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date: 22 September 2023

lex Papia Poppaeafree

lex Papia Poppaeafree

  • Jacob Giltaij


The lex Papia Poppaea was enacted in 9 ce by the suffect consuls, M. Papius Mutilus and Q. Poppaeus Secundus, probably on the initiative of the Emperor Augustus. The law complemented, supplemented, and enhanced the provisions of the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus (the law of Augustus concerning the regulation of marriage, enacted in 18 bce). The two laws, referred to jointly as the lex Iulia et Papia, had the primary effect of obliging all Roman citizens to marry and have (legitimate) heirs.


  • Roman Law


There are several pre-Justinian sources in which the lex Papia Poppaea is treated separately from the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus. For example, in Gaius, Institutes 2.286a, the lex Papia Poppaea is said to have determined that those who did not have children (orbi) would lose half of their estates and legacies upon death. Moreover, Gaius indicated that the lex increased the rights of patrons in the case of the death of their freedmen, providing them with an equal share irrespective of whether the freedmen had left a will (Gai. Inst. 3.42). In the Tituli ex corpore Ulpiani, the time limit for remarriage for women after the death of or divorce from her spouse was extended by the lex Papia Poppaea, to two years and one-and-a-half years respectively (Tit. Ulp. 14), and the range of family members exempt from sanctions pertaining to the inheritance is widened to the third degree (Tit. Ulp. 18).

An excerpt from a work by the jurist Celsus, incorporated in the Digest, singled out the lex Papia Poppaea as having ordained that all freeborn men except senators could marry all freeborn women (Digestorum 30, Dig. 23.2.23). The specific mention of the lex Papia Poppaea by Celsus is noteworthy, since the previously enacted lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus likely already contained a regulation to this effect. Otherwise, because the laws were usually treated together as the lex Iulia et Papia—for example in a number of dedicated juristic works from the early Empire—it is difficult to precisely ascertain the additions the lex Papia Poppaea made to the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus. The reconstructions of Rotondi and Crawford of the lex Papia thus have been made in conjunction with those of the lex Iulia. Rotondi simply stated that disentangling the two laws was impossible.1 According to Crawford, the lex Papia primarily strengthened and reinforced the lex Iulia. Although there are several problematic sources, such as Fragmenta Vaticana 216–219, only in the texts mentioned previously in this article are provisions of the lex Iulia and lex Papia explicitly distinguished.2


Though it is hard to distinguish between the content of the laws, the lex Papia Poppaea almost certainly expanded on the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus in various ways.3 For a start, the time limit for remarriage for women after a divorce or the death of the former spouse (vacatio) was longer in the lex Papia Poppaea.4 In general however, it could be said the most important enhancements made by the lex Papia Poppaea are to be found in the context of rewards and sanctions pertaining to inheritances.5 For example, the list of relatives by marriage (adfines) who were exempted from certain sanctions pertaining to the inheritance of the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus was expanded by the law (Tit. Ulp. 18). Furthermore, the law laid down that unmarried couples (caelibes) forfeited half of their inheritances and legacies. As such, the law appears to have expanded on certain privileges accorded to couples with multiple children, for instance by only allowing couples who had had a set number of children (and who had subsequently passed away) the ability to inherit by testament from one other. Thus, whereas the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus was primarily aimed at encouraging marriage, the lex Papia Poppaea probably rewarded bearing legitimate offspring above all.6 More possible additions the lex Papia Poppaea made to the lex Iulia include arrangements pertaining to the betrothal (sponsa) and the registration of new-born children (professio).7


The fact that Augustus found it necessary to expand on his earlier law by means of a second law only twenty-seven years after the earlier enactment may indicate the resistance to and lack of success of the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus.8 In general, however, what goes for the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus also goes for the lex Papia Poppaea, and perhaps the moral legislation of Augustus in general—it legalized hitherto normative relations and severely limited the power of the pater familias in favour of that of the magistrate, probably as an echo of republican censorial practice. As such, the laws seem to have been aimed mainly at stabilizing the Roman family and its social context for the purpose of producing offspring.9 Still, their actual effectiveness in Roman society is a matter of debate.10


  • Astolfi, Riccardo. La Lex Iulia et Papia (2nd ed.). Padua, Italy: CEDAM, 1986.
  • Jörs, Paul. Über das Verhältniss der Lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus zur Lex Papia Poppaea. Bonn, Germany: Universitäts-Buchdruckerei Carl Georgi, 1882.
  • McGinn, Thomas A. J. Prostitution, Sexuality and the Law in Ancient Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Mette-Dittmann, Angelika. “Die Ehegesetze des Augustus: Eine Untersuchung im Rahmen der Gesellschaftspolitik des princeps.” In Historia Einzelschriften, no. 67. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1991.
  • Nörr, Dieter. “Planung in der Antike: Über die Ehegesetze des Augustus.” In Freiheit und Sachzwang: Festschrift zu Ehren von H. Schelsky. Edited by Horst Baier, 309–334. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1977.
  • Raditsa, Leo F. “Augustusʼ legislation concerning marriage, procreation, love affairs, and adultery.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. 2.13. Edited by Hildegard Temporini, 278–339. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1980.
  • Schulz, Fritz. Classical Roman Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951.
  • Treggiari, Susan. Roman Marriage. Iusta Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. “Family and Inheritance in the Augustan Marriage Laws.” The Cambridge Classical Journal 27 (1981): 58–80.