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

By Sara Elise Phang | Go to book overview
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The usual account of the soldiers’ sexual relationships is confined to marriage, due to the legal question, “das Eherecht der römischen Soldaten,” which focuses on the soldiers’ families. But our survey of the epitaphs shows that at least one-half of all soldiers (more in the first century A.D.) are not recorded as “marrying” or having families (they are commemorated by parents, siblings, or comrades rather than “wives” and children). This suggests that conjugal and parental relationships may not have been important to these soldiers; they might have had “wives” and children, but regarded a relationship with a comrade as more worthy of posterity. Given such attitudes, many probably were single;1 certainly younger men will have tended to be single, as Chapter Six’s study of age at “marriage” suggests.

Modern comparisons suggest that when access to “marriage” is limited, persons will turn to other sexual and affective practices.2 What were these other sexual practices of the “celibate” soldiers?3 The question is not a frivolous one, given the size of the Roman army and the implications for soldier-civilian relations; any “other sexual practices” (prostitution, rape, homosexuality) will have had considerable impact on the military community.4 The passages of

1 The enlisted men of the 19th century Western armies with marriage restric-
tions tended to be single: British, Trustram (1984), 33–34; American, Petillo (1999),
258–60; Coffman (1986), 105, 138.

2 “The sexual life of ‘celibates’ was probably quite different from that of the mar-
ried population”: Ross and Rapp (1981), 51–72 at 57, referring to the late or non-
marriage in early modern North-Western Europe, as investigated by Stone (1977).

3 This chapter is not meant to imply that “married” soldiers were exclusively
monogamous and only had sex with their “wives.” The “married” soldier may have
resorted to these alternatives also.

4 The impact on the community is treated rather darkly by Potter (1999), 13.
The concept of a military community is examined in Goldsworthy and Haynes,
edd. (1999). It is somewhat differently treated by Enloe (2000). In Enloe’s view sol-
diers’ wives, prostitutes, and sexual harassment or rape victims were “militarized”—
though “civilians,” they became part of the military community whether they wanted
to or not.


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