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Dowry hunters in Roman Empire

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Fragment of the Dioscuri Sarcophagus, 2nd half of the 19th century 4th century CE, Musée départemental Arles antique, France
Fragment of the Dioscuri Sarcophagus, 2nd half of the 19th century 4th century CE, Musée départemental Arles antique, France

Surely some of us have heard of a situation where someone married someone to take over his property. It turns out that such a wicked way of getting rich was practiced long ago, in ancient Rome. Men who commit such acts are now known as bounty hunters. Interestingly, this was quite common in the early centuries of our era.

A Roman poet who lived in the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. Marcus Valerius Martialis wrote:

Gemellus is a-wooing Maronilla. He is eager and insistent, begs her, gives her presents. Is she such a beauty? On the contrary, she couldn’t be uglier. So what is so desirable about her, so attractive? Her cough

Martial, Epigrams, I, 10

A cough, of course, means poor health. Gemellus counts on Maronilly’s quick death to take over her fortune. This was not an isolated case. As Mr. Alberto Angela writes in his book:

There are a lot of fortune hunters in Roman society, circling like sharks in search of prey1

– A. Angela, Imperium, ed. Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza “Czytelnik” Warsaw 2019 p. 168

As we can see, the practice of getting married in order to take over property was present a long time ago.

Author: Piotr Szuba (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Own translation from Polish.
  • Alberto Angela, Imperium. Podróż po Cesarstwie Rzymskim śladem jeden monety, Warszawa 2019

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