The Julian marriage laws

In 18 B.C., the Emperor Augustus turned his attention to social problems at Rome. Extravagance and adultery were widespread. Among the upper classes, marriage was increasingly infrequent and, many couples who did marry failed to produce offspring. Augustus, who hoped thereby to elevate both the morals and the numbers of the upper classes in Rome, and to increase the population of native Italians in Italy, enacted laws to encourage marriage and having children (lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus), including provisions establishing adultery as a crime.

The law against adultery made the offence a crime punishable by exile and confiscation of property. Fathers were permitted to kill daughters and their partners in adultery. Husbands could kill the partners under certain circumstances and were required to divorce adulterous wives. Augustus himself was obliged to invoke the law against his own daughter, Julia, and relegated her to the island of Pandateria. [15]

The Augustan social laws were badly received and were modified in A.D. 9 by the lex Papia Poppaea, named for the two bachelor consuls of that year. The earlier and later laws are often referred to in juristic sources as the lex Julia et Papia.

The first three of the texts that follow do not come from the Roman jurists but give background for the passing of the laws. The remaining texts in this section are from legal works interpreting the provisions of this legislation by a number of jurists. The juristic sources are also our best source for the actual provisions of the laws.

121. Prizes for marriage and having children. Rome, 1st cent. A.D. (Dio Cassius, History of Rome 54.16.1-1. Early 3rd cent. A.D. G)

[Augustus] assessed heavier taxes on unmarried men and women without husbands, and by contrast offered awards for marriage and childbearing. And since there were more males than females among the nobility, he permitted anyone who wished (except for senators) to marry freedwomen, and decreed that children of such marriages be legitimate.

123. The consequences of adultery (Paul, Opinions 2.26.1-8, 10-12, 14-17. L)