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The Past and Present Society

The Family in Late Antiquity: The Experience of Augustine


Author(s): Brent D. Shaw
Source: Past & Present, No. 115 (May, 1987), pp. 3-51
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/650838
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THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY:
THE EXPERIENCE OF AUGUSTINE*
Few historical
problems
are free of
paradox.
The Roman
family
is
no
exception.
The contradiction between the ideas and
images
Ro-
mans held
concerning
the
family,
and the actual means and
practices
by
which it was
created,
present
the historian with both dilemma and
opportunity.
Research into the structure and the
conception
of the
"Roman
family"
has revealed a
seeming discontinuity
between the
dominant
ideology concerning
the
family
and the
practical
realities
of
family
life.
By
"Roman
family"
is
meant,
rather
broadly,
the
typical living
and
reproductive
unit in which most of the urban-
centred
populations
of the western Roman
empire
lived their lives in
the
period
from the first to fifth centuries after Christ. Studies of
Roman elite
conceptions
of
family during
this
period,
as
expressed
by
the
primary termsfamilia ("family")
and domus
(household),
show
decisively
that
literary
and
legal expressions
for the
family
never
narrowed to mean the
nuclear-family
unit that we
customarily
associ-
ate with the term
(that
is to
say,
the mother-father-children unit to
the exclusion of other relatives and
dependants). Rather,
the
principal
words which Romans had at their
disposal
to describe
"family"
seem
consistently,
till the end of the
empire
in the
west,
to have
designated
a rather wide
range
of
persons including agnatic descendants, cog-
nates and
dependants
in a
large lineage extending vertically
over
several
generations through
time.
When one studies the
empirical phenomenon
of
"family",
how-
ever,
the actual
practice
of these same
persons
over the whole of this
period
seems to have been rather different. A
range
of data indicates
that the dominant centre of
family relationships,
in terms of
primary
duties, obligations
and
affections,
was that of the nuclear
family.
And the whole
spectrum
of
vocabulary referring
to
persons actively
involved in "the
family"
seems to be restricted
mainly
to
persons
in
*
The author would like to thank all those who offered their criticism and advice
on this
paper
in the course of its
writing, especially
Peter
Brown,
Averil
Cameron,
Julius
Kirshner
(and
members of the
University
of
Chicago history seminar),
Richard
Saller and Susan
Treggiari. My
final note of
thanks,
the saddest to
record,
is to the
one who offered the sternest and most
profitable comments,
but
who, alas,
can no
longer
receive this token of
gratitude:
to Sir Moses
Finley.
the
nuclear-family group.1
What is
more, the hiatus between the
concept
of
family
and its actual
practice
seems to have widened
during
the
period
of the later
empire;
at least our
perception
of the distinction
as it is reflected in the source materials is
considerably sharpened.
More than ever
before, sentiments,
actions and
obligations
were tied
to the
kinship
core of the
family,
whereas the
terminology
for the
family
itself was concentrated more
intensely
on the wider
conception
of the extended household. To a certain extent the
problem may
result from the
very pronounced
class bias in our
literary
sources
which
predominantly
reflect
upper-class
ideals and
practices.
Never-
theless an obvious
question
arises
regarding
the
persistence
of the
apparent
contradiction between
practice
and
ideology.
A
way
out of the
impasse
would be to
examine,
in as much detail
as
possible,
the
relationships
in the
kinship
core of the
family,
and
their connections to
adjacent
elements of the Roman
familia,
and to
concentrate the
investigation
on the critical
period
of the later
empire
when the contradiction between idea and
practice
was
becoming
most
apparent.
For this
enquiry,
it would be best to select a series of
firsthand
witnesses,
of Christian derivation and from a similar
regional
background,
who
might
take us some distance from the
upper-class
sources and ideas referred to above. The triad of Tertullian
(c. 200),
Cyprian (c. 250)
and
Augustine (c. 400)
offers one of the most
consistent data sets from the
period
that meets our
stipulated
con-
ditions. But there are
problems. Although
Tertullian did write ex-
plicitly
on
subjects
relevant to the
family,
such as
marriage, sexuality
and the role of
women,
his works are rather
disappointing
for the
social historian. Because his
writings
are so
unremittingly prescriptive
and normative in
character, they
offer little
prospect
of a
bridge
between idea and
practice.
Then
again,
we have little control over
the
perspective
or
place
of the author himself. His
background
is
only imperfectly known;
it is best to admit that we can rescue
very
little about his
origins
or circumstances.2 Of the latter
part
of
1
For details of the
argument
advanced
here,
see B. D.
Shaw,
"Latin
Funerary
Epigraphy
and
Family
Life in the Later Roman
Empire", Historia,
xxxiii
(1984), pp.
457-97. The method used to evaluate the data for the later
empire
is that
developed
for a similar
analysis
of materials
dating
to the
early empire:
see R. P. Saller and
B. D.
Shaw,
"Tombstones and Roman
Family
Relations in the
Principate: Civilians,
Soldiers and
Slaves", Jl.
Roman
Studies,
lxxiv
(1984), pp.
124-56. On the
concept
of
family,
see R. P.
Saller, "Familia,
Domus and the Roman
Conception
of the
Family",
Phoenix,
xxxviii
(1984), pp. 336-55;
B. D.
Shaw,
"The
Concept
of
Family
in the Later
Roman
Empire:
Familia and
Domus", forthcoming.
2 T. D.
Barnes,
Tertullian: A Historical and
Literary Study,
2nd edn.
(Oxford,
1985),
chs.
2-4, 6,
is the best critical
approach
to what has been an
overly indulgent
(cont.
on p. 5)
4 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
Cyprian's
life we are much better
informed,
but the information
contains little that is
germane
to an
enquiry
on the
family.
And his
writings
are even less
useful,
more
purely ideological,
than are those
of Tertullian.3
Therefore, although
we can
employ
some of the data
provided by
Tertullian and
Cyprian,
we are
compelled
to use them
sparingly
and with
caution,
and
mainly
as an
adjunct
to a much more
important
and
promising
set of
writings,
those of
Augustine.
Although
the massive
corpus
of
Augustinian writings
contains at
least as much
prescriptive
material as is found in Tertullian and
Cyprian,
it also includes an
important
additional element of
positive
observation.4 In
Augustine's works, especially
in the sermons and
homilies delivered to the common
people (the plebs)
of his
congre-
gation,
in his verbal tracts and
public exegeses
of the Psalms and
other biblical
scriptures,
and in his extensive
correspondence,
we
find constant allusions to
family
life as lived
by
his
parishioners
and
others in the
region
of
Hippo Regius
in north Africa. Often the
exegetical
comments in these
writings
were
produced
in order to
interpret
biblical statements in the
light
of the
everyday experience
(n. 2 cont.)
tradition.
He,
at
least,
is
willing
to face the hard fact: we know
virtually nothing
of a
biographical
nature about Tertullian that is useful to an
understanding
of his
writings.
L.
Stager,
Das Leben im romischen
Afrika
im
Spiegel
der
Schriften
Tertullians
(Zurich,
1973),
is
pedestrian,
but
provides
basic references to the few data
directly
relevant to
our
enquiry
that can be extracted from Tertullian's works.
3
See,
for
example,
V.
Saxer,
Vie
liturgique
et
quotidienne
a
Carthage
vers le milieu
du Ile siecle
(Rome, 1969),
chs. 7-8. One could
analyse
this sort of normative material
endlessly,
but if no
point
of contact is struck between it and actual behaviour the
analysis
tends to reduce to a
history
of ideas.
See,
for
example,
S.
Ozment,
When
Fathers Ruled:
Family Life
in
Reformation Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1983)
for an
illustration of the
problems
involved. Ozment's
analysis
is both
competent
and
detailed,
but excessive
dependence
on
purely
normative source
materials,
with little external
control or internal criticism of
them,
leaves the reader dubious and uncertain as to the
real
practice
of the ideas he describes.
4
The
truly
mountainous
bibliography
of studies on
Augustine
-
surely
one of the
most studied individuals from all
antiquity
-
would seem to
guarantee
that the data
on
family
in his
writings
would
already
have been
exploited many
times over. Such
does not seem to be the case.
Apart
from some brief "social
history"
asides found in
the standard
biographies,
there has been
surprisingly
little use of these data. This
very
rich source of information remains almost
wholly
untouched
by
social historians. What
is
presented here, therefore,
is
only
a small indication of what could be done
-
the
results,
as it
were,
of a
premier sondage.
General works that were of some use include:
M.
Madeleine,
The
Life of
the North
Africans
as Revealed in the Sermons
of
St.
Augustine
(Washington, D.C., 1931);
M. E.
Keenan,
The
Life
and Times
of
St.
Augustine
as
Revealed in his Letters
(Washington, D.C., 1935);
F. van der
Meer, Augustinus
de
Zielzorger (Utrecht, 1949),
trans. B. Battershaw and G. R. Lamb as
Augustine
the
Bishop (London, 1961; repr. 1978);
cf. French trans. Saint
Augustin,
pasteur d'dmes
(Paris, 1955; repr. 1959),
a rather ethereal
appreciation prefiguring
the tone and
approach
of P.
Brown, Augustine of Hippo (London, 1967);
and A. G.
Hamman,
La
vie
quotidienne
en
Afrique
du Nord au
temps
de Saint
Augustin (Paris, 1979), esp. pt.
I.
5
of the common
people
of his
parish. Often, too, Augustine's quasi-
normative statements have
greater
value for the social historian than
do those of Tertullian or
Cyprian, precisely
because he
gives
us
enough
context to understand the
operative assumptions
that lie
behind them
-
aspects Augustine
assumes to be true of his own
society
that allow the normative values to have a function. The
evidence used in this
enquiry
is therefore drawn
overwhelmingly
from those works that tend to
report
and to comment rather than to
advise and exhort: the letters and those
parts
of his sermons and
commentaries on
scripture
where he is
attempting
to communicate
to his listeners
by drawing
on what he assumes to be common
experiences
of their
everyday
life. The
sermons, especially,
are a
rather direct access to the
immediacy
of that
life, given
the fact that
they
seem to
be,
for the most
part, transcripts
of addresses delivered
largely
ex
tempore by Augustine
to his
congregation
at
Hippo,
marked
by frequent on-the-spot digressions
and asides on current concerns.5
Material of an
overtly theological
nature has
purposefully
been
avoided. Of
course,
all observations and
reports
are
interpretations
and, given Augustine's
dominant Christian
ideology, hardly any
statement of his
escapes
some of that influence. It is never
possible
in such cases to build an
"air-tight"
hermeneutics. But
surely
that is
not the
point. Augustine
offers us an
incomparable opportunity
to
achieve a better
understanding
of our
subject,
and the
attempt
is
probably
worth while on that basis alone. What is
more,
the
Augusti-
nian
corpus
is
especially
valuable because of a
singular quality
of its
author. Whatever other caveats
may
be made in
respect
of his
work,
no one would care to
deny
that
Augustine
himself was an acute
observer of his
world,
and one with a
sympathy finely
attuned to a
whole
range
of human behaviour relevant to our
subject,
from the
learning experiences
of infants to
feelings
of
love, fear,
hatred and
envy
that motivated their
parents.
This
body
of data is also substantiated
by
another that is
wholly
absent in the cases of Tertullian and
Cyprian: Augustine's
account
of his
upbringing
-
the reflections on his own
family
life in the
Confessions (written
c.
397-401).6 Especially
in
respect
of this autobi-
5
See R.
J. Deferrari,
"St.
Augustine's
Method of
Composing
and
Delivering
Sermons",
Classical
Philology,
xliii
(1929), pp. 97-123; 193-219;
M. Le
Landais,
"Deux annees de
predication
de Saint
Augustine,
v: dictee ou
predication?",
in H.
Rondet et
al.,
Etudes
Augustiniennes (Paris, 1953), pp.
38-48.
6
Most of the extant
scholarly
work on
family
life in the
Confessions
is
unfortunately
marred
by
a strain of
pseudo-psychological musing
that is of no historical
value;
even
worse,
if that is
possible,
are the
theologically
oriented
interpretations.
Neither sort
of
secondary
literature will be referred to in this
paper.
6 PAST AND PRESENT
NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
ography,
however,
there must be a note of caution: not a word of
Augustine's writings
survives
(perhaps intentionally so)
from the
period
before his move towards conversion to
Christianity (that
is,
in the
years
just
before A.D.
386/7).
All the formative
years
of his life
up
to the
age
of
thirty,
when he was
part
of his
parents' family,
are
therefore seen
through
the
prism
of a later
ideological
commitment
that
profoundly
distorted his
conception
of his own earlier life.
Nevertheless these later
reflections, going
back to some of his earliest
extant
writings
such as the de Beata Vita
(386),
allow us an
unparal-
leled
insight
into the
family
life of one man in late
antiquity.
To a
certain
extent, Augustine's
recollections can also be checked
against
knowledge
of structural
aspects
of the Roman
family
derived from
external
sources,
and
against
his own observations and
assumptions
about the
family
lives of his
parishioners
when he was
priest (from
391)
and later
bishop (from 395/6)
of
Hippo Regius.
But if we are to
rely
so
heavily
on the
perspective
of one man and his
life,
we
must ask what sort of
representative
he is. Notorious
dangers
of
historiography
attend when a
society
is
analysed through
the relations
and
perceptions
of a
single
individual.7 First of
all,
if our
perspective
is derived from the
viewpoint
of one man in late
antique society,
we
must be aware of how biased it will be in one obvious
way:
it will
reflect a
predominant
male
ideology
of the
world, though,
to be
sure,
a world in which this
ideology
was both conceived and acted
upon
in a
society
where
power
was
primarily
male-directed.8 That
very big
and
continuing problem aside,
there still remain those factors that
7
See,
for
example,
A.
Macfarlane,
The
Family Life of Ralph Josselin:
A Seventeenth-
Century Clergyman (Cambridge, 1970);
and the criticisms of E. P.
Thompson,
"Anthro-
pology
and the
Discipline
of Historical
Context",
Midland
Hist.,
i
(1972), pp.
41-55.
In
spite
of the
criticisms,
the data can be used in a
justifiable way:
K.
Wrightson,
English Society,
1580-1680
(London, 1982), pp.
45
f.,
102 f. Most
objections, including
Thompson's,
relate to Macfarlane's abuse of the data.
Dependence
on
single-case
representatives
is indeed
open
to such
pitfalls:
consider P.
Gay,
Education
of
the
Senses,
I: The
Bourgeois Experience:
Victoria to Freud
(Oxford, 1983),
and the
problems
related to the extensive use of the case of Mabel Loomis Todd. If we are to
study
anything
other than statistical contours of structural
aspects
of the
family, however,
we will have to
depend
on individual cases. If
placed
in
context,
with firm indications
of their social
parameters, they
need not be
statistically representative
in order to offer
useful
perspectives
to the
historian;
cf. the use of Samuel
Pepys
and
James
Boswell
by
L.
Stone,
The
Family,
Sex and
Marriage
in
England,
1500-1800
(New York, 1977),
chs.
11.2,
6.
8
The absence of
equivalent
mention of
daughters
or sisters in
Augustine's perspec-
tive of the
family,
for
example,
is a notable instance of this cultural blindness.
They
are "invisible
people"
in his
view,
but
perhaps only
to the
degree
to which
they
were
actually
subordinated in the
power
structure of the
family?
7
made
Augustine
a
peculiar
man of his times.
Where, then,
are we to
place
him in the matrix of late Roman
society?
Most
significant
for our
purposes
is the
oft-repeated
assertion that
Augustine
came from a
poor family.9
The evaluation seems to be
provoked
more
by
a dominant esoteric and
theological Augustinian-
ism than
by any
critical historical
judgement. Perhaps Augustine's
background
was
"poor"
when seen from the
perspective
of the
towering
fortunes accumulated
by
the
upper
classes in the later
empire (that
of a Petronius
Probus,
for
example,
or of a
Melania).
But when viewed in the social context of its
place,
the
provincial
town of
Thagaste, Augustine's family
was
certainly
not
poor.
His
parents
were of
good
social
standing (honesti)
and were from the ranks
of the local
ruling order,
the curiales.10 In a late Roman
municipality
like
Thagaste
this status
hardly guaranteed
the
possession
of massive
wealth or
power;
but the rank
surely suggests
that
Augustine's
father
Patricius is to be located in the
uppermost
echelons of local
society
in terms of his wealth. The bottom end of the social
spectrum
of curiales
was, admittedly, composed
of men of modest
wealth;
necessarily so, given
the
steeply
attenuated distribution of
property
in most
regions
of the Roman world.
Large
amounts of land around
Thagaste
would have been in the hands of the
emperor,
absentee
upper-class
landlords who were not
susceptible
to local
municipal
burdens
(for example,
in this
case, Melania)
and a few of the local
powerful.
But Patricius had fields
spread
about the
town,
his house had
numerous
specialized
slaves in
it,
and he was able
and,
more
impor-
tant,
had the
disposition
to pay for a
higher
education for his sons
-
9
Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp.
21
f.; Hamman,
Vie
quotidienne
en
Afrique
du
Nord, p. 100,
are
typical;
also characteristic is
J. J. O'Meara,
The
Young Augustine:
An Introduction to the
Confessions of
St.
Augustine (London, 1954; repr.
New
York,
1980),
who
unsuccessfully attempts
to make
compatible
the evidence of Patricius'
wealth and the claim to
poverty;
he is
finally compelled
to admit that the
family
belonged
to "the
upper
classes" and was "out of
sympathy
with the
majority
of
Numidians"
(pp. 25-8).
The trend is continued in G.
Bonner,
St.
Augustine of Hippo:
Life
and Controversies
(London, 1963; repr.
New
York, 1985), p. 37; and,
more
recently, by
H.
Chadwick, Augustine (Oxford, 1986), pp. 6,
32: Patricius was "far
from
being rich"; Augustine
came from "a
relatively impecunious provincial family".
10
Possidius, VitaAug.
1
(PL, 32, 33).
Hereafter all references to the source materials
will use the
following
standard abbreviations: PL =
Patrologiae
cursus
completus,
series
Latina,
ed.
J.
P.
Migne,
221 vols.
(Paris, 1844-64);
CSEL =
Corpus Scriptorunm
Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum
(Vienna,
1866 and
continuing);
CCL =
Corpus
Christiano-
rum,
series Latina
(Turnhout,
1953 and
continuing).
If a CCL edition exists reference
is made to it
alone, failing
that to CSEL
or, failing
either of
these,
to the
Migne
edition. All translations from the
original
texts are mine.
8 NUMBER 115 PAST AND PRESENT
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
something
that
very
few other fathers in the district could do.11 It is
often claimed that a season's
delay
in the
young Augustine's
edu-
cation, apparently compelled by
a constricted
family budget
in that
year,
is a sure
sign
of the
family's poverty.
But this is
hardly
so. In
the
agrarian economy
that was at the base of Patricius'
household,
lean
years
were a recurrent
phenomenon
which
produced periodic
liquidity problems
even for
moderately
well-off landowners. In these
circumstances,
hard cash to be
dispensed
for a son's formal education
was
hardly
a
high priority.
In tendentious and committed
argument
Augustine
was later to claim that he came from a
poor family,
but
the statement is made in a context that must make one
suspicious
of
its truth value.12
Moreover,
in
referring
to the
bequest
of his
paternal
inheritance
(or
a
large part
of
it)
to the church at
Thagaste, Augustine
states that the
gift represented
about a twentieth of the church's total
landed wealth. We do not know
exactly
what the total
was,
but
by
late 411 the church had benefited from a
century
of considerable
bequests by patrons, including
the immense
gifts
of land and other
property
made
by
the
younger
Melania in the
preceding year. Augus-
tine's
portion
of his
paternal
inheritance
(shared
with at least one
brother and one
sister)
was therefore
hardly inconsequential.
An
inheritance of that
size,
to which must be added those of
Augustine's
siblings, gives
us some
conception
of the size of the
original patrimony
that must have constituted Patricius' undivided estate.13 What is
more,
the clear
impression gained
from
reading
about
Augustine's
paternal estates,
and those of his
peers,
is not one of
poverty
but
rather of substance.
We must therefore remove
Augustine
from the ranks of the
poor.
He was from a
family
that was
part
of the "curial
class",
though
perhaps
the lower end of it. Such a subdecurial
family may
well have
been
experiencing
some of the acute fiscal
pressures
that were
being
exerted on the
group
as a whole at this time.14 If
true,
then
Augustine
11
Confess.
2.3.5
(CCL, 27, 19-20);
cf. 6.7.11
(CCL, 27, 80-1).
12
Serm. 356.13
(PL, 39, 1579-80);
see the edition of C.
Lambot,
Sancti
Augustini
sermones selecti
duodeviginti (Utrecht, 1950), pp. 140-1,
where
Augustine speaks
of
himself as a
poor
man
(homo pauper)
born to
poor parents (de pauperibus natus).
The
context is a
struggle
between
Augustine
and some of his subordinate
clergy
over the
place
of
property
in the church at
Hippo.
The statement has been taken at face value
at least since
Migne's introductory biography (PL, 32, 66).
13
Ep.
126.7
(CSEL, 44, 13).
14
G. E. M. de Ste.
Croix,
The Class
Struggle
in the Ancient Greek World
(London,
1981), pp.
467
ff.,
an
interpretation
of materials found in A. H. M.
Jones,
The Later
Roman
Empire,
284-602: A
Social,
Economic and Administrative
Survey (Oxford, 1964),
pp.
737-57.
9
was indeed a
marginal
man in
danger
of
being "squeezed"
down-
wards,
but who had a rare
opportunity
for
escape
from his local
surroundings
-
perhaps
the ideal candidate for a conversion. Thus
Augustine
can be seen in his own life as
representative
of the lower
ranks of a
regional upper
class. This
simple observation, however,
means that our best witness for the
period
does not reflect
family
life
as lived
by
the vast
majority
of the inhabitants of the
region
from
which he came. These
aspects
of
plebeian family life, however,
can
be
glimpsed
in the
vignettes, allusions, explanations
and inadvertent
asides about the common
people
of his world that
pepper
the
bishop's
writings. Concerning
his own
family,
we are also
reasonably
well
informed
by
these same sources. But in them we also
perceive
the
contrast between the idea and the
reality
of
family
referred to at the
beginning
of this
paper.
His own
experience
of
family
relations was
concentrated
overwhelmingly
on the rather narrow circle of his
mother and
father,
his
siblings
and his own child. Notices of
persons
outside this
group
are rather
rare;
they
include the chance mention
of some
nieces,
a
nephew
and two
cousins,
each case
being
alluded
to in
passing only
once.15 For all
that, nuclear-family
relations were
most
definitely
not
Augustine's
idea of
"family".
As an entree to
Augustine's
world of
family
relations we
might
begin by attempting
to
grasp
his
conception
of the
family
as a
part
of the whole social order. In traditional formal
thought
the household
had been considered the irreducible unit of
society.
Below it were
only
isolated
individuals;
out of it arose all more
complex groups,
culminating
in the state. Such a schematic location of the house had
already
been
given
conscious
expression by
Aristotle some seven to
eight
centuries earlier. More
directly
influential on
Augustine's
formal
thinking
were Stoic ideas.
According
to Stoic
ideology,
the
household,
however artificial its
formation,
had come to be
accepted
as a
part
of
the natural order of
society
as a
whole, represented
at its
pinnacle by
the state.
Although Augustine
did
accept
this
place
of the house and
conception
of natural
order,
it would be a mistake to
leap
to the
conclusion that he also
accepted
the
family
as the irreducible
building-
block of
society.
In fact for him the atom of
society
was not the
"family",
but the union of man and
woman;
it was the
joining (copula,
copulatio)
of man and wife that
represented
the seed-bed of state and
15
See the notices in the standard reference works:
J.
R. Martindale et
al.,
The
Prosopography of
the Later Roman
Empire,
II: A.D. 395-527
(Cambridge, 1980);
A.
Mandouze, Prosopographie
chretienne du
Bas-Empire,
I:
Afrique,
303-533
(Paris,
1982).
10 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE ANTIQUITY
society.
16 The household was a
higher-level part
of the natural order
stemming
from the
biological/creative powers
of men and women.
The latter
copulatio
was subordinate to the
power flowing
down
through
the social
order, through
the
household,
which dictated the
relationships
in it: the husband above the
wife,
the
parents
over the
children.
17
This
conception
of
family
receives
perhaps
its fullest
expression
in
the nineteenth book of the
City of God,
which contains a discussion
of the
origins
of the
power
and role of the
paterfamilias. First,
the
household
comprehends
all those under
paternal authority, including
children and slaves. Sons and slaves are
distinguished by
the critical
factor of
heirship (that is,
their access to
family wealth).18
However
much sons
might
be
subject
to servile
punishment by
the
father,
or
even
by
the father's
slaves,
it was the
proprietorial
fact of the inherit-
ance that
separated
them from slaves.19 In this
sense,
the terms domus
(household)
and
familia ("family")
seem to
overlap considerably,
if
they
are not
actually synonymous.20 Secondly,
the role of the father
which defines the household is a
power relationship:
he dominates
because he must enforce the
peace
of the household to ensure its
harmony.
He achieves this
goal
in the first instance
by
the infliction
of
corporal punishment.21
The household is thus seen
primarily
as a
16
Civ.
Dei,
15.16.3
(CSEL, 40.2, 95):
"Therefore the
joining (copulatio)
of male
and
female,
in so far as it
pertains
to
humankind,
is the seed-bed
(seminarium)
of the
state/society (civitas)";
cf. de Bono
Coniug.
1.1
(CSEL, 41, 187):
"The natural
origin
of human
society
is the
joining
of man and wife". Both
passages
are
heavily
Stoic in
tone;
cf.
Cicero,
de
Off.,
1.17.54: "The
origin
of
society
is in the
joining (coniugium)
of man and
woman,
next in
children,
then in the household
(una domus),
all
things
held in
common;
this is the foundation
(principium)
of the
city and,
so to
speak,
the
seed-bed of the state
(seminarium
rei
publicae)".
In
phrasing
his
conception
in this
way,
Augustine
was also
following
the Roman-law definition of
marriage: "Marriage
is the
joining (coniunctio)
of male and female"
(Dig. 23.2.1).
The claim is made in
virtually
every
modern text on the
subject
that
Augustine
holds "the
family"
to be the
fundamental unit of
society;
but in his own terms he does not. The sort of tradition
from which his
thinking
is
derived,
as can be seen in the Cicero
passage,
conceived
of a series of
steps leading
from the
"copulation"
of man and
woman, through children,
then the
domus,
to the state. The need to claim that
Augustine
holds "the
family"
to
be the essential natural unit of
society
is a false one demanded
by
modern
ideological
positions, principally
those
espoused by
certain churches.
17
Civ.
Dei,
19.16
(CSEL, 40.2, 401);
cf.
Quaest.
in
Hept.
1.153
(CCL, 33, 59).
18
Civ.
Dei,
19.16
(CSEL, 40.2, 401).
19
In real
life,
as
well;
see En. Psalm. 117.13
(CCL, 40, 1662):
"Often a father
orders his sons to be
punished by
his wickedest
slaves;
he is
preparing
the inheritance
for the
former,
the
leg
irons for the latter".
20
Civ.
Dei,
19.16
(CSEL, 40.2, 401).
21
Civ.
Dei,
19.16
(CSEL, 40.2, 402):
"If
anyone
in the household
(domus) who
sets himself
against
the domestic
peace (domesticapax) by
his disobedience is
corrected,
by
word or
by whip (seu
verbo seu
verbere)
or
by any
other
just
and
legal type
of
(cont.
on
p. 12)
11
microcosm of the
regimen
of
discipline
and
punishment
that is
part
of a whole web of social control. The
peace
of the
family
has a direct
relationship
to the "civic
peace"
of the state. The father has to fill
the role of
disciplinarian
and owner
(that is,
one who
dominates)
so
that the household
might
fit into the wider social order.22 The
sceptical
reader
might properly object
that this is
just
so much
theory,
and
heavily
derivative at that. For the social
historian, however,
derivative
thinking
is not as
great
an
impediment
as it is for the
historian of ideas. The
continuity
of traditional ideas can be
quite
useful to life in the real world. How then are we to make sense of
what
Augustine
has to
say,
since he
clearly
sees the household in
rather traditional terms: as a network of
power
relations
extending
downwards
through
the father of the
family?
To assess the
meaning
of these
conceptions
in his mind we must first see if his
conceptions
of domus and
familia
are themselves traditional.
For
Augustine familia generally
has a
very strong proprietory
sense,
and therefore
encompassed
all
things
in the
ownership
or
"domination" of the
father, including
slaves. Familia was one of
those material or
quasi-material things
which
every good proprietor
strove to
increase;
it is included in standard lists where other such
goods
are
gold, silver, land,
fine
clothes, cattle,
clients and honours.23
That idea was not
just theoretical,
but was rooted in
Augustine's
observation of the
psychological
drive of men to
possess goods
such
as
wives, sons,
male and female
slaves, clothes, houses,
and so
on.24 Tertullian shared this
view,
and is
explicit
on the
proprietorial
significance offamilia. Selecting
a list of unmarried and childless men
typical
of the Roman world
-
the
soldier,
the eunuch and the celibate
bachelor
-
he states that these men too have their own
"families",
though not,
from his
moralizing perspective,
as fertile and
productive
(n.
21
cont.)
punishment
to the extent allowed
by society,
it is for the benefit
(utilitas)
of the one
who is
corrected,
that he
might
be returned to the
peace
from which he has broken".
22 Civ.
Dei,
19.16
(CSEL, 40.2, 402):
"The conclusion is
sufficiently
clear that the
peace
of the household
(pax domestica)
relates to the
peace
of the state
(pax civica);
that
is to
say,
that the ordered
harmony
of
ruling
and obedience of those
living together
in
the same house
(cohabitantes)
refers to the ordered
harmony
of
ruling
and obedience
of citizens
(cives)
in the state.
Consequently,
it follows that the
father,
in
considering
the rules
by
which he
might
rule his own household (domus
sua),
should
adopt
those
of the
state,
so that his house will fit in with the
peace
of the state".
23
En. Psalm. 32.ii.15
(CCL, 38, 265);
70.i.16
(CCL, 39, 953);
137.8
(CCL, 40,
1983);
143.18
(CCL, 40, 2085-6);
Serm. 14.4.4
(CCL, 41, 187);
20.4
(CCL, 41, 266);
311.13
(PL, 38, 1418);
In
Ep.
Iohann. ad Parth. 3.11
(PL, 35, 2003).
24
Serm. 297.5.8
(PL, 38, 1362);
En. Psalm. 143.18
(CCL, 40, 2085-6);
and n. 23
above.
12 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
as those of married men.25 At the other end of the
spectrum
of
meaning, familia merges
with domus or household. In this sense the
conception
of domus included the extended aristocratic
lineage,
the
illustrious or noble
family,
such as that of the Anicii.26 But domus
itself extended in
meaning
from this network of
personal
and
property
relations to the
physical
structure of the house itself. This
house(hold)
was linked both
physically by
its
placement,
and more
abstractly
through
its
paternal
head,
to the
state,
the "home town". Thus
one identified in turn with one's
paterna
domus and one's
patria.27
Otherwise the
meanings
could
overlap completely
even within the
same context: one could
say
that when a father fell ill he returned to
his
physical
house
(domus)
to be
tended,
but in illness he continued to
manage
the affairs of the house
(domus)
in the sense of his household.28
Domus, therefore,
could narrow in
meaning
to household in the
seemingly
limited sense of the
physical
structure built for its inhabi-
tants.29 But the constriction in
meaning
is
probably only apparent
for
us;
it
probably
did not exist for those men because of the
metaphoric
associations that stemmed from the
simple
mention of
the
physical
home.
Merely
to have a domus
implied
that one also had
a
familia,
and vice versa. Boarders
(inquilini),
for
example,
were
distinguished by
the fact that
they
themselves did not have a
domus,
but
merely
lived in one; in
substance, they
were seen as
persons
detached from households.30 The house was also
integrally
connected
with one's social
standing;
honour was
judged
from the domus
itself,
and its decor. The mere
sight
of a
magnificent domus,
like fine
clothing,
was a sufficient
guarantee
that the inhabitant was of
high
social rank.31
Simple things
mattered a lot: the more elaborate
your
drapery,
the
greater your
honour.32
And, just
as
important,
the house
and its
physical artefacts, things
as mundane as
drinking-cups,
could
25
Tertullian,
de Cast. 12.3.
26
Ep.
150
(CSEL, 44, 381).
27
Confess.
4.4.9
(CCL, 27.44).
28
En. Psalm. 102.6
(CCL, 40, 1456).
29
Annot. ad
Job,
2.7
(CSEL, 28.2, 565);
En. Psalm. 32.ii.20-1
(CCL, 38, 268-9;
connecting
the habitaculum with the
hereditas);
Tract. 10 in Iohann. 9.
(CCL, 36,
105-
6);
Tract. 37 in Iohann. 8
(CCL, 36, 336);
Serm. 219
(PL, 38, 1088).
Some references
among many;
see also
Ep. 29.5, 39.2, 65, 99, 115,
122.2.
30
See nn. 40-2 below.
31
En. Psalm.
32.ii.12,
18
(CCL, 38, 263, 267-8);
cf. Serm. 302.21.19
(PL, 38,
1392).
32
Serm. 51.4.5
(PL, 38, 336);
cf. En. Psalm. 25.ii.12 f.
(CCL, 38,
149
f.);
one
could act
excessively
in this
respect, however;
one had to beware "lest
you
decorate
your
house like a new whorehouse": see Tertullian, de Idol. 5.11
(CCL, 2, 1117)
and
ad Uxor. 1.8.3
(CCL, 1,
392).
13
provide
a
family continuity
that could not be attained
by
actual
demographic
succession.33
Augustine's conception
of
family
and household also carried with
it a
strong
sense of co-residence of the
persons
involved.34 But as we
know from
many
modern studies on the
subject
of the
pre-industrial
family
in the
west,
residence
(Augustine's cohabitantes)
could take
many
forms and
hardly
necessitated all
persons literally living
under
the same roof.35 So
just
how far did the household extend?
Augustine
certainly
included the
familia
of slaves and
dependants
attached to
the kin-core of the household. An incident in the
Confessions
makes
clear
just
how
integral
that connection was.
Augustine reports
that a
free-born member of a house (una
domus) might
see a slave
touching
something
which
they
themselves are not
permitted
to
touch;
they
then feel
indignant. Although
there is a
single dwelling (habitaculum)
and one
family (unafamilia),
not
everyone
is allowed to
go everywhere
in it. Since the
report
is made from the
vantage point
of a free-born
child in the kin-core of the
house,
it is clear that slaves too were
regarded
as
wholly part
of the
larger familia
that lived in the same
house.36 The core
household, then,
consisted of a restricted number
of elements
(huband/father, wife/mother,
children and
slaves),
all of
which had to stand in a firm hierarchical
relationship
to each other
and to
perform
their
proper
role in order for there to be a
proper
and
therefore
peaceful
and
happy
house.37 As we move
away
from the
kin-core and a
clearly
defined set of
dependants
like chattel
slaves,
however,
we do not find
any
clear
dividing
line between the mother-
father-child(ren)
triad and the rest. For
example,
when
speaking
of the hatreds and divisions between kin that are exacerbated
by
33
For
example,
Serm. 17.7.7
(CCL, 41, 242); portraits (tabula
picta)
of the owner
"in his house"
appear
to have been common
among
the
higher
social
ranks; Augustine
condemns them as ad vanum honorem tuum:
Serm.
9.10.15
(CCL, 41, 137): you
feel
hurt when
people
throw stones at them.
34
See Civ.
Dei, 19.16,
cited in n. 22
above;
Serm. 170.4
(PL, 38, 929):
"the
inhabitants of a house
(domus habitatores)
are said to be the household
(domus)
. . .
since we do not call walls and the
holding-places
of bodies a
household,
but rather the
inhabitants
themselves";
a domus is defined as a
place
of
permanent
habitation: "a
house
(domus)
is said to be that
place
where we reside
permanently":
En. Psalm.
26.ii.6
(CCL, 38, 157).
As such its
recognition
was manifest: "Who does not
recognize/
know the world about them? The world is the
world, just
as a house
(domus)
is a house
(domus);
a house
(domus)
in its construction
(fabrica),
a
house(hold) (domus)
in its
inhabitants (habitatores)":
Serm. 342.3
(PL, 39, 1503),
reminiscent of Gertrude Stein.
35
M. Mitterauer and R.
Sieder,
The
European Family,
trans. K. Oosterveen and
M.
Horzinger (Chicago, 1982), pp.
18 f.
36
Confess.
3.7.13
(CCL, 27, 34);
cf. Serm. 21.6-7
(Sirmond 20; CCL, 41, 281-2).
37
En. Psalm. 136.5
(CCL, 40, 1967);
Serm. 152.4
(PL, 38, 821).
14 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
conversion from traditional beliefs to
Christianity
or between different
Christian
beliefs,
a
typical
conflict
Augustine
notes is that between
mother-in-law and
daughter-in-law,
both of whom are "in the same
house"
(in
una
domo).38
The
mother-in-law/daughter-in-law
tension
was also
present
in
Augustine's
own
family during
his
youth.
Soon
after Monnica married
Patricius,
she encountered a mother-in-law
who was hostile to her. Meddlesome slave women were blamed for
the tension and
dislike,
but that seems more like a convenient
"explanation"
for a
problem
that was inherent in
many
households.
Monnica bore
up
well in the
travail, displaying
tolerance and
obsequi-
ousness. The mother-in-law
finally
intervened and asked her son to
discipline
the slave women who were
disturbing
the
"family peace"
(pax domestica).
Patricius then moved to restore
family discipline
(familia disciplina)
and the balance of
relationships
in the kin
family
(the
concordia
suorum):
he
whipped
the slaves.39
But the household or domus not
only
embraced close affinal relatives
and domestic
slaves;
it could also include direct
dependants
other
than slaves. As in
many agrarian societies, including
those based
on an economic
symbiosis
of slave and
peasant,
the
family
also
encompassed
the world of boarders and
lodgers.
Boarders were
itinerant or
migrant
labourers who attached themselves to the house
of their new master or the farm owner who commanded their work.
Since the
migrant
was on the
move, by
definition he lacked a
home,
a
habitation,
and
by
default became a member of the household
where he
stayed.
As we have
already seen, permanent
residence
formed a substantial
part
of the definition of a household.40 Not
having
his own
domus,
the boarder or
inquilinus
was
compelled
to
38
En. Psalm. 44.11
(CCL, 38, 502):
"The same situation sets the
daughter against
her
mother, and,
even
more,
the
daughter-in-law (nurus) against
her mother-in-law
(socer).
For sometimes in the same household
(in
una
domo)
a
daughter-in-law
and
mother-in-law are
found,
the one a
heretic,
the other a catholic".
39
Confess.
9.9.20
(CCL, 27, 145-6).
40
On
residence,
see nn.
22,
34 above. Since boarders are an almost
wholly
unstudied
aspect
of Roman social
relations,
no
secondary
literature is
yet
available on the
subject.
An
investigation
into the term as it is used in the later law codes has been made
by
P.
Rosafio, "Inquilinus", Opus,
iii
(1984), pp. 121-31,
who
points
out that the
inquilinus
was
distinguished
from the tied-farmer
(colonus) by
the fact that his
identity
had to be
traced
by
his
kinship
relations
(his
agnatio)
rather than the
place
where he lived (his
origo).
See En. Psalm 60.6
(CCL, 39, 768-9): inquilini
are connected to the domus;
they
are not
given
mansiones which are
only granted
to
permanent
residents or cives.
Inquilini
were
only temporary dwellers;
see En. Psalm. 38.21
(CCL, 38, 420-1),
for an
inquilinus
as a
person
on the move: "The
place
where I remain
permanently
is called
my
home
(domus mea);
when I
migrate
I become an
inquilinus.
I am an
inquilinus
of
my
God
with whom I will
remain,
once I have received a house
(domo accepta)
from him".
15
live in that of
another,
and so became identified with his new house.41
It seems that these
arrangements
were not contractual in
any legal
sense,
but
reposed
on the
letting
of a house or
part
of it to the
lodger
under tenuous conditions in which his master or dominus could
simply
expel
him or order him to leave. The contract
reposed
more on the
traditional social foundation of
hospitium
than it did on the
strictly
juridical
basis of rent.42
In a vertical sense one must also
suspect
that elders
(that is,
grandparents)
were
thought
of as
part
of the
household, although
Augustine
never
says
so
explicitly.
Elders
appear consistently
in the
context of childhood
education,
and as such were
closely
allied to the
biological parents
of the children.43 The child was
subject
to their
auctoritas as he was to that of his
parents;
both
carefully
follow his
upbringing and,
in
Augustine's case, laugh
at the
beatings
he received
in school.44
Laterally
the household contained not
only
the wife but
also the concubine.
Although Augustine,
as
part
of his Christian
teaching, inveighed untiringly
in the harshest terms
against having
both a wife and a
concubine, clearly
this idea was not shared
by many
men,
and
certainly
did not reflect their
practice (nor
that of
Augustine
himself before his
conversion).45 Augustine reports
a conversation
(perhaps imagined)
with one of his
parishioners;
he thunders
against
the man's
possession
of both wife and
concubine;
the
latter,
he
says,
is no better than a common
prostitute.
The man is confused
by
this
newfangled idea,
and
upset by
the
bishop's
intrusion into his
family
life. He
angrily
retorts to
Augustine
with the
question,
"Am I not
permitted
to do what I want in
my
own household?".46
41
En. Psalm. 118.viii.1
(CCL, 40, 1684): "Inquilini
do not have their own house
(domus
propria),
but live in another's
household; temporary
residents
(incolae)
and
strangers (advenae),
on the other
hand,
are treated as
foreigners (adventitii)".
42
En. Psalm. 148.11
(CCL, 40, 2174):
"You are an
inquilinus,
not the owner of a
house
(possessor domus);
that house has been
rented,
not
given,
to
you.
Even if
you
are
unwilling, you
will have to move
on, you
did not receive the house on the condition
that a fixed time in it would be
guaranteed
to
you.
What does
your
master
say?
'When
I
decide,
when I
say, you go; you
had better be
ready
to hit the road. I am
expelling
you
from
my hospitality,
but I'll at least
give you
a
(parting) gift'.
Here on earth
you
are an
inquilinus,
but in Heaven
you
will be an owner
(possessor)";
cf.
Tertullian,
ad
Uxor. 2.4.1
(CCL, 1, 1295).
43
Confess. 1.6.8,
1.7.11
(CCL, 27, 4, 6).
44
Confess. 1.8.13,
1.9.15
(CCL, 27, 7-9).
45
For
example,
Serm. 132.4
(PL, 38, 734-7);
392.2
(PL, 39, 1710).
46
Serm. 224.3
(PL, 38, 1095):
"If she
[that is, your wife]
has
just
one
man, namely
yourself, why
do
you
want two women? But
you say 'My
slave woman is
my
concubine.
Would
you prefer
that I violate another man's wife? Would
you prefer
that I rush to
the
public prostitute?
Or are
you saying
that I am not
permitted
to do what I want in
my
own house
(in
domo mea)?'.
I
say
to
you,
'It is not
permitted.
Men who do this
go
to hell, and will burn in eternal fire.' ".
16 NUMBER 115 PAST AND PRESENT
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
But household links do not seem to have ceased
absolutely
even
within these bounds. The
enmeshing
of the household into a broader
hierarchy
of
domination,
a network
extending
outwards from the kin-
core
through
slaves and
clients,
and further outwards
through
friends
and
neighbours,
to the
community,
is a constant of
Augustine's
world. In the aftermath of the brutal
lynching
of an
imperial
official
at
Hippo by popular
action, Augustine
delivered a
monitory
sermon
to his
people
that
provides insight
into these social networks and the
place
of the domus in them.
Augustine begins
with the
problem
of
how such unbridled
popular power
is to be
disciplined
and restrained.
It is not
possible
for individuals to do
much,
he
admits;
but each
man in
respect
of his own household (in domo
sua)
is able to
discipline
his
sons, slaves, friends, neighbours,
clients and children. In some
cases
"persuasion"
will be
required,
but those who are under the
direct
power
of the household head are to be dealt with
severely.
Naturally, Augustine
saw Christian
ideology
as
having
a role to
play,
but it was made
operational by
each household unit. It
only
functioned
if each household head restrained his slave and his
son,
and if the
severity
of the
father,
the
paternal uncle,
the
teacher,
the
good
neighbour
and elders was able to tame
(domaret)
the
youth.47
The
domus is thus set at the nexus of strands of
relationships
at once
extending
into it
(for example,
over sons and slaves) and outwards
from it
(for example,
to friends and
neighbours).
In this sense the
house
represented
the core
operative
unit of the
society.
It was
through
the domus that
Christianity penetrated
the
society,
and it was
the domus as a whole that later suffered
punishment
for serious
transgressions
of Christian
regulations.48
The familial
polity
of the
household was therefore the
primal
social
unit,
a miniature locus of
power
in the whole of
society.49
The
cycle
of
punishment
and social control
emanating
from the
father extended from him inwards into the
house,
and outwards to
those
proximate
to it; and it was exerted on him from
outside,
whence
he was
expected
to transmit it into his house. Does he see someone
going
to the theatre or off to
get
drunk? If the man is a
friend,
he is
to be warned in an amicable
way;
if it is his
wife,
she is to be reined
in
harshly.
His slave woman? She is to be
compelled
with the
whip.
47
Serm. 302.21.19
(PL, 38, 1392).
48
Ep.
191.2
(CSEL, 57, 164);
cf.
Ep.
250.1-2
(CSEL, 57, 593-6)
for
punishment.
49
Ep.
200.2
(CSEL, 57, 294),
where
Augustine
remarks to
Valerius,
the comes
Africae,
that his house is a core of
power:
"how much
your
house
(domus tua)
is a
refuge
and solace to the
holy,
and a terror to unbelievers".
17
Each
man, says Augustine,
is
responsible
in
respect
of his own
household
(in
domo
sua)
for his
friend,
for the boarder
(inquilinus),
for the client and for those who are older and those who are
younger.50
Paternal
authority
is
coercive,
but within the bounds of the house it
is balanced
by
a
counter-ideology
of love. Each man in his own house
(in domo
sua) especially disciplines
his wife and
subjugates
her when
she
fights back,
he domesticates his son
(filium
tuum
domas)
so that
he is obedient to him
and, finally,
he
punishes
his slaves. But in all
cases it is
punishment
and love.51 Paternal
severity
is
supposed
to be
counterbalanced
by charity
and
love;
both extend across a network
of
relationships
which linked those inside the
family
to those outside:
from father and husband to
wife, concubine, children, brothers,
neighbours,
relatives and friends.52
What
emerges clearly
from this matrix of
positive
and normative
statements in
Augustine
is that the household
head,
the father/
husband,
is located in a
pivotal position:
he was at once the
person
who linked the
family
to other families in the
society,
who felt and
transmitted external social
pressures
to his
family,
and the
person
who was to maintain control over the members of his own
family,
especially
over his
wife,
his sons and his slaves. Both factors conduced
to isolate the father. If there had existed
genuine
lines of
agnatic
successors in the
society, they
would have
mitigated
the isolation
somewhat
by diffusing
these
pressures vertically. Although
there are
references to be found in
Augustine
to a
three-generational depth
in
families
(avus, pater-filius, nepotes, pronepotes),
these
rarely
suggest
that all three coexist;
almost all are restricted to the
pious
wish and
hope
for such familial
continuity.53 Furthermore,
elders seem to be
rather distant in actual
family
contexts remarked
upon by Augustine.
He never mentions
any
of them
by name,
and
they
seem
only
to have
had an effective existence for the
early
childhood of the son. Indeed
he contrasts his own
father,
whom he knew because he often saw
him,
with his
grandfather
whom he never saw.54 Whereas it is true
50
Tract. 10 in Iohann. 9
(CCL, 36, 105-6).
51
For
example,
de Utilit. leiun. 4.5
(CCL, 46, 235).
52
Serm. 349.2
(PL, 39, 1530).
53
Locut. in
Hept.
1.107
(CCL, 33, 391); Princip.
Dialect.
(PL, 32, 494); and,
more
concretely,
Annot. in
Job,
39
(PL, 34, 887);
En. Psalm. 127.2-3
(CCL, 40, 1869-70;
may you
have sons and
grandsons
so that
your
domus
might rejoice);
En. Psalm.
48.i. 15
(CCL, 38, 563; continuity
should not be
sought
at death in
your monumentum,
but rather in
sons, grandsons
and
great grandsons).
54
De
Musica,
6.11.32
(PL, 32, 1130):
"I think about
my
father whom I often saw
quite differently
from
my grandfather
whom I never saw". It is
significant
that he uses
this
example,
in the context of
discussing
a
complex philosophical problem,
as a
general
illustration which he believes most
persons
will
readily
understand.
18 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
that maiores could
provide
a
background
of auctoritas and could take
over in lieu of
parents, they only
seem to be
present
at this
stage
of
the domestic
cycle; they disappear completely
from
any subsequent
post-infant stage
as viewed from the
perspective
of the child.s5
Of all
relationships
within the domus the most dominant was
clearly
that between father and
son, probably
because the father-son
relationship
was the critical link in the
continuity
of the
physical
household. The father so
organized
his whole domus that he
might
have sons in order to be succeeded
by
them.56 In the first instance
this succession was connected to
biological reproduction;
the father
used his wife to
procreate
a son who would succeed him when he
died.57 The father looked to sons not
only
to
provide
for
themselves,
but also to
produce
a third
generation
of the
family.
It was a matter
of some concern. In the
near-claustrophobic atmosphere
of the
house,
secrecy
and
ignorance might
cloud sexual
knowledge.
But there
were forums outside the home. In a
revelatory incident,
the
young
Augustine
went to the
public
baths at
Thagaste
with his father
Patricius;
there his father saw evidence of
pubescence
in his son's
genitalia.
He ran home in a veritable delirium to announce his son's
manhood to his wife: a sure
sign
of future
nepotes.58
But succession-
that
is, biological continuity
-
was
inextricably
bound
up
with a
hard economic
reality.
For the vast
majority
of families this was the
family
farm. For a much smaller number in the towns themselves it
might
be a
workplace
or a small
shop
owned
by
the father. As in
most so-called Third World countries
today,
sons were looked to not
only
to assume the domestic economic base but also to
provide
a sort
of insurance for
parents
in their old
age.59
This latter
problem
was a
very
real
one;
domestic
ideology
stressed
that,
if there was familial
property,
it was the first
duty,
above all
others,
for children to
support
their
parents
before friends and other relatives.60 But the most careful
planning
for
biological
succession could be struck down
by
sudden
misfortune.61
55
Confess. 1.6.8, 1.7.11, 1.8.13,
1.9.15
(CCL, 27, 4-8).
56
En. Psalm. 25.ii.18
(CCL, 38, 164);
cf.
Tertullian,
ad Uxor. 1.5.1
(CCL,
1,
378).
57
En. Psalm. 127.2
(CCL, 40, 1869;
a wife is like a fertile
vineyard
in his domus
-
she will
produce
sons who will stand about the household table "like so
many strong
olive
trees");
127.15
(CCL, 40, 1878;
the sons will succeed the father and
may
even
live with him in old
age);
cf. Tract. 12 in Iohann. 5
(CCL, 36,
122
f.), though
all the
sections from 4 ff. are well worth
reading.
58
Confess.
2.3.6
(CCL, 27, 20);
Patricius then
got roaring
drunk in celebration.
59
En. Psalm. 70.ii.6
(CCL, 39, 965;
with fearful reference to the
delinquent son,
and the
problem
of
support
in old
age,
subsedium
senectutis).
60
Ep.
243.12
(CSEL, 57, 578-9); and,
at some
length,
Serm. 276.1-2
(PL, 39, 2264).
61
Serm. 32.25
(CCL, 41, 409-10), quoting
Psalms 143.12: "'He has
many sons,
many grandsons:
he is secure from the misfortunes of death.' As if one disaster is not
able to
destroy many
thousands of men".
19
The web of economic and
psychological relationships
in which the
father and son were
implicated
is well illustrated
by
sentiments
expressed openly
on other
occasions,
as in the evocative words of a
funerary inscription
from Africa:62 "To
Sergius Sulpicius,
who was
just beginning
to leave behind his
boyish years,
and
who,
to the
joy
of his
father,
was obedient to the better side. A
loving son,
Festus
by name,
he was
good by nature,
the
great hope
of his
father,
endowed
with
qualities
of total
respect (obsequium)
and a beautiful
honesty.
He
loved his
parents,
and
obeyed
all their commands with wonderful
duty.
If
only
his father could have
enjoyed
such filial
piety
a little
longer!
Alas! It was a cruel and unmerited
fate,
a mournful
thing
for
all,
that he
perished
while not
yet having enjoyed
his sixteenth
year,
and ruined and bereaved his
father,
whose old
age
is now
deprived
of its cane". All the
appropriate
behaviours and values are stressed:
the
love, obedience,
hard
work, obsequium,
honour and
pietas
of the
son who was "the
great hope"
of his
father,
and who was to be his
support,
his
"cane",
in old
age.
In the final
instance,
it was the
economic connection that mattered. Succession was a
strategy
of
heirship
such that father and son would not lose the
property
the
father had so
carefully acquired
and tended
through
a lifetime of hard
work.63
Just
as in the words of this
funerary epitaph, Augustine
also
reports
that all
hope
was
placed
in
sons, everything
was saved so that
it
might
be handed over to them. All actions were directed to this
end;
even those acts which
might
lead to accusations of
hoarding
and
avarice on the
part
of the father could be defended under the rubric
of
pietas.64
The
danger
was that
any type
of
property dispersal
short
of a
post
mortem transfer threatened the father's control both of his
own
goods
and of his
family.
Paternal heads of families were therefore
compelled
to fall back on the device of
hereditary succession,
rather
than
forgo
control of much of their land in their own lifetime.65 In
62
Corp. Inscrip.
Lat.
VIII,
9519
(Caesarea,
Mauretania
Caesariensis); only
the first
nine lines are translated here.
63
Tract. 7 in Iohann. 7
(CCL, 36, 69-71;
the father establishes the hereditas for his
son;
the scenario is
linked,
as in the instances cited
below,
to the father's
powers
of
punishment);
cf. Liber de Medit. 3
(PL, 40, 903);
Serm. 21.8
(Sirmond 20; CCL, 41,
284):
"For what
great
end do
you
save
your
whole
domus,
if not for the little
imploring
child whom
you
lift on to
your
horse? All that
you have,
the domus and
everything
in
the
domus,
and
your
fields and
everything
in
them, you keep
for him".
64En. Psalm. 131.19
(CCL, 40, 1921);
cf. Serm. 9.20
(CCL, 41, 146-7);
32.25
(CCL, 41, 409-10);
60.3.3-4.4
(PL, 38, 403-4);
86.8.9
(PL, 38, 527);
90.10
(PL, 38,
566);
117.7
(PL, 38, 665),
a
frequent
theme.
65
Serm. 156.15.17
(PL, 38, 858). Compare
the situation well described and docu-
mented
by
P.
Greven,
Four Generations:
Population,
Land and
Family
in Colonial
Andover,
Massachusetts
(Ithaca, 1970), pp. 77-98, 137,
272 ff.
20 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
Augustine's
world, paternal
heads of households were
understandably
reluctant to
relinquish
control of
properties
in their own lifetime.
Augustine reports
that most
parents thought
that their sons
obeyed
them because of such economic constraints. Sometimes it was
expedi-
ent for sons to be
emancipated
for a
specific purpose,
such as
marriage
or
holding
of an
office,
in which case the
parents gave
the son a
share of the
family property.
But a
parent might
sometimes balk at
emancipation, saying
"I will not
give my
son the
property,
for he
will no
longer obey
me then".66
The critical link between father and
son(s)
was a
strongly
bilateral
one: the father counted on sons to
help
continue the house and its
property,
but the sons were almost
wholly dependent
on the father for
their future. This
particular
nexus of
power,
we are told
repeatedly,
generated very high expectations
and demands on the
part
of the
father. Indeed it
produced
an
ideology
of almost servile
dependence
and obedience from the sons: "You are a
slave, obey your master;
you
are a
son, obey your
father" is a sentiment that is voiced
again
and
again.67
The
paternal expectation
of obedience of this extreme
type
was
matched,
it
seems, by
a fear on the
part
of the
sons,
a fear
which is
compared
to that of slaves for their masters.68 This
timor,
whether or not we would see it as
predominantly psychological
in
tone,
had a
genuine
basis. The sons' sole
hope
for the future was in
their
part
of the
inheritance,
the
family
farm or their share of it.
There are
many
indications of two
possible dangers facing
them.
Sons could labour a lifetime and then because of some
dispute
or
misdemeanour find themselves disinherited or otherwise cut off from
family
resources. That was an extreme case. The more usual one
seems to have been a mental
tension;
for the lack of other choices in
their
world,
sons had to
obey
and work
hard,
but with no certain
knowledge
of the treatment
they
would receive in the end.69
For the
majority
of
peasant
sons the alternatives to the domestic
66
See Serm. 45.2
(CCL, 41, 517); Augustine disapproves
of the latter
attitude,
but
nevertheless
reports
it.
67
En. Psalm. 18.2.6.
(CCL, 38, 109);
32.ii.6
(CCL, 38, 252;
from a
good
slave
comes a
good son);
70.i.2
(CCL, 39, 941;
the
only exception
allowed
by Augustine
to
obeying
a father's order is when it conflicts with an order of
God).
68
Serm. 297.2
(PL, 39,2314),
where the two fears are
paralleled,
then
distinguished:
the slave's fear is of his master's
torture,
the son's is of his father's "love".
69
En. Psalm. 17.32
(CCL, 38, 99;
sons
hope
for inheritance after
long service);
60.7
(CCL, 39, 769-70; just
as sons work to receive their
parents'
inheritance on their
death,
so Christians labour to receive the divine inheritance from their
"father");
32.ii.3-4
(CCL, 38, 248-9;
where the
dyad
of
punishment
and inheritance
reappears).
21
economy
were few indeed. In this world there were no
surrogate
and
economic
opportunities
to enable the children to form
peer groups
with their own norms and
powers.
The world of the
school,
where
the
magister
stood as a stern
disciplinarian
in
place
of the
father,
was
a stunted institution
by comparison
with the
family,
and
open only
to the better off. 70 The sons of the
middling
and
wealthy
families in
the towns of the
empire
were
exceptional
in their
ability
to form
such
peer groups,
often as
condiscipuli. Frequently
these
groups
of
"aristocratic
youths" (iuventus)
were able to assert their own networks
of
power
as
Mohocks, terrorizing
local
townspeople
with their viol-
ence. What else was there for them to do? Even for
them,
the
intense
family
networks that made
up society
foreclosed
any genuine
economic role outside it. One of the few other alternatives
envisaged
by Augustine
to the harsh treatment of sons
by
fathers was one
which,
on
occasion,
led the former to
prefer
the
expedient
of
selling
themselves into
temporary
forms of
"slavery"
rather than to continue
to face
paternal
maltreatment.71 But
clearly
this was a
desperate
option.
For the vast numbers of sons of the less well
off,
the
only
substantial outside choice was the
army.
It did come to form a
genuine
institutional alternative:
offering
an
independent
economic base to
the
son,
it threatened his father's
power (both
his
paternal potestas,
and
his economic control: consider the
peculium castrense).
The reaction of
the
family
to the threat of the
army
was
correspondingly
hostile.72
In the real
world, therefore,
it was the
promise
of
receiving
the
paternal
hereditas that
kept
the son
working
for the father. But
sometimes the conditional and tentative nature of that
promise
fuelled
a division between father and son which
Augustine reports
as a
frequent
occurrence
among
the inhabitants of his
parish.
It amounted
to what
Augustine
saw as a
generalized
"natural dislike" between the
two.73 So the father had to
discipline,
to domesticate his sons. This
70
Serm. 70.2
(PL, 38, 444).
71
Tract. in
Ep.
Ioh.
7.8,
with S.
Denis, 7.3, 21.4,
on sons
responding
to the
blandishments of
mangones
or slave
dealers;
an unusual set of
texts,
on which see S.
Poque,
Le
langage symbolique
dans la
predication d'Augustin d'Hippone: images heroiques,
2 vols.
(Paris, 1984), ii, p.
129.
72
Compare Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 2.18,
2.30
ff.;
and
Herodian, 7.43-5,
with
Augustine's
student
days
at
Carthage,
ConJess. 2.3.8
ff.;
relation of
family
to
army,
see
Tertullian,
de
Corona,
11.1
(CCL, 2, 1056).
73
En. Psalm. 44.11
(CCL, 38, 501-2);
such conflicts often worked their
way
out in
the realm of
religious preferences,
as did the
mother/daughter-father conflict,
cf. Passio
Sanctarum
Perpetuae
et
Felicitatis, 3,
5 and the
mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflict,
though
the father-son bond was not as
susceptible
to this division: cf. En. Psalm.
44.11
(CCL, 38, 502).
On natural
dislike, Augustine
remarks in the first
passage,
"It
generally happens among
humankind that the son is set
against
his father".
22 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
is remarked
upon
with
great
force and
frequency
in contexts that are
not
purely ideological.
It is
put
in crude and
straightforward
terms:
sons must be
domesticated, just
as one domesticates one's cattle
(iumenta).74
Fathers therefore had to take
pre-emptive
action to
discipline
and "to domesticate" their sons
(a
word that
appears
frequently,
as a
cognate
term with
domus).
That
process began
with
a
training
of the son from
birth,
a
training
which inculcated in him
a sense of shame such that he would blush to
disobey.
He would also
learn to fear his father as a severe
judge;
if he was
contumacious,
the
father should use verbal
warnings
and then the
whip
to inflict
pain
and
suffering,
all in the interest of the eventual
good
behaviour of
the son.75 The uncertain threat
presented by
a
potentially
disobedient
son meant that the verbal
penalties
led to the
corporal ones;
the
resistance of the "insolent son" had to be
disciplined
with the
whip.
The
"good"
son was one who was
prepared
under the lash for
receipt
of his hereditas.
Augustine
states that the son should bear
up
under
the
"correcting
hand" without
complaint,
lest he be disinherited. He
does not
say
this without
justification,
for he also
reports
on
parents
who
customarily rejected
their "bad"
children;
and the
"paternal
whip"
seems to have been a
commonplace
of
everyday speech.
That
emphatic
connection is
hardly
a coincidence. It has been
noted,
perspicaciously,
that the
whip
is the near-universal
symbol,
and
instrument,
of domination in all slave societies known to historical
research.76
The
problems
of
discipline
and
domination,
of the son and the
slave,
and the instrument of the
whip,
all
merge together
in a
determination of the
relationships
of
power
within the late
antique
family.
To achieve this
discipline
within the
family, therefore,
one
finds constant allusion not
only
to the threat of
disinheritance,
but
also to the use of
physical punishment:
the recourse to
whippings,
74
En. Psalm. 31.ii.23
(CCL, 38, 241);
Serm. 55.4.4
(PL, 38, 376);
cf.
Ep.
133.2
(CSEL, 44, 82-3; beating
with rods is the common method
employed by parents
and
schoolmasters,
and
by bishops
in their
courts),
and 173.3
(CSEL, 44, 641-2; father's
punishment
of the son connected to his correction in all
respects, including
that of
keeping
him
away
from
unacceptable religious beliefs).
75
Serm. 13.8.9
(CCL, 41, 182-3).
76
En. Psalm. 32.ii.3
(CCL, 38, 248-9;
the "insulsus
puer",
and note the clear
implications
of force in both the terms
corrigens
and
manus);
for the
paternal whip,
see
Annot. in
Job,
38
(CSEL, 28.2, 600-1);
En. Psalm. 118.xxxi.3
(CCL, 40, 1771),
Serm.
21.8
(CCL, 41, 283-4);
on the
rejection
of "bad"
children, Ep.
ad Galat. 39
(PL, 35,
2132): parents
are accustomed to disown them. For the role of the
whip
in slave
societies,
see 0.
Patterson, Slavery
and Social Death: A
Comparative Study (Cambridge,
Mass., 1982), pp.
3-4.
23
especially
for those
"good"
sons whom the father wished to have
succeed himself. This
unity
of
discipline
and
punishment
is consist-
ently
linked to the economic
problem
of
inheritance, and,
in the
circumstances of the
time,
to the factor of
religious
coercion.77 The
sons must
put up
with this abuse and
punishment
in
hope
of
getting
their
part
of the estate.78 These relations were
certainly among
those
which
might
lead to domestic strife and
violence; but,
as
Augustine
observes,
"we are
sons;
if we
get
our
inheritance,
there is
peace".79
Nevertheless the
regimen
of threat and
punishment
was not
invariably
successful: "We see fathers
whip
their rebellious
sons,
but sometimes
in
despair they
dismiss them to live where
they might".80
It is
simply
not
possible, given
this consistent
linkage
between the
whip
and
actual relations between fathers and
sons,
to soften the
reality
of the
potential
harshness of the contact between the
two,
or to
interpret
Augustine's
statements as derived
from
an
imagery
of God the
Father,
a celestial
paternal figure
who inflicts terrible
punishment only
to
correct and in a
spirit
of love.81
But the "sometimes" in
Augustine's
observation above is an
impor-
tant caution: it is
very
difficult to
get
a statistical sense of the
dimensions of these domestic
problems. They rarely
seem to have
reached the
point
of
open
and
public
confrontation
requiring
civic
adjudication.
Sometimes external arbitration did have to be
sought
in bitter
quarrels
between
relatives,
even between fathers and sons.
The father
might complain
about a bad
son,
the son about a harsh
father
(the
durus
pater).
In such
adjudicated quarrels, however,
the
son is never seen as
equal
to the father in
honour,
so outsiders tried
to
preserve
the economic balance in the household and therefore the
"respect"
due from son to father.82 Sometimes sons
put up
resistance
with
impunity;
sometimes, says Augustine,
there is a
"stupid"
son
77
En. Psalm. 93.1
(CCL, 39, 300-1;
linked to succession and
inheritance);
93.17
(CCL, 39, 1317);
98.14
(CCL, 39, 1391-2);
102.20
(CCL, 40, 1469;
in the context of
religious coercion);
Serm. 21.8
(Sirmond 20; CCL, 41, 283-4);
94
(PL, 38, 580-1);
259.3
(PL, 38, 1199;
father beats the
son,
cheats labourers of their due
pay).
78
En. Psalm. 142.17
(CCL, 40, 2031);
cf. 102
(n.
77
above).
79
En. Psalm. 124.10
(CCL, 40, 1843).
80
En. Psalm. 93.17
(CCL, 39, 1318).
81
As does
Poque, Langage symbolique
dans la
predication d'Augustin d'Hippone, i,
ch.
7,
"La loi du
pere", pp.
193-224; despite
her one statement
(p. 220) admitting
the hard
reality,
her constant
tendency
is to
explain away
the behaviour in terms of
imagery, finally
to
exculpate
the author via Freudian
Oedipal complexes
and castration
fears, linguistic
"structuration",
and Ricoeurian
guesswork (pp. 222-3).
82
Tract. 30 in Iohann. 8
(CCL, 36, 293); here,
as
throughout,
I
operate
with the
interpretation
of "honour" outlined
by J. Davis, People of
the Mediterranean: An
Essay
in
Comparative
Social
Anthropology (London, 1977), pp.
89-100.
24 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
who tests his father's "affection" and still
manages
to
acquire
his
hereditas.83 In most
families, though,
the tacit threats and economic
constraints were sufficient
control; open
father-son
quarrels
were not
so extreme as to
disrupt
the
family permanently.
Most
parents
did
not
complain
about the "wickedness"
(improbitas)
of their
sons;
there
were
cases,
but
they
were rare.84 That is to
say,
the usual bonds of
power held; poor
sons of
poor
farmers laboured and
suffered,
motiv-
ated not so much
by profit (merces), says Augustine,
as
by pietas.
Obsequium,
as noted in the
funerary epitaph quoted above,
was indeed
the
key
sentiment and
practice.
The children of the better off tended
to show it because of economic enticements.
But,
rich or
poor,
sons
could not be
certain;
the
parents
could retaliate
by disposing
of their
wealth to others or
by actually disowning
their "bad" children.85
All these factors tended to isolate fathers from sons. The
latter,
however,
were not alone. The children and the mother seem to have
stood as a
group apart
from the
father,
united in common love and
fear. The
dyad
of
punishment
and love is
repeatedly emphasized
whenever father-son
relationships
are observed.86 Set
against
this
backdrop, Augustine's
relations with his father
Patricius, distant,
formal and somewhat
fearful,
and his concomitant attachment to his
mother,
brother and
sister,
do not seem so unusual. And his situation
was
clearly
one that allowed a
degree
of relief from household domi-
nation that was not available to most other sons.87 That is to
say,
most sons had no future other than the
family inheritance,
with all
that
implied
for
family relationships.
The economic nexus of relations
between fathers and sons hints at another source of conflict: access
to the hereditas was also
very
much a fraternal concern. The
optimum
solution was to have
only
one son who would
succeed,
but that could
hardly
be
planned,
and more than one son meant division of the
inheritance,
the threat of diminution of the
paternal property
and
potential
trouble between brothers.88 More than one son also meant
83
Liber de Medit. 3
(PL, 40, 903).
84
Serm. 9.4
(CCL, 41, 114);
for threatened
punishment
that
stopped
short of actual
blows,
see En. Psalm. 73.8
(CCL, 39, 1010)
and 148.11
(CCL, 40, 2274).
85
Serm. 45.2
(PL, 38, 263-4).
86
En. Psalm. 118.v.2
(CCL, 40, 1677);
118.xxxi.3
(CCL, 40, 1771);
Serm. 82.ii.2-
3
(PL, 38, 506-7).
87
Confess. 2.3.5,
6.7.11
(CCL, 27, 19-20, 80-1);
cf. n. 11 above on Patricius'
expenditures
for
Augustine's
formal education outside
Thagaste,
and of how few other
fathers in the district could afford this.
88 See n. 194
below,
and En. Psalm. 49.2
(CCL, 38, 576;
divided hereditas
among
several sons and the threat of its
diminution);
Serm. 87.11.13-12.14
(PL, 38, 529);
88.17.18
(PL, 38, 549;
should
only
be one
heir);
Serm. ad Caes. 5
(PL, 43, 694;
diminishes the
estate).
As Tertullian remarks in
noting
the metathesis of the
kinship
(cont.
on
p. 26)
25
differential treatment.
Augustine
sees the matter from the
perspective
of the
"good"
son: "Wherever I
go,
if I so much as make a move
without the
express
order of
my father,
I meet with the
whip. My
brother,
on the other
hand,
does whatever he wishes".
Augustine's
advice to the
"good"
son?
"Rejoice
under the
whip;
the hereditas is
being prepared
for
you".89
The
impius
son is one who awaits his father's death. The
pius
son
hopes
the father will live
on,
even
though
at death's door.
Likewise,
advises
Augustine,
I must not
hope
for the
premature
death of
my
brother with whom I must share the
inheritance,
even
though
while
he lives
my
share is
smaller,
and while the land remains in
multiple
ownership part
of it cannot be alienated.90 He also notes the
practical
problems
involved in
dividing agricultural
estates that included
cash,
slaves, trees,
fields and the
family
home. It is better that such estates
be left undivided.
Sometimes, Augustine says,
the father tries to
subdivide his
property
while still
alive,
but often the result is a series
of court cases between brothers who battle to vindicate their
respective
shares of the hereditas. The old
man,
in
anguish,
cries
out,
"What
on earth are
you doing?
I am still alive. In a little while I
expect my
death
-
and
you
are
carving up my
domus!".91 A
way
around the
impasse,
one that
might
have been a common
solution,
was to leave
the hereditas intact and to have the sons work and share it
together.
The
frereche,
therefore,
was
part
of the social network that consider-
ably
affected
family composition.92
It seems that the elder brother
did have
seniority
in such
arrangements and,
if the
frereche
was to be
dissolved,
he took the
place
of the father in
dividing
the
estate;
the
interests of the
younger
brothers were
protected by
the device of
letting
them select which of the divided
parts they
wanted for them-
selves.93 We cannot tell how
frequent
this
practice was;
the
impression
gained
from
reading Augustine
is that it was a
possible option
that
was available to
sons,
but that it was not a
very
common
practice.
As
(n.
88 cont.)
term "brother" to Christian
usage
for a
co-religionist,
the Christian bond is
stronger
than it is
among pagans
where
family property
tends to tear brothers
apart;
see
Apol.
39.10
(CCL, 1, 151).
89
En. Psalm. 93.17
(CCL, 39, 1318).
90
Serm. 87.12.15
(PL, 38, 539);
cf. de Utilit. leiun. 10.12
(CCL, 46, 240).
91
De Utilit. leiun. 11.13
(CCL, 46, 241);
Serm.
Morin, 623,
17
f., pax
is our
hereditas: we will call out the mensores to divide our
respective parts;
there will be not
lites between brothers;
cf. Serm. 335
(PL, 39, 1570-4;
a
quarrel
between sons over an
hereditas).
92
See, extensively,
Serm. 357.1-2
(PL, 39, 1582);
cf. 356.3-5
(PL, 39, 1575-6).
93
Serm. 356.3
(PL, 39, 1576).
26 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 11 5
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
with all
literary impressions, however,
the obvious caution is that
statistical
reality may
have been
quite
different.94
Father and son
relationships finally converged
at the father's death
and the transfer of the hereditas. If there was
any
ritualistic context
in which familial
relationships
were
paramount
and were
expressed
in a
public act,
it was that of death. No one can achieve their own
burial while
alive;
the removal of the
body
and its final
disposal is,
of
necessity,
a familial or communal
duty.
Burial and commemoration
were therefore acts where the network of
family relationships
was
compelled
to action and made manifest. It is
hardly surprising, then,
that the
primary
duties of burial and commemoration of the father
should focus on the son as heir
or,
in the
tragic
circumstance that a
son
predeceased
his
father,
on the reverse of this
relationship.
Death
and burial were therefore the
point
at which the most
important
actions focused on the core of the nuclear
family.
The
family
was the
agent responsible
for all final rites for the deceased. In burials of the
more
wealthy
all the
paraphernalia
are added: the deceased
lay
on a
couch of
ivory,
surrounded
by
the "inner" nuclear
family, thefamilia
suorum.95 When the old man dies he is escorted to the tomb
by
his
sons and
grandsons.96
A crowd of outsiders
might attend,
but the
mourning
familia
was at the centre of the
cortege,
at the centre of the
whole
spectacle.97
The best
death,
of
course,
was that
integrated
with
the household itself: "to die in his own house and in his own
bed".98 The
sepulchrum
and its memoria became the new domus of the
deceased.99
According
to
Augustine,
the
parents,
the son and friends
had the
duty
to maintain the
memory
of the
deceased, including
the
setting up
of the monumentum and its memoria. If
parents
were not
alive,
then the
duty
descended to
filii
aut
quicumque cognati
vel
amici.100 In the final
instance,
the
son,
as his father's heir and
continuator,
was the
important person
at the
graveside.101
But after
94
See P.
Laslett, "Family
and Household as Work
Group
and Kin
Group:
Areas
of Traditional
Europe Compared",
in R. Wall et al.
(eds.), Family
Forms in Historic
Europe (Cambridge, 1983), p. 533, noting
that
frereches,
in
any event,
would
usually
never constitute more than 8-9
per
cent of all households.
95
En. Psalm. 33.ii.14
(CCL, 38, 291).
96
En. Psalm. 127.2
(CCL, 40, 1569).
97
En. Psalm. 33.ii.25
(CCL, 38, 298);
cf. Serm. 102.2.3-3.4
(PL, 38,612;
a rich
man is followed
by
male and female slaves and
clients,
as well as
being
mourned
by
the
familia suorum),
and 172.2.2-3
(PL, 38, 936-7).
98
En. Psalm. 33.ii.25
(see
n. 97
above).
99
En. Psalm. 48.i.15
(CCL, 38, 563).
100
De Cur. Mort. 4.6
(PL, 40, 596).
101
*De Consol. Mort. 2.5
(PL, 40, 1166);
de Cur. Mort. 5 f.
(PL, 40,
598
f.).
27
that
point,
the
memory
was
constantly
renewed
by
the immediate
relations of the deceased who celebrated annual feasts at the
graveside
known, significantly,
as
parentalia.102
If sons stood in a servile
relationship
to the
father,
the
position
of
wives does not seem to have been much different. In
theory,
the
husband's control over his wife's
activity
was near total: wives were
not
permitted
so much as to
dispense
alms or to
change
their clothes
without their husband's
permission.103
Of
course,
one can be
wholly
dismissive of the constant reiteration of this idea
(that
the
relationship
between husband and wife
is,
or should
be,
one of servile
dependence)
as so much
prescriptive
advice. But
clearly
it was not. Master-slave-
type relationships
are ones that are
reported
of actual behaviour.
104
If we
give
no more than a basic credence to
Augustine's
account of
his
family,
then his own mother
publicly
defended the
conception
of
the wife as a slave to her husband. The fact that Monnica had to
chide her
peers
on the
matter, however, clearly suggests
that there
was real resistance
to,
and
rejection of,
the idea
by
at least some
wives. But the actual treatment of the women to whom she was
speaking argues
for the
reality
of a rather harsh domination.
The wife
appears
to have been on the front line of
possible
conflict
between the father and the rest of the internal
household,
and so bore
the brunt of the
discipline
enforced
by
the father. He was the
enforcer,
and there was no doubt in male minds as to who should
triumph
in
domestic conflict. If the husband won and the wife was subdued to
his
dominium,
there
reigned
a
pax
recta in the
household;
if not and
the wife
dominated,
a
pax perversa.
What is
implicit
in these and
other such observations is the
assumption
of
pervasive
domestic
conflict. No idea of a
genuine sharing emerges;
one side or the other
102
In
general,
see W.
Eisenhut, "Parentalia",
RE
Supplbd.,
xii
(1970),
cols. 979-
82;
for
Africa,
see
Saxer,
Vie
liturgique
et
quotidienne
a
Carthage, pp. 298-300;
and his
Morts, martyrs, reliques
en
Afrique
chretienne aux
premiers
siecles
(Paris, 1980), pp.
47-
52,
for information from Tertullian;
for
Augustine,
see the evidence outlined
by
van
der
Meer, Augustine
the
Bishop, pp.
498 ff.
103
For
example, Ep.
262.4-9
(CSEL, 57, 624-8).
104
See the extended discussion in Contra Faust. 22.30 f.
(CSEL, 25.1,
624
f.);
de
Bono
Coniug.
6.6
(CSEL, 41, 194-5);
de
Coniug.
Adult. 2.8.7 f.
(CSEL, 41,
388
f.);
ad Gen. ad Litt. 11.37.50
(PL, 34, 450;
Eve's
culpa
means that men have dominium of
women); Quaest.
in
Hept. 1, qu.
153
(CCL, 33, 59;
an extended discussion of the
origins
and
terminology
of chattel
slavery,
then: "It is the natural order of
things
for
mankind that women should serve
men,
and children their
parents,
because this is
justice itself,
that the weaker reason
(ratio)
should serve the
stronger");
Serm. 332.4.4
(PL, 38, 1465):
"You are the
master,
she is the
slave",
those are the terms of the
tabellae matrimoniales;
392.4
(PL, 39, 1711),
and a host of other statements to this
effect.
28 NUMBER 115 PAST AND PRESENT
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
must be dominant.105 As with father-son
relationships,
the
conjugal
relationship
is riven with an
ideological dyad
of love and fear.106
The hostilities that could
generate
such fear were all too real. The
household was a
place
of closed sexual
confrontation,
and since
hubands/fathers were
literally
masters in domibus
suis,
the conflict
was
unequal.
The
propensity
was to
keep
the conflict boxed in the
domus. That
disposition
constrained husbands and other males to
deal with
(supposed)
sexual offences within the four walls of the
house itself.107 When a
step
was taken outside the house in such
matters,
Augustine
noted a clear
discrepancy
in treatment: wives
were
brought
into the forum and
paraded publicly
for their misde-
meanours,
but when had
anyone
ever seen the same
happening
to
men?108 The reasons
clearly
lie in the distribution of
power
within
the household itself.
Christian
ideology fought
on the side of one dimension of a tra-
ditional moral
system
that held that the husband should be faithful
to his wife in lecto. But it is
abundantly
clear that
popular practice
did not
indulge
this
rigorist
demand; rather,
the ideal was isolated in
a
separate sphere
of
pure
moral action.
Many
men
regarded
sexual
freedoms exercised
by
them outside their household in a
light-hearted
way; they
were
simply customary practice (consuetudo).109
One was
accustomed to hear of wives who had been
caught
with
(household?)
slaves
being
led into the forum for
public
shame and
trial,
but one
had never once heard of
any
man
being put through
the same
public
ritual when he was discovered with a slave woman.
110
As noted above
in connection with
concubinage
and household
ancillae,
it was the
huband's
prerogative
to have sexual access to females other than his
wife in his own household. This sexual
power
which men exercised
105
En. Psalm. 143.6
(CCL, 40, 2077),
where the ideas of
love,
domination and
punishment
are
conjoined; your
wife is
"your darling (cara), your partner
(coniunx),
your
household slave
(famula)".
These were both traditional ideas and ones
given
ideological
form in Pauline
docrine;
but that does not
derogate
from the
argument
here.
106
De
Continentia,
9.23
(CSEL, 41, 168-70);
de Morib. Cath. 1.30.63
(PL, 32,
1336):
wife must
obey
the
husband;
the affection of the husband is counterbalanced
by
the timor
muliebris; Ep.
262.7-8
(CSEL, 57, 268);
Serm.
37.6(7) (CCL, 41, 453-4).
107
As
Augustine, Ep.
78.6
(CSEL, 34.2, 340-1), notes,
men do not rush to throw
their wives out of their houses or to
bring
accusations
against
their mothers when
adultery
is discovered.
108
Serm. 82.11
(PL, 38, 511);
Serm. 153.5.5
(PL, 38, 828),
cf. n. 111 below.
109
Serm. 9.3-4
(CCL, 41, 111-13);
21.5
(Sirmond 20; CCL, 41, 281).
110
Serm. 9.4
(CCL, 41, 114-15). Augustine,
to his
credit,
rails
against
this double
standard, calling
it not divine
law,
but human
perversity;
but it is clear that the custom
was well entrenched.
29
as
part
of their household domination was
probably
derived in
part
from their absolute control of their
property, especially
of slaves,
where sexual access was one of the essences of the master-slave
relationship."' By
extension,
the same
power
of sexual access was
potentially
exercised
throughout
the whole household. Men could be
"adulterers" in their own house because such actions were "in
secret", that is to
say,
within the walls of the house where external
society
and the state did not
directly
intrude. Sometimes a few brave
wives had the
audacity
to take such
problems
outside the
home,
to broach them with
Augustine
in the confidence of his
episcopal
secretarium;
and that is where the matter
remained,
in secret.112 In
these matters there was
always
an element of madness
(furor).
But
the
family
was the
judge
of that as
well,
and the household the
place
of its containment.113
And,
constantly,
fear. In
discussing
the sexual
peccadilloes
of the
wife,
Augustine only
sees the
possibility
of two
reactions for wives: the bad fear
(of being caught)
and the
good
fear
(of
not
doing it);
but all
relationships
are located
along
that
single
spectrum.114
The
problem
is that
wives,
that is to
say,
married
women,
were
the
object
of sexual
hunting by
married and unmarried
men,
for
obvious reasons.115 The
pressures
on them in
particular,
therefore,
were real not
imaginary.
When Monnica warned her
young
son who
was
breaking
into
puberty against
sexual
activity
with
women,
it was
not with
young girls, ancillae,
concubines or
prostitutes,
but with
married women.16 Wives therefore had to be treated as a
species
of
domestic
property. They
were to be
guarded
to see that
they
did not
err; just
as elders and slave nurses stood in loco
parentum
to
children,
111
See,
for
example,
Serm. 153.5.6
(PL, 38, 828),
and 224.3
(PL, 38, 1094-5).
Such behaviour towards slave women of the
household,
in the face of the
wife,
was a
type
that was related to the
image
of machismo cultivated
by
other acts that
gained
a
man a
reputation
for
being
a real man
(for example, drinking
and
being
able to survive
any
amount of
wine).
The whole area remains a
terribly
understudied
subject;
see the
indications in M. I.
Finley,
Ancient
Slavery
and
Modern Ideology (London, 1980), pp.
95-6;
a
major survey, Patterson, Slavery
and Social
Death,
has some relevant comments
passim;
cf.
J. Kolendo, "L'esclavage
et la vie sexuelle des hommes libres a
Rome",
Index,
x
(1981), pp.
288-97.
112
Serm. 82.11
(PL, 38, 511).
113
Serm. 21.4
(Sirmond 20; CCL, 41, 280)
on dementia and the
judgements
of omnes
in domo tua.
114
Frag. 2,
Serm. 9.10
(PL, Ep. 8; PL, 38, 71);
In
Ep.
Iohann. ad
Parth.,
9.6
(PL,
35, 2019).
115
See,
for
example, Stone, Family,
Sex and
Marriage, pp.
343
ff.;
it is an attitude
that informs
assumptions
of
sexual
behaviour in similar situations
as,
for
example,
throughout Apuleius' Metamorphoses.
116
Confess.
2.3.7.
(CCL, 27, 20).
30 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
so at times
neighbours
and friends were called
upon
to maintain
surveillance over wives in their husbands' absence.117 All these
factors: the
fear,
the closed nature of the
house,
the
setting
of mother
and children
apart
from the
father,
the sexual freedom of the husband
(whether
exercised or
not)
and
others,
set the scene for violence.
The enclosed
household,
and
pressures
on the
father,
meant that
violence connected with his natural role as
disciplinarian spilled
over
internally,
and the wife was the first
object
in its
path.
Her
misdemeanours
might
be
minor,
even
imagined,
but still
deserving
of
punishment. They
were
corrected,
not
just by voice,
but
by
blows:
for as little as
talking
back
petulantly
or for
looking "immoderately"
out of the window of the house.118 The most
graphic testimony
is
that of
Augustine's
own mother Monnica: her
relationships
with
Augustine
and her other children on the one
hand,
and with her
husband Patricius on the other. The
anger (ira)
of the husband was
as
commonplace
as his sexual liberties taken inside and outside the
household.119 His
anger
was
sudden,
unprovoked
and
unpredictable.
It is
right, says Augustine,
that his mother bore
up stoically
under
the
quarrels
and
beatings.
One must
suspect
that these domestic
episodes
of
violence,
as well as those outside the
home,
were linked
at times with the
pervasive problem
of excessive
drinking.120
If the
hopes
that the
problems
of drunkenness could be confined within the
household were
met, however,
the effects on domestic violence would
only
be
heightened.121
But Monnica was
hardly
alone.
Many
women
of the town met in conversation with each
other,
bearing
the bruises
and marks of
beatings
that had
disfigured
their faces.
They
com-
117
Tract. 13 in Iohann. 11
(CCL, 36, 136);
cf. the case in
Apuleius, Metamorphoses,
9.17 f. where the husband uses a trusted slave.
118
Ep.
246.2
(CSEL, 57, 584),
since it was behaviour associated with
prostitutes;
for
just
such a woman as a
type,
see Tract. 13 in Iohann. 11
(CCL, 36, 136).
119
He was no different from other husbands in this
respect: Confess. 9.9.19,
see n.
122 below.
120
It
is,
as
always,
a mode of behaviour whose extent and effects are most difficult
for the historian to measure. See W. B.
Taylor, Drinking,
Homicide and Rebellion in
Colonial Mexican
Villages (Stanford, 1979), esp. pp.
68 f. Some of the references in
Augustine,
for
example,
Serm. 17.3
(CCL, 41, 238-9);
153.6
(PL, 38, 828);
225.1
(PL, 38, 1098);
252.4
(PL, 38, 1174); Ep.
22.1.3-22.1.6
(CSEL, 34.2, 56-9);
35.2
(CSEL, 34.2, 29); 36.3,
15
(CSEL, 34.2, 33, 44);
93.49
(CSEL, 34.2, 493);
189.7
(CSEL, 57, 135-6);
199.37
(CSEL, 57, 276)
and
others, give good
reason for
believing
that the
problem
was not
just
a
figment
of the
bishop's sermonizing;
see
Hamman,
Vie
quotidienne
en
Afrique
du
Nord, pp. 78-9;
van der
Meer, Augustine
the
Bishop, pp.
131, 137,
513-27. For
Augustine's
own
family,
on his father
Patricius,
see n. 58
above;
on his mother
Monnica,
see the
vignettes
in
Confess.
8.9.7 and 9.8.18.
121
Ep.
29.5
(CSEL, 34.1, 116-17):
"we can
only hope
that the
kingdom
of
drunkenness
might
be confined to the household domain
(saltus domesticus)".
31
plained openly
and
bitterly
about the treatment
they
received from
their men.122 For the
village
of
Thagaste,
at
least, Augustine
wishes
to leave us with the
impression
that such maltreatment was a common
occurrence.
We can see that
many
women did
object;
but there must have been
as
many
or more
who,
like
Monnica, accepted
such treatment as
part
of the traditional bundle of duties that went with
marriage.
At
least,
this is what
Augustine
claims were his mother's actual counter-
arguments
to the "rebellious" women when she heard them. She
warned that
they ought
to
pay
attention to the contractual conditions
under which
they
entered
marriage:
the tabellae matrimoniales
they
had
signed.
These were the tools
by
which
they
had
voluntarily
been
made slaves
(ancillaefactae),
so
they ought
not to show
uppityness
to
their masters
(superbire
adversus dominos non
oportere)
123
That returns
us full circle to the
argument
at the
beginning
of this section: domestic
violence and fear between husbands and wives was counterbalanced
by
an
ideology
of love and
respect (that
is,
servile
dependence)
that
was
accepted
in
practice by many
men and women. Indeed the two
do not
appear
to be irreconcilable
opposites
at
all,
but rather natural
extensions,
the one of the other.
In
making
these statements I do not wish to
suggest
that all
conjugal
relationships
were
inevitably
brutal,
or all wives
totally
dominated.
Clearly
there were wives who controlled
property
of their own.
Augustine
does mention
them,
but at the same time notes the
general
condemnation,
or at least
disapproval,
of their behaviour
(an
attitude
he himself
shared).
This was
especially
true of those women who
disposed
of their own funds.124 Such
women,
who ran their own
houses, clearly
ran the risk of
becoming
women with a bad
reputation
(mulieres
malae
famae) simply
because
they
had to confront men in
situations that
exposed
them to accusations of
having transgressed
normal modes of contact between men and women.125 There were
122
Confess.
9.9.19
(CCL, 27, 145).
These are
hardly
unusual
sentiments,
even for
households of an earlier
period. Expressions
included in the
epitaphs
of lower-order
populations
of the Latin west
commonly
include
stereotypical phrases
that husbands
lived with their wives sine / ullo-a /
quaerella, discordia, iniuria,
animi
laesione, crimine,
stomacho, iracundia, bile, maledictu,
and so on.
Though conventional,
these
negative
sentiments would
hardly
be worth
repeating
in a formulaic fashion if
assumptions
about real conditions to the
opposite
were not
equally pervasive.
123
Confess.
9.9.19.
124
Ep.
262.4-8
(CSEL, 57, 624-8),
the case of a woman who distributed some of
her own
property
to the
poor
in the face of her husband's
objections,
and a son who
should have received it.
125
See
Ep.
65
(CSEL, 34.2, 232-4)
for a
good example.
32 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
also some women who seemed to have had control over the
purse-
strings
of the household while their husbands were still
alive; Augus-
tine
disapproves,
but such women existed.126 In fact in his own
family, following
the death of his father Patricius when
Augustine
was sixteen
years
old,
his mother
(who
was
thirty-nine
at the
time)
seems to have assumed
defacto
control of the
paternal estate,
in
spite
of the existence of
sons,
and to have issued allowances out of the
patrimony
to
Augustine.127
Indeed it was
only
after his mother's
death at the
age
of
fifty-five
in the
spring
of 387 and his return to
Africa in late
388,
that
Augustine
seems to have come into full control
of his share of the
paternal
house and lands.128 There are other cases.
Augustine
mentions a widow of a noble
family who,
even
though
she
had
surviving
sons and
grandsons,
had control of her own finances
and, apparently,
those of the
family
in
general.
As a
materfamilias
she
managed
household
expenditures
and was restricted in
making
them
only
in so far as she
perceived
her
prior obligations
to her
family.
129
The critical act which
largely
determined the
shape
of the
conjugal
family,
and therefore of
relationships
of wives to
husbands,
was that
of
marriage.
In the traditional
system
of the Roman
upper
classes,
marriage
was a transfer of women between two
existing
families or
houses. The woman entered an
already
formed
family;
the
marriage
did not create a new one.130 The function of
marriage
in
family
formation
among
the lower orders is almost
wholly
unstudied,
but
one must
suspect
that it had
greater significance
than
among
the
upper
echelons of Roman
society.
Then
again,
differences in the
development
of the ritual and form
accompanying marriage
from the
early
to the later
empire
are
very
difficult to
measure,
given
the fact
that so little is known of
marriage
ceremonial in the earlier
period.
Of the basic rituals that were
part
of later betrothal and
marriage (the
signing
of
contracts,
the
ring,
the
kiss,
the handshake and
others),
126
De Serm. Dom. in
Monte,
2.2.7
(CCL, 35, 97-8).
127
Confess.
3.4.7
(CCL, 27, 30),
unless the funds
(maternae mercedes)
were some
that Monnica controlled
independently
of Patricius.
128
Possidius,
Vita
Aug.
3
(PL, 32, 36);
for the
chronology,
see Contra Litt. Petil.
3.25.30
(PL, 43, 362).
129
Ep.
130.2.5-3.8
(CSEL, 44, 45-50).
130
For
important
nuances in the
development
of this
system,
see Saller
"Familia,
Domus and the Roman
Conception
of
Family", pp.
338
f.; jurists came to a
grudging
admission of the existence of
separate
households not restricted
by
the
power
of a
surviving paterfamilias.
For some of the
legal changes
that
began
to
give recognition
to the isolated
family group
in the later
empire,
see L.
Anne,
Les rites des
fiancailles
et
la donation
pour
cause de
mariage
sous le
Bas-Empire (Louvain, 1941), pp.
439-49.
33
all were
part
of the ceremonial in the earlier
period,
with the
exception
of the ecclesiastical benediction, which was a rather late and slow-
developing
addition. 131 Even in the lower reaches of
regional upper
classes that had become
Christian,
the formalities of
marriage
do not
seem to have
changed much,
to
judge
from
Augustine's testimony.
Basically marriages
were
arranged by
the
parents.
In lieu of his
father,
who had died some fourteen
years earlier, Augustine's
mother
Monnica
arranged
his
marriage
(in
385).
The same had been true a
generation
earlier in her own
marriage.
Her
parents
had
assigned
her
to Patricius when she had been
plenis
annis
nubilisfacta,
a conventional
phrase
used to indicate that she was at least of minimum
legal age,
twelve in the case of
girls.
132
Augustine
was later critical of his
parents
for
marrying
"too late".133 But we do not know how old that was in
either case. Monnica
gave
birth to
Augustine
when she was
twenty-
two,
but he is not known to have been the first child.134
Perhaps
she
was married as late as her mid to late teens. A
generation
later
Augustine
himself was more
typical
of traditional Roman
upper-class
patterns
of
marriage.
He was about
thirty years
old when he was
engaged
to his
bride-to-be,
who was then about ten
years
old. When
they
were set to
marry
a
year
or two
later,
he was
thirty-two
and she
was
twelve.'35
We have no
explicit testimony
from
any
of our wit-
nesses about the common
age-at-marriage among
the
plebeian popu-
lace. There is
only
the constant
assumption
that such
marriages
were
also
arranged by
the
parents,
and that the
subsequent
husband-wife
relationship
was marked
by
a servile domination that would be
consistent with a
significant age
differential between the two
parties.
Such
arranged marriages
fell
neatly
within the framework of
prop-
erty relationships
that dominated the late Roman
family.
The
parties
concerned
proceeded through
a series of written
agreements
that
established the contractual conditions of the
marriage. First,
there
were the
"engagement
tablets"
(tabellae sponsaliciae)
or written docu-
131
Anne,
Rites des
fiancailles
et la donation
pour
cause de
mariage, pp.
5-58
(ring),
59-73
(kiss),
137-238
(the benediction);
of
course,
there was also the movement of the
marriage
rituals and ceremonies to the site of the
church,
see K.
Ritzer, Formen,
Riten
und
Religioses
Brauchtum der
Eheschliessung
in den
Christlichen
Kirchen des ersten
Jahrtausends (Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen
und
Forschungen,
Heft
38, Munster,
1962).
132
The minimum
ages
of twelve for
girls
and fourteen for
boys
were
accepted by
Christians: cf.
Tertullian,
de
Virg.
Veland. 11.6
(CCL, 2, 1221);
for
Monnica,
see
Confess.
9.9.19
(see
n. 122
above);
for the conventional
phrase,
cf.
Vergil,
Aen. 7.63.
133
Confess.
2.3.7
(CCL, 27, 20-1).
134
Confess.
9.11.28
(CCL, 27, 149-50).
135
Confess.
6.12.22-13.23
(CCL, 27, 88-9).
34 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
ments that set the
agreement,
the
pacta sponsalicia,
to
engage
the
pair
to be married.136 These were followed
by
the tabellae dotales which
specified
the
arrangements
for
dealing
with the
property brought
to
the
marriage by
the
girl.137
Finally,
the
marriage
itself was sealed
by
the terms of a second set of written
documents,
the tabellae
nuptiales/
matrimoniales,
which outlined the
agreements forming
the substance
of the
marriage
contract
(pactum matrimoniale)
.138 We cannot
presume
that all these
agreements
were
present
in
every marriage; abridgement
and omission were
quite possible.
The
overriding
consideration for
our
analysis
here is the
continuing
civil and contractual nature of
marriage
which
appears
to have remained the norm. The
signed
agreements
were at the heart of the
ceremony
of
marriage,
even its
Christian version. Of
course,
the church absorbed the contract within
its institutional
apparatuses:
the
bishop helped
draft the
agreements,
read them aloud to the
parties
concerned and
co-signed
them.139 In
all this
operation
there remained a critical element of
property
and
its
exchange, including
the
girl
herself. The
language
of
purchase
was often used of the
acquisition
of the bride. There
might
be a
long
delay
in the
engagement
so that the
prospective groom
would not
think that he was
getting
the
girl "cheap".140
The tabellae matrimonia-
les were
spoken
of as the means of her
purchase (instrumenta emptionis
suae),
and Monnica herself
emphasized
them as the instrumenta
by
which women were made ancillae to their new
masters;
indeed there
136
Tertullian,
de
Virg.
Veland. 12.1
(CCL, 2, 1221);
cf. de Or. 22.10
(CCL, 1,
271);
also referred to as
tabulae/sponsalicium.
137
Tertullian,
de Pudicit. 1.20
(CCL, 2, 1283);
de
Monogam.
11.2
(CCL, 2, 1244).
138
Tertullian,
de Idol. 16.1 f.
(CCL, 2, 1117);
ad Uxor. 2.3.1
(CCL, 1, 387);
for
the
pactum,
see Serm. 51.13.22
(PL, 38, 345);
278.9.9
(PL, 38, 1272).
Such
pacts
continued to be at the centre of the
arranged marriage
until the
early
modern
period
in
Europe:
see R.
Wheaton,
"Recent Trends in the Historical
Study
of the French
Family",
in R. Wheaton and T. K. Hareven
(eds.), Sexuality
in French
History
(Philadelphia, 1980), p.
10.
139
Serm. 51.13.22
(PL, 38, 345);
132.2.2
(PL, 38, 735;
emphasizing
that the
woman was the imbecillior
sexus);
293
(PL, 38, 1332);
332.4
(PL, 38, 1463),
"You are
the
master,
she is the slave. God made each one that
way. Sarah,
the
scripture says,
was
totally
obedient to
Abraham, calling
him master
(1
Petr.
3.6).
It's true. The
bishop
writes on those tablets:
your
wives are
your slaves, you
are the masters of
your
wives".
Augustine
then
quotes
Paul to the effect that "The wife does not have
power/ownership
(potestas)
over her own
body,
but her husband
does", explaining:
"Because I am the
master
(dominus)".
For the
ideology
of female "weakness" in the
period,
see
J.
Beaucamp,
"Le vocabulaire de la faiblesse feminine dans les textes
juridiques
romains
du IIIe au VIe siecle", Rev. Hist.
Droit,
liv
(1976), pp. 485-508,
whose
ideas, however,
must be
considerably
nuanced
by
a
reading
of S.
Dixon, "Infirmitas
Sexus:
Womanly
Weakness in Roman
Law", Tijdschr.
v.
Rechtsgeschiedenis,
lii
(1984), pp. 343-71,
at
pp.
356 ff.
140
Confess.
8.3.7
(CCL, 27, 117),
also
mentioning
the
pacta sponsalicia.
35
may actually
have been some such
phraseology used,
or
implied,
in
the tablets themselves.141 That is not all that was in
them,
of
course,
nor all there was to the
conception
of
marriage.
Also included was a
clause dear to the heart of the Christian
bishop
which he was careful
to read out: that
marriage
was liberorum
procreandorum
causa.142 But
even this
purpose
must be seen within the social context of sex and
marriage.
Sexual access and therefore behaviour was to a considerable
degree
regulated by
the lines of
propriety
that traversed the
society.
The
relations established
by ages-at-marriage
of men and
women,
the
access to slave women of the
household,
the recourse to
prostitutes
by
the unmarried
youth,
the careful
hoarding
of married
women,
the
relations between husband and
wife,
the need for male
heirs,
and the
consequent
dualistic
relationships fraught
with love and hate are all
parts
of the same
piece.
Sex was therefore a
property-dominated act,
one whose values were
polarized by
those
proprietorial
forces that
surrounded
it,
that of
slavery overshadowing
all others. In this
respect
the
sexuality
of the
family
of
Augustine's day
was
part
of a
long-term
antique mode,
of a
strongly
dualistic
nature,
which
emphasized
restraint, purification,
self-control
-
in a
word,
asceticism
-
at
one end of the
spectrum;
and liberal
access, indulgence
and frank
enjoyment,
not
necessarily
tied to
any particular
sexual
object,
at the
other. Both
ideals, though usually
the
former,
were reflected in the
prevailing imperial ideologies,
from the
"vulgar
Stoicism" of the
principate
to the
Christianity
of the later
empire.
As a mass
popular
ideology,
however, Christianity
was to have the more
profound
impact
on
behaviour,
no matter which side it chose.
Augustine's
own
views on
sexuality ranged
from the ascetic to the
integrative paradigms
in the course of his lifetime.143
It is
hardly surprising,
then,
that the institution of
marriage
was
inextricably
bound
up
with a
vocabulary
of
property,
words which
141
See n. 139
above,
and Serm. 37.7
(CCL, 41, 454;
"She considers the matrimonial
tablets to be the instruments of her
purchase");
cf.
Confess.
9.9.19
(CCL, 27, 145).
142
Serm. 9.18
(CCL, 41, 143;
a clause written on the
tablets);
51.13.22
(PL, 38,
345),
read aloud
by
the
bishop
so that the
parents might
become
genuine parents-in-
law (soceri)
and not
pimps (lenones);
278.9.9
(PL, 38, 1272).
To illustrate some of the
variation and
overlap
in these
practices,
see the Tablettes Albertini
(n.
148
below)
where
this clause
appears
at the head of the tabella
sponsalicia.
143
Sexuality
is here used in the
precise
sense in which Foucault defined it as a
problem separate
from sexual behaviour: see his Histoire de la
sexualite, iii: le souci de
soi
(Paris, 1984)
for the Roman
period.
The
subject
of
Augustine's consciously
expressed
views on the
subject
is a
complex
one that deserves a fuller treatment not
possible here;
for a
beginning,
see P.
Brown, Augustine
and
Sexuality (Berkeley, 1983).
36 NUMBER 115 PAST AND PRESENT
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
were not
just
coincidental
metaphors.144
Indeed the transfer of the
girl
to her new
family
was sealed
by
a series of
gift
and
property
exchanges
that went in both directions.
Just
as with the series of
written
pacts,
these
exchanges
are not
always clearly separated
or
necessarily distinguished by
the
givers
and receivers. The
property
stemming
from the
groom's
side included the so-called arrhae
sponsali-
ciae and the
"gifts
before
marriage" (donationes
ante
nuptias).
Refer-
ences to
both,
in
allegorical
terms or
otherwise,
are
frequent enough
in
Augustine
to indicate that
they
were a normal
part
of the
marriage
pattern
even
among
families of moderate means.145 The arrhae seem
to have consisted of a
portion
of the
groom's
material
wealth; Augus-
tine mentions
gold, silver, costly gems, horses, slaves,
farms and
estates in the
composition
of such gifts.146 The arrhae and donationes
stemming
from the man's side seem to have been substantial
enough
to merit
Augustine's disapproval
of their
size,
with
special
concern
for the attraction such
prizes
had for the
prospective
bride and her
family.147
The woman
brought
her
dowry (dos)
to the
marriage.
As
with the
arrha,
it is difficult to assess its
importance
in
purely
financial
terms;
it was
important enough
for
pacta
dotalia and tabellae dotales
to be considered a normal
part
of most
marriage agreements.148
Augustine
could condemn
dowry,
as well as the matrimonial
gifts
and
property coming
from the
groom's side,
as
corrupting
motives
for
marriage
and "love".149
By
the
early
fifth
century emperors
were
144
E.
Albertario,
"Di alcuni referimenti al matrimonio e al
possesso
in
Sant'Agos-
tino",
S.
Agostino: pubblicazione
commemorativa del XV centenario della sua
morte,
supplement
to Rivista di
Filosofia neo-scolastica,
xxiii
(1931), pp.
367-76.
145 En. Psalm. 55.17
(CCL, 39, 690-1);
84.2
(CCL, 39, 1162);
*Serm. 11.3
(PL,
39, 1761);
*90.2
(PL, 39, 1918);
372.2
(PL, 39, 1662).
146
Tract. 8 in Iohann. 2.4
(CCL, 36, 83-4).
For arrhae in
general,
see Serm. 71
(PL,
38, 458);
156.15.16
(PL, 38, 858);
378
(PL, 39, 1673);
this is not the
place
to enter
into an extended discussion of the
debate,
from Mitteis to
Koschaker,
over the
origins
and
development
of the arrhae. One
may
note with
interest, however,
the
apparent
adoption
of a Semitic term to
designate
the
exchange;
see the
survey
and
arguments
in
Anne,
Rites des
fiancailles
et la donation
pour
cause de
manrage, pp.
87-135.
147
Contra Faust. 15.1
(CSEL, 25.1, 415-18);
En. Psalm. 55.17
(CCL, 39, 690);
Serm. 183.7.11
(PL, 38, 991);
Tract. 8 in Iohann 2.4
(see
n. 146
above).
148 See n. 139
above;
and En. Psalm. 55.17
(see
n.
145)
and Serm. 137.8.9
(PL, 38,
759).
For a
good example
from the later
empire,
see C. Courtois et
al.,
Tablettes
Albertini: actes
prives
de
l'epoque vandale, fin
du Ve siecle
(Paris, 1952),
table I. la
(215),
a tabella dotis dated to 17
Sept.
493. A more remote rural
community
would be difficult
to
imagine,
and
yet
the
dowry
of Germania
Ianuarilla
is
carefully listed, along
with
the values of individual items in it.
149
De Bono
Coniug.
15.17
(CSEL, 41, 209-10);
see too
Tertullian,
ad Uxor. 1.4.7
(CCL, 1, 378),
with a list of items that could be included. Of course there were
marriages
of the
poor
who could afford none of these
gifts, dowry
or otherwise: cf.
Jerome, Ep. 69.5;
as
J. Gaudemet, L'eglise
dans
l'empire romain,
IV-Ve siecles
(Paris,
(cont.
on
p. 38)
37
putting
into formal
legislation
a
requirement
that the mutual
property
and
gift exchange represented by dowry
and indirect
dowry
should
be
equal
in value.150
The choice of marital
partners
made
by
the
parents
also seems to
have been dominated
mainly by
material
considerations, including
those of honour and status.
15
Clearly
it was
hoped
that the
property
exchange
would at least maintain the social
standing
of the new
family, perhaps
even add to its status. The
prevailing
sentiment was
that one should
marry
an
equal
in
property
and
thereby preserve
family
honour. The bride would
bring
her
dos,
but she also
hoped
that the man she married would be at least as well-off in terms of his
landed
property.
152
In a series of letters to a father who was
seeking
to
arrange
a
marriage, Augustine emphasized
the absolute
power
given
to fathers to make such
arrangements
in
respect
of their child-
daughters;
in
making
the match the father
naturally hoped
to
acquire
"all that is
good"
for himself and his domus.153 But kin and
community endogamy
do not seem to have counted as
conspicuous
items to be considered in the
process
of
match-making (excluding,
of
course, upper-class
families linked to
imperial households).
The
law codes of the
period
maintained instances of cousin
marriage
as a
possible requirement
in
testamentary depositions made, obviously,
by
wealthier families.154 But attested
examples
of
parallel
or cross-
1958), p. 539, notes,
such de
facto marriages, formally
labelled
"concubinage",
were
a class
phenomenon: they
were the
marriages
of the
poor;
cf. B.
Rawson,
"Roman
Concubinage
and Other de
facto Marriages",
Trans. and Proc. Amer. Philol.
Assoc.,
civ
(1974), pp. 280-305, though
there was a dominant
practice
of
concubinage
that
consisted of
partnership
for
sex,
not
marriage,
that
defined
the cases Rawson
analyses
of
persons
who desired to have a
genuine marriage
but could not
(for
reasons of status
conflict);
see now S.
Treggiari, "Concubinae", Papers
Brit. School
Rome,
xlix
(1982),
pp.
59-81.
150
Nov. Valent. 35.9 (A.D. 435/7)
and Nov.
Maj.
6.9
(A.D. 457/8)
where the
emperor
connects the
purpose
of this
property
to the
support
of the children to be
produced
by
the
marriage.
151
Tertullian,
ad Uxor. 1.4.6
(CCL, 1, 378):
the
"earthly"
desire to
marry
is
motivated
by
material
causes,
"to become master in another
family (alienafamilia),
to
brood over another's wealth".
152
Tertullian,
ad Uxor. 2.8.3-5
(CCL, 1, 392-3),
where Tertullian
says
that Christian
women
ought
to be
willing
to
marry
"down" on the social
scale; clearly many
did not
share this view.
153
Ep.
253-5
(CSEL, 57, 600-3);
if the
girl
is
mature, however,
she obtains some
say,
at least
theoretically,
and in lieu of a mother is to have the
protection
of her
maternal
aunt,
matertera.
154
Dig.
38.7.23-4 and
CJ 6.25.2.pr. (Marcellus, Papinianus
and Caracalla
respect-
ively);
cf. A. C.
Bush,
"Roman Collateral
Kinship Terminology" (State
Univ. of New
York, Buffalo,
Ph.D.
thesis, 1970), pp.
184
ff., who,
I
think, misinterprets
the
significance
of this evidence.
38 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
cousin
marriage
in social classes below the
propertied
elite in the
period contemporary
with
Augustine
(and earlier)
seem to be limited
mainly
to eastern Mediterranean social contexts.155
But the
only
time Tertullian
places
the domus in an extended
network of
kinship culminating
in a
larger
ethnic
group
is in his
quotations
from,
and direct comments
on,
biblical
texts, especially
those
relating
to Hebraic social structure of the Old Testament
period.156
And
Augustine
alludes
just
once to the late
fourth-century
incest
regulations legislated by
Christian
emperors
that established
greater degrees
of kin
prohibition
in
marriage, only
to mention that
in
any
event cousin
marriages
were rather rare
among
the common
people.157
Which makes
very
clear a more
general proposition:
that
Augustine's conception
of his own
society's
web of
kinship
and
personal relationships
was not one that assumed
any
sort of
endogamy
or other
kinship
dominance of this
type
that affected the
make-up
of
the
family. Clearly
his
society
did not share the sort of
closely
overlapping
networks of
kinship,
extended
households, agnatic
lin-
eages
and
endogamous marriage patterns
that seem to have been
typical
of some eastern Mediterranean societies of the
period.158
Whenever such a social structure was encountered
by Augustine's
parishioners
in their biblical
texts,
he had to
explain
to
them,
some-
times at
great
and
painful length,
a
system
which was
clearly
so at
variance with their own that
they
did not even understand its basic
elements.159
155
See E.
Patlagean,
Pauvrete
economique
et
pauvrete
sociale a
Byzance,
4e-7e siecles
(Paris, 1977), pp. 113-28,
for
contemporary family
structures in the east.
156
References are too numerous to detail here: see G.
Claesson,
Index
Tertullianus,
3 vols.
(Paris, 1974-5), s.w.;
the
passage
where the elements are most
consciously
linked is Adv. Marc. 4.36.18
(CCL, 1, 450)
where the
Jewish
ethnic
group
is seen as
subdivided into
interlocking gentes, populi
and
familiae
in a manner
highly
reminiscent
of the social structure reflected in the Tabula Banasitana of Tertullian's Africa.
157
Civ.
Dei,
15.16.2
(CSEL, 40.2, 94).
158
B. D. Shaw and R. P.
Saller,
"Close-Kin
Marriage
in Roman
Society?", Man,
new
ser.,
xix
(1984), pp. 432-44,
for a more detailed
critique
of the
propositions
advanced
by J. Goody,
The
Development of
the
Family
and
Marriage
in
Europe
(Cambridge, 1983).
159
See,
for
example, Migne, PL, 46,
s.v.
"pluralitas
uxorum" for a host of relevant
texts;
and the
long
and fundamental discussion in Contra Faust. 22.35
(CSEL, 25.1,
630);
for other
exemplary
texts
(some among many),
see Locut. in
Hept.
1.43
(CCL,
33, 385); Quaest.
17 in Matth. 17
(PL, 35, 1374);
Tract. 10 in Iohann. 2
(CCL, 36,
101);
and Tract. 28 in Iohann. 3
(CCL, 36, 278),
which is
typical
of the
problem:
"For
it was the custom of the
scriptures
to call blood relations of
any degree
and close
relatives
(quoslibet consanguinei
et
cognationis propinqui)
'brothers'
(fratres),
which is
both outside our normal
usage
of the term and not
according
to the manner in which
we
usually speak.
For who on earth calls his uncle
(avunculus)
or his
nephew (filius
sororis)
'brothers'
(fratres)?".
39
From the
conjugal family
and its formation, we move
naturally
to
the
subject
of children. Of all
secondary
relations within the
family
these are
clearly among
the most
problematical.
Children far outrank
women as the invisible
people
of this
world;
the chances of
knowing
anything
substantial about their
part
in the
family
is
impeded by
a
massive deficit in the evidence. Fathers
might regard procreation
of
sons as of
paramount importance,
but their relations with their
children in
general
tended to be mediated
through
the mother.
Attitudes towards children are further
very
difficult to discern
through
the
barrage
of
hyperbolic ideology
thrown
up
in
justification
of
marriage
and sexual intercourse. These acts were intended for the
procreation
of children
alone,
a stance which made the
assumption
of children as an
unmitigated "good thing".
But to
say
that real
families did not
always
see them in this
light
is a considerable
understatement. The conclusion does not
emerge just
from the
extreme
expression
of the
problem:
the fact that some
parents
were
compelled, usually by poverty
or fear of
it,
to
kill, expose
or sell
unwanted
progeny.
It has a much wider
sweep
than that.
But first there is a
conceptual problem.
The
stages
of life
accepted
by Augustine
are not
clearly marked,
as
they
were not for
any
of his
peers, although
a
regular progression
was
recognized: infans, puer,
adulescens iuventus,
then old
age
and death.160 The
dividing
lines
between the
stages
were
hardly
ours:
Augustine
himself crossed the
frontier between "adolescence" and
"youth"
at the
age
of
thirty.161
Adolescence could in fact last into the late thirties or
early forties,
depending
on the
pragmatic
circumstances that linked the son to his
father.
Legally
the state of
infans
was set at seven
years (that is,
six
years
old in our
computation),
but in
practice
its termination seems
to have been linked to
weaning
from
breast-feeding.162 Consequently
the
age
of
"boyhood"
lasted over a whole
period
between the first
year
and the mid to late
teens,
a
period
when the
boy
was considered
160
En. Psalm. 127.15
(CCL, 40, 1878).
See E.
Lamirande,
"Les
ages
de l'homme
d'apres
Saint Ambroise de
Milan",
in
Melanges offerts
en
hommage
au R. P. Etienne
Gareau
(Ottawa, 1982), p. 227-33,
with comments on E.
Eyben,
"Die
Einteilung
des
menschlichen Lebens im romischen
Altertum",
Rheinisches Museum der
Philologie,
cxvi
(1973), pp. 150-90;
cf. E.
Eyben,
"Roman Notes on the Course of
Life",
Ancient
Soc.,
iv
(1973), pp. 213-38; Eyben's
extended
essay,
"Was the Roman 'Youth' an
'Adult'
Socially?", Antiquite Classique,
1
(1981), pp. 328-50,
is no
reply
to the
fundamental
objections
made
by
H. W.
Pleket,
"Licht uit Leuven over de romeinse
Jeugd?", Lampas,
xii
(1979), pp.
173-92.
161
Confess.
7.1.1
(CCL, 27, 92).
162
H. G.
Knothe,
"Zur
7-Jahresgrenze
der 'Infantia' im antiken romischen
Recht",
Studia et Documenta Historiae et
luris,
xlviii
(1982), pp.
239-56.
40 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
to be in
preparation
for
quasi-adulthood
(as
the term
adulescens,
"becoming
an
adult",
itself
suggests).
The
stage
of
"youth"
could be
lengthened
and
delayed
into the thirties and forties
primarily
because
of the real economic domination that
many
fathers continued to hold
over their sons. Attitudes towards children were therefore commen-
surately
skewed towards different
developmental patterns
from our
own.
Then
again,
from the
perspective
of infant children the core
family
looked
very
different from how it did to most adults
through
their
part
of the domestic
cycle.
The
important figures
that dominated the
world of the child were the
mother, siblings
and elders. As
important,
if not more
so,
in this
list, however,
was the slave
nurse,
such as
those in Patricius' household who
gave
the infant
Augustine
milk.163
Ever-present
from
birth,
slave nurses were
always
included as an
integral part
of the
parent-child group.
Their
relationship
to the male
children was
particularly close,
since
Augustine
indicates that in some
cases the nurse
slept
with the child in a
place separate
from the rest
of the adults
(sometimes
with the disastrous result of suffocation of
the
infant).164 Obviously
the nurses were
present
in order to
lighten
the
heavy
burdens of
raising
children;
the main
difficulty they
allevi-
ated,
as is clear from their name
(nutrix, nutrices),
was the breast-
feeding
of infants.165 Mothers would sometimes assume the burden
for a few months after
birth,
but
soon,
in order
forcibly
to wean the
infant, they
would smear
bitter-tasting
substances on their
nipples
in
order to
put
the infant off further
suckling.166
The
process
of
weaning
from the mother's/nurse's breasts also marked a further
stage
in the
child's life. While attached to the
mother,
the child was seen as
163
Confess. 1.6.7,
11
(CCL, 27, 4, 6).
164
Ep.
194.7.32
(CSEL, 57, 201-2).
165
In this
respect
women were likened to
cows;
the task would be less onerous if
only
infants were not so
demanding:
In
Ep.
Iohann. ad Parth. 9.1
(PL, 35, 2043);
see, further,
En. Psalm. 54.24
(CCL, 39, 674);
130.9
(CCL, 40, 1905-6);
130.13
(CCL,
40, 908-9;
infant fed
away
from the
family table, weaning);
39.28
(CCL, 38, 445).
For
some of the evidence from
antiquity,
see K. R.
Bradley,
"Sexual
Regulations
in Wet-
Nursing
Contracts from Roman
Egypt", Klio,
lxii
(1980), pp. 321-5,
and the literature
cited
there;
for the later
empire
in the
east,
see
J. Beaucamp,
"L'allaitment: mere ou
nourrice?",Jahrbuch
derOsterreichen
Byzantinistik,
xxii
(1982), pp. 549-58;
for modern
comparative materials,
see G. D.
Sussman,
"The End of the
Wet-Nursing
Business
in
France, 1874-1914",
in Wheaton and Hareven
(eds.), Family
and
Sexuality
in French
History, pp. 224-52,
with references to his earlier work on the
subject.
166
En. Psalm. 30.ii. 12
(CCL, 38, 210); Augustine reports
the sense of shock shown
by
the
infant,
the
mammothreptus,
on first
being repelled by
the offensive
paste;
nurses
also used the
technique
to wean the infant and to drive it ad
mensam;
cf. Serm. 311.14
(PL, 38, 1419).
41
dependent
and weak
(infirmus),
still a
"mummy's boy" (filius matris).
When he
graduated
he became a
filius patris.167
The conscious atti-
tudes to
breast-feeding by
mothers and wet-nurses seem
ambiguous,
perhaps confused,
in
Augustine's reportage.
On the one
hand,
he
placed
a
high premium
on the
willingness
of mothers to feed their
own
children;
he saw the
unwillingness
of those who disliked the
duty
as
symptomatic
of a
negative
attitude to children that led to the
ruin of households
(ruinosa
est
domus).168
Yet the
implication
of some
of these same
passages
is that mothers shunt infants off the breast in
order that
they might
be able to
give
birth more
frequently.'69
And
nourishment was seen as the central role of the
mother,
as much as
domination was that of the father.170
The net result for
family
formation was
that,
for families of at least
middling resources,
the slave nurse was an
integral part
of the
family.
Like other
surrogate
members of the domus outside its
kin-core,
the
nurse could be
placed
in full
charge
of the children in lieu of the
parents.171
And she formed another link between one
generation
and
the next. A
good example
comes from
Augustine's
own
family.
A
slave nurse in
Augustine's
home at
Thagaste
had carried Monnica's
father on her back when he was an infant. When he
grew up
and
married,
and Monnica was
born,
this same slave woman carried
Monnica around as a child.
Finally,
she had
come,
as a
slave,
with
Monnica into Patricius' household.172 It was
customary
for infants
and
young
children to be carried around
"piggy-back" by
the
younger
girls
of the
family
or
by
the old slave nurses who acted as bearers
(gerulae).173
As with
elders,
slave nurses assumed full educative and
disciplinary
functions over children in loco
parentum
in a
period
of
the latter's absence.174
All these observations are not made in order to diminish our
evaluation of
parental
love for their
surviving
children. Paternal
tensions with sons were more a matter of adolescence. Earlier
on,
the
main
hope
of
parents
for their first
newly
born children was that
they
167
En. Psalm. 49.27
(CCL, 38, 595).
68
Serm. 311.14
(PL, 38, 1419).
169
See,
for
example,
En. Psalm.
49.27,
n. 167 above.
170
En. Psalm. 26.ii.18
(CCL, 38, 164).
171
Ep.
98.4
(CSEL, 34.2, 524-5).
172
Confess.
9.8.17
(CCL, 27, 143).
173
Tertullian,
Adv. Marc. 3.13.2 = Adv.
Iud.
9.5
(a doublet) (CCL, 1, 524; CCL,
2, 1366);
cf. de Anim. 19.8
(CCL, 2, 811);
the old women use rattles
(crepitacilla)
to
keep
the infants entertained.
174
Confess.
9.8.18
(CCL, 27, 144).
42 NUMBER 115 PAST AND PRESENT
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
would survive.175 So attitudes towards
surviving
infants seem to have
been
concomitantly generous.
In a
report
reminiscent of a similar
modern-day scene, Augustine
can describe a father who is a thunder-
ing
orator,
a man who is able to shake the forum with his formidable
oratorical skills. Yet when he
goes
home and
speaks
to his
baby
son,
he sets aside his formal Latin and descends to
"baby
talk".176
Tertullian is the
only
one of our witnesses who is
forthright enough
to
speak
of the "inconvenience" of
raising
children
(importunitas
liberorum)
as a terrible obstacle: "Custom forces children
upon men,
otherwise in their
right
mind
they
would not endure the difficult-
ies".177 But one senses in Tertullian a rather mean
disposition,
one
whose
uncompromising
character would
eagerly grasp
at a
way
out of such
importunities
offered
by
an
impending
millennium.
Nevertheless he
may
well
express,
albeit in harsh
terms,
an
underlying
sentiment, though
one less attached to
theological justifications
than
he would have it. One does find a constant association between the
difficulties of
marriage
and the
problems
of
raising
children.178
Attitudes seem to be linked more
closely
to the economic basis of
the household: the
stratagems
for
succession,
avoidance of
dissipation
of the
paternal estate,
the need for economic
support
in old
age,
and
the
ways
in which wealth itself affected the
ideological conception
of
the
family.
The
acquisition
of more wealth was a
process,
and a
fact,
which had its own
rationality.
As it increased it
made, pari passu,
the
difficulties and
frustrations,
if not
agonies,
of
producing
children
seem a non-rational
activity,
in
spite
of the fact that slave nurses were
more
readily
obtainable
by persons
in this same social class. The
result was
that,
one
way
or
another,
fewer children were raised
by
wealthier families.
"Fertility
is a bother to
wealthy people".
Indeed.
"They
fear lest
they,
who have
given
birth to
many
children will
themselves be left
paupers".
The solution to the
problem Augustine
alludes to most
frequently
is
simply disposing
of unwanted children:
exposing
or
throwing
out the
newly
born so that
others,
who do not
have
children, might pick
them
up.179
Where was the limit? For
175
En. Psalm.
127.3,
5
(CCL, 40, 1870, 1878);
cf.
Ep.
130.11.11
(CSEL, 44,
52-
4).
176
Tract. 7 in Iohann. 23
(CCL, 36, 80-1);
cf. En. Psalm. 26.18-19
(CCL, 38,
164-
5); Ep.
89.2
(CSEL, 34.2, 419-20).
177
Tertullian,
Exh. Cast. 12.5
(CCL, 2, 1032-3);
ad Uxor. 1.5.1
(CCL, 1, 378).
178
See,
for
example,
de
Coniug.
Adult. 2.12.12
(CSEL, 41, 395);
de Bono
Coniug.
6.6,
6.18
(CSEL, 41, 194-5, 210-11);
Contra Faust. 22.30
(CSEL, 25.1, 624);
En.
Psalm. 70.i.17
(CCL, 39, 955);
de
Nupt.
et
Concup. 1.4.5,
1.15.17
(CSEL, 42, 215,
229).
179
En. Psalm. 137.8
(CCL, 40, 1983);
cf.
Ep.
98.6
(CSEL, 34.2, 527-8);
194.32
(CSEL. 57. 201-2).
43
some of the families with whom
Augustine
had
acquaintance (perhaps
his subdecurial
peers
more than
others)
the number was
thought
to
be
three;
then the
parents began
to fear of
having
more children lest
they impoverish
the
family.
The
pressing worry was,
as
always,
the
division of a limited hereditas.
180
How was the
problem
of excess children to be dealt with? There
were methods of
fertility
control which must have been
widely
known
and
practised.
There is a hint of the
knowledge
of the effects of
prolonged breast-feeding
of infants on birth intervals.'18 But it did
not constitute a method
by
which
fertility
could
suddenly
and dra-
matically
be reduced in the
way required by
the economic circum-
stances and
perceptions
outlined
above;
it was more in the nature of
a
long-term general
effect on
fertility,
one of dubious value in the
deliberate
curbing
of excess births when one considers the real
possibilities
of
regular
sexual
activity.182 Nor,
in
any event,
was
normal sexual behaviour conducive to such solutions. The sexual
marauding
of married women
by men,
alluded to
above, though
provoked by
fear of
pregnancy,
was done to
disguise possible results,
not to
prevent
them. "Drunken" and "excessive" husbands do not
even
spare
their
pregnant wives, reports
Augustine;
but
then, by
his
own
admission,
the drunken and the excessive were
legion
in the
local
community.183
Christian
ideology hypostatized
the lower-class
mores of
conjugal
sexual love which held that intercourse was for the
procreation
of children
only.184
A veritable avalanche of normative
Christian declarations made this the
regula regularum
of normal sexual
behaviour.
Alas,
the
very persons
who issued the
prescriptions
were
all too well aware of how few
accepted
them. 85
Moreover
Augustine
180
Serm. 57.2.2
(PL, 38, 387);
cf. de
Nupt.
et
Concup.
1.15.17
(see
n. 178
above).
181
See nn. 168-9
above;
cf. M. W.
Flinn,
The
European Demographic System,
1500-
1820
(London, 1981), pp. 39-43;
for an outline of
effects, especially
in the so-called
Third World countries of the
present day,
see R. V.
Short,
"Breast
Feeding", Scientific
American,
ccl
(Apr. 1984), pp.
35-41.
182
See,
for
example,
the cases remarked
upon
in some
epigraphical
notices: ten
children in eleven
years
of
marriage:
G. B. de
Rossi, Inscriptiones
Christianae Urbis
Romae,
iii
(Rome, 1956),
no. 9248.
183
See van der
Meer, Augustine
the
Bishop, pp. 513-27,
and the
many
references
cited
there; see,
for
example, Ep.
22
(CSEL, 34.1,
54
f.)
at
length.
184
The citations from
Augustine, including
de Bono
Coniug.
17.19
(CSEL, 41,
212);
Contra Faust.
15.7,
30.6
(CSEL, 25.1, 429, 755);
Mor. Man. 2.18.65
(PL, 32,
1373);
and de
Nupt.
et
Concup.
1.10.11
(CSEL, 42, 223),
seem to
provide
most of the
standard
repertoire; they were, however,
traditional values: see E.
Eyben, "Family
Planning
in Graeco-Roman
Antiquity",
Ancient
Soc.,
xi-xiii
(1980-1), pp. 5-82,
at
p.
19.
185
"Never,
in
friendly
conversation have I heard
anyone
who is or who has been
married
say
that he never had intercourse with his wife
except
when
hoping
for
conception":
de Bono
Coniug.
13.15
(CSEL, 41, 208).
44 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
speaks
of the situation as common where men have sex with their
wives with the intent of
avoiding conception.186
The
means,
whatever
they were,
could be effective. As mentioned
above, Augustine
himself
kept
a concubine for the
purposes
of sexual
enjoyment
for a
period
of at least fourteen
years.
That liaison was
struck,
significantly,
when
Augustine
was about the
age
of
sixteen;
precisely,
that is to
say,
in the immediate aftermath of his father's
death. This formal
concubinage,
which
bridged
the
period
between
his father's decease and the end of
Augustine's
"adolescence"
(in
Roman
terms)
was then itself
brought
into
question by
the
prospect
of a Christian
marriage.
When
Augustine
was
engaged
to
marry
his
ten-year-old bride,
he therefore rid himself of the concubine
by rudely
dismissing
her back to Africa. But
Augustine
found himself unable
to bear the strain of the lack of sexual contact with a woman for the
less than two
years
he had to wait until his child-bride came of
legal
age.
He therefore took another concubine for the
purposes
of sex.
What is
more,
he
kept
this second woman on until he was to
marry
his
prospective
child-bride.187 Yet there was
only
one
surviving
child
produced
in this whole
period.188
How?
Augustine
himself seems to
speak
with the voice of
experience
in another context: to use a certain
part
of a woman
"against
nature" is "execrable" if she is a
prostitute
(or,
one
might add,
a
concubine),
even "more execrable" in the case
of a wife.
89
No doubt. But
Augustine apparently
found the execrable
quite acceptable
for close to two decades. "Methods" like these
only
added
pressure
on the
wives,
slave women and concubines that were
part
of the male sexual domination in the household. Even
so, they
were never
part
of
any prevailing mentality
of birth control.
To understand this
statement,
we must
try
to see
reproduction
as
a function of all the factors
affecting
the household as a
proprietorial
concern. Given
these,
there was no need to draw
any
clear
conceptual
distinction between
contraception,
abortion and control of sub-
186
De
Coniug.
Adult. 2.12.12
(CSEL, 41, 396),
and n. 184 above.
187
Confess.
6.15.25
(CCL, 27, 90).
188
The
son, Adeodatus,
is referred to as "almost fourteen
years
old"
(annorumferme
quindecim)
in A.D. 387:
Confess.
9.6.14
(CSEL, 33, 207). Augustine
therefore must
have formed the liaison with the concubine around A.D. 370/1 when he was sixteen to
seventeen
years
old.
189
De Bono
Coniug.
11.12
(CSEL, 41, 203-4)
where the obvious methods concerned
are oral or anal
intercourse,
and not coitus
interruptus,
the alternative most
frequently
discussed in modern
scholarly analysis;
cf. Serm. 10.5
(CCL, 41, 157;
abortive
potions
used
by meretrices);
Contra Faust. 22.80
(CSEL, 25.1, 683; prostitutes
work not to
become
pregnant);
Contra Secund. 21
(CSEL, 25.2, 938-9;
the
same).
45
sequent
births.190 Since the
gross question facing
families was how
many surviving
children
they
could
cope
with
and,
once that threshold
was
reached,
how excess children could be
disposed of,
the
prevailing
mentality
was less one of birth control than of
"family
control". Given
that
mentality,
and
reality, fertility
control for most families limited
itself to the
practical
solutions of
killing,
sale or
exposure
of excess
surviving
children.191 But these motives for
ridding
oneself of chil-
dren must also be
clearly separated
from
others,
which
might
indeed
have been even more
compelling.
One of the more
crudely
pragmatic
motives was the
simple profit
to be made
by parents
who were in dire
need of funds.192 The
other,
more
exalted,
was the
preservation
of
one's honour.
Augustine specifically
remarks on the tremendous
sense of
public
shame that fell on a
girl
who bore a child out of
"legitimate" union;
cruel fear of that
shame,
he
says, compelled
the
mother to
expose
the infant.193 But in the main the
problem
does
seem to have been one of
family limitation; Augustine
mentions those
who do not have children
picking up
the
exposed
and
raising
them
as their
own,
but that is all. The most obvious
stratagem
for
making
good
this
deficit,
that of
adoption,
seems
strangely
absent in
Augus-
tine's
positive
observations about his
world, especially
in terms of
190
K.
Hopkins, "Contraception
in the Roman
Empire", Comp.
Studies in Soc. and
Hist.,
viii
(1965), pp. 124-51,
is the most
thorough
and
convincing analysis.
191
Tertullian, Apol. 9.7-8
(CCL, 1, 102-3);
Ad Nat. 1.15.3-4
(CCL,
1, 33;
no laws
are more
frequently
broken and with more
impunity
than those
against
child
exposure);
in
popular parlance
such children were called "sons of the earth"
(filii terrae),
see
Apol.
10.10
(CCL, 1, 107).
Cf. Min. Fel. Oct. 30.2
(CSEL, 2, 43); Aug. Ep.
98.6
(PL, 33, 362); *Ep.
22-4
(CSEL, 88, 113-27;
the
"Divjak letters")
which attest the
problem
of the
exposure
and sale of children
by poor parents
in the
Hippo region
to
slavers as a
widespread
and
long-standing problem;
as we can see from these same
letters, although
he
disapproved
on moral
grounds, Augustine
did
nothing
effective
to
stop
the trade.
Imperial
laws from Caracalla onwards seem to have had little
effect;
see C.
Lepelley,
"La crise de
1'Afrique
romaine au debut du Ve
siecle, d'apres
les
lettres nouvellement decouvertes de Saint
Augustine", Comptes
rendus Acad.
Inscript.
(1981), pp. 445-63,
at
pp.
455-7. For a
general survey
of the
practice
and its
continuity
from late
antiquity
into the
early
medieval
period,
see
J.
E.
Boswell, "Expositio
and
Oblatio: The Abandonment of Children and the Ancient and Medieval
Family",
Amer.
Hist.
Rev.,
lxxxix
(1984), pp.
10-33.
192
The behaviour was linked not
only
to economic
necessity,
but also to the whole
spectrum
of hire/rent and sale of children and their labour: see M.
Humbert,
"Enfants
a louer ou a vendre:
Augustin
et
l'autorite parentale (Ep.
10* et
24*)",
in Les lettres
de Saint
Augustin
decouvertes
par Johannes Divjak (Paris, 1983), pp.
190-204.
193
Ep.
194.32
(CSEL, 57, 201-2):
"The infant born in
unholy
sexual union
(stuprum)
is
exposed
because of the cruel fear of its
mother,
in the
hope
that it will be
picked up
because of the
holy pity
of
others";
the moral circumstances were ones
rooted in traditional
mores,
but
Christianity
served in
part
to
strengthen
the
prejudice
and worsen the situation: see K.
Wrightson,
"Infanticide in
European History",
Criminal
Justice
Hist.,
iii
(1982), pp. 1-20, esp. pp.
5 ff.
46 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
quantity
of references. Almost all
Augustine's
references to
adoption
are of a
purely metaphoric
nature. In one rather
significant passage,
however,
he does
explicitly
state that
many
men who have reached
old
age
without a son turn to the mechanism of
adoption
to
provide
an heir. The whole
passage
in
question
is rather
important
since it
specifically
attests
adoption
as a
strategy
of
heirship,
but one that was
primarily
used as a last resort when the childless male head of the
family
reached old
age. Augustine
states that if a man has no sons
when he reaches old
age,
he has recourse to
adoption;
but if he has
only
one son he is
especially happy
and fortunate since it means that
his natural son will
possess everything
alone and will not have to divide
the inheritance with
anyone.194
No doubt such formal
adoptions (that
is,
other than the
simple acquisition
of abandoned
infants)
were a not
infrequent part
of
family
formation in
Augustine's world,
but it is
perhaps noteworthy
that references to real cases
by Augustine
are so
rare.
What do these
Augustinian experiences,
observations and advice
on the
family,
sex and
marriage
in late
antiquity signify?
Above
all,
I
think,
it is that the
conception
and
practice
of the
family
were
integrally
linked to the other dominant social relations in
society
with
ties that were different in kind and
strength
from those that bind
families to
society
in our
day.
The
single overwhelming
idea
imparted
by Augustine
about his
family,
an idea which derived from his own
experience,
and which
certainly applied
to the households of his
peers
and a
fortiori
to most households of the
time,
is that the
family
was
the unit of social and economic
production
and
reproduction. Slaves,
nurses,
boarders and others were
organized through
this unit.
Family
relationships
were
largely
determined
by
the
simple
need for the
maintenance and transmission of the
property required
to continue
an economic existence. At the same
time, however,
these other ties
(of property,
of social
relations,
of
political power)
were not ones that
194
Tract. 2 in Iohann. 2.1.13
(CCL, 36, 17-18):
"He was born a sole
child,
and
does not want to remain alone.
Many
men who do not have children
(sons)
of their
own,
when
they
have reached old
age, adopt one;
and
by
their own volition do what
nature was not able to do for them:
they
create
offspring. If, moreover,
someone has
only
one
son,
he is all the more
joyous,
because that son alone will become owner of
everything,
and will not have
anyone
else with whom he will have to divide the
inheritance,
and become
poorer
for the
fact",
and the rest of this
passage
in the same
vein;
cf. de Consens.
Evang.
3.5
(PL, 34, 1073);
Serm. 51.16
(PL, 38, 348);
61.16
(PL, 38, 348);
*de Unit. Trin. 6
(PL, 42, 1161;
the distinction between natural and
adopted sons,
but in a
purely metaphorical context);
cf. Biondo
Biondi,
II diritto
romano
cristiano, iii: lafamiglia, rapporti patnmoniali,
diritto
publico (Milan, 1954), pp.
59-68.
47
encouraged
the
growth
of families into extended or
complex types.
They did, however, encapsulate
and
systematically
enclose the kin-
core of the
conjugal family
and children in a web of social
obligations
that dominated it. Within this network and within the
household,
it
is
true, primary obligations
focused on the nuclear and
conjugal
family.
Power was
perceived
as
running through
these
relationships
to the wider
society
in a
way
that allowed no absolute
disjunction
between them of the
type
found in our
society. Patronage
was one of
the most
important
of these resource networks that ran
alongside
kinship, friendship
and
neighbourliness.195
But if the clients were
seen as veritable
"parts"
of their
patron's "body",
then there was no
impediment
to his domination
being
as
great
as that of an owner or
a father.
196
How indeed could relations be conceived
except through
the
vocabulary
that was used to
express
them? The
very
same
word,
lord
(dominus),
was
deployed indiscriminately
for the four dominant
relations that ran
through
the
society:
those of
God, property
owner
(often
linked to that of slave
master), patron
and father.197
Likewise,
dominus was
integrally
linked to domus
(household)
and to a whole
host of terms
signifying power, repression
and control
-
in
short,
domination: domare
(to domesticate,
to
tame),
dominatio
(domi-
nation),
dominium
(control, ownership)
and
many
others. These were
the words that
people spoke,
and the
relationships they expressed
were
part
of a consistent set that
emphasized
those wider social
networks at the
expense
of isolated
nuclear-family
attachments.
They
were
part
of a whole
hierarchy
of duties that were tied to the
distribution of material resources in the
society. Augustine
lists them
in a series of concentric
obligations extending
outwards from
ego
and his interests:
parentes, fratres, coniunx, liberi, propinqui, affines,
familiares,
civitas and then
ego's property,
with the "I" and his
"property" confining
the set. Between the
city
and
personal property
195
Serm. 130.5
(PL, 38, 728).
196
*Ep.
10.4-9
(CSEL, 88, 48-51).
197
These common denominators of
power, personal relationships
and
ideology
are
hardly
unusual for this
type
of
society,
see
Greven,
Four
Generations;
and the
following
observations
by
R.
Isaac,
The
Transformation of Virginia,
1740-1790
(Chapel Hill, 1982),
p.
346: "The reference to Nassau's father reminds us
forcibly
of the constrictive
closeness of this world of
ongoing generational
face-to-face interaction. Therein
we see
clearly
the social context of the
comprehensive metaphor
of
fatherhood,
encompassing
as it did all order and
rebellion,
crime and
punishment, suffering
and
relief. The close
intimacy
of extended household
relationships
was
projected
onto the
cosmic order
by
the
metaphor
of the Father-Creator". The matter of the
vocabulary
of domination was
already
noted some
years ago by
M.
Bang,
"Uber den Gebrauch der
Anrede Domine im
gemeinden
Leben", appendix
ix in L.
Friedlander, Sittengeschichte
Roms,
10th edn.
(Leipzig, 1922), pp.
82-8.
48 PAST AND PRESENT NUMBER 115
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
stood a
pair
of balanced
quasi-material properties
no less
integral
to
the list: honores and
gloria popularis,
to be
acquired
in dialectical
action and therefore
placed
in order before those
things
that fell
within the uncontested dominium of the
person
concerned.'98
We
may
summarize as follows. Given the dominant
patterns
of
relationships
that determined the
make-up
and
place
of the
family
in
Roman
society,
at least in the lower
middling
to
upper classes,
no
person
from these social
groups
who heard the words
familia
or domus
would ever have taken them to mean what
"family"
does to us. To
him or her the words
necessarily implied
the whole network of
relationships
of the
household, including slaves, nurses, concubines,
boarders and
others,
that formed it. The
nuclear-family
unit
was,
so
to
speak,
nested within this
conception,
like the innermost unit of a
series of Chinese boxes. But these other
relationships
into which it
was
integrally
knit obscured a clear definition of the nuclear
family
as a dominant social unit. The nuclear
family
did
exist,
and
primary
obligations
were indeed focused on
it,
but there was no
vocabulary
to
express
its
separate existence;
instead
speakers
had to resort to
circumlocutions like
"yours", "his",
"the wife and kids"
(sui, tui,
uxor et
liberi)
since
familia
and domus meant other
things entirely.199
In all of
this,
the
systematic linkage
with forms of
property including,
above
all,
slaves seems the
paramount
determinant force in
shaping
the Roman
family.
There are, however,
two
cautionary points.
The first is that what
198
De Libr. Arbit. 1.15.32
(CCL, 29, 233),
"The
city/state itself,
which is
usually
held to be in the
place
of a
parent;
the honours and the
praise,
and those
things
which
are called
popular glory,
and in final
place money,
under which
heading
are contained
all those
things
of which we are masters/owners
by
law and over which we seem to
have the
power
of
buying
and
selling".
Note two
things:
the substantiation of "honour"
as a
quasi-material thing (see
n. 82
above),
and how
public/official
honour is balanced
with
public/popular honour,
and how both are tied into the civitas
acting
in loco
parentis.
199
See,
for
example,
nn.
95, 97; Ep.
130.2.5-6
(CSEL, 44, 45-7);
and
defide
rerum
quae
non
videntur,
2.4
(PL, 40, 173),
an extended discussion of how amicitia knits
together
different
kinship relationships,
in
which,
of all the different
relationships
named
by Augustine (including gener, socer, cognates
and
affines)
the sui
clearly
represent
the core
parent-child(ren)
nexus. There are
many
other
examples.
In this
attitude, Augustine
reflects a traditional Roman
view,
as can be seen from the
tombstones of the
principate
where the sui are the nuclear
family
as
opposed
to the
freed
slaves,
other
dependants
and relatives. This default in
vocabulary
continued to
mark
many early
modern
European
societies: see
Wheaton,
"Recent Trends in the
Historical
Study
of the French
Family", pp.
6
f., referring
to Mousnier and
Flandrin,
with a
demographic explanation. Demographic
factors no doubt
played
a
part
in the
phenomenon,
but I remain convinced that the broader social forces outlined in this
article were the
principal cause,
at least for the Roman
family.
49
we can see is a class
phenomenon.
The
question
then arises: how
many
households were there in Roman
society
that
were,
so to
speak,
stripped
to the
core,
that were not
integrally
linked with
slaves,
dependants, concubines, boarders,
and so
on,
so that for the
persons
in them the use of
familia
and domus would
conjure up
little more
than what
they
had?
Secondly,
we should not be misled
by
our main
conclusions here into
devaluing
the
importance
of the nuclear
family.
Clearly
it was the formative base of the
larger family. Ownership
was
paramount,
and it was a
power
that ran
through persons
of free
status, through
the
father,
his
sons,
his wife and
daughters. They
defined the existence of the
larger family,
not the host of
dependants.
If the
primary
owners were
obliterated,
the
family
ceased to exist.200
But in the Roman world
catastrophes
that
suddenly
and
completely
ended families were
perhaps
rare;
the two
parts
of the
family
thus
remained in an
integral
and dialectical
relationship
that defined its
conception.
This observation should not mislead us to
opt
for the
opposite
end
of the
spectrum,
as it
were,
and to embrace the
conception
of the
elite Roman
family
as a true extended
family
or
agnatic lineage.
This
it was not. Recourse to such
categories only
reflects trends which
were once dominant in
family
studies when the field was
trapped by
a threefold
classificatory system:
the extended
family,
the stem
family
and the nuclear
family.
One of the results of the veritable revolution
in
family
studies in the last two decades has been the final abandon-
ment of these
simplicities
in favour of a more
complex typology
of
the
family.201
The Roman
family
does not fit
very
well into
any
of
the earlier
simple categories.
In
practice
and in
vocabulary
it was
neither a true nuclear
family
nor an extended-kin
family,
much less
an
agnatic lineage.
For the
middling
ranks of Roman
society,
at
least,
the
family
was a more
complex aggregate
that included
assemblages
of
persons
attached in an
integral way
to a discernible nuclear core.
This structure could
change only
when the economic forces that
delineated it themselves
changed,
so that slaves
(including
nurses and
concubines),
clientelistic
dependants, migrant agricultural
labourers
and other additions could be
systematically stripped
from the kin-
core of the
family.
Economic
independence
for
sons,
and
daughters,
the
development
of
peer groups
for the
children,
and similar
changes
also transformed
relationships
within the kin-core itself. Nevertheless
200
Compare
the
example
of the behaviour of the
dependants upon
the death of a
dominus and domina in
Apuleius, Metamorphoses,
8.1 ff.
201
Laslett, "Family
and Household as Work
Group
and Kin
Group", pp.
513-63.
50 NUMBER 115 PAST AND PRESENT
THE FAMILY IN LATE
ANTIQUITY
this Roman
family
was
clearly
a distinctive social unit that deserves
inclusion in the
type
of urban-centred household in the west which
forms the
dividing
line between the
simpler types
of
society
that have
traditionally
been the domain of the
ethnologist
and the more
complex
types
that have been the
territory
of the historian.202
But,
more than
this,
it also seems to have been of a distinctive
type
that stands
directly
in the main line of the
development
of
family
life in the
west,
as
opposed
to the
family types
found in the eastern Mediterranean in
antiquity
which were
part
of a different world of
sentiment, depen-
dence and behaviour.
University of Lethbridge,
Alberta Brent D. Shaw
202
C.
Levi-Strauss,
"Histoire et
ethnologie",
Annales
E.S.C.,
xxxvi
(1983), pp.
1217-31.
51