Manus marriage

Statue depiction of Ancient Roman Matrimonium

Manus (/ˈmnəs/; Latin: [ˈmanʊs]) was an Ancient Roman type of marriage,[1] of which there were two forms: cum manu and sine manu.[2] In a cum manu marriage, the wife was placed under the legal control of the husband.[1][2] In a sine manu marriage, the wife was still under the legal control of her father.[3]

In both cum manu and sine manu marriages, if both the husband and wife were alieni iuris (persons under patria potestas, that is, under the power of his or her family's pater familias) the marriage could only take place with the approval of both of the patres familias.[3] However, the creation and termination of the marriage somewhat depended on the type of marriage.[3]

Initially cum manu was the only form of marriage but in time the cum manu union faded and only sine manu marriage was widely practiced.[4]

Cum manu

In a cum manu union the wife legally and ritually became a member of her husband's family.[3] She stood under the control of the husband’s potestas[1] or that of his father, and was thus no longer under the control of her father.[1][5] This change of status was referred to as capitis deminutio minima,[6] and the wife received the title of materfamilias, meaning “mother of the household” - a title reserved only for woman in a cum manu union.[6] Legally the wife was "adopted" by her husband and assumed the status of a daughter in the family.[1] This granted her the same entitlements as the other children family over matters of intestate succession.[1] Therefore, the wife no longer inherited from her father but from her husband.[3] However, the husband held a limited power over her in comparison to his children.[1] For example, the husband did not have the legal right of life and death the way he would his daughter, or that of noxal surrender and sale.[1]

The wife in a cum manu marriage held no proprietary capacity meaning she could not own any property.[1][3] Everything acquired prior to cum manu was thus transferred into the husband's property or his paterfamilias.[3] During Cicero's time property such as dowry was recognized as distinguishable and therefore recoverable.[3] Liabilities the wife may have acquired before marriage were erased.[3]

A widowed or divorced woman would become sui iuris.[3] For a widowed wife two significant benefits came from cum manu marriage: the husband could grant the wife the ability to select her tutor and she was able to create a will.[7]

Cum manu (i.e. the woman enters into manus) was procured by one of three ways: Confarreatio, Coemptio and Usus.[3]

Roman high priests often associated with Confarreatio ceremony


The ritual of confarreatio was one way of obtaining cum manu marriage, limited to the practice of patricians.[3] This is a particular kind of sacrifice made to Jupiter.[8] During this ritual the bridegroom and bride shared a bread made of farreus known as emmer grain, hence confarreatio translates to “sharing of emmer bread.”[8] This process required the presence of ten witnesses and the recital of ceremonial sacred verses.[8] High priests such as the priests of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus were required to be born from confarreatio union and were otherwise unqualified to obtain priesthood.[8]

As confarreatio slowly fell from favor it became difficult to find candidates for priesthood.[8][9] In order to revive confarreatio marriages, the practice endured some amendments.[8] Consequently, the flamen Dialis’s wife only fell under the control of her husband during rituals, and was otherwise as autonomous as other women.[8] Cum manu was no longer acquired by the employment of confarretio and became restricted to patricians pursuing in priestly positions.[10]


The matrimonial process of coemptio was in essence a fictitious notional sale of the woman to the husband.[3][7] Coemptio occurred at any time throughout marriage.[10] This was a process of mancipation.[8] The transaction occurred with a scales-holder and in the presence of at least five witnesses, all of whom were adult male Roman citizens.[10]

Coemptio could occur not only with a husband but also with an outsider.[10] However, this process is deemed for the “sake of trust” not for the “sake of marriage.”[10] Coemptio was only a convenient legal practice.[10] If a wife became cum manu through the process of coemptio divorced, then she became emancipated.[6] By the 2nd century AD, a wife was able to compel her husband to emancipate her, a right not shared by her children.[10] Coemptio was presumably a rare practice even during the 2nd century BC under Gaius.[7] In addition, it was possibly the remains of earlier practices of notional sale.[3]


A cum manu acquired by usus was simply the cohabitation of the husband and wife for the duration of a year.[3] After a year passed the wife was transferred into the ownership of her partner, she was considered taken by the decree of yearly possession.[11] This process required no ceremonial practices.[11]

If the woman was not willing to come into ownership of her husband, manus by usus was easily preventable.[8] As conditioned in the Twelve Tables if the wife absented herself for the total of three days and three nights before the end of the year, each year, the marriage was not cum manu, and she was not under the ownership of her husband.[8] If a woman married cum manu through the process of usus later divorced, she became emancipated.[6] Subsequently, the law of usus was dissolved by legal enactments presumably because it fell out of use.

Sine manu

In a sine manu union the wife legally and ritually remained a member of her father's family, standing under the control of her father's potestas.[3] A sine manu marriage did not change the legal status of the bride after the marriage, in regards to property rights.[3][12] In other words, the bride is not under control of the husband.[2] This form of marriage held no ceremonial formalities led by a public official.[3] Ultimately it involved a husband and wife living together under the intention of a marriage, in conjunction with the legal capacity of marriage under the Roman law.[3] Although no official ceremony was held, it was customary for the bride to be escorted to her bridegroom's house.[3] The children of this union were legally members of the husband’s agnatic kin.[13] They held no legal connection with the mother’s paterfamilias, and could not make claims on her intestate.[13]

It was only when the woman’s paterfamilias died that she became sui iuris.[13] This union allowed the wife to become independent sooner than cum manu, under the assumption that the fathers are likely to have died before a husband. Primarily this served the natal family, allowing her property to stay in the father’s possession.[14]

Various factors may have led to the extinction of cum manu and the predominance of sine manu during the Roman Republic. Women faced with the loss of property when entering a cum manu marriage began to only consent to sine manu unions.[4]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Jane F. Gardner,Women in Roman Law and Society,First Midland Book Edition, 1991, 11
  2. 1 2 3 John William Smith, John Innes Clark Hare, Horace Binny Wallace, John William Wallace,A selection of leading cases, on various branches of the law Law Booksellers and Publishers, 1855, Volume 2, 409
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Marcia L. Colish,The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, Brill Academic Publishers, 1990, 2 Edition, 383
  4. 1 2 Rena Van den Bergh, "The Role of Education in the Social and Legal Position of Women in Roman Society", 11
  5. Judith P. Hallett and Thoman Van Nortwick,Compromising Traditions,Routledge, 1997, 34
  6. 1 2 3 4 Susan Treggiari,Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges,Oxford University Press, 1993, 28
  7. 1 2 3 Jane F. Gardner,Women in Roman Law and Society,First Midland Book Edition, 1991, 12
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Judith Evans Grubbs,Women and the law in the Roman Empire: a sourcebook on marriage, divorce and widowhood, 2002 by Rouledge, 22
  9. Susan Treggiari,Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges,Oxford University Press, 1993, 23
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Susan Treggiari,Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges,Oxford University Press, 1993, 24
  11. 1 2 Jane F. Gardner,Women in Roman Law and Society,First Midland Book Edition, 1991, 13
  12. John Peradotto and J.P. Sulliva,Women in the Ancient World: The Arethus Papers, State University of New York Press, 1984, 243
  13. 1 2 3 Susan Treggiari,Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges,Oxford University Press, 1993, 32
  14. Judith Evans Grubbs,Women and the law in the Roman Empire: a sourcebook on marriage, divorce and widowhood, 2002 by Rouledge, 21
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