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Abstract

In 468 AD, a certain woman named Julia went to the Roman Emperor Anthemius to declare that she had married her former slave, her freedman. Roman law on the matter had previously stated that free women who knowingly cohabited with slaves would relinquish their freedom along with the freedom of any children resulting from such a union, and they would all become slaves of the master of the slave to whom she married. The law avoided any mention of marriages to freedmen. Marriages resembling Julia’s then, occupied a grey area in Roman law for over four hundred years. In response to Julia’s inquiry, Anthemius declared Julia’s marriage, as well as all other marriages that had occurred in the same manner up to that point, legal and their children also legitimate. However, he prohibited all similar marriages from that point on. Previous scholarship on this law has emphasized the light it sheds on the place of slaves in Roman society, the State’s attempt to preserve the slave population, and the implications of the law on traditional Roman values. The objective of this paper is to offer an alternative interpretation of Anthemius’s motivation for issuing this law. Anthemius, an outsider from Greece, was foisted on the western senatorial aristocracy at a time when the relationship between the eastern and western courts was complicated and strained. It was imperative for Anthemius to project his appreciation for traditional Roman values to the western senate. This paper will focus on the political opportunity Anthemius recognized in Julia’s case. It will argue that this law provided him with an opportunity for self-representation in order to solidify his relationship with the western senatorial aristocracy.

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