wedding The marriage ceremony: dextrarum iunctio

Marriage was the prize for which the culture prepared every daughter of citizen parents from birth; it was the rite of maturation for a young female, enabling her as bride, wife, and mother to contribute to the state by producing new citizens. Early on Rome, whose founding myths preserved the stories of the birth out of wedlock of its first king Romulus and the Sabine marriage of its first matronae, set legal protections around Roman citizen marriage for the citizen body (see Table XI of Twelve Tables), colonies, and allies, for whom ius conubium was a privilege of association granted by treaty. Marriage was not possible for slaves, who were the property of their masters and so could not produce citizens. Until the last century BCE, citizen women were traditionally married cum manu, that is, the bride moved from the patria potestas of her father to the manus of her husband (by usus, conferreatio, or coemptio). From the late Republic on, most women chose to marry sine manu, a more advantageous form of marriage in which wives remained under their father's authority or, in the event of his death, became independent. In this World the absence of women's voices is felt most keenly, for marriage was a central moment in a woman's life, usually negotiated by the parents of the couple, and equaled only by the birth of her children, while for her husband it was yet another arena in which he gave service to the state and perhaps advanced his social and economic status. The goal of Roman marriage was not love, but rather a partnership founded on concordia (note its public expression in the early Republican Temple of Concord, Livia's Aedes Concordiae, Eumachia's dedication to Concordia Augusta, and coins celebrating the imperial cult and imperial marriage). Marital arrangements for political and social convenience did not, however, preclude a loving and faithful relationship between wife and husband, as the marriage of Caesar's daughter Julia to Pompey the Great testifies; further, marital affection among lower-class wives and husbands is well-attested on tombstones (see, for example, the epitaphs by Furia Spes and for Dasumia Soteris). The marriage ceremony itself was elective and primarily a social occasion whose elaboration depended on the rank and resources of the participating families and whose core was the dextrarum iunctio and the witnessed signing of the marriage contract, which, for the elite, set terms of agreement on the dowry, divorce, and widowhood. While marriage was intended to be a lifelong bond and often was, divorce (divortium) was an option for both parties, involving the return of a woman to her birth family with her dowry but without her children, who remained with their father. This World is conveyed in great part by mute statuary and conventional sentiments on tombstones, in encomia which honor women who conformed to expectations, and in comedy and satire which mock the stereotype of the wife. For further information on various aspects of Roman Marriage, see Caldwell, Hersch, Severy, Treggiari in the Bibliography; Matrimonium; Hull's lesson plan; Images of Marriage below.

Text-Commentaries Additional Readings
Cornelius Tacitus, Annales XV.63-4: Paulina See the Latin reader The Worlds of Roman Women for the following texts:
Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita XXX.12, 15: Sophonisba M. Valerius Martialis, Epigrammata 10.35: Calenus' Sulpicia (see Epigrammata X.38)
Marcus Valerius Martial, Epigrammata X.38: Sulpicia ILS 8393, Funerary Inscription Laudatio Turiae (excerpts)
Marcus Valerius Martial, Epigrammata IV.13: Claudia Peregrina ILS 1221a, b, Funerary Inscription: Aurelia Philematium
C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus (minor), Panegyricus 83: Empress Plotina ILS 8403, Funerary Inscription: Claudia
Cornelius Tacitus, Annales XI.12: Messalina Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola 6.1, 3: Domitia Decidiana
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Bellum Civile V.762-790: Cornelia Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia 6.7: three loyal wives
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Bellum Civile II. 326-371: Marcia CIL 6.6593, Funerary Inscription: carissima coniunx
Decimus Magnus Ausonius, Epigrammata 13: Anicia Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia 4.6.5: Porcia
Decimus Magnus Ausonius, Epigrammata20, Parentalia 9: Sabina Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia 4.3.3: Antonia minor
Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessiones IX.9.19: Monica M. Valerius Martialis, Epigrammata 11.53: Claudia Rufina (also Epigrammata 4.13)
Marcus Valerius Martial, Epigrammata I.42: Porcia Bruti T. Maccius Plautus, Menaechmi 602-652: the long-suffering matrona

Funerary Inscriptions

C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus (minor), Epistulae 7.5: Calpurnia
for Dasumia Soteris  
for Julia Capriola  
for Claudia Piste See De Feminis Romanis at Diotima for the following on-line Latin texts:
by Furia Spes  C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus (minor), Epistulae 7.5: Calpurnia
by Nothi Coniunx  C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus (minor), Epistulae 3.16: Arria
evidencing Spousal Abuse of Wives  
for Urbanilla  


Marriage Ceremony

Dextrarum Iunctio


All images are courtesy of the VRoma Project's Image Archive.