Translation copyright 2001 Neil W. Bernstein; all rights reserved. 

What Servius Sulpicius (1) wrote in his book On Dowries on the law and the custom of ancient betrothals.

  1. Servius Sulpicius wrote in his book On Dowries that betrothals in the part of Italy called Latium typically occurred following this law and custom:”The man about to take a wife,” he says, “exacted a promise that she would be given to him in marriage from the man from whom he took her. The prospective bridegroom likewise made a promise. This legal agreement, which included solemn pledges and guarantees, was called the ‘formal betrothal’ [sponsalia]. The woman who had been promised was called the ‘fiancée’ [sponsa] and the man who had promised to take her the ‘fiancé’ [sponsus].” (2)”But if after these promises the wife was neither taken nor given in marriage, the one who exacted a promise could bring a charge before judges in order to enforce the betrothal agreement. The judge would ask the reason why the wife had neither been taken nor given. If no just cause was discovered, he would assess damages in the case, and order the one who made the promise to pay the one who exacted the promise the value of taking or giving the wife in marriage.”
  2. Servius says that this law of betrothals was observed up to the time when all of Latium was given citizenship by the Julian law. (3)
  3. Neratius wrote the same thing in his book On Marriage (4).


  1. Servius Sulpicius Rufus (consul 51 BC) was a famous legal scholar and friend of Cicero.
  2. On the formal betrothal (sponsalia), see Susan Treggiari, Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 145-155.
  3. The Julian Law of 90 BC granted Roman citizenship to the inhabitants of Latium.
  4. A jurist who flourished in the reigns of Trajan (AD 98-117) and Hadrian (AD 117-138).

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