Incest Laws and Absent Taboos in Roman Egypt
11 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2010
Date Written: April 27, 2003
For at least two hundred and fifty years, many men in the Roman province of Egypt married their full sisters and raised families with them. During the same era, Roman law firmly banned close-kin marriages and denounced them both as nefas, or sacrilegious, and against the ius gentium, the laws shared by all civilized peoples. In Egypt, however, Roman officials deliberately chose not to enforce the relevant marriage laws among the Greek metic, hybrid, and native Egyptian populations; the bureaucracy also created loopholes within new laws which tolerated the practice. This policy created a gap between the absolute theoretical ban in Roman law and the reality of common incestuous unions in Egypt. Since Roman Egypt was both an important and a dangerous province, Rome needed both to pacify its people and to weaken Egypt’s status with its neighbors. By permitting incestuous marriages among non-Romans in Egypt, the Roman governors simultaneously pleased the local population while causing Jews and North Africans to hold their neighbor in contempt.
Keywords: Roman incest, Roman law, Roman Egypt
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