marriage law

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Marriage in Greece was a process of transfer, by which the kӯrios (‘controller’) of a woman (normally her father; if he had died, her nearest adult male relative) gave her away to another man for the procreation of children. Originally this was merely a private arrangement between the two men; but, because the procreation of children affected inheritance of property and membership of the community, cities made laws regulating marriage in order to define legitimacy for those purposes.

In Athens a marriage was legal only if it began with engyē (see betrothal, Greek), a formal statement by the kyrios granting the woman to a husband. (A woman with no father or brother living could be awarded to a husband by the archon, see archontes.) The woman's own consent was not legally required. She could not be married to a direct ascendant or descendant, nor to her brother or half‐brother by the same mother, but marriage to a half‐brother by the same father or to an uncle or cousin was permitted. From 451/0 bc marriage between an Athenian and a foreigner was forbidden (see citizenship, greek). Bigamy was not allowed; a man could have a concubine as well as a wife, but the concubine's children were not legitimate. A man could divorce his wife by sending her back to her father, who could then give her in marriage to a second husband.

Marriage was often accompanied by gifts of property or money: in Homeric times usually by gifts from the husband to the father, in Classical Athens by a dowry given by the father to support the wife and her future children. But these were customary, not legal requirements.

See also betrothal; endogamy; incest; inheritance, greek.


Traditional expressions enshrine the view that a man took a wife for the procreation of children. No formalities were legally necessary for the inception of a marriage: the usual ceremonies had social and sometimes religious significance. All that was legally necessary was for a man and woman to live together with the intention of forming a lasting union (affectiō maritālis, the reciprocal attitude of regarding each other as husband or wife). The initial consent was given by both partners; if one (or both) was in (i.e. under) paternal power (see patria potestas), that of the respective fathers was needed. The social consequences of marriage followed. Wedding ceremonies, esp. the transfer of the bride to the husband's house (for the upper classes a procession) normally attested this intention (see marriage ceremonies, Roman). Moreover, the intention was necessary not merely at the beginning of a marriage, but throughout: hence if the intention ceased, the marriage was in principle at an end (see below). Roman marriage was essentially monogamous, for a man could have only one wife at a time for the purpose of breeding legitimate children, and intended to be lasting (provided that affectio maritalis persisted). But although the virtue and good fortune of a woman who in her lifetime had only one husband was valued, remarriage was acceptable and sometimes necessary.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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