Pater familias

The pater familias, also written as paterfamilias (plural patres familias),[1] was the head of a Roman family. The pater familias was the oldest living male in a household, and exercised autocratic authority over his extended family. The term is Latin for "father of the family" or the "owner of the family estate". The form is archaic in Latin, preserving the old genitive ending in -ās (see Latin declension), whereas in classical Latin the normal genitive ending was -ae. The pater familias always had to be a Roman citizen.

Roman law and tradition (mos maiorum) established the power of the pater familias within the community of his own extended familia. In Roman family law, the term "Patria potestas" (Latin: “power of a father”) refers to this concept. [2] He held legal privilege over the property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption, clients, freedmen and slaves. The same mos maiorum moderated his authority and determined his responsibilities to his own familia and to the broader community. He had a duty to father and raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, to maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household, to honour his clan and ancestral gods and to dutifully participate—and if possible, serve—in Rome's political, religious and social life. In effect, the pater familias was expected to be a good citizen. In theory at least, he held powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia through ancient right. In practice, the extreme form of this right was seldom exercised. It was eventually limited by law.[3]

Roman familia

The Roman household was conceived of as an economic and juridical unit or estate: familia originally meant the group of the famuli (the servi or serfs and the slaves of a rural estate) living under the same roof. That meaning later expanded to indicate the familia as the basic Roman social unit, which might include the domus (house or home) but was legally distinct from it: a familia might own one or several homes. All members and properties of a familia were subject to the authority of a pater familias: his legal, social and religious position defined familia as a microcosm of the Roman state.[4] In Roman law, the potestas of the pater familias was official but distinct from that of magistrates.

Only a Roman citizen held the status of pater familias, and there could be only one holder of that office within a household. He was responsible for its well-being, reputation and legal and moral propriety. The entire familia was expected to adhere to the core principles and laws of the Twelve Tables, which the pater familias had a duty to exemplify, enjoin and, if necessary, enforce, so within the familia Republican law and tradition (mos maiorum) allowed him powers of life and death (vitae necisque potestas). He was also obliged to observe the constraints imposed by Roman custom and law on all potestas. His decisions should be obtained through counsel, consultation and consent within the familia, which were decisions by committee (consilium). The family consilia probably involved the most senior members of his own household, especially his wife, and, if necessary, his peers and seniors within his extended clan (gens).[5]

Augustus's legislation on the morality of marriage co-opted the traditional potestas of the pater familias. Augustus was not only Rome's princeps but also its father (pater patriae). As such, he was responsible for the entire Roman familia. Rome's survival required that citizens produce children. That could not be left to individual conscience. The falling birth rate was considered a marker of degeneracy and self-indulgence, particularly among the elite, who were supposed to set an example. Lex Julia maritandis ordinibus compelled marriage upon men and women within specified age ranges and remarriage on the divorced and bereaved within certain time limits. The Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis severely penalised adulterous wives and any husbands who tolerated such behaviour. The Lex Papia Poppaea extended and modified the laws in relation to intermarriage between social classes and inheritance. Compliance was rewarded and exceptional public duty brought exemption, but dictatorial compulsion was deeply unpopular and quite impractical. The laws were later softened in theory and practise, but the imperial quaestio perpetua remained. Its public magistrates now legally over-rode the traditional rights of the family concilium and pater familias. The principate shows a clear trend towards the erosion of individual patria potestas and the increasing intrusion of the state into the juridical and executive independence of the familia under its pater.[6]

As priest of familia, gens and genius

Genio romano de Ponte Puñide (M.A.N. 1928-60-1) 01
Bronze genius depicted as pater familias (1st century CE)

The domestic responsibilities of the pater familias included his priestly duties (sacra familiae) to his "household gods" (the lares and penates) and the ancestral gods of his own gens.[7] The latter were represented by the di parentes as ancestral shades of the departed, and by the genius cult. Genius has been interpreted as the essential, heritable spirit (or divine essence, or soul) and generative power that suffused the gens and each of its members. As the singular, lawful head of a family derived from a gens, the pater familias embodied and expressed its genius through his pious fulfillment of ancestral obligations. The pater familias was therefore owed a reciprocal duty of genius cult by his entire familia. He in his turn conferred genius and the duty of sacra familiae to his children—whether by blood or by adoption.[8]

Roman religious law defined the religious rites of familia as sacra privata (funded by the familia rather than the state) and "unofficial" (not a rite of state office or magistracy, though the state pontifices and censor might intervene if the observation of sacra privata was lax or improper). The responsibility for funding and executing sacra privata therefore fell to the head of the household and no other. As well as observance of common rites and festivals (including those marked by domestic rites), each family had its own unique internal religious calendar—marking the formal acceptance of infant children, coming of age, marriages, deaths and burials. In rural estates, the entire familia would gather to offer sacrifice(s) to the gods for the protection and fertility of fields and livestock. All such festivals and offerings were presided over by the pater familias.[9]


The legal potestas of the pater familias over his wife depended on the form of marriage between them. In the Early Republic, a wife was "handed over" to the legal control of her husband in the form of marriage cum manu (Latin cum manu means "with hand"). If the man divorced his wife, he had to give the dowry back to his wife and her family.[10] By the Late Republic, manus marriage had become rare, and a woman legally remained part of her birth family.[11]

Women emancipated from the potestas of a pater familias were independent by law (sui iuris) but had a male guardian appointed to them. A woman sui iuris had the right to take legal action on her own behalf but not to administer legal matters for others.[12]


The laws of the Twelve Tables required the pater familias to ensure that "obviously deformed" infants were put to death. The survival of congenitally disabled adults, conspicuously evidenced among the elite by the partially-lame Emperor Claudius, demonstrates that personal choice was exercised in the matter.

The pater familias had the power to sell his children into slavery; Roman law provided, however, that if a child had been sold as a slave three times, he was no longer subject to patria potestas. The pater familias had the power to approve or reject marriages of his sons and daughters; however, an edict of Emperor Augustus provided that the pater familias could not withhold that permission lightly.

The filii familias (children of the family) could include the biological and adopted children of the pater familias and his siblings.

Because of their extended rights (their longa manus, literally "long hand"), the patres familias also had a series of extra duties: duties towards the filii and the slaves, but some of the duties were recognized not by the original ius civile but only by the ius gentium, specially directed to foreigners, or by the ius honorarium, the law of the Magistratus, especially the Praetor, which would emerge only in a latter period of Roman law).

Adult filii remained under the authority of their pater and could not themselves acquire the rights of a pater familias while he lived. Legally, any property acquired by individual family members (sons, daughters or slaves) was acquired for the family estate: the pater familias held sole rights to its disposal and sole responsibility for the consequences, including personal forfeiture of rights and property through debt. Those who lived in their own households at the time of the death of the pater succeeded to the status of pater familias over their respective households (pater familias sui iuris) even if they were only in their teens. Children "emancipated" by a pater familias were effectively disinherited. If a paterfamilias died intestate, his children were entitled to an equal share of his estate. If a will was left, children could contest the estate.

Over time, the absolute authority of the pater familias weakened, and rights that theoretically existed were no longer enforced or insisted upon. The power over life and death was abolished, the right of punishment was moderated and the sale of children was restricted to cases of extreme necessity. Under Emperor Hadrian, a father who killed his son was stripped of both his citizenship and all its attendant rights, had his property confiscated and was permanently exiled.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Familias is an archaic genitive form that survived into classical Latin in this fixed expression.
  2. ^ Patria potestas, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., March 30, 2016, Access Date: April 11, 2018
  3. ^ Severy, 9–10.
  4. ^ Frier et al., 18–20, for familia case-law definitions (Ulpian) and relations during and before the Imperial period. Limited preview available via Google Books [1]
  5. ^ Parkin & Pomeroy, 72–80. Limited preview available via Google Books [2] (accessed 24 September 2009)
  6. ^ Galinsky, 130–2. Augustus couched the changes and similar ones as a restoration of traditional values. In one debate, he reiterated a "misogynistic" address of 131 BCE by the censor Metellus Macedonicus on marriage as necessary to Rome's survival. Limited preview via Google Books: [3]
  7. ^ Such as the Julli (Julians) of Julius Caesar. See Beard et al., vol 1, 67–8.
  8. ^ Severy, 9–10.
  9. ^ Beard et al., vol. 1, 49: citing Cato the Elder, On Agriculture, in Beard et al., vol. 2, 141, source 6.3a.)
  10. ^ Bingham, Jane: The Usborne Internet Linked Encyclopedia of the Roman World, p. 45. Usborne Publishing, 2002.
  11. ^ Frier et al., pp. 88–90.
  12. ^ Pauline Schmitt Pantel, (ed.) A History of Women in the West, Volume I, From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, p. 133.
  13. ^ Frier et al., 199.


  • Beard, M., Price, S., North, J., Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History, illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-31682-0
  • Beard, M., Price, S., North, J., Religions of Rome: Volume 2, a sourcebook, illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-45646-0
  • Frier, Bruce W., McGinn, Thomas A.J., and Lidov, Joel, A Casebook on Roman Family Law, Oxford University Press (American Philological Association), 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-516186-1
  • Parkin, Tim, & Pomeroy, Arthur, Roman Social History, a Sourcebook, Routledge, 2007. ISBN 978-0-415-42675-6
  • Severy, Beth, Augustus and the family at the birth of the Roman Empire, Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-30959-X

External links

Bob Blake (American football)

Robert Edwin Blake (January 31, 1885 – May 8, 1962) was an American football, basketball, and baseball player for the Vanderbilt Commodores of Vanderbilt University. Every football season in which he played, Blake was a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) championship team and unanimously selected All-Southern. He was a lawyer and Rhodes Scholar.His three brothers, Dan, Vaughn, and Frank, also played on those winning teams. Dan, Bob, and Vaughn were captains of the 1906, 1907, and 1908 Vanderbilt football teams respectively. He thus signed letters "Bob Blake, pater familias."Blake was later general counsel for the International Shoe Company, and married Dorothy Gaynor. Blake was also president of the Missouri Constitutional Convention in 1944.

Bonus pater familias

In Roman law, the term bonus pater familias (good family father) refers to a standard of care, analogous to that of the reasonable man in English law.In Spanish law, the term used is a direct translation ("un buen padre de familia"), and used in the Spanish Código Civil. It is also used in Latin American countries. In the Portuguese Republic, the term is also mentioned in the Civil Code.

Similar is the French language expression bon père de famille, used in a sense similar to "reasonably cautious person." For example, in the case of Fales v. Canada Permanent Trust Co., [1977] 2 SCR 302, at p. 315, the Supreme Court of Canada described the standard of care and diligence expected of the manager of a trust as being "ceux qu’un bon père de famille apporte à l’administration de ses propres affaires". In the English version of the decision, this concept was translated as "that of a man of ordinary prudence in managing his own affairs."

Brimstone Press

Brimstone Press was an Australian independent publisher of dark fiction (horror and dark fantasy). Brimstone Press was established in 2004 by Angela Challis and Shane Jiraiya Cummings and was based in Western Australia.

The first publication from Brimstone Press was Shadowed Realms, an online flash fiction horror magazine that was active from 2004 to 2007. Authors published in Shadowed Realms include Terry Dowling, Richard Harland, Robert Hood, Poppy Z Brite, Stephen Dedman, Kurt Newton, Martin Livings, Lee Battersby, Paul Haines, Steven Cavanagh and Kaaron Warren. Shadowed Realms gained professional status from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in 2005 and was nominated for the Best Collected Work Ditmar Award in 2006.Brimstone Press also published HorrorScope: The Australian Dark Fiction Web Log, a news and review webzine. In December 2006, Brimstone Press moved into book publication. Among their published anthologies are Shadow Box and the Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror series.

Brimstone Press produced a newsstand-quality horror magazine, Black: Australia's Dark Culture magazine which ran for three issues in 2008. Many of Australia's best-known horror writers including Rob Hood, Leigh Blackmore and others appeared in its pages.

Several stories and projects published by Brimstone Press have won, or been nominated for, Australian and international literary awards.

Fig sign

The fig sign is a mildly obscene gesture used at least since the Roman age in Western Europe, and nowadays in Turkish and Slavic cultures and some other cultures that uses two fingers and a thumb. This gesture is most commonly used to deny a request.

In Brazil, use of this gesture is said to ward off evil eye, jealousy, etc. Ornaments with this symbol are often worn as a good luck charm. In ancient Rome, the fig sign, or manu fica, was made by the pater familias to ward off the evil spirits of the dead as a part of the Lemuria ritual.The hand gesture may have originated in ancient Indian culture to depict the lingam and yoni.Among early Christians, it was known as the manus obscena, or "obscene hand".The letter "T" in the American manual alphabet is very similar to this gesture.

Ghost Whisperer (season 3)

The third season of Ghost Whisperer, an American television series created by John Gray, commenced airing in the United States on September 28, 2007, concluded May 16, 2008, and was originally intended to consist of 22 episodes. However, due to the Writer's Strike it was shortened to 18 episodes. The series follows the life of Melinda Gordon (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. While trying to live as normal a life as possible—she is married and owns an antique store—Melinda helps earthbound spirits resolve their problems and cross over into the Light, or the spirit world. Her tasks are difficult and at times she struggles with people who push her away and disbelieve her ability. In addition, the ghosts are mysterious and sometimes menacing in the beginning and Melinda must use the clues available to her to understand the spirit's needs and help them.Ghost Whisperer's third season aired in the United States (U.S.) on Fridays at 8:00 pm ET on CBS, a terrestrial television network, where it received an average of 8.67 million viewers per episode.This was the final season to be overseen by John Gray (he would be credited as a consultant on seasons four and five, although he continued to write and direct episodes).

Grand Župan

Grand, Great or Chief Župan (transl. Grand Prince, Latin: magnus iupanus, Greek: ζουπανος μεγας, zoupanos megas) is the English rendering of a South Slavic title which relate etymologically to Župan (originally a pater familias, later the tribal chief of a unit called župa) like a Russian Grand Prince to a Knyaz (rendered as Prince or Duke depending on administration).

Lee Battersby

Lee Battersby is an Australian author of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction. His story "Carrying The God" made him the first Western Australian winner in the Writers of the Future Competition in 2002, and was awarded the 2003 Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. His short story "Tales of Nireym" was a finalist in the Fantasy section of the 2005 Aurealis Awards, and "Pater Familias" won Best Horror Short Story in the 2006 awards. Another story, "Father Muerte & The Flesh", the third in his popular Father Muerte series, was awarded the inaugural Australian Shadows Award for outstanding literary achievement by the Australian Horror Writers Association in 2006. He won the award again in 2008 for "The Claws of Native Ghosts", a story which appeared in Graveside Tales' anthology "The Beast Within".Battersby was one of the tutors at Clarion South 2007, along with SF writers Robert Hood, Simon Brown, Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link; and editor Gardner Dozois.

His first collection, Through Soft Air, was released by US Publisher Prime Books in March 2006. It contains 25 stories, including both "Tales of Nireym" and "Pater Familias". "Dark Ages", a story exclusive to the collection, was nominated for both best Fantasy Short Story and Best SF Short Story in the 2006 Aurealis Awards.In 2007, he contributed a story to the Doctor Who short-story collection, Short Trips: Destination Prague.

In 2013, he contributed an essay to the charity non-fiction anthology, Story Behind the Book : Volume 1.

Manus marriage

Manus (; Latin: [ˈmanʊs]) was an Ancient Roman type of marriage, of which there were two forms: cum manu and sine manu. In a cum manu marriage, the wife was placed under the legal control of the husband. In a sine manu marriage, the wife was still under the legal control of her father.In both cum manu and sine manu marriages, if both the husband and wife were alieni iuris (persons under patria potestas, that is, under the power of his or her family's pater familias) the marriage could only take place with the approval of both of the patres familias. However, the creation and termination of the marriage somewhat depended on the type of marriage.Initially cum manu was the only form of marriage but in time the cum manu union faded and only sine manu marriage was widely practiced.

Pater Familias (film)

Pater Familias is a 2003 Italian crime-drama film written and directed by Francesco Patierno. It is based on the novel with the same name written by Massimo Cacciapuoti.It was screened in the Panorama section at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival.


The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church (above major archbishop and primate), and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs (and in certain cases also popes).

The word is derived from Greek πατριάρχης (patriarchēs), meaning "chief or father of a family", a compound of πατριά (patria), meaning "family", and ἄρχειν (archein), meaning "to rule".Originally, a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is termed patriarchy. Historically, a patriarch has often been the logical choice to act as ethnarch of the community identified with his religious confession within a state or empire of a different creed (such as Christians within the Ottoman Empire). The term developed an ecclesiastical meaning, within the Christian Church. The office and the ecclesiastical circumscription of a Christian patriarch is termed a patriarchate.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the three patriarchs of the people of Israel, and the period during which they lived is termed the Patriarchal Age. The word patriarch originally acquired its religious meaning in the Septuagint version of the Bible.

Reformed Political Party

The Reformed Political Party (Dutch: Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, SGP) is an orthodox Calvinist political party in the Netherlands. The term Reformed is not a reference to political reform but is a synonym for Calvinism—a major branch of Protestantism. The SGP is the oldest political party in the Netherlands in its current form, and has for its entire existence been in opposition. The party has, owing to its orthodox political ideals and its traditional role in the opposition, been called a testimonial party. Since the general election of 2017, it has held 3 of the 150 seats of the House of Representatives.

The party has traditionally opposed universal suffrage, seeking to replace this with a form of "organic suffrage" (Dutch: huismanskiesrecht, "suffrage of the pater familias") restricted to male heads of households. It also advocates the reestablishment of capital punishment in the Netherlands, which was abolished by a House of Representatives vote in 1870.

Roman Brewery

The Roman Brewery (Dutch: Brouwerij Roman) is a beer brewery in Mater, Belgium, in operation since 1545. The brewery has been family-owned since the late sixteenth century; Joos Roman, a bailli until 1604, is considered the pater familias. Unlike many Breweries in the region, which make Belgian style sour beers, the Brouwerij Roman has maintained beers of more German and French styles.Besides beers, the company also produces soft drinks.

Sacra (ancient Rome)

In ancient Roman religion, sacra (Latin, neuter plural, "sacred [matters]") were transactions relating to the worship of the gods, especially sacrifice and prayer. They are either sacra privata or publica. The former were undertaken on behalf of the individual by himself, on behalf of the family by the pater familias, or on behalf of the gens by the whole body of the people.


The House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Wiesenburg was one of the many cadet branches of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg, itself a junior line of the Oldenburg dynasty.

Although the members possessed the title of duke in Denmark and in the Holy Roman Empire, they held property in and derived income from allotted sections of the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, but sovereignty over these lands remained in the authority of their pater familias, the king of Denmark.

Semyon Vengerov

Semyon Afanasievich Vengerov (Семён Афанасьевич Венгеров; 1855, Lubny, Poltava Governorate – 1920) was the preeminent literary historian of Imperial Russia.

Vengerov was the son of Chonon (Afanasy) Vengerov and memoirist Pauline Wengeroff, a prominent Jewish family. His parents were of the few acculturated Russian Jews, and sent him to a Christian school, of which he once was expelled for refusing to kneel before an icon. As academic careers were barred to Jews, he converted to Orthodoxy after matriculating. He was the pater familias of an artistic clan that included his sister Isabelle Vengerova, a co-founder of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and nephew Nicolas Slonimsky, a Russian-American composer.

Vengerov studiously researched the careers of "second-tier" Russian authors of the 19th and (especially) 18th centuries. His materials proved indispensable for several generations of Russian literary historians. His archives contain the largest private collection of Dostoyevsky's letters and manuscripts. He was a great admirer of Ivan Turgenev, the subject of his first major work of criticism (approved by Turgenev himself).

Vengerov also presided over an influential Pushkin seminar and the Russian Book Chamber (which he had helped found). In the early 20th century he issued a detailed overview of recent Russian literature and edited the grand Brockhaus-Efron edition of Pushkin's works (1907–16) in 6 large quarto volumes; D. S. Mirsky refers to this edition as "a monument of infinite industry and infinite bad taste".Vengerov's interest in academic biographism gained him a reputation of being a positivist compiler of biographical data. According to Mirsky, his works contain "a great mass of prefatory, commentatory, and biographical matter, most of which is more or less worthless". In Noise of Time, Osip Mandelshtam claimed that Vengerov had "understood nothing in Russian literature and studied Pushkin as a professional task".For Vengerov, the greatest merit of Russian literature was its essential didacticism: "For the Russian reader, literature has always been a holy thing; contact with it makes him purer and better, and he always relates to it with a feeling of real religiosity".

Shadowed Realms

Shadowed Realms was a dark flash fiction online magazine produced by Australian independent publisher Brimstone Press and edited by Angela Challis. A number of stories published in Shadowed Realms won, or were nominated for, several speculative fiction awards.


In the Russian Empire, snokhachestvo (Russian: снохачество, lit. 'daughter-in-law privileges') referred to sexual relations between a pater familias (bolshak) of a Russian peasant household (dvor) and his daughter-in-law (snokha) during the minority or absence of his son.

With a view to attracting additional workers to the household, marriages in rural Russia were frequently contracted when the groom was six or seven years old. During her husband's minority, the bride often had to tolerate advances of her assertive father-in-law. For example, in the middle of the 19th century in Tambov Governorate 12-13 year old boys were often married to 16-17 year old girls. The boys' fathers used to arrange such marriages to take advantage of their sons' lack of experience. Snokhachestvo entailed conflicts in the family and put moral pressure on the mother-in-law, who usually treated her son's wife as a rival for her own husband's affections.

Snokachestvo was considered incestuous by the Russian Orthodox Church and unseemly by the obshchina, the rural community. Legally it was considered a form of rape and was punished with fifteen to twenty lashes. Understandably, cases of snokhachestvo were not publicized and the crime remained latent, making it difficult to assess its true extent in the Russian Empire.

One of the first Russian writers to decry snokhachestvo, describing it as a form of "sexual debasement," was Alexander Radishchev, who saw it as an outgrowth of Russian serfdom. In the 19th century, its resurgence was fueled by obligatory conscription and "the seasonal departure of young men for work outside the village."Snokhachestvo remained relatively widespread even after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, a jurist, resented the fact that "nowhere it seems, except Russia, has at least one form of incest assumed the character of an almost normal everyday occurrence, designated by the appropriate technical term." The Narodnik writer Gleb Uspensky, while deploring the plight of young peasant women, sympathized with "the emotional and physical needs of the mature peasant man."

Status in Roman legal system

In Roman law, status describes a person's legal status. The individual could be a Roman citizen (status civitatis), unlike foreigners; or he could be free (status libertatis), unlike slaves; or he could have a certain position in a Roman family (status familiae) either as head of the family (pater familias), or as a lower member (filii familias).

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