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Marriage, law and inheritance
#1
In Roman law, married couples were not allowed to give each other gifts. Supposedly this was to keep wealth within families, or something... but how did it work in practice?

If a man married a wealthy woman, would he have no access to her fortune at all? If he bought a house and furnished it, and was called away on (say) military service for a long period, would he have to appoint a procurator to oversee his finances while he was away, to regulate his wife spending his money on household necessities? What about if the wife owned slaves - would the husband have any authority over them while they were in his own house?

From what I can work out, after the death of a spouse all thier property reverted to their paterfamilias - usually their father, or oldest male relative - or their (male) children, rather than being inherited by the surviving partner. Is this right? In which case, could a man living in a house owned by his wife find himself evicted by her relatives after her death? Could he keep a portion of his wife's wealth in trust for their offspring, and use some of it to live off himself?

Thanks for any help or suggestions!

- Nathan
Nathan Ross
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#2
A lot depends on the era. The more late you go, the more rights a wife has (except with Justinian, he reinstated classical laws).

As a general rule, expensive gifts were forbidden between spouses. This was to keep dumb men from giving all their inheritance to a seductive woman (sorry, but this era has no emancipation yet).

Yes, an overseer was frequent. A lot depends on whether the wife was under the authority of her husband, or not (99% yes). Emancipation was so non-existent, that wifes were automatically placed under legal guardianship of their husbands even in the 4th c.

So by default, every asset was under authority of the husband. The wife did not have slaves, the husband owned them, and the wife could use them.

About inheritance: all depends on the time. These frameworks changed with every century, but women had no property, so everything went to the husband.

A LOT depends on time. Please specify, and I can help Smile
Kis György Márk (by western standards, György Márk Kis)

Legio Leonum Valentiniani

www.legioleonum.hu
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#3
Thanks Márk! This is complex stuff (for me, anyway...)


Quote:The wife did not have slaves, the husband owned them, and the wife could use them... women had no property, so everything went to the husband.

Aha, I see... so in fact a woman's own 'wealth' would actually belong to her family (i.e. ultimately her paterfamilias). But do we not hear of crafty Roman men marrying wealthy widows to get hold of their money? How would that work - unless some portion of the wife's family's money passed to the husband? Or was it all done with dowries, or something?

About the slaves (and all sorts of other domestic business) - in the case I mentioned above, of the husband being away from home for a long period, would his wife have to apply to the overseer of his finances to buy a new slave (if one died, say), or would she be allowed to use his money for this sort of purpose, as it benefitted his household?


Quote:A LOT depends on time. Please specify, and I can help Smile

Late Roman - more exactly, Tetrarchic/Constantinian. How might the situation have changed by that point?
Nathan Ross
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#4
First of all we must distinguish between two types of marriage: marriage "with manus", by wich women litterally swiched family, and marriage "without manus", in wich instead she reamined in her father's family...normally a woman wasn't a persona sui iuris (legal person), so, the only wealth wich she could had brought to her housband would only had been her dowry...but, if the woman was an orphan and she didn't have any male parents, then she would had been sui iuris, a legal person, and she could have received her father's legacy. Then, with a marriage with manus, she would have brought this legacy to her housband's patrimonium, while with a marriage without manus, housband's and woman's estate would had stay separate...so a wealthy woman, usually, would had preferred a marriage without manus!

I hope i've been helpfull...the argoument is complex, and of course, as Mark said, during roman histrory there were many changes...if you are interested you could buy a roman right manual...here in Italy all law major have a course on this argoument...after all, a lot of modern institution comes from roman right.
Francesco Guidi
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#5
Quote:two types of marriage: marriage "with manus", by wich women litterally swiched family, and marriage "without manus", in wich instead she reamined in her father's family...

Yes, although it seems that the manus marriage was pretty much a dead letter by the end of the republic, and had died out completely by AD23, except in cases where it was necessary for the husband to hold a religious office (Gaius, Institutiones 110-111).



Quote:normally a woman wasn't a persona sui iuris (legal person)...but, if the woman was an orphan and she didn't have any male parents, then she would had been sui iuris, a legal person, and she could have received her father's legacy.

This is interesting, and might explain those cases that we hear about when women did appear to own property in their own names, and (for example) run businesses. Whenever further information is available, it often seems to be that these women are widows, and if they have no surviving male parents then, as you say, they could have acted legally and controlled their own wealth (despite not having potestas, officially speaking...)

This might explain the 'legacy hunter' as well - a dowry apparently had to be returned in the case of divorce, but if the wealthy widow was old enough then the scheming new husband might expect to outlive her, and inherit all her wealth!

In which case it might have been profitable for widows to remain unmarried, which might in turn explain the Augustan legislation that penalised women with few children who remained univira - they needed male heredes to secure all that potentially volatile money and property...

I've been reading Geoffrey Nathan's The Family in Late Antiquity, which has some useful stuff about later centuries, including the note that husbands could indeed leave large legacies to their wives (fideicommisa), either in total or as part of an inheritance kept in trust for their children. Despite this, it was only after the reign of Commodus that women could legally designate their own children as heirs (Ulpian, Regulae. 26, 7-8).
Nathan Ross
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#6
Another quick question about this, which somebody might be able to help me with:

If a Roman wife, married without manus and with no living parent, died intestate, who would inherit her property (ie the property she had brought with her to the marriage)?

Would it go automatically to her husband, or to her son(s), or to the surviving members of her extended family?
Nathan Ross
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