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2010 | 9 | 159-188

Article title

DIVORCE IN ROMAN EGYPT: A CASE STUDY (Rozwod w Papirusach: Studium przypadkow)


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Our imagination of the matrimonial reality of the Roman world has been haunted by women counting their age by their husbands instead of consuls (Seneca, de ben. 3.16.2) and the notorious Cato - Marcia - Hortensius triangle (Plutarch, Cato 25-27). This stereotypical idea of the poor durability of marriages in Antiquity has been recently challenged in the diligent study of Susan Treggiari who, having counted the divorces present in the classical literary sources (sixty-odd up to the times of Domitian, some of them involving the same individuals), came to the conclusion that this picture is simply a by-product of the topoi of the moralistic and satirical literature. And yet, we must observe that the literature hardly ever deals with the lives of simple people, so the reality may only be retrieved from the documents of legal practice. Prima facie the scarcity of the documentation seems to corroborate the thesis of Treggiari. At present there are less than fifty known deeds dealing directly with divorce, predominantly dated to the Roman and Byzantine eras; some of them are regrettably preserved only very fragmentarily. Yet the view has to be put forward that this may be caused by the fact that not all divorces were documented. The nature of the documents recording divore for the most typical divorce settlements: marriage contracts, census records, petitions of the deserted wives or husbands, show that divorce was part of the 'normal' life ofthe inhabitants of Graeco-Roman Egypt and must have occurred quite frequently. The paper aims at presenting the general format of the divorce settlements, and then gives translations and interpretations of 6 documents relating to divorce. With the aid of these examples a few important research issues are discussed: the relation between theImperial Law and the divorce practice as shown in the papyri: the principle of formless and easy divorce; the gradual limitation of divorces from the times of Constantine the Great and its probably meagre impact on the legal practice; the possible admission ofthe intervention of third parties into divorce (viz. the parents' decision); and finally the question of the possible influence of Christianity on divorce customs (which does not seem to be easily detectable).







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  • Jakub Urbanik, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Katedra Prawa Rzymskiego, Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa, Poland


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Publication order reference


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