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Sex and Marriage in
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Written by Ty Narada for Dr. Kosso 

An ancient Assyrian marriage contract reads: Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru in the country Laqipum [and] may not marry another [woman] in the City. He may marry a hierodule. If within two years she does not provide him with [an] offspring, she [must] purchase a slavewoman. [If she does produce an offspring,] he may dispose of her by sale [or however] he pleases. Should Laqipum choose to divorce her, he must pay five minas of silver [to her] and should Hatala choose to divorce him, she must pay five minas of silver [to him]. Witnessed by: Masa, Ashurishtikal, Talia, Shupianika. (Finkelstein)

In the ancient Mediterranean, marriage was as certain as death. Every respectable woman in Athens became a wife because there was no real alternative to marriage. (Shopkorn) In Greece, the bride was not considered a legal agent so her presence at the dowry arrangement was unnecessary (Shopkorn). The purpose of the dowry was designed to protect her should her husband abandon or divorce her. (Shopkorn) The typical Greek wedding began with the bride being assisted in adorning herself for the wedding. The event would feature a banquet given in her honor at her family's home. She would appear veiled. The banquet included feasting, music and dancing and the bride would be unveiled during this time. Both she and her groom wore a crown or garland to mark the occasion. (Shopkorn) The conclusion of the banquet marked the official transfer of the bride from father to her new husband. (Shopkorn)

Following the Athenian wedding was the chariot procession from the bride’s home to the home of her husband. The veiled bride would stand in a chariot prepared by her husband for the occasion. He would enter the chariot and both families would follow on foot, bearing gifts.  The bride's mother would carry a torch to signify her protective role; she was the most affected by her daughter’s removal from the family circle that nurtured her. (Shopkorn)

The nighttime chariot journey was accompanied by music to repel evil spirits that could harm the newlyweds. During the journey, the bride would eat a quince or apple to demonstrate that her livelihood depended on her husband. The newlyweds were showered with fruits and nuts to symbolize fertility and prosperity. (Shopkorn)

The wedding is consummated at her new home in the nuptial bed where sexual intercourse occurs. In the morning, wedding gifts are received. The gifts included vases filled with greenery, baskets, pots, furniture, jewelry, mirrors, wreaths, combs and perfume. Ultimately, the purpose of an Athenian marriage was to produce children. (Shopkorn)

Marriage in Ancient Greece was an important public event conducted in the presence of witnesses. According to Martin, the bride’s guardian would recite, "I give you this woman for the plowing [procreation] of legitimate children." That was the purpose of marriage. Hesiod encouraged men to marry a virgin in the fifth year after her puberty. Her dowry consisted of liquid property or income-producing land that was inheritable by her children. Her husband was obligated to protect the dowry and return it to her family in event of a divorce. (Martin)

Citizen men were allowed to have sexual relations with slaves, foreign concubines, female prostitutes and willing preadult citizen males. Citizen women were not afforded the same freedom and adultery was severely punished. (Martin) In Rome, sexual ideologies were very similar to those of the Greeks. The Romans came extremely close to defining sexual identity as an uninhibited science, referring frequently to Greek mythological figures for justification. (Hallett, Skinner)

Roman culture further refined sexual ideologies by representing sexual practices in terms of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ sexual partners. (Hallett, Skinner) The penetrator was the active-dominant partner where the penetratee was the passive-submissive. The changed political conditions in Rome are mirrored in the records of educated elite citizens who became preoccupied with preserving personal autonomy and honor in an atmosphere of constraint. (Hallett, Skinner)

Roman sexual protocols defined men as impenetrable penetrators. (Hallett, Skinner) Those were men who could defend the boundaries of their bodies from invasive assaults of all kinds." (Hallett, Skinner) According to Hallett and Skinner, the widespread public discourses of Greco-Roman epistemology illustrate sex as a "one-way street;" something that one person does to another."

Roman society condoned male homosexual relationships between a sexually active adult citizen man and a sexually passive male. The passive male was usually younger, a slave, an ex-slave, or a noncitizen. (Hallett, Skinner) The penetrator-penetrated relationship described by Hallett and Skinner reveal a more powerful individual wielding power over a less powerful one. A young male was not considered a full-fledged man and was therefore an object of sexual desire to other adult males. The words, "male" and "men" did not carry the same definition: Men were impenetrable and therefore, all ‘males’ were not necessarily ‘men.’ (Hallett, Skinner) In a literary context, homosexuality was etymologically interchanged with heterosexual roles – referring to one partner as 'male' and the other one as 'female' (Hallett, Skinner)

Walters clarifies the psychology of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ roles by claiming that a "[Roman citizen man] can without losing his superior status be penetrated by a sword or a vine, but not by a penis or a birch." Walters described a Roman soldier who justifiably killed his superior when his superior made a sexual advance on him. Soldiers lived with the anxiety of penetration because they were subject to corporal punishment by their superiors (Hallett, Skinner) excepting those soldiers who wanted or preferred other men.

The ancient Greek and Roman worlds classified gender on the basis of active and passive roles. (Hallett, Skinner) Role identification was more important than the sex of the individual. The active/passive framework included the mode of penetration whether vaginal, anal, oral or other. (Hallett, Skinner) Parker concluded that "a woman is defined as 'one who is fucked in the vagina" and refers to a "vaginally passive male" as a cunnilinctor. Cunnilingus by Roman definition describes a man who is fucked by a woman. (Hallett, Skinner) Women were not exempt from filling a dominant role: A Philaenis defines a woman who is so masculine that she penetrates boys and girls, [and] refuses to perform fellatio because she deems it "unmanly." (Hallett, Skinner)

Within Roman society, actors, gladiators, and prostitutes were often caste into the same moral and legal contexts because they "lived by providing sex, violence, and laughter for the pleasure of the public. [They had a license to] affront Roman gravitas and were the objects of other people's desires." They "served the pleasure of others" and were "tarnished by exposure to the public gaze." Hallett and Skinner also claim that the status of gladiator did indeed make them beautiful in public esteem, but not necessarily "emblems of an aggressive masculinity." The highly polarized gender system, according to Hallet and Skinner, has an almost Zen-like definition of structure: The masculine is what it is because it is not feminine. Corbeill similarly confirms that in Greece, "the sex of the person penetrated is irrelevant." The ancient sources that Corbeill surveyed do not criticize homosexual relations per se but rather ‘those men who desire to be penetrated.’ According to Hallett and Skinner, "The dominant partner does not ever seem to have been the direct object of abuse for playing the active role." Young men were expected to make a normative transition from passive-pursued boy, to active-pursuing man. (Hallett, Skinner)

Roman images of female homoeroticism are marked by a tendency to "masculinize, Hellenize, and anachronize;" specifically: To deny the reality of sexual experience between women as a contemporary Roman phenomenon. (Hallett, Skinner) Tribades are represented as masculine women who penetrate both boys and girls and dominate other women. A Tribades was a gender-deviant rather than a homosexual. (Hallett, Skinner) The explanation for same-sex-love originates in the myth of drunken Prometheus who mistakenly gave penises to some women and vaginas to some men, when he shaped our species out of clay. (Hallett, Skinner) Roman textual treatment of sexual relations between females is strikingly different from the treatment of sexual relations between males – it is a gross double standard. (Hallett, Skinner) Women as well as men are represented as being capable of displaying erotic interest in beardless youths or boys. (Hallett, Skinner)

The Theodosian Code confirms that marriage, dowry, property, money, will and testament was the most significant financial transactions a Roman could undertake. Those issues were the objects of frequent legislation. The Theodosian Code was ordered by the emperor Theodosius II and completed in 438 AD. In 18 BC, Emperor Augustus addressed social problems in Rome for the first time. Extravagance and adultery had become so widespread among the upper classes that marriage was being systematically short circuited. Many couples who did marry failed to produce offspring. In order to elevate Roman morals, increase the number of upper class families and diminish that native Italian population, Augustus enacted laws to encourage marriage and procreation (lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus). He also established adultery as a crime. (Julian Marriage Laws) Agustus’s decree permitted fathers to kill daughters along with their partners who were caught in adultery. Husbands were required to divorce adulterous wives. Augustus himself was forced to banish his own daughter, Julia, to the island of Pandateria. (Julian Marriage Laws) The forthcoming Christian opposition to such policies under Emperor Constantine, repealed virtually everything except prohibitions against intermarriage, and those laws that prevented sexual relations between senators and actresses. (Julian Marriage Laws)

Highlights of the actual legislation include a speech delivered by Augustus in 17 BC. An excerpt of his speech reads: "If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do without that nuisance; but since nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather than for our temporary pleasure."

Augustus offered prizes for marriage and having children. He assessed heavier taxes on unmarried men and women without husbands. Since there were more males than females among the nobility, he permitted anyone who wished (excluding senators) to marry freedwomen, and decreed that children of such marriages be legitimate. The remainder of the decree surrounds 17 items that specifically address adultery. The most amusing is item 11: "It has been decided that adultery cannot be committed with women who have charge of any business or shop." Why ask "Why?

Commensurate with the Roman era was the Gauls, who created marriage laws that conformed to cultural gymnastics more than social ergonomics; functionality rather than showmanship (not to impugn Augustus’s insightfulness). Gaelic marriage was a contract designed to serve several purposes. Those purposes included the protection of property rights (much like the Greeks), the care of progeny, and the rights of the individuals involved. There were 10 officially recognized forms of marriage that served the disposition of unique circumstances with great efficiency. (MacAnTsaoir) Properly called, "Brehon marriages," would be similar to temporary trial marriages if such existed. Marriage under more complex stipulations was called a Teltown marriage. The purpose of a Teltown marriage was to unite two people for a specified time and upon expiration, either dissolve the marriage or enter into more formal marriage contract. The cannon of Brehon marriage was called "Cain Lanamna" and includes the following 9 criterion. In some parts of Ireland, Cain Lanamna had 10 marriage forms.

1. Lanamnas comthinchuir or union of joint property in which both partners contribute moveable goods into the union. The woman in such a union is called a wife of joint authority.
2. Lanamnas mna for ferthinchur or the union of a woman on man-property into which the woman contributes little or nothing.
3. Lanamnas fir for bantinchur or union of a man on woman property into which the man contributes little or nothing.
4. Lanamnas fir that higtheo or union of a man visiting which signifies a less formal union in which the man visits the woman in her home with her kin's consent.
5. Lanamnas foxail in which a woman goes away openly with a man without the consent of her kin.
6. Lanamnas foxail in which the woman allows herself to be abducted without the consent of her kin.
7. Lanamnas taidi in which a woman is secretly visited without knowledge of her kin.
8. Lanamnas eicne no sleithe or mating by forcible rape or stealth.
9. Lanamnas fir mir or the union of two insane persons.

The 10 degrees or forms of marriage was described thusly:

A marriage of the first degree which took place between partners of equal rank and property.
2. A marriage of the second degree in which a woman had less property than the man and was supported by him.
3. A marriage of the third degree in which a man had less property than the woman and had to agree to management of the woman's cattle and fields.
4. A marriage of the fourth degree was the marriage of the loved one in which no property rights changed hands, though children's rights were safeguarded.
5. A marriage of the fifth degree was the mutual consent of the man and woman to share their bodies, but live under separate roofs.
6. A marriage of the sixth degree in which a defeated enemy's wife was abducted. This marriage was valid only as long as the man could keep the woman with him.
7. A marriage of the seventh degree was called a soldier's marriage and was a temporary and primary sexual union (a one night stand).
8. A marriage of the eighth degree occurred when a man seduced a woman through lying, deception or taking advantage of her intoxication (equivalent to date rape).
9. A marriage of the ninth degree was a union by rape (forcible rape).
10. A marriage of the tenth degree occurred between feeble minded or insane people.

The ancient Gaelic forms of marriage could be reduced to three categories: The first are marriages where property was taken into consideration and a prenuptial agreement was necessary. The second group were less formal marriages where no property was involved and thus no formal agreement was necessary, while the third category consisted of marriages that are not thought of as marriage but the by-product of a crime. Polygyny was permitted and widespread. Homosexual unions were not forbidden. All of the forms of marriage were considered legal if a child was born as a result of the union. The right and protection of the child was the primary consideration rather than the status of either parent. (MacAnTsaoir) The procreative design was very similar to Rome. A woman had the right legally to choose her own husband. She could not be forced to marry. (MacAnTsaoir)

The Gauls considered both parents equally responsible for the rearing of children except in cases of wrongdoing by the father. Those cases included rape, seduction or impregnation of a free woman without her family’s consent. In those cases the father alone was responsible for rearing the child. Satirists of either sex was considered unfit to raise children. The mother was singly responsible for raising any child whose father was an alien, slave, satirist, expelled by his kin or if she bore a child sired by her son, against her husbands wishes. A prostitute was responsible for rearing her children. The offspring of two insane or feeble-minded people became the responsibility of the person who performed the marriage. (MacAnTsaoir) Social class was an important factor in Gaelic marriage because the financial burdens of marriage fell most heavily on the lower class partner. Since 2/3rds of the cattle had to be provided by the lower class partner’s family, such unions were rare. (MacAnTsaoir)

Inheritance was determined by the marriage contract. A chief wife had rights to her husband’s estate where an informal contract could not stipulate any kind of survivor’s benefits. Under Old Irish law, children had equal rights regardless of the mother’s status provided both families involved recognized the union. Sons were exempt from inheritance if they were born by known prostitutes, outlawed, abandoned or not formally adopted. Daughters were entitled to a share of personal property but never to land unless she had no surviving brothers or married an alien who had no land of his own. (MacAnTsaoir)

There was no social stigma to Gaelic divorce because Gaelic marriage existed within the realm of business. Divorce simply meant that one party or the other had violated the terms of the marriage. Divorce also had a positive connotation: Women who had been previously married and produced children by that marriage were highly coveted because their fertility was proven. Most of the Cain Lanamna pertains to property divisions in the event of a divorce. (MacAnTsaoir) Gaelic divorce has some amusing implications: A wife could divorce her husband and retain her bride price. She could divorce him if he wanted another woman, if he failed to support her, told lies, satirized her or seducing her into marriage by trickery or sorcery. She could divorce him if he left a blemish after hitting her, if he was impotent, overweight to the point that sexual intercourse was impossible, if he refused to have sex with her, began practicing homosexuality or undertook religious duties that neglected the marriage. (MacAnTsaoir) A Gaelic man could divorce his wife for unfaithfulness, persistent thievery, inducing an abortion on herself, bringing shame to his honor, smothering her child or failing to produce breast milk after an illness. (MacAnTsaoir) No-fault divorces included separation through death, entering the priesthood, pilgrimage outside the country, a long sea voyage, participation in a revenge slaying or excessive downtime due to illness. In cases where the married couple loved each other and one or the other was either impotent or infertile, the non-afflicted partner could obtain an informal marriage to produce an offspring with someone else. In all circumstances, save the aforementioned exceptions, children belonged to the father. (MacAnTsaoir) Celtic marriage laws accommodated most circumstances and partners under contract were expected to uphold the contract and take proper care of their children. (MacAnTsaoir)


Marriage and Divorce Documents from the Ancient Near East Mesopotamia by J.J. Finkelstein

Money in the Apologia: Dos et Testamentum by Elizabeth Pollard

Roman Sexualities by Judith P. Hallett and Marilyn B. Skinner, eds., Princeton University Press, 1997.

Julian Marriage Laws

Overview of Archaic and Classical Greek History by Thomas Martin

Marriage, Separation and Divorce In Ancient Gaelic Culture by Alix Morgan MacAnTsaoir

Til Death Do Us Part: Marriage and Funeral Rites in Classical Athens by Jana Shopkorn