Matrimonium is the standard term in Roman legal parlance for "matrimony", along with the related term nuptiae, "wedding."

My question is simply stated: In Roman classical antiquity, either by legal arrangement or even anecdotally, is matrimonium ever used to refer to a (1) polygamous, or (2) homosexual relationship? If so, I am especially interested in uses of this term that imply some form of legal or cultural recognition.


I found two references in Aulus Gellius, one of matrimonium and one of the verb nupta.

Tum puer matre urgente lepidi atque festivi mendacii consilium capit. Actum in senatu dixit, utrum videretur utilius exque republica esse, unusne ut duas uxores haberet, an ut una apud duos nupta esset. (1.23.8)

Then the boy, because of his mother's insistence, resorted to a witty and amusing falsehood. He said that the senate had discussed the question whether it seemed more expedient, and to the advantage of the State, for one man to have two wives or one woman to have two husbands.

Mulieres fere omnes in maiorem modum exosus fuisse dicitur, siue quod natura abhorruit a mulierum coetu siue quod duas simul uxores habuerat, cum id decreto ab Atheniensibus facto ius esset, quarum matrimonii pertaedebat. (15.20.6)

He is said to have had an exceeding antipathy towards almost all women, either because he had a natural disinclination to their society, or because he had had two wives at the same time (since that was permitted by a decree passed by the Athenians) and they had made wedlock hateful to him.

(English is Rolfe's revised translation from the Loeb.)

Tacitus in his Germania 18.1 also mentions matrimonium in the context of polygamous barbarians, but it's a more tenuous connection, since he's contrasting the Germans' adherence to monogamy against others' practice of polygamy.

  • Thanks! Some comments: (1) The first quote is referring to a joke a boy plays on his mother, lying about what the Senate was deliberating about. I suppose that still fits the idea of an "anecdote" in my question. (2) The second quote comes from a life of Euripides, and the parenthetical remark gives reason to think that from a Roman's perspective it was not allowed.
    – brianpck
    May 5 '17 at 18:30
  • 1
    @brianpck Indeed, "marriage" to multiple wives was not normally legal in either Greek or Roman societies. There is some debate, if I recall correctly, about whether the decrees counted as true marriage or not, but Gellius uses the term here nonetheless.
    – cmw
    May 5 '17 at 18:36
  • @brianpck Are you instead looking for whether there were any laws allowed for matrimonium to multiple partners/of the same sex? I'm sure there is something somewhere referring to "barbarian matrimonium" that must reference multiple wives.
    – cmw
    May 5 '17 at 18:37
  • That's definitely an interesting, tangential question--would you mind if I edited it into the scope? As stated, this answers my question at least from a "yes/no" perspective.
    – brianpck
    May 5 '17 at 18:38
  • @brianpck By all means!
    – cmw
    May 5 '17 at 18:39

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