Marriage in ancient Rome Essay

Marriage in ancient Rome Essay

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The Roman institution of marriage has been lauded as being the first purely humanistic law of marriage, one that is based on the idea of marriage being a free and freely dissolvable union of two equal partners for life. (Schulz, 1951;103) This is quite a simplistic view, as there were many differing forms of marriage in Rome, from the arranged marriages of the elite to the unions of slaves and soldiers. As we shall see, the Romans' actual expectations of married life and the gains they envisioned they would receive from the experience depended greatly on their age, sex and social status.
Unlike our contemporary society, no specific civil ceremony was required for the creation of a marriage; only mutual agreement and the fact that the couple must regard each other as husband and wife accordingly. (Gardner,1986;47) Although not a legal necessity, some weddings, usually the first marriage of elite couples was accompanied by much revelry and song, as featured in one of Catullus' poems. It describes the celebration of the marriage with dancing, singing and the brandishing of torches. Ribald jokes are shouted at the bride and nuts are scattered as she makes her way towards her husband's house. The groom arrives before the bride so that he can personally invite her to come and share his home.
Now married, what does the couple expect to gain from the experience? The young bride is most probably in her early teens, as is the girl described in Catullus' poem with the words, "Young boy, release the little girl's small smooth arm". After marriage she will be transformed from a "little girl" into a respected wife. Elsewhere Catullus assures his readers that young daughters are unloved by their parents until they are married.
"If, when she is ripe for marriage, she enters into wedlock, she is ever dearer to her husband and less hateful to her parents…" (Catullus, Poems 62.57-65)
If we are to take this at face value, then marriage for young girls gains them the affection of their parents. A similar sentiment is found in the funeral eulogy from Rome for a woman named Murdia. It speaks of her dealing with her arranged marriage with obedience and propriety and "as a bride to become more beloved because of her merits…". (Reading 139, Lefkowitz and Fant, 1982;135)
Marriage, for both males and females granted them a larger network of fam...


... middle of paper ...


...her image. He wanders lovesick to her room only to discover she is not there. It is safe to say that one of the gains from marriage for both partners was sexual satisfaction, even if certain men did look outside the marriage bed occasionally.
Were the Roman's expectations of marriage likely to be met? The foremost function of marriage, the production of children, was likely to be met by most marriages. Having those children survive and succeed you as heirs or to look after you in old age was another matter. Cornelia bore twelve children of whom only three survived. In an age of high mortality, in which both childbirth and military campaigns were a factor, it could be difficult to establish a lasting partnership, the ideal Roman marriage of one partner for life. It is recorded on the tombstones of the long dead that indeed these marriages did exist, and even if it is but a literary cliche, it is still a testament of their devotion to one another.
"Pythion son of Hicesius set up this common memorial to himself and to his wife Epicydilla daughter of Epicydes. He was married at eighteen and she at fifteen, and for fifty years of life together they shared agreement unbroken…"

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Marriage in ancient Rome Essay

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