The first and most traditional type of marriage was called confarreatio. This was a marriage limited to patricians whose parents were also married with confarreatio. The wedding was an elaborate ceremony with the Flamen Dialis and Pontifex Maximus presiding, as well as ten witnesses present. The woman passed directly from the manus of her paterfamilias to that of her new husband. Divorce for confarreatio marriages, diffarreatio, was a difficult process and therefore rare.
Not much is known about how diffarreatio was carried out except that there was a special type of sacrifice that caused the dissolution of the relationship between the man and woman. She would then pass back into the manus of her paterfamilias.
The second and more common type of marriage with manus was called coemptio.
It represented a "bride purchase," as the groom paid nummus usus, a penny, and received the bride in exchange. While this purchase was not a real sale, it symbolized the traditional bride purchases of earlier societies. Only five witnesses were required and the wedding ceremony was much less formala than confarreatio, but the bride still passed to her husband's manus.
A third type of marriage is a bit more unusual and was obsolete by the end of the Republic. Usus was a practical marriage that did not require an actual wedding ceremony; it was a transfer to the manus of the husband by default after cohabitation. There was probably some honorable intention stated at the beginning of the cohabitation, an adfectus maritalis. The only requirement for an usus marriage was that the man and woman cohabitate for one full year. The woman would then pass into her husband's manus. There was one loophole, however. If, within that year, the woman was away for three consecutive nights, she would not pass into the manus of her husband.
There were also marital unions that did not require the women to pass into her husband's manus. One, for instance, was free marriage. The wife would retain her independence as filiafamilias to her paterfamilias. If the father was dead, and had so stipulated in his will, she would be suae iuris, responsible for herself. She, under suae iuris, could then manage her own property and even initiate a divorce. Concubinatus was another alternative to marriage. A concubine, or paelex, was a woman who had regular sexual relations with a married man. Often the man and his paelex would live together, but without the adfectus maritalis that characterized usus marriages. Children of this type of union were not legitimate, indicating that the relationship was not itself legitimate. If, however, the couple did have adfectus maritalis and there were no legal disqualifications to marriage, the relationship could become a matrimonium.
a. The Flamen Dialis and Pontifex Maximus, for instance, were not required at the wedding ceremony for coemptio marriages.
(Courtesy of Mrs. J.J.Goodall Powers.)