omen she put on before going to sleep the tunica rēcta, or tunica rēgilla, woven in one piece and falling to the feet. It was said to have derived the name rēcta from being woven in the old fashioned way at an upright loom, though some authorities have thought it so called because it hung straight, not being bloused over at the belt. This same tunic was worn at the wedding.
77. On the morning of the wedding day the bride was dressed for the ceremony by her mother. Roman poets show unusual tenderness as they describe the mother’s solicitude. A wall painting of such a scene is reproduced in Figure 26. The chief article of dress was the tunica rēcta already mentioned (§ 76), which was fastened around the waist with a band of wool tied in the knot of Hercules (nōdus Herculāneus), probably because Hercules was the guardian of wedded life. This knot the husband only was privileged to untie. Over the tunic was worn the bridal veil, the flame-colored veil (flammeum), shown in Figure 27. So important was the veil of the bride that nūbere, “to veil oneself,” is the word regularly used for the marriage of a woman.
78. Especial attention was given to the arrangement of the hair. It was divided into six locks by the point of a spear, or comb of that shape, a practice surviving, probably, from ancient marriage by capture (§ 86); these locks, perhaps braided, were kept in position by ribbons (vittae). As the Vestals wore the hair thus arranged, it must have been an extremely early fashion, at any rate. The bride had also a wreath of flowers and sacred plants gathered by herself. The groom wore, of course, the toga and had a similar wreath of flowers on his head. He was accompanied to the home of the bride at the proper time by relatives, friends, and clients (§§ 176-180), who were bound to do him every honor on his wedding day.
79. The Ceremony. In connection with the marriage ceremonies it must be remembered that only the consent was necessary (§§ 73-74), with the act expressing the consent, and that all other forms and ceremonies were nonessential and variable. Something depended upon the particular form used, but more upon the wealth and social position of the families interested. It is probable that most weddings were a good deal simpler than those described by our chief authorities. The house of the bride’s father, where the ceremony was performed, was decked with flowers, boughs of trees, bands of wool, and tapestries. The guests arrived before the hour of sunrise, but even then the omens had been already taken. In the ancient confarreate ceremony these were taken by the public augur, but in later times, no matter what the ceremony, the haruspices merely consulted the entrails of a sheep which had been killed in sacrifice.
80. After the omens had been pronounced favorable, the bride and groom appeared in the atrium (§ 198), the public room of the house, and the wedding began. This consisted of two parts:
(1) The ceremony proper, varying according to the form used (cōnfarreātiō, cōemptiō, or ūsus), the essential part being the consent before witnesses (§§ 73-74).
(2) The festivities, including the feast at the bride’s home, the taking of the bride with a show of force from her mother’s arms, the escorting of the bride to her new home (the essential part), and her reception there.
81. The confarreate ceremony began with the dextrārum iūnctiō (§ 74). The bride and groom were brought together by the prōnuba, a matron but once married and living with her husband in undisturbed wedlock. They joined hands in the presence of ten witnesses representing the ten gentēs of the cūria. These are shown on an ancient sarcophagus found at Naples (Fig. 28). Then followed the words of consent spoken by the bride: Quandō tū Gāïus, ego Gāïa. The words mean, “When (and where) you are Gaius, then (and there) I am Gaia,” i.e., “I am bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh.” The formula was unchanged, no matter what the names of the bride and groom, and goes back to a time when Gāïus was a nōmen, not a praenōmen (§ 56). It implied that the bride was actually entering the gēns of the groom (§§ 23, 25, 30, 35), and was probably chosen for the lucky meaning (§ 44) of the names Gāïus and Gāïa. Even in marriages sine conventiōne the old formula came to be used, its import having been lost in lapse of time. The bride and groom then took their places side by side at the left of the altar and facing it, sitting on stools covered with the pelt of the sheep slain for the sacrifice (§ 79).
82. A bloodless offering was made to Jupiter by the Pontifex Maximus and the Flāmen Diālis, consisting of the cake of spelt (farreum lībum) from which the ceremony got the name cōnfarreātiō. Then the cake was eaten by the bride and groom. With the offering to Jupiter a prayer was recited by the Flamen to Juno as the goddess of marriage, and to Tellus, Picumnus, and Pilumnus, deities of the country and its fruits. The utensils necessary for the offering were carried in a covered basket (cumera) by a boy called camillus (Fig. 29), whose parents must both be living at the time (i.e., he must be patrīmus et mātrīmus). Then followed the congratulations, the guests using the word fēlīciter.
83. The coēmptiō began with the fictitious sale, carried out in the presence of no fewer than five witnesses. The purchase money, represented by a single coin, was laid in the scales held by a lībripēns. The scales, scaleholder, coin, an witnesses were all necessary for this kind of marriage. Then followed the dextrārum iūctiō and the words of consent (§ 81), borrowed, as has been said, from the confarreate ceremony. Originally the groom had asked the
bride an sibi māter familiās esse vellet. She assented, and put to him a similar question, an sibi pater familiās esse vellet. To this he too gave an affirmative answer. A prayer was then recited and sometimes, perhaps, a sacrifice was offered, after which came the congratulations, as in the other and more elaborate ceremony.
84. The third form, that is, the ceremonies preliminary to ūsus, probably admitted of more variation than either of the others, but no description has come down to us. We may be sure that the hands were clasped, the words of consent spoken (§ 81), and congratulations offered, but we know of no special customs or usages. It was almost inevitable that the three forms should become more or less alike in the course of time, though the cake of spelt (§ 82) could not be borrowed from the confarreate ceremony by either of the others, or the scales and their holder (§ 83) from the ceremony of coēmptiō.
85. The Wedding Feast. After the conclusion of the ceremony came the wedding feast (cēna nūptiālis), lasting in early times until evening. There can be no doubt that this was regularly given at the house of the bride’s father and that the few cases when, as we know, it was given at the groom’s house were exceptional and due to special circumstances which might cause a similar change today. The feast seems to have concluded with the distribution among the guests of pieces of the wedding cake (mustāceum2). There came to be so much extravagance at these feasts and at the repōtia mentioned in § 89 that under Augustus it was proposed to limit their cost by law to one thousand sesterces (fifty dollars). His efforts to limit such expenditures were, however, fruitless.
86. The Bridal Procession. After the wedding feast the bride was formally taken to her husband's house. This ceremony was called dēductiō, and, since it was essential to validity of the marriage (§ 74), it was never omitted. It was a public function, that is, anyone might join the procession and take part in the merriment that distinguished it; we are told that persons of rank did not scruple to wait in the street to see a bride. As evening approached, the procession was formed before the bride’s house with torch-bearers and flute-players at its head. When all was ready, the marriage hymn (hymenaeus) was sung and the groom took the bride with a show of force from the arms of her mother. The Romans saw in this custom a reminiscence of the rape of the Sabines, but it probably goes far back beyond the founding of Rome to the custom of marriage by capture that prevailed among many peoples (§ 78). The bride then took her place in the procession. She was attended by three boys, patrīmī et mātrīmī (§ 82); two of these walked beside her, each holding one of her hands, while the other carried before her the wedding torch of white thorn (spīna alba). Behind the bride were carried the distaff and spindle, emblems of domestic life. The camillus with his cumera (§ 82) also walked in the procession.
87. During the march were sung the versūs Fescennīnī, abounding in coarse jests and personalities. The crowd also shouted the ancient marriage cry, the significance of which the Romans themselves did not understand. We find it in at least five forms, all variations of Talassius or Talassio, the name, probably, of a Sabine divinity, whose functions, however, are unknown. Livy derives it from the supposed name of a senator in the time of Romulus. On the way the bride, by dropping one of three coins which she carried, made an offering to the Larēs Compitālēs, the gods of the crossroads (§ 490); of the other two she gave one to the groom as an emblem of the dowry she brought him, and one to the Larēs of his house. The groom meanwhile scattered nuts through the crowd. This is explained by Catullus that the groom had become a man and had put away childish things (§§ 99, 103), but the nuts were rather a symbol of fruitfulness. The custom survives in the throwing of rice in modem times.
88. When the procession reached the groom’s house, the bride wound the door posts with bands of wool, probably a symbol of her own work as mistress of the household, and anointed the door with oil and fat, emblems of plenty. She was then lifted carefully over the threshold, in order, some say, to avoid the chance of so bad an omen as a slip of the foot on entering the house for the first time. Others, however, see in the custom another survival of marriage by capture (§ 78). She then pronounced again the words of consent: Ubi tū Gāïus, ego Gāïa (§ 81), and the doors were closed against the general crowd; only the invited guests entered with the newly-married pair.
89. The husband3 met his wife in the atrium and offered her fire and water in token of the life they were to live together and of her part in the home. Upon the hearth was ready the wood for a fire; this the bride kindled with the marriage torch, which had been carried before her. The torch was afterwards thrown among the guests to be scrambled for as a lucky possession. A prayer was then recited by the bride and she was placed by the prōnuba on the lectus geniālis, which always stood in the atrium on the wedding night. Here it afterwards remained as a piece of ornamental furniture only. On the next day there was given in the new home the second wedding feast (repōtia: § 85) to the friends and relatives, and at this feast the bride made her first offering to the gods as a mātrōna. A series of feasts followed, given in honor of the newly-wedded pair by those in whose social circles they moved.
90. The Position of Women. With her marriage the Roman woman reached a position not attained by the women of any other nation in the ancient world. No other people held its women in such high respect; nowhere else did women exert so strong and beneficent an influence. In her own house the Roman matron was absolute mistress. She directed its economy and supervised the tasks of the household slaves, but did no menial work herself. She was her children’s nurse, and conducted their early training and education. Her daughters were fitted under their mother’s eye to be mistresses of similar homes, and remained her closest companions until she herself had dressed them for their bridal and their husbands had torn them from her arms. She was her husband’s helpmeet in business as well as in household matters, and he often consulted her on affairs of state. She was not confined at home to a set of so-called women’s apartments, as were her sisters in Greece; the whole house was open to her. She received her husband’s guests and sat at table with them. Even when she was subject to the manus of her husband, the restraint was so tempered by law and custom (§ 24) that she could hardly have been chafed by the fetters which had been forged with her own consent (§ 73).
91. Out of the house the matron’s dress (stola mātrōnālis, § 259) secured for its wearer profound respect. Men made way for her in the street; she had a place at the public games, at the theaters, and at the great religious ceremonies of state. She could give testimony in the courts, and until late in the Republic might even appear as an advocate. She often managed her own property herself. It is interesting to note that the first book of Varro’s work on farming is dedicated to his wife, and intended as a guide for her in the management of her own land. The matron’s birthday was sacredly observed and made a joyous occasion by the members of her household, and the people as a whole celebrated the Mātrōnālia (the Roman “Mother’s Day”), the great festival on the first of March; presents were given to wives and mothers. Finally, if a woman came of a noble family, she might be honored, after she had passed away, with a public eulogy, delivered from the rōstra in the Forum (§ 480).
92. It must be admitted that the education of women was not carried far at Rome, and that their accomplishments were few, and useful and homely rather than elegant. So far as accomplishments were concerned, however, their husbands fared no better. Even in our own country, restrictions on elementary education for women existed originally and were removed very slowly. For instance, it is told that in New Haven, in 1684, girls were forbidden to attend the grammar schools.
93. It must be admitted, too, that a great change took place in the last years of the Republic. With the laxness of the family life, the freedom of divorce, and the inflow of wealth and extravagance, the purity and dignity of the Roman matron declined, as the manhood and the strength of her father and her husband had declined before. It must be remembered, however, that ancient writers did not dwell upon certain subjects that are favorites with our own. The simple joys of childhood and domestic life, home, the praises of sister, wife, and mother may not have been too sacred for the poet and the essayist of Rome, but the essayist and the poet did not make them their themes; they took such matters for granted, and felt no need to dwell upon them. The mother of Horace may have been a singularly gifted woman, but she is never mentioned by her son. The descriptions of domestic life, therefore, that have come down to us either are from Greek sources, or else they deal with precisely those circles where fashion, profligacy, and impurity made easy the work of the satirist. It is, therefore, safe to say that the pictures painted for us in the verse of Catullus and Juvenal, for example, were not true of Roman women as a class in the times of which they write. The strong, pure woman of the early day must have had many to imitate her virtues in the darkest times of the Empire. There were noble mothers then, as well as in the times of the Gracchi; there were wives as noble as the wife of Marcus Brutus.
1 In Roman law unbroken possession (ūsus) of movable things for one year gave full title to ownership of them. If the possession was broken (interrupted). the time of the ūsus had to begin to run afresh (i.e. the previous possession, or ūsus, was regarded as canceled).
2 Cato gives the recipe for this cake: “Sprinkle a peck of flour with must (§ 296). Add anise, cumin, bay leaves, two pounds of lard, and a pound of cheese. Knead well and bake on bay leaves.”
3 The husband had at some point slipped away from the procession and gone to his home, there to await the coming of the bride.