Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 3636
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Sivan , Hagith.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Forbidden Unions in the Early Byzantine Empire: A Prosopographical Evaluation [Early Byzantine laws prohibited marriage with barbarians and with Jews. The author considers specific cases of marriages in order to discover actual social practices. Title note supplied by Feminae.].
  • Source: Byzantine Studies Conference. Abstracts of Papers 22, ( 1996): Pages 49
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Byzantium Law Marriage
  • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Century: 4-5
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  • Abstract: A number of early Byzantine laws appear to have as their intent the prohibition of marriages between certain classes of individuals. "CTh" 3.14.1 of the early 370s, for example, states, "i provincialium...cum barbara sit uxore coniugium, nec ulli gentilium provincialis femina copuletur." "CTh" 9.75 of 388 (cf. "CTh" 3.7.2, "CJ" 1.9.6-7) decrees, "Ne quis Christianam mulierem in matrimonio Iudaeus accipiat neque Iudaeae Christianus coniugium sortiatur." Such laws, which seem to contradict the usual Roman "open door" policy that traditionally had encouraged the absorption of foreigners, from both inside and outside the borders of the Roman Empire (whatever they may have been), into the fabric of Roman society, have been the cause of much discussion and debate. In the past such prohibitions usually have been interpreted as representing some form of generalized imperial policies regarding the kinds of persons who ought or not to marry based on state perceptions of the classes of individuals named. That is to say that prohibitions of marriages with barbarians have been seen as reflecting a general imperial distrust of barbarians, and those involving Jews as having some type of pro-Christian, anti-Semitic basis. I have suggested elsewhere, however, and my continuing research confirms, that such decrees, although their incorporation into the law codes has the appearance of giving them empire-wide validity, were almost certainly ad hoc measures initially enacted to deal with particular situations in particular places at particular times which had nothing to do with any imperial policy of matrimonial exclusion. This may explain, for example, why marriages of Romans with barbarians and Jews happened to be prohibited in the extant legislation, but marriages between, say, Christians and pagans or heretics were not. But such considerations of purpose and policy say nothing at all about social realities. How did real people perceive each other in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries? Do the legal prohibitions against certain kinds of unions, regardless of whether or not they reflect any kind of imperial "policy," accurately portray what was going on in early Byzantine society? Were certain kinds of unions in fact avoided? Such questions can only be answered by the use of a prosopographical methodology. So this paper will also consider specific cases of different kinds of attested unions among Romans and barbarians on the one hand, and orthodox Christians and pagans or heretics on the other. In so doing, it should be possible to discover not only the extent to which certain kinds of unions actually were avoided, but also, to some degree, the reasons behind any types of unions that may have been truly "forbidden," not by legislation, but by actual social practice. [Reproduced by permission of the author.]
  • Author's Affiliation: Institute for Research in the Humanities, Princeton
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1996.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 01473387
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