Marriage in Ancient Rome

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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...
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