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.