Women's History and Ancient History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy | Go to book overview

MIREILLE CORBIER Translated by Ann Cremin


Family Behavior of the Roman Aristocracy, Second Century B.C.--Third Century A.D.

When we speak of "family" or more specifically of the "aristocratic family," we must first define our terms. 1 In a comparative study of the Roman family it is necessary to distinguish between two competing definitions: (1) Latin vocabulary and its underlying concepts (gens, familia, domus, and also nomen, genus, stirps), 2 and (2) the language and concepts used by historians of medieval and modern families who assimilate or adapt the definitions and the analyses of anthropologists. At the risk of a certain simplification, let us follow Georges Duby and Gérard Delille and, to a lesser extent, Marc Augé and François Héritier and pursue our discussion in two directions. 3

First, lineage and line (French lignage and lignée): we will thus recognize within the gens and the familia the agnatic lineage and the line of the same name, noticing that familia is sometimes used in the sense of gens, and we will remember the Roman particularity of patria potestas exercised by the eldest of the male ascendants. 4 Second, kin and allies (in other terms, consanguines and affines): the word domus can encompass not only bilateral kinship--for the Romans, the "cognates" as such, identified to the sixth Roman degree, equivalent to the third canonical degree (cousins born of cousins) or even the seventh--but also some allies or affines (such as parents-in-law, son-in-law, stepson; the adfines for Roman people) and even, in Pliny the Younger, the adfines of our adfines. 5 Of course, familia and domus have each a whole range of meanings, including the domestic help (slaves in Rome) for the familia or the actual lodging for the domus; and the usual syntagm domus ac familia (of which there are two examples

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