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Classical Era

This tag is used to indicate the eras dominated by Greek and Roman civilization. In regions where those cultures had no influence, consider it to indicate roughly 1000 BCE to the early centuries of the Common Era. If a more specific date in the Common Era is known, that will be used.

LHMP entry

This is a relatively general article, reiterating the themes of how social changes under Christianity created a context in which not marrying (or not re-marrying) could be considered a viable life choice, whether it involved a retreat into an ascetic community or continued presence in the secular world. Singlehood itself was not the goal, but rather an acceptable mode in which one could devote oneself to religious causes and activities.

This article focuses primarily on women who chose a single/celibate life for religious reasons in the late 4th and early 5th century. In earlier Roman society, while modesty and chastity were desired virtues for the young, unmarried woman, it was for the purpose of entering marriage as a virgin, not as an end in itself. However shifts in social expectations due to Christianity created the idea of choosing singlehood as a deliberate strategy for religious purposes.

This paper explores different modes of singlehood through the lives of three elite men. There is a brief discussion of single women mentioned in the epistles of one of the three: Libanius, a 4th century professor of rhetoric in Antioch. The women in question are widowed mothers of his students, most of whom did not remarry and who experienced certain struggles as a result, as well as their status having consequences for the students in question. But there are few details and Libanius’s concern is primarily for how their status affected their sons.

This article uses early Christian funerary inscriptions in the city of Rome as a data source for life-long singleness, allowing for a quantitative and statistical analysis. The corpus of relevant inscriptions includes over 40,000 items though many are fragmentary. As the vast majority of inscriptions from this period are funerary in nature, and due to the typical content of such inscriptions, we have perhaps 20,000 epitaphs that include not only the name, but also age at death, length of marriage (if any), and references to familial relationships.

This article looks at the associations in Roman society between singleness in women and sex work, whether directly or as a procuress (lena). Although focused on women, this chapter has no particular relevance to the Project.

This article compares the literary figures of Dido and Camilla as commentary on Roman attitudes toward deliberate singleness in women. Very briefly, Dido begins by representing the faithful widow, resolved to remain loyal to her dead husband by never remarrying. Her subsequent relationship with Aeneas can either be seen as a betrayal of this ideal or adherence to a different ideal that a childless woman should remarry. But her unhappy end implies that the relationship with Aeneas was inadequately virtuous.

The legislation in discussion here was only relevant to upper class women, but also to freedmen/freedwomen of the elite. The intent was to regulate behavior around marriage, divorce, and sexuality, but we must distinguish theory and practice. These notes will primarily cover women and the effects of the law were strongly gendered.

This article looks at the demographics of pre-Christian Egypt to evaluate the claim that the presence of never-married adults is a Christian phenomenon. Roman legal and literary sources treat single adults as a special anomaly, such as Vestal Virgins or priests of Cybele. Augustine law encouraged marriage and even penalized potential heirs if not married. This applies only to the citizen class and specifically does not apply to those in the military, sex workers, and enslaved people.

The introduction begins with the definition of what we mean by “single” in this context, then looks for Greek and Latin vocabulary that carries that meaning, as well as similar meanings in other ancient languages. The modern sense is “a person not married or in an exclusive relationship.” But cross-culturally, the vocabulary of singleness may emphasize celibacy, solitariness, or loneliness, or distinguish the state for men and women. But in modern international use, the untranslated English word “single” has come into use as a general and neutral term.

This article covers the same material and topics as Chapter 4 in the 2021 edition of Sandra Boehringer’s Female Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome. See my write-up of that version at the link. Although the structure of the two discussions is different, and the present article is worth reading on its own, it didn't seem profitable to write it up as a separate LHMP entry.


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