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Women and Family Law in Byzantium: Some Notes

Niki Megalommati

Keywords: betrothal; canon law; civil law; divorce; marriage; Middle Byzantine; women

Abstract

This article addresses the impact of family law on women during the Middle Byzantine period, 726–1204. Restricted to household roles, marriage provided betrothed women, wives, and mothers with certain legal protections. In the Middle Byzantine period conceptions and practices concerning betrothal, marriage, and dissolution of marriage were not consistent because both the church and the state determined sometimes contrasting rules and laws. The civil law protected women with respect to betrothal and marriage; pressure from the church, however, resulted in harsh laws concerning dissolution of marriage. Canon law nevertheless claimed that both sexes had quite identical legal rights in divorce, and women escaped from unhealthy marriages in certain circumstances. It seems that through its own legislation and its impact on civil law, the church enforced women’s position in marriage. At issue is whether this favorable treatment corresponded to social changes that improved the position of women in the Middle Byzantine era.

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