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With Love from Rome

Valentine's Day (14 February) is nowadays deemed one of the most romantic days of the year - a time when partners will share their love for one another or even make a lifelong commitment by getting married. But for the Romans, February was considered an unsuitable month for this romantic act. Mark Lewis, Curator at the National Roman Legion Museum explores whether their beliefs had an impact on the Romans as lovers:

"Italy - the hub of the Roman Empire - is a centre for romance, often associated with Casanova and Romeo and Juliet. However, for Roman men especially, love making could be little more than a hobby. In fact it was commonly held that love was a character weakness rather than a strength!

Messages on tomb stones are some of the strongest evidence we have about the Romans' love affairs and marriages. A stone from the Museum's collections tells the story of a Roman solider, Julius Valens who died aged 100. His wife Julia, who prepared his memorial, was 75 when she died. If she married Julius, at least 25 years her senior, for his money, she did not inherit his wealth for some time - her husband lived for a century!

It was common for a teenage girl to marry a man considerably older than herself who may also have already been married once or even twice before. Several relationships could develop, between husband and wife, master and slave, lover and beloved.

Graffiti on the Council Chamber wall at Roman Caerwent suggests a Roman scandal involving Domitilla and Victor. A reading of the graffiti is given as:

"Domitilla (sends love) to her (sweetheart) Victor."

It has been suggested that Domitilla may have been a slave girl writing to her lover for beneath, someone else disapprovingly wrote "FOR SHAME!". Another possible reading of the second hand is "May you be punished!". Either way, someone did not approve of the graffiti, its sentiment or both!

It is assumed this affair would have been the result of true love between two people - not usually the primary motive if you were getting married. Marriage for the Romans was commonly based on money and political alliances; aristocratic divorce commonly occurred when the political leadership changed. All Roman marriages were accompanied by pre-nuptial agreements. A form of marriage was even developed which allowed the bride to remain under the control of her father or grandfather rather than to pass into the control of her husband or his family.

Yet, there was some emphasis on feelings and appearances. The veiled bride wore white but in early Roman times brides were weighed during their marriage ceremony!

On engagement, the husband would give his bride to be a ring which would have been worn on the left hand on the finger nearest the smallest finger as a pledge of fidelity. And it's an improving picture - the ring featured clasped hands (dextrarum iunctio) symbolising unity.

Following the marriage ceremony, the role of the woman was to look after the home, educate the children and make sure everyone within the household respected the father of the family. Roman women had much more independence than their Greek counterparts, being responsible for nourishing, sustaining and providing the men in their lives with encouragement and support.

So it isn't all bad news! If well to do Romans celebrated their relationship with the person chosen by Cupid as we do on Valentine's Day, they would probably have indulged in a lavish candle-lit banquet, including oysters and grapes served by slaves, or a steaming Roman bath!"

Entry to the Museum is free thanks to the support of the Welsh Assembly Government.

Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales operates seven national museums across Wales. These are National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, the National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit: National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, the National Wool Museum, Dre-fach Felindre, the National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.

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For further information, please contact Catrin Mears, Communications Officer on (029) 2057 3185/07920 027067 or email