Do you think that divorce, prenuptial agreements and living together are just a modern invention? Turns out that all of these existed in Ancient Rome and oh, and politically advantageous marriages? Yep, they happened there too. As it turns out, if you wanted to seek an office in the Roman political structure, you were best off arranging marriages for your children to increase your political alliances. The name for marriage was matrimonium (the root of matrimonial) and the root of that word is mater – or mother.
Providing children was the principle requirement behind a couple entering into matrimonium. Marriages for love, social status and wealth were also common. (Sound familiar?) According to history, marriage was not a state affair at all. Instead, it was considered private family business and negotiated between the parents and the couple.
Also, marriage wasn’t a given. The participants had to have connubium – or the right to marry. Those were legal requirements that individuals had to meet – i.e. how a man might make a woman his lawful wife. In general, all citizens of Rome had the right to connubium. Connubium was not allowed between plebians and patricians until after 445 B.C. You also needed the consent of both families for matrimonium to take place and as a general rule; boys and girls both had to have achieved puberty.
Monogamy was the rule, so if a person was already married they were not eligible for another marriage. Blood relationships also precluded connubium, for example typically brothers and sisters were not eligible for connubium with each other.
This sounds pretty familiar, right? Well for the most part, marriage was very similar. There were some significant differences. For example, in terms of property ownership there was no such thing as communal property. What was a husband’s was a husband’s and what belonged to the wife, belonged to the wife. Children were the property of their father. If a mother passed away, the father was entitled to one-fifth of the dowry for each child produced, the rest would be returned to her parents.
Depending on the type of marriage, a bride had different rights. In one form of marriage, the bride and her property was conferred to her husband and her husband’s family. In another form, she remained under the control of her own pater familias, but she was required to remain faithful to her husband or face divorce. In the case where she was conferred to her husband’s family, she would have the equivalent rights of a daughter of that household.
Marital arrangements were complex, but usually they were based on position in society as well as wealth. More often than not, when a wife was wealthier than her husband, she would not be given in marriage in manum – i.e. conferred to her husband and his family. Her family’s interests would be better served keeping control of her wealth and letting her marry and maintain fidelity as she saw fit.