Adultery in ancient Greece and Rome

Adultery in ancient Greece and Rome: Greece, Rome.Ancient Rome and Greece are a place of origin of civilization. Rome has adopted its core norms from Greek culture, such as art, architecture, literature, and even punishments. 

Adultery in ancient Greece and Rome
Adultery in ancient Greece and Rome

How do both cultures view adultery, and what are the penal consequences of adultery? 

In this article, we will discuss  the meaning of adultery under ancient 

Adultery in  ancient Greece:

Adultery in the Greek language is called Moicheia. Moicheia is different from the modern definition of adultery and has a much broader concept. 

According to ancient Greeks, Moicheia means “seduction of freeborn women living under the protection of kyrios.” Kyrios means the legal guardian, lord, husband, brother, or father. Adultery includes the elements like seduction and decisiveness. Because of this reason, they believed that adultery is even worse than rape. In ancient Greeks, adultery laws differed according to gender. 

Demosthenes depicted, “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the routine care of our persons, but wives to produce legitimate children and to remain faithful to our households.”

This statement clearly shows that men get allowed to keep concubines, prostitution, and extramarital affairs; when it comes to women, they get strictly condemned. Thus a woman’s life in her obscurity seems to be more respectful and faithful.

According to ancient Greek, a man involved in a sexual relationship with a free woman or a girl under the protection of her proprietors commits adultery.

Ancient Greece peoples considered adultery as a social crime against the cultural and religious institutions. Adultery is the most heinous offence that destroys the sacred institution of marriage. It makes the husband doubt whether the child born is his legitimate child or not.

In ancient Greek, only a legitimate child had a right to inheritance and respect in society. An illegitimate child born out of illicit sexual relations was considered an outcast and looked down on them. They do not possess any right in family succession. 

Punishment for adultery in Greece:

Ancient Greeks have a different perspective on rapists and adulterers. Ancient Greeks reckoned adultery worse than rape. They believed that adultery is a grave offence; because it consists of seduction and deceit. Adultery gets considered as a “seduction of freeborn married women under the protection of kyrios.” 

On the other hand, rape is reckoned as a violent behavior ordinarily a fact of life. According to ancient greeks, rape was considered a natural act arising out of the sexual desires of man is a fact of life. Although it is a violent act that ruins a woman brutally, it is considered a crime against the women’s proprietors( father, brother, husband, and legal guardians).

A rapist gets charged with a penalty of double damages. On the other hand, adultery was a heinous act that destroyed the most sacred institution of Greek culture. 

But the punishment varies according to the gender and rank of the adulterer. 

In ancient Greek, a married man involved in marital infidelity only got punished if his co-conspirator was a freeborn married woman or unmarried daughter under the protection of her proprietors. This punishment gave a free pass to a married man to get intimate with helot, concubines, prostitutes, and even sexually available adult men.

Whereas if a married woman gets involved in a sexual relationship with a person other than her husband, the proprietor(husband, father, brother, or legal guardian) of that married women get the right to kill both the adulterers. The father catching a man trifling with his married daughter can kill both the adulterers. 

The Greek law considers these justifiable homicides. One of the examples of this punishment is Euphiletus, who killed a man when he caught that man in an intimidating position with his wife. If the husband gets charged with murder of the adulterers, he can plead that he acted lawfully, and he automatically gets divorced from his wife.

Some scholars consider the punishment for rape and adultery as equivalent. The rapist has to pay double damages to the proprietors, and adulterers get punishment with the death penalty.

Not all instances end in killing the adulterers. If the adulterers get brought to court, the adulterer man will get punished by inserting radish in his anus. 

Ancient Greek law permits a husband to punish the male adulterer involved in an illicit relationship with his wife with the most humiliating punishment. 

The law gave the husband the right to sodomize the male adulterer with radish. These punishments were the most dangerous and gravest of all(later followed by Romans). In this punishment, husbands insert a radish into the anal of the adulterer, witnessed by greeks roaring with laughter.

Besides these punishments, there were many other punishments, such as a woman may get exiled from her house. The adulteress was even forbidden to get buried in family tombs. Such punishment exiles an adulterous woman from society. She does not get allowed to wear ornaments and leave the rest of her life alone like a widow.

Adultery in ancient Rome:

Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome have some similarities regarding the punishment for adultery. Although there is punishment for adultery, it differs according to gender. Women get more severe punishment than men.

Immorality is considered a sign of unstable family and social degradation. A legitimate child is entitled to become a full citizen in society. A child procured out of extramarital affairs is reckoned an outcast and receives shame in society. It was the main reason that; women were strictly required to remain faithful to their husbands.

King of Rome, Romulus prescribed several rights to husbands against the unfaithful wife. One such right is to kill the adulteress. A husband catching red-handed her wife in an intimidating position with her lover has the right to kill her and her lover.

Not only this, but he also gets an immediate divorce, and the wife’s family loses the right to reclaim the dowry given at the time of marriage. Thus the husband got the right to seek divorce and kill the adulteress with her lover for adultery.

On the other hand, a woman does not get such rights against her husband. The husbands were free to engage in extramarital affairs while their wives were not. Men were free to engage in extramarital affairs with women, young boys, and other men. But get punished if their adulterer lover is a freeborn Roman citizen. 

Under the kingship of Augustus, “the lex Iulia de adulteriis.”  

Which means the Julian law of adultery was adopted. This law got enacted to revive the social morals and customs of Rome. The primary purpose behind this legislature was to encourage Romanian peoples to have elicit marriages and produce legitimate children. 

This law gave the right to women’s proprietors to kill women and their lovers on the spot. The proprietors of women are her husband, father, and brother. The father has the right to kill her daughter and lover on the ground of adultery. But the husband gets the right to kill his wife only when; his wife and her lover get caught red-handed. But he can only kill her wife’s lover if he is inferior or outcast.

These punishments are to preserve the family’s reputation from the nasty gossip of people regarding the child’s legitimacy.

Another punishment includes a person committing adultery getting exiled from Rome to an island. This law was equally enforced regardless of the rank and class of the people. Augustus punished his daughter Julia for committing adultery and exiled her to Pandaria island.

Punishment for adultery in ancient Rome:

In ancient Rome, Sex was a natural and normal part of life. There was no restriction for sexual activities unless breaks; the four centra choices or acts concerning sexuality. One of the four choices is Stuprum which describes rape or sexual misconduct that includes an extramarital affair with a freeborn Roman citizen.

If any person violates this law, that person has to bear legal consequences.

Under the leadership of Romulus, a husband gets the right to kill his wife on the spot, committing adultery. No legal action will arise for murdering his wife. On the other hand, women do not have such rights. Mans are free to establish sexual relationships with prostitutes, women, and even boys. The only exception is that women must not be freeborn Roman citizens. 

If no death penalty gets prescribed, an adulterer was subject to criminal penalties such as the seizure of assets of both the adulterers. The wife’s property, the dowry she brought at marriage time, and her lover’s property; get seized. 

Augustus prescribed the same law, but the husband had the right to kill her wife only when he caught his wife and her lover red-handed.The radish punishment prescribed in Greek law also got adopted by Romanians, which got substituted with eggplant.

Read also: Adultery in ancient Greece and Rome

Adultery in ancient Egypt and India ; Adultery in Buddhism ; Adultery in the Catholic Church; Adultery in the Old Testament; Adultery vs Affair; Adultery in the New testament

External resource: Wikipedia

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