History Travels with Nancy Padgett: Seeing History
Women in Ancient Rome: Marriage 
Young Girl-Palatine Museum
Young aristocratic girl.
Marble Bust. 2nd c AD. Palatine Museum, Rome. Perhaps she is thinking of her future marriage??


* Roman marriage was arranged by the families. Marriage was a strategic weapon to enhance the family's political and social standing.

* The purpose of marriage was to produce children. All women were expected to be married, or remarried.

* The father by law had to provide a dowry for the daughter.

* In a first marriage, females married around the age of 20 to a male around the age of 30.

Women and Roman Marriage

Marriage was a private affair, arranged by the heads of  families. 

For the elite, the name of the game was political power for the family, marriage a strategic weapon.

Love, not to mention physical pleasure, were mere trifles.

In early Rome, girls as young as 12 had to accept the mates chosen for them by their families, with the marriage consummated some years later. Young women were married off around the age of 20 to a man approximately 30 years old.

Julia, Caesar's beloved only daughter, was married off by him while in her mid-teens to Pompey, age 44, and six years older than his new father-in-law.


The Roman Marriage Ceremony

The bride wore a deep yellow or flame-colored veil.  Her long hair would be arranged in plaits and bound by fillets in a show of modesty.

The marriage contract was signed and sealed at the ceremony itself.

The bride and bridegroom clasped hands in a show of trust and respect.

After the ceremony: feasting at the bride's home

When the feast was over, the bride and her attendants moved in a torchlit procession to the bridegroom's house.

The bridegroom

The groom received the bride with water and fire as symbols of her belonging to his household.

The bridesmaids

They, not the bridegroom, lifted her over the threshold.

Their role was to make sure the bride did not trip, a bad omen.
  The Marriage Ceremony
The marriage ceremony, sealed by the contract in the bridegroom's left hand. Marble sarcophagus, 2nd AD. The British Museum.

Legally the wife/daughter never left the family kinship group she was born in. She was always partly in her husband's camp and partly in her father's.

A Roman bride's dowry

A Roman father legally had to provide a dowry for a daughter. Otherwise, she could never be married. Unmarried elite females upended Rome's goal of producing legitimate children to carry on Roman power and its cultural values.

The contract stated the size of the dowry and other conditions. Dowry amounts became standardized over time. In comparison with later European societies, they were not particularly large, perhaps one year's worth of family income.

A Roman bride's inheritance

Her father (and mother) usually left her, along with the male children, an inheritance. It could be money, farmland, other real estate, and jewels.

What else might a family do for its daughter?

A father or a mother could  give their married daughter an allowance.

In the end, a spot of freedom:

All three together--the dowry, the allowance, and the future inheritance--could give the daughter a degree of freedom from her husband's absolute control.

An Unmarried Roman woman?

Nope. Roman society had no place, socially or legally, for a never-married, independent single woman of child-bearing age.

Only the Vestal Virgins, chosen between ages 6 and 10 and required to remain virginal for 30 years, could be single.
On June 9 of each year, a married woman was allowed into the forbidden parts of the shrine of Vesta. 

Vesta was the goddess of the hearth and home, and her shrine was  guarded by the Vestal Virgins. The woman would make offerings to Vesta to increase her chances of bearing a child.

The Emperor Augustus needed more children by the elite to continue the Roman state. Under his decrees, even a widow or a divorced woman under the age of 50 was to remarry within a certain timeframe so that she could bear children. If she did not, she could not receive her inheritance or attend public games.

Remarriage was not easy. In the ancient world, life was very short-lived.  Many, perhaps most, women over the age of 30 had lost their (considerably older) first husbands to death by disease or military action.

Augustus' wishes went up in smoke.

Updated 04-August-2015. You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at NJPadgett@gmail.com