Familial power meets politics – Divorce in Ancient Rome

When Marcus Portius Cato (better known as Cato the Younger), decided to divorce Marcia, mother to his two children, it might have come as quite a shock. The two were, for all intents and purposes, happily married.

Why divorce Marcia if their marriage was a happy one? Cato’s aging friend Quintus Hortensius Hortalus was in need of a wife and wanted to form a closer bond between the two families. Hortensius had already asked Cato for his daughter’s hand, the young Porcia, who was some forty years or so his junior, and already married. The request was politely rebuffed. Why could he not then, reasoned Hortensius boldly, marry Marcia, a woman of good reputation who had already proven her child-bearing capacity? Cato agreed, if Marcia’s father did not object. He did not.

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