Father familias

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The pater familias ( Latin for "family father "; often also written together: paterfamilias ) was the head of the family or the "landlord" - usually the oldest or "highest ranking" man - in the private household (under Roman law ) . Only Roman citizens could have the legal status of a pater familias .

Regularly declined it is actually called pater familiae . The ancient genitive form has only survived in this one standing term in classical Latin and beyond.


The pater familias was the head of the Roman familia , consisting of his children, his wife , his slaves , and all other family members from the following line. He represented the family not only outwardly, but also as a priest of the family cult to the gods. He also had the right to marry off his children, which resulted in the house child being released from the family union ( homo sui iuris ).

Patria Potestas

The powers of the pater familias as head of the house varied. He exercised the patria potestas called patria potestas with the highest status . Below were the violent wife ( in manu ) and the house children ( in potestate ). The people accepted into the family association for services were in mancipio . The word of the pater familias was considered irrevocably final. According to the archaic law of the twelve tables , the pater familias exercised the vitae necisque potestas  - the power over life and death  - over the members of the family. Under certain circumstances he was allowed to kill his children, his slaves or his wife. However, this right was restricted by social control. The community expected the pater familias to seek advice from a consilium consisting of family members and amici on important decisions .

Giorgio Agamben

The philosopher Giorgio Agamben sees in the vitae necisque potestas , the father's right to kill relatives, the foundation of political power, the sovereignty of the state, which is most clearly evident in a state of emergency. Because while in the Roman Empire the principle of the Twelve Tables law applied, according to which no citizen could be put to death without a verdict ( indemnatus ), the vitae necisque potestas gave the father the unrestricted right to kill and reflects the state of emergency, which today is the suspension of the law understood by the state. For Agamben, the possibility of the state to create a legal free space, to override itself, is particularly flagrant in relation to the father as head of the house, who is allowed to judge relatives without jurisdiction.


The effects of the patria potestas were many. Adult male children remained under the authority of their fathers and could therefore not acquire the rights of a pater familias while he was still alive. At least according to the theory of the law, all of her possessions were bought according to her father's interests, and the father, not the sons, had the sole right to decide. With the death of the father, his sons received the legal status of a pater familia and now exercised the patria potestas over their own familia .

The private life of the sons and daughters was also directed by the pater familias. Marriages were only valid with his consent. On the other hand, his sole decision could lead to an already entered marriage ending in divorce. However, this regulation was weakened in principle , so that marriages and divorces now also required the consent of the son or daughter.


How far the absolute authority of the pater familias was exercised in everyday life remains controversial. With the beginning of the principate, however, there was a restriction of this authority, which represents an attempt to separate powers and strengthen imperial power.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinrich Honsell : Roman law. 7th edition. Springer, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-642-05306-1 , pp. 23/24 and 183.
  2. ^ Heinrich Honsell: Roman law. 7th edition. Springer, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-642-05306-1 , p. 184.
  3. ^ Herbert Hausmaninger , Walter Selb : Roman private law. Böhlau, Vienna 1981, ISBN 3-205-07171-9 , p. 74 (9th edition 2001).
  4. Heinz Bellen : Fundamentals of Roman history. 3 volumes. 2nd Edition. Darmstadt 1995, ISBN 3-534-02726-4 , pp. 5-14, here p. 11.