Scholia Reviews ns 10 (2001) 29.

Carla Fayer, La familia romana: aspetti giuridici ed antiquari. Rome: 'L'Erma' di Bretschneider, 1994. Pp. 728. ISBN 88-7062-875-2. L450,000, US$283.00.

Tim Parkin,
University of Canterbury, New Zealand

For a review of a book published in 1994 to appear in a journal in 2001 is somewhat unusual, and requires a word of explanation. First of all, La familia romana only became available for review here in 2000. But more importantly, the book warrants a review still, because it has been rather neglected, at least in English-speaking countries. Possible reasons for such neglect (apart from the obvious, that it is not in English) shall be explored presently.

This book is a useful research tool for anyone investigating the Roman family. Interest in this area has grown phenomenally over the past two decades, and progress has been concomitant; the initiative of Beryl Rawson's Roman family conferences (I in 1981, II in 1988, and III in 1994, held at Canberra, Australia, and published in 1986, 1991, and 1997 respectively) is to continue, with IV taking place in Ontario in September 2001.[[1]] Advances in social and cultural history have been made in many diverse contexts; not only literary but also epigraphical, papyrological, archaeological, iconographical, and statistical, as well as legal material has been brought to bear on the subject. It is evident that in order to be able to speak intelligently about the workings and functions of the family and/or household in the Roman world, one needs to be well acquainted with many aspects; arguably, the legal is the most fundamental. The juridical sources present a wealth of information and detail; they also notoriously create a minefield for the uninitiated and the unwary. We must remain critically aware that the legal texts typically describe legal constructs or opinions (and of a specific time and place), not social norms or, necessarily, realities. It is also vital that we maintain a healthy caution with respect to terminology. Most fundamentally, familia does not equal 'family';[[2]] the main title of the book under review specifies familia, not famiglia (as it is sometimes quoted).

Recent years have seen some excellent examples of the way literary and legal testimony can be utilised together in order to develop our understanding of the patterns and varieties of social groupings that may be subsumed under the title 'Roman family'; one thinks immediately of works by, for example (and in no particular order), Beryl Rawson, Paul Weaver, Suzanne Dixon, Susan Treggiari, Keith Bradley, Jane Gardner, Thomas Wiedemann, Richard Saller, Brent Shaw, Judith Evans-Grubbs, and Antti Arjava. All these are scholars publishing (predominantly) in English. Books and articles of related interest in French (by Mireille Corbier and Joelle Beaucamp, not to mention Paul Veyne)[[3]] and in German (such as work by J.-U. Krause, as well as Angelika Mette- Dittmann) certainly exist, but they are far less numerous, and -- unless I am merely displaying my own narrow perspective -- much less noticed by most scholars working on the Roman family. Perhaps that is inevitable, but it is certainly not desirable. La familia romana should have helped to an extent to correct the situation, but as far as I can see it has not.

Fayer's book is a case where the subtitle (Aspetti giuridici ed antiquari) is absolutely vital. This is not an Italian contribution to the literature on the sociological/historical study of the Roman family (of this there has been very little in Italian, although note Maurizio Bettini's idiosyncratic book.[[4]]) The Italian book on the Roman family to which I turn most often is Riccardo Astolfi's on the Augustan marriage legislation,[[5]] and it is certainly in the legal domain that the Italian contribution has been greatest. I can well remember the first time I visited the Bodleian Law Library, in 1987, and browsed the shelves of the Roman law section. I had gone there, in my first year as a graduate student, to find juridical material on patria potestas. I had never realised until then just how much has been published in Italian on the legal and historical constructs of Roman law. Even if fluent in the language, it would be impossible for the historian of the Roman family to take all this Italian legal scholarship on board. Fayer's book does help to correct that situation, so it deserves to be better known, and better utilised.

La familia romana is not, then, social history. One will not find much reference here to a name such as Beryl Rawson, apart from some notice of Roman Family I (specifically the papers by Crook and Lacey); Alan Watson is mentioned but not Paul Weaver; Carcopino is here but not Corbier; Saller and Shaw scarcely feature; as for Suzanne Dixon, there is reference to only one paper by her, and that of a legal nature; Susan Treggiari features on occasion, but on marriage there is far more from G. Brini (1888); Jane Gardner's Being a Roman Citizen,[[6]] now fundamental for many aspects discussed by Fayer, clearly appeared too late to be used (Fayer's preface is dated 5 February 1993); hence, of course, there is also no Evans-Grubbs or Arjava, but a great deal of Sargenti for the later empire. In this volume the prominent names, familiar to many of us but perhaps more as bibliographical items than for their content and ideas, are the likes of Solazzi, Albertario, Costa, Bonfante, Arangio-Ruiz, De Francisci, Volterra, Biondi, Lanfranchi, Guarino, Pugliese, Voci, and Franciosi, as well as, outside the Italian realm, such names as De Visscher and Kaser.

I list names rather than topics because it seems to me that such a catalogue, more than anything else, makes very clear the nature of La familia romana. There is nothing original in the ideas or arguments of this book, and there is very little here to reflect the wider state of knowledge, even as of 1993, about the Roman family as a social construct. The book is a survey of several centuries of scholarship on aspects of Roman private law, particularly on the evolution and development of the laws; it also deals on occasion with aspects of antiquarianism (for example, the origin of the gentes), a particular interest of the author, as her previous publications make clear.[[7]] The book's target audience is not legal historians (Fayer herself is not one), but social historians, those who otherwise would not be able to cope with, and benefit from, the vast scholarly literature Italy in particular has produced.

In over 700 pages, Fayer aims to treat the 'vastissimo e complesso problema delle istituzioni romane private' which relates to 'la costituzione e la composizione della familia romana' (p. 11). There is detailed analysis, with abundant citations of ancient texts (in Latin and occasionally Greek, with Italian translation; predominantly legal evidence, some literary, and a very little epigraphical and papyrological) and of modern scholarship, relating to:

(i) specific meanings of familia Romana, its composition and constitution in legal senses; adgnatio (and its extinction through capitis deminutio), cognatio, adfinitas, gens, etc., as well as discussion of the meaning of such terms as familia and domus.

(ii) patria potestas: its meaning and extent, its relation to private and public law; the powers it theoretically entails, notably ius vitae ac necis, ius exponendi, ius vendendi, ius noxae dandi; the position of the filius familias and his peculium, and what happens when the pater familias dies.[[8]]

(iii) adoptio, including adrogatio. Much here is superseded by Jane Gardner's 1998 book (see n. 2); Gardner's work is also vital on the subject of emancipation, of which there is relatively sparse discussion in Fayer (cf. p. 224).

(iv) tutela and cura: a very thorough treatment and very useful on, for example, tutela mulierum, and cura furiosi (pp. 559-82). Again, the reader will find more perceptive and concise studies elsewhere,[[9]] but it remains helpful to have primary and secondary material collated here. The volume concludes with an extensive bibliography and indices.

As a work of reference -- and the indices are indeed excellent -- this book is extremely useful. Fayer conveys complex material in a clear and well- structured manner, albeit at times too protracted, with good cross-referencing. Digressions only occasionally become bewildering. One will find here a veritable wealth of information; examples of particularly useful detail include discussions of adrogatio (especially pp. 294-305), the ius liberorum (pp. 516-18), and the meaning of infantia (pp. 398f.). For a striking example of lengthy discussion, more than one ever perhaps wanted to know, see the index references to vino -- the entry on divieto di bere vino, incidentally, is a rare example of rather circuitous referencing. The principal discussion of wine-drinking, pp. 146-63, might be compared with Treggiari's rather more concise treatment in her 1991 book on Roman marriage. Anyone who despises long footnotes will be dismayed by this book. Personally, I found them, much more than the extensive citation of legal texts, very useful. For some particularly extensive examples see pp. 123-26, 148, 182, 295-98, 314, 491-501, 601f.; a number of notes are in effect bibliographical essays in their own right.[[10]]

But what should be a very useful reference tool for historians of the family has been largely overlooked, I think, simply because of the price. The book is currently advertised on the 'L'Erma' di Bretschneider webpage as L450,000 or US$283.[[11]] In their 2001 catalogue it is advertised at Lire 473,000, US$249, Euro 245. Whatever the current price and exchange rates, this is a phenomenally expensive book, especially for a paperback. Few scholars will have it on their shelves; in fact, as library budgets dwindle, especially in countries which experience crippling exchange rates, not many universities will have this book either. Only one library in New Zealand has it (because I ordered it in 1994, before I knew how much it cost). Searching, with help from the interlibrary loan people in my University library, has revealed only five other copies in libraries throughout the southern hemisphere; predictably, there are many more in libraries in the northern hemisphere, but even then the count does not reach the century mark. To put it bluntly: this book is worth having, but not at the price it is currently being offered.

One further point needs to be made. I stated earlier that this is a case where the subtitle is vital. This is also a case where the sub-subtitle (Parte prima) appears to mislead: it is clearly stated that this is part one, and we are told in the preface (p. 11) that part two will deal with i momenti più salienti della vita umana di ogni tempo, namely (and the list is a little surprising) betrothal, marriage, adultery, and divorce. There is no mention of a third volume, though one might have expected some discussion of (inter alia) inheritance law in the context of the family. In any event, part two has not appeared, and the New York Public Library catalogue (, for example, includes the following message: '"Please note [a typographical error] in this volume. The volume has been erroneously labelled Part one" -- Inserted errata slip.' My copy has no such slip, nor has 'L'Erma' di Bretschneider been able to clarify the situation, apart from telling me that there are currently no plans to publish part two. I have been unable to contact Professor Fayer, but it would be good to know if a further volume is forthcoming. I would certainly welcome it, but one hopes that it will be at a much more affordable price if and when it does appear.


[[1]] B. Rawson (ed.), The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives (London and Sydney 1986); B. Rawson (ed.), Marriage, Divorce and Children in Ancient Rome (Canberra and Oxford 1991); B. Rawson and P. Weaver (edd.), The Roman Family in Italy: Status, Sentiment, Space (Canberra and Oxford 1997). Details of the forthcoming conference may be found at ference.

[[2]] In this context note now Jane F. Gardner, Family and Familia in Roman Law and Life (Oxford 1998) 271 n. 9.

[[3]] See also the trilingual edition by Jean Andreau et Hinnerk Bruhns (edd.), Parenté et stratégies familiales dans l'Antiquité romaine: actes de la table ronde des 2-4 octobre 1986 (Paris 1990).

[[4]] Maurizio Bettini, Antropologia e cultura romana: Parentela, tempo, immagini dell'anima (Rome 1988). There is an English translation by J. van Sickle, Anthropology and Roman Culture: Kinship, Time, Images of the Soul (Baltimore and London 1991).

[[5]] Riccardo Astolfi, La Lex Iulia et Papia (Padova 1996[4]).

[[6]] Jane F. Gardner, Being a Roman Citizen (London and New York 1993).

[[7]] Especially Carla Fayer, Aspetti di vita quotidiana nella Roma arcaica (Rome 1982).

[[8]] In this connection - and for the way in which the scholarly tradition may build upon itself - see now Brent D. Shaw, 'Raising and killing children: two Roman myths', Mnemosyne 54 (2001) 31-77.

[[9]] Particularly in Richard Saller's Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family (Cambridge 1994).

[[10]] There are also some errors, but relatively few: an occasional slip in the Latin text, an infelicitous translation, and a number of errors in bibliographical references, especially those (not numerous) that are not in Italian. It is regrettable than the stemma cognationum reproduced from FIRA also reproduces two typographical errors from the original: in mano [sic] viri and qnae [sic] in manu (p. 39). It is also dismaying to see how unattractive the Greek font is (cf., e.g., pp. 83, 84, 140f., 148-52). This dismay is exacerbated in view of the cost of the book.

[[11]] The URL is: