Byzantine Marriage Contract (726)
The Contract of Marriage, in the Ecloga of Leo III, (726)
Marriage, in both legal and social senses, underwent considerable
development throughout the course of Byzantine history. Perhaps
the greatest impetus for change was the progressive migration
of marriage law from civil to church courts, and the eventual
requirement that marriage services be conducted by the Church.
The family, especially the aristocratic family also underwent
changes. There were some continuities as well, of course. The
basic family unit, consisting not only of parents and their immediate
children, but also grandchildren, uncles and aunts, as well as
family relationships established by a whole series of religious
acts - adoption, godparentship, suntechnia (co-godparentship),
and adelphopoiia. Such alliances were planned with care,
with an intent to strengthen the position and material well-being
of a family.
The following selection, quoting from the laws of the eighth
century Ecloga (726) concerning marriage contracts, indicates
some of the considerations involved, especially those of property,
and implies that romantic love as a factor in choice of spouse
was very low on the list of priorities.
The marriage of Christians, man and woman, who have reached years
of discretion, that is for a man at fifteen and for a woman at
thirteen years of age, both being desirous and having obtained
the consent of their parents, shall be contracted either by deed
or by parol.
A written marriage contract shall be based upon a written agreement
providing the wife's marriage portion; and it shall be made before
three credible witnesses according to the new decrees auspiciously
prescribed by us. The man on his part agreeing by it continually
to protect an preserve undiminished the wife's marriage portion,
and also such additions as he may naturally make thereto in augmentation
thereof; and it shall be recorded in the agreement made on that
in case there are no children, one-fourth part thereof shall be
secured in settlement.
If the wife happens to predecease the husband and there are no
children of the marriage, the husband shall receive only one-fourth
part of the wife's portion for himself, and the remainder thereof
shall be given to the beneficiaries named in the wife's will or,
if she be intestate, to the next of kin. If the husband predeceases
the wife, and there are no children of the marriage, then all
the wife's portion shall revert to her, and so much ofher husband's
estate as shall be equal to a fourth part of his portion
shall also inure to her as her own, and the remainder of his estate
shall revert either to his beneficiaries or, if he be intestate,
to his next of kin.
If the husband predecease the wife and there are children of the
marriage, the wife being their mother, she shall control her marriage
portion and all her husband's property as becomes the head of
the family and household.
from E- Freshfield, trans., A Manual of Roman Law: The 'Ecloga"
(Cambridge, 1926) pp. 72-74. Reprinted in Deno Geanokoplos, Byzantium,
(Chicago: 1984), 266-67
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© Paul Halsall June 1997