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

By Sara Elise Phang | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
THE LEGAL STATUS OF THE UNIONS

We have seen already in Chapter Two that the soldiers’ unions were denied the effects of legitimate marriage in Roman law. The children born during the soldiers’ service were illegitimate, and the soldiers’ “wives” were unable to reclaim their dowries. Further legal implications of the lack of legitimate marriage will be explored in this chapter. If the soldiers’ unions were not legitimate marriages, were they concubinages, a distinct institution in Roman law and social practice? In Roman society, legitimate marriage was the normative role for women: what were the legal consequences of a lack of legitimate marriage for soldiers’ women? Chapter Six has shown how soldiers’ “marriage” patterns were altered by military service, probably dependent on recruitment and pay. Some of these patterns (especially the choice of slave women or freedwomen) may have been due to the legal consequences of the ban.


1. Marriage or concubinage?

Many modern authors describe the soldiers’ unions as marriages, qualifying them as “marriages,” “Soldatenehen,” or “soldier marriage.” Since the soldiers were not permitted legitimate marriage during service, their unions have sometimes been described as concubinages, “der Soldaten-Konkubinat.”1 This term is inaccurate,

1 P. Meyer (1895), 93ff.; Grenfell, Hunt, and Meyer (1906), 69; Aly (1949), 28–9:
“A marriage contracted by a soldier during his service… was rather looked upon
as concubinatus or contubernium”; Starr (1960), 91: “These wives were apparently con-
sidered in legal phraseology as concubines”; Renz (1972), 71–72; Youtie “Apatores”
(1975), 736: “They were concubines living for the most part in a stable situation”;
McGinn (1991), 333: “Soldiers and sailors, who were forbidden to marry while on
active duty, frequently took concubines as partners”; Friedl (1996), 229ff. emphasizes
the marital quality of the soldiers’ unions, but retains the category of “der Militär-
konkubinat.” It is preferable to avoid a choice of terms. G. Watson (1969), 134
and Campbell (1978), 154–55 speak of “unofficial unions.” Gardner, Women (1986),
33–34 avoids terms.

-197-

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