The Marriage of Roman Soldiers (13 BC-AD 235): Law and Family in the Imperial Army

By Sara Elise Phang | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION TO PART TWO

This section undertakes a reconstruction of the social history of the soldiers’ unions. Since (pre-Christian) Greek and Roman literary sources offer almost nothing on the family behavior of the lower orders,1 our sources are very wide-ranging, chiefly legal writings, papyrus documents, letters, epitaphs, and literary references. Roman family law provides a framework of social norms that can guide such an investigation.

The most recent trend in Roman army studies emphasizes, as Alston puts it, “the ancient aspects of the ancient world,” including the Roman army.2 According to recent critics, traditional studies of the Roman army have in effect treated it as if it were a modern army, assuming modern concepts of organization and strategy.3 More subtle modern biases have crept into the standard treatments of the soldiers’ unions. The assumption that soldiers “married” young may be based on twentieth-century Western marriage patterns.4 It is often stated that soldiers’ illegitimate children were legitimated at the fathers’ honesta missio; there is no evidence for this, as the construction of illegitimacy in Roman society seems quite different from that of early modern and modern Western society. No systematic estimate has been made of how many soldiers’ women were slave women (usually freedwomen in epitaphs), perhaps because the modern Western armies (British, French, German) did not belong to slave societies.5

1 The exception is, of course, Christian authors, who pose a major problem of
interpretation.

2 Alston (1995), 4.

3 Criticisms made by Mann (1979), 175–183, reviewing Luttwak (1976); Millar
(1982), 1–23; Whittaker (1994), 1–9; Isaac (1992), 5–6 and chapter 9; Alston (1995),
4–6. Mattern (1999) examines Roman military “information and decision,” pro-
motion, strategy, fiscal policies, and values in their ancient context.

4 In general the age at first marriage for Western European men and women
has dropped in the twentieth century: Hajnal (1965), 104. The present young age
at marriage of U.S. soldiers has been encouraged by housing benefits, family med-
ical care, and travel expenses for dependents: according to Fraencke (1997), 139,
45% of Army men twenty-two years old or younger were married in 1985.

5 That some soldiers’ women were slave women is stated by Starr (1960), 82, 86
on “concubines” of fleet soldiers. Roman soldiers are acknowledged to have owned

-137-

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