Why Was Divorce In Ancient Rome Comomn

In ancient Rome, divorce laws were loosely regulated and since the lack of religious or legal consequences, separation from one’s partner was a commonplace occurrence. Marriage in Rome was not considered a bond between a man and woman, but rather a way of keeping assets in the family. The only thing that mattered for divorce in Roman law was the agreement between the two parties. Although it had its roots in morality, divorce primarily became a process of transfer of property from one family to the other.
Roman society had very different views on marriage and divorce, compared to our society in the modern age. Ancient Romans saw marriage primarily as an economic and social institution, with little sentiment between the two partners. Therefore, divorce was treated as a practical and viable option to fulfill the purpose of a marriage union. Adultery, desertion, and abandonment could all be cited as valid justifications for divorce. In certain cases, the grounds for dissolution of a marriage were a very low barrier to cross and in some cases either spouse could simply opt out of the marriage without explanation.
To gain a better understanding of the reasons why divorce was common in ancient Rome, it is important to look at the different functions of marriage in the Roman world. Encouraging marriage and producing children was considered part of the Roman culture and it was believed that marriage was necessary for the community’s health and prosperity. At the same time, it was also believed that a woman’s ability to reproduce should benefit, not hinder, her partner’s property. Therefore, the main purpose of marriage was the production of legitimate children, who would promote the family’s wealth and status. Therefore, even if a marriage did not function, or if the relationship between the couple deteriorated, it was usually dissolved without significant consequences.
In addition, the Roman legal system did not interfere with the decision to end a marriage. Husbands were allowed to divorce their wives without the need for a court appeal, and wives were able to leave their husbands without having to seek any legal action. This made the divorce easy and accessible to the majority of the Roman people, who tend to take advantage of the social and economic opportunities provided. Moreover, unlike other cultures, it was not uncommon to remarry once a divorce was finalized.
While the legal system of ancient Rome provided an easy pathway for divorce, it may also have favored men, as marriages could be annulled if a man’s wife was found to be insufficiently fertile and unable to provide children. Additionally, a husband could prevent a wife from leaving the marriage by legally binding her to her husband’s family or denying her the option to divorce. This could be compared to the modern “no fault divorce” laws, which provide a pathway for husbands or wives to separate without mutual consent.

Freedom to Start a New Life

In ancient Rome, divorce was a much easier process than it is today and individuals were not only free to leave marriages but were encouraged to remarry if they chose to do so. In fact, divorce was so common that it was not uncommon for a man or woman to be married multiple times. This freedom allowed people to choose their own spouse and start a new life without significant societal or legal consequences.
Divorce was an important aspect of Roman life and its prevalence reflects the values of the culture and its emphasis on the practical aspects of marriage rather than its sentimental aspects. Aqueducts, roads, and other projects supported by the Roman empire gave the people of the time greater financial stability and promoted marital freedom with the ability to support one’s own family. In addition, Roman law gave men and women equal rights when it came to marriage and divorce. This freedom to choose was unprecedented at the time and was a factor in the divorce rates during the Roman era.
It is also worth noting that while divorce was unrestricted in ancient Rome, marriage between two people of the same sex was strictly prohibited. This suggests that the sexual component of marriage was not considered as important as the social and economic aspects of the time. In addition, whilst the divorced men and women of Rome were free to remarry and start a new life, this choice was often made on practical or economic terms, rather than out of love.


In ancient Rome, divorce was viewed as a practical and viable option to fulfill the purpose of a marriage union. It was permitted by the legal system and viewed as a way for Roman couples to separate without significant consequences. Men and women were equal in their rights to end a marriage and could choose to remarry as soon as the divorce was finalized.

Financial Implications of Divorce

In ancient Rome, the primary function of marriage was to legalize the transfer of property and assets from one generation to the next. This was why marriages were strictly patriarchal, whether between two men or two women, even if a woman was the primary earner in the household. During a divorce, a man’s property and assets were subject to division and any dowry provided by the wife’s family was also subject to division. The financial implications of divorce were generally split between the couple, which was the result of Rome’s commitment to protecting the rights of the woman.
Women’s rights in ancient Rome were far more advanced than in other societies of the time, and women were allowed to retain their own property and income during a divorce. In some cases, a wife was also granted alimony, even though men were not necessarily accorded the same rights. Moreover, although divorce was legalised, there was a strong sense of shame and stigma associated with it; marriage was considered a permanent bond and a divorce could damage one’s social standing, particularly if the person seeking the separation was a woman.
In addition, while both parties were entitled to the division of their property and assets during a divorce, it was far more difficult for a woman to seek a divorce than a man. A man only needed to write and deliver a letter to his wife, while a woman needed to prove her case in court in order to be granted a legal dissolution. As a result, it is likely that more men than women sought divorces in ancient Rome.

Social Effects of Divorce in Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, a couple’s choice to divorce could have a long-lasting effect on their lives, both socially and financially. Divorce in Rome did not carry with it a negative social stigma, but it could have consequences, particularly for women.
Since marriage was mainly used in Rome for the transfer of property, before and after a divorce, women had to rely on their relatives for safety and protection. Divorce could have a long-term financial impact on a woman as she may not have been able to acquire property and assets. This could be in contrast to a man, who was allowed to remarry to a wealthier woman and thus maintain his wealth and growing status.
At the same time, while the social implications of divorce could be damaging to the couple, the effects on children could be more serious. Roman society placed a great emphasis on the continuity of lineages, which a divorce could disrupt. Additionally, a child born out of wedlock would be viewed as illegitimate, as Roman law regarded marriage as the only legal form of sexual union. This could lead to a child being denied inheritance or other legal rights.

Religious Perspectives on Divorce

The religious attitudes of ancient Rome towards divorce varied and no unified position was present. Although the Roman gods were believed to have multiple partners, and even cohabited with their own siblings, the concept of divorce was seen as morally wrong by some. The most common religious perspective was that marriage was a contract between two individuals and breaking it was not acceptable.
Religious authors would often come out against separateness, and marital separation, claiming it as a violation of openly accepted Romans laws. However, others saw it as a necessary evil, while some viewed it as a necessary step in the progress of society. Ultimately, marriage and divorce were seen as a necessary part of life in Rome, and how one chose to handle their own situation was respected.
The positive views of divorce had an equally important role in Roman law, allowing those in an unhappy marriage to separate and find a better partner. Furthermore, the absence of any legal sanctions for divorce, and the acceptance of the possibility of remarriage, gave those stuck in an unhappy marriage the option to separate and look for another partner. However, while divorce did provide an escape from an unhappy marriage, it was also seen as a way to empty and destroy the family, which could have damaging effects on the children and their own future prospects.


Divorce was a common and accepted practice in ancient Rome, and the legal system provided an easy pathway for couples to separate and remarry. Marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the main purpose of it was to ensure that the family wealth was transferred between generations. The effects of divorce were varied, ranging from financial implications, to social stigma and religious debate. Ultimately, Roman society was one of the first to recognize and legalize the option of divorce, and its prevalence in the Roman era still influences legal laws pertaining to marriage today.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

Leave a Comment