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

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

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

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


In the first and second centuries A. D., Roman soldiers were forbidden legitimate marriage during service: nevertheless, many soldiers formed de facto marriages. This book examines the legal, social, and cultural aspects of the marriage prohibition and soldiers families. The first section covers the marriage prohibition in Roman literary and legal sources. The second section treats social and legal aspects of the soldiers families, including a survey of epitaphs, the legal impact of the ban on families, and alternatives to family formation. The final section examines the marriage ban as military policy and its relation to Roman culture. This book will be of interest to scholars of the Roman army, Roman social history, and family law. Students of gender and sexuality in the ancient world will also find it relevant.


Until the twentieth century, most societies have considered warfare to be a man’s world, excluding women; “war is, in fact, one of the most rigidly ‘gendered’ activities known to humankind.” Warrior elites and armies have even from time to time imposed celibacy on their men. The Knights Templars and Hospitallers were celibate, as martial orders of the Church; the Janissaries, the Ottoman sultans’ military slaves, were forbidden to marry; the Zulu chieftain Shaka forbade his warriors to marry before their fortieth year, at which age he assigned them wives. These examples may seem too exotic. In fact restrictions on marriage were usual in the professional armies of 17th–19th century Western Europe. Enlisted men below a certain rank were prohibited to marry; officers required permission of superiors. The nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European colonial services and private companies also restricted the marriages of personnel stationed in Africa and Asia. Soldiers of the French Foreign Legion were still prohibited to marry as late as 1984, as a study of the social dynamics of their concubinages shows.

In the 18th–19th centuries, the United States armed forces had no actual ban on marriage for enlisted men; but it was usually the policy to discourage the recruitment of married men, and official permission to marry might be required. The poverty of enlisted men tended to discourage family formation. Welfare provisions for families only appeared with mass recruitment in World War II. Military benefits for U.S. service families are a policy of the 1940s–50s and

Ehrenreich (1997), 125. Enloe (2000) provides a broad analytic framework of
the “militarization” of women by armed forces.

Ehrenreich (1997), 158; also Keegan (1993), 30.

European: Corvisier (1979), 174–175. German, Pröve (1993), 81–96; Friedl
(1996), 40: soldiers were required to obtain the permission of their commander
before they could marry. British, Trustram (1984): in the 1850s–70s only six per
cent of each regiment were permitted to marry; covering the later nineteenth cen
tury, Farwell (1981), 227. French, Cagnat (1892), 440: under the Second Empire
soldiers were not permitted to marry. Dutch in East Indies, Ming (1983), 65–93.

Stoler (1997), 13–36.

R. McKechnie (1987), 122–147.

Coffman (1986), 25, 138, 309–10. The discouragement of families persisted
through the 1930s: Griffith (1982), 155–57, 202–204.

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