Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook on Marriage, Divorce and Widowhood

By Judith Evans Grubbs | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Historical and legal background

IThe legal sources

The sources of Roman law include several different kinds of legal text: constitutions of Roman emperors (both general laws and responses to individual cases), and writings of legal experts called jurists. Virtually all the texts found in Roman legal sources were written in Latin, the language of Roman law and administration. The selections in this book cover the period from the reign of Augustus (31 B.C.E.-14 C.E.) to the fall of the last Roman emperor in the western Empire in 476 C.E., spanning in legal terms both the “classical” and “late antique” periods of Roman law. The “classical” period is generally defined as running from the early first century B.C.E. to 235 C.E.; the “late antique” is often seen as extending from the early fourth through the sixth centuries. The last two-thirds of the third century occupy a liminal area, both historically and legally. This period is usually considered the beginning of late antiquity, a time of intense social and political change, but the law of the later third century adhered to classical principles despite a rapid turnover in emperors and almost continual military crises. 1 In distributing the sources in this book, I have therefore included the imperial rescripts of the post-Severan emperors in the sections on “classical” law, and have begun “late antique” source material with the reign of Constantine (307-337).


AThe sources of classical law

The most important source for our knowledge of “classical” Roman law is the Digest of Justinian, comprising fifty books of selections from the voluminous commentaries of the most influential jurists. 2 The Digest was compiled under the sixth-century emperor Justinian (reigned 527-565), much later than the jurists whose work it collects. Justinian instructed his team of legal scholars to read through thousands of pages of classical legal texts and distill them into a much shorter work, preserving only what was still valid and useful (hence the title “Digest”). The fifty books of the Digest are divided into “titles,” denoting the topics treated in the particular book. Within each title

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Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook on Marriage, Divorce and Widowhood
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface xi
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Glossary of Latin Legal Terms xvii
  • Acknowledgements xxiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Status of Women in Roman Law 16
  • 2 - Marriage in Roman Law and Society 81
  • 3 - Prohibited and Non-Legal Unions 136
  • 4 - Divorce and Its Consequences 187
  • 5 - Widows and Their Children 219
  • Summation the Condition of Women: Rights and Restrictions 270
  • Bibliography 327
  • Index of Sources 337
  • General Index 343
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