Soldiers and Officers: Family Life

Imperial Rome (1-150 CE)

Subtopics: Women/Marriage, Religion, & Children


Why we chose the topics and time period that we did:


“Soldiers and Officers: Family Life” interested our group because it seemed like a topic commonly overlooked when discussing Rome. Typically, we focus on the military might of Imperial Rome, the campaigns and conquest, or on the political system and rule of law that has been admired ever since. However, less often do we look deeper into what life was like for the typical man or woman, what their roles and rights were, or what may have fueled their actions. Thus, we decided to focus on the family life of those in the Roman military, specifically women and their roles both independently and with regard to their family units. We also decided to look at religion as both a social tool, as well as a motivating factor for action on the state level, as well as the individual household. Children also, seem to be overlooked when casually learning about Rome, seemingly forgotten until they become old enough to become statesmen or soldiers. As such, these topics were our focus.  


Subtopic 1: Women/Marriage


As women began to rise in importance and presence in Roman society, as opposed to Greece, they enjoyed an expanded role in public life as they became artists, shopkeepers, doctors, and even gladiators (Burns, 2007). As their roles changed, I became interested in how their influence and presence affected the soldiers and armies in the Imperial Rome.  Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, was a great advocate for political, social, and moral reforms in Rome.  As a self-proclaimed “Restorer of the Republic”, he introduced reforms to improve society and create a new government and lifestyle for Rome (Fife, 2012).  Augustus agreed with the statesman Cicero, who believed that the Republic’s decline was due to the degradation of the public’s morals and traditional virtues (Wasson, 2016). In response, Augustus introduced the moral legislation to the Lex Julia in 23 BC (Wikipedia, 2016).  


 Augustus statue as a younger Octavian (Wikipedia, 2016)

These laws, which continued for two centuries, encouraged marriage and having children.  It offered “inducements to marriage and imposed disabilities upon the celibate” (Wikipedia, 2016).  These inducements included financially rewarding families with three or more children, particularly sons.  The punishment for not being properly married included an additional tax that was not imposed on those who were married (Fife, 2012).  Those marriages who were childless could only receive half of an inheritance.  Socially undesirable marriages were banned as well as freeborn persons marrying socially degraded persons (Phang, 2001). In his presentation to the senate of his legislation, Augustus stated, “If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do without that nuisance; but since nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather than for our temporary pleasure.” (Fant & Lefkowitz, 2016)

Being a soldier in the legion, however, made marriage different and almost impossible to accomplish.  Under the rule of Augustus, the term of service rose from sixteen to twenty years and later to twenty-five years (Scheidel, 2005).  As the length of military service lengthened, it became increasingly impractical for soldiers to get married and keep a family.  Through the Lex Julia, soldiers were banned from getting married as ordinary citizens were (Scheidel, 2005).  The soldiers, however, were not prevented from cohabiting with women or raising children when possible.  Since there was a ban that denied soldiers from the legal entitlements of unions, they simply settled for legally non-recognized marriages.  In 44 AD, Claudius finally granted soldiers the conventional legal privileges of married citizens (Scheidel, 2005).

Being a wife to a soldier did not grant many privileges either.  Demographically, epigraphic record shows that about 90% of all recorded wives of soldiers or veterans have Roman names.   This suggests little interaction outside of the military and civilian circles in the areas where they were deployed (Scheidel, 2005).  Evidence has been found from seven legal cases on papyrus documents from Roman Egypt of the disadvantages.  The wives of soldiers lacked the legal entitlements from marriage and could not sue for the return of their dowries despite the fact that they had been made for the purpose of circumventing around the marriage ban (Scheidel, 2005).  There is much debate about the exact purpose of the marriage ban on soldiers.  One argument states that it was created to use the pool of illegitimate sons who grew up in the military environment to build a strong army.  However, there is no evidence that these soldiers would gain citizenship upon enlisting.  Another argument is that the marriage ban was meant to “emphasize the masculine qualities of the professional army, restore order”, and separate from the soldiers from civilians (Scheidel, 2005).  This point seems the most plausible but there are still several questions as to the actual benefit for the soldiers themselves.  

With the ban of marriage in the army, some soldiers chose to be sexually promiscuous throughout their service with the local women.  In fact, some reports show that soldiers in Spain fathered as many and 4,000 children with the local women (Scheidel, 2005).  Because of the lack of women in the areas that the armies were, some argue that they were high rates of polygyny in the towns.  The famous will of C. Longinus Castor freed two of his slavewomen, made them heirs, and made four males, are who assumed to be his children, substitute heirs (Scheidel, 2005).  Another consequence of the lack of women in the imperial army is the appearance of homosexual relationships with male slaves and military subordinates (Scheidel, 2005).  Women were a continual influence not only to men in the army, but as they rose to prominence in society and became contributing members to the the growing nation.  


Subtopic 2: Religion

Parker Langeveld

The Romans, like other aspects of their lives, viewed religion in the practical sense highly governed by logic and reason of the human mind, and such views led them to difficulties in seeing one single, all powerful God. The Romans did not have religion based upon a central belief, but rather a mix of fragments, superstitions, and ideas that humans had created over the years. Because of this viewpoint, religion was less of a spiritual experience and more of an interconnection between humans and their relation to the natural forces around them.

Ideas trickled down from ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Latin influences. Often times the Latin and Etruscan names survived but the deities became seen as the prominent Greek deities. Thus, Roman And Greek pagan Gods appear very similar, but with different names. Because of this constant shifting towards Greek God influence, it often occurred that a God was worshipped and nobody could really remember why. Such it was with the god Furrina. Every year on the 25th of July a festival was held in her honor. However, by the middle of the first century BC nobody could actually remember what she was the god of.

Roman religion was also divided into two levels, namely domestic and state. At the state level, the greater gods were worshipped for the greater good. However, the patriarch of each home also conducted his private prayer and worship within the walls of his own home to his own individual domestic gods to bless and protect his individual family.


Subtopic 3: Children


Imperial soldiers often had long term relationships with women, but their unions were not given legal recognition because of Augustus’ marriage ban. Therefore, their children were considered illegitimate (Scheidel). These children were in their fathers’ paternal authority (patria potestas in Latin). This meant that fathers’ had absolute power over their children.“…in the Imperial period, patria potestas was less oppressive and chiefly determined the children’s property rights and inheritance rights” (Phang). However, if an illegitimate child’s soldier father died and did not have a will, the child would have no claim to his property (Phang).

The wives and children of these soldiers often suffered, due to problems stemming from a union without legal recognition. However, they found ways to adapt and deal with these issues (Phang). The soldiers also suffered because of the same reason, but in A.D 44, emperor Claudius allowed the soldiers to have the same rights as married men, because they couldn’t be married according to the law (Phang).

At the soldier’s honorable discharge, they were given the right to marry, so their unions then became legitimate marriages (Scheidel). The soldier’s discharge rights were established through military diplomas. In these diplomas, “auxiliaries, sailors, and other noncitizen troops were granted Roman citizenship and the right to marry (conubium) at discharge; their children were also granted Roman citizenship” (Phang).



Burns, J. (2007). Great women of Imperial Rome: Mothers and wives of the Caesars. London and New York: Routledge.  

Fant, M. & Lefkowitz, M. (2016). Women’s life in Greece and Rome: A source book in translation. London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Fife, S. (2012). Augustus’ political, social, & moral reforms. Retrieved from Ancient History: Encyclopedia November 9th, 2016 from

Phang, S. (2001). The marriage of Roman soldiers (13 B.C. – A.D. 235): Law and family in the imperial army. Boston, USA: Brill.

Scheidel, W. (2005). Marriage, families, and survival in the Roman imperial army: Demographic aspects. Forthcoming Article. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. Retrieved on November, 9, 2016.

Wasson, D. (2016). Reforms of Augustus. Retrieved from Ancient History: Encyclopedia November 9, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (n.d). Augustus. Retrieved from Wikipedia November, 9, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (n.d). Lex Julia. Retrieved from Wikipedia November, 9, 2016 from

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