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At what age marriages took place in ancient Rome?

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Bust of Cicero from the 1st century CE. Located in Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Nowadays, the wedding of a young girl at the age of 16 is a big surprise. It is often believed that the girl is not just ready mentally, and not when physically for a lasting and legal relationship. In ancient Rome, however, the same categories of reasoning were not followed.

Roman girls got married very often already at the age of 14-15. Daughter of Cicero – Tullia – was engaged to Gaius Calpurnius Piso when she was 11 years old; and she got married at the age of 14. Cicero’s friend – Atticus – was looking for a husband for her daughter when she was 6 years old. For the upper social strata, arranging alliances as early as possible, caring for the family’s prestige and financial security was important.

However, based on Roman tombstones, we can learn that “ordinary” Romans gave their daughters much earlier when they were even 10-11 years old. However, we do not know the answer to the question of whether the girls experienced their “first time” at such an early age, or waited until they grew up.

Men generally got married between the ages of 25 and 30. Very often there was a situation that the young girl became the second or third wife of a mature Roman. A great example is even Cicero’s relationship – after parting with Terentia – with the young Publilia. The girl allegedly had a large fortune that was supposed to allow the indebted Cicero to bounce back. However, the relationship between a sixty-year-old man and a twenty-year-old girl caused outrageous comments in Rome. Cicero was accused of marrying a virgin at such a late age. According to Quintilian, one of the Romans supposedly replied: “Don’t worry, she’ll be a grown-up woman tomorrow”. According to Plutarch, his ex-wife Tererentia said that “he had lost his head in old age”.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016
  • Kumaniecki Kazimierz, Cyceron i jego współcześ, Warszawa 1989
  • Plutarch, Cicero

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