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also Nuptiae (γάμος). Marriage.

I. Greek

Athenian tradition ascribed the introduction of the marriage relation to Cecrops (Athen. xiii. 2), before whose time men were said to have had wives in common, as was the case in historic times among the non-Hellenic tribes on the borders of the Greek world—e. g. the Massagetae, Nasamones, and Ausenses (Herod.i. 126; iv. 172; Herod., 180). In the rest of Greece monogamy was of slow growth as against promiscuity of sexual relation; yet in the Iliad and Odyssey the households described are monogamistic, even though concubines are mentioned. (See Concubina.) Throughout the greater part of Greece the position of the married women was a very subordinate one, the chief exception being found in the usage of Sparta, and to a less degree of Crete and Cyrené and, in general, the Doric States. (See Aristot. Polit. ii. 9; Lac. Apophtheg.) As to illicit relations between the sexes, see Meretrix.

We may now consider the subject of Athenian marriage. Marriage at Athens was made compulsory by Solon (De Amore Prol. 2); but the law fell into disuse. A youthful citizen was not allowed to marry until his name was entered in the tribal register (ληξιαρχικὸν γραμματεῖον). The restrictions as to whom he might marry differed from those imposed in modern times, being in part looser, in part more severe. Prohibitions on the ground of consanguinity were less numerous than with us. A man might not marry a direct ancestor or descendant; nor might he marry step-mother or step-daughter, mother-in-law or daughter-inlaw; nor, with an exception to be noticed, his sister. The marriage of Oedipus was looked on with horror, and the fact that it was accidental was not regarded as an alleviation. On the other hand, the marriage of a brother with a half-sister on the father's side did sometimes occur (Demosth. c. Eubul. p. 1304.20; Themist. 32). Marriage with a niece was common; with an aunt naturally less so, but there was nothing to forbid it.

The prohibition of marriage between a citizen and an alien belongs to a different class from the prohibition by reason of relationship. It would hardly seem to have existed in the early period of Athenian history ( 130). The influx of foreigners into Athens in the time of Pericles was doubtless the cause that necessitated a more stringent law—namely, that both the parents of a citizen must be citizens; whence it resulted that marriage with an alien was forbidden (Pericl. 37).

Marriage at Athens took place in two ways: either by ἐγγύησις or by ἐπιδικασία. Ἐγγύησις was the ordinary method, and meant the act of the father or guardian (κύριος) of a maiden in giving her in betrothal to her future husband. The act was a solemn one, the relatives of either side being witnesses. Whenever any woman had a κύριος, marriage could take place by no other method than this. If, however, a woman were left an heiress (ἐπίκληρος) without having a κύριος, then the next of kin might claim her in marriage, preference being given to kindred on the father's side; such a claim was called ἐπιδικασία, and was brought in the first instance before the archon. (See Epiclerus.) the public interest in such a claim being allowed lay in the danger of dissensions being caused by rival suitors, of which Aristotle (Polit. v. 4) gives instances. If the heiress were poor (θῆσσα), it was likely that no claimant would come forward; in this case the archon was bound to compel the next of kin either himself to marry the heiress or to portion her and give her in marriage (Demosth. c. Macart. p. 1067.51). It is to be inferred that the next of kin was regarded as κύριος of the heiress in such a case as this. Legitimate children at Athens were invariably the offspring of a marriage ratified according to one of these forms.

At the time of the betrothal the dowry of the bride was settled, and this was a most important point for her future welfare. For the wife was reckoned to have no claim at all on her husband's property. Supposing her husband died, even the most distant cousin might inherit from him; but the wife, never. Nay, she might not even continue to reside in his house after his death, unless she pleaded pregnancy; in that case she would come under the protection of the archon, and would remain undisturbed until the child was born (Demosth. c. Macart. p. 1076.75). Hence the dowry was the only security to the wife against extreme poverty in the event of her husband's death, or if she were divorced; the husband, therefore, had to give a guarantee for its return in the shape of some piece of landed property. It would, however, be incorrect to suppose that the dowry would ever become the wife's absolute property; it would in the case supposed revert to her κύριος, who would either support her from it or give her in marriage again. But as against her husband or his creditors, it was absolutely hers. The dowry, as has been said, did not exist in Homer's time, and was a gradual growth; Plato disapproved of it (De Leg. vi. 777 A) as tending to produce avarice; in early times it was small.

The marriage ceremonial at Athens, among the higher classes, was more elaborate than with us. The consecration of all girls to Artemis, when they were ten years old, at the festival Brauronia, stood in intimate relation with it. When the marriage itself drew near, the sacrifice to the tutelar gods of marriage (θεοὶ γαμήλιοι) took place. This was performed by the father, and might take place some days before the marriage, or on the day itself. As to who the tutelary deities were, custom appears to have varied. Diodorus Siculus (v. 73) names Zeus and Heré; but Pollux names Heré, Artemis, and the Fates (iii. 38): Artemis is also mentioned in relation to Boeotia and Locris in Plutarch (Aristid. 20); and the Nymphs are mentioned in Plutarch (Amat. Narr. 1). The sacrifice itself was called προτέλεια γάμων, or προγάμεια, and it was regarded as a dedication of the bride to the deities named, some locks of the bride's hair (ἀπαρχαί) being offered as a symbol of the dedication. On the wedding day itself bride and bridegroom bathed in water drawn from a particular fountain of running water: at Athens this was the fountain Callirrhoë, also called ἑννεάκρουνος (Thuc.ii. 15). The water from this fountain was carried either by a boy or a girl, from which custom was probably derived that other custom of placing over the tombs of those who died unmarried the image of a girl carrying water. Late in the evening of the wedding day the bridegroom brought his bride from her parents' house on a car (ἅμαξα) drawn by horses, mules, or oxen; on either side of her sat the bridegroom and his “best man” (παράνυμφος or πάροχος, Arist. Av. 1735). In front of the car went the torch-bearing procession (δᾷδες νυμφικαί), the nuptial torch having been lit by the mother of the bride or of the bridegroom; bride and bridegroom were crowned with chaplets, and clothed in festal attire, as also were the attendants, the bride being covered with a long veil; congratulations were poured out by relations, friends, and well-wishers, and the cry Ὑμὴν Ὑμέναἰ resounded to the sweet melody of flutes (Aristoph. Pax, 1316- 1356). On their reaching the bridegroom's house, a peculiar custom prevailed in Boeotia: the axle of the car was burned, to symbolize the irreversible step taken. The bridegroom who had been married before could not bring his bride home in this exultant way; a friend (νυμφαγωγός) in that case brought the bride to him from her house. At the entrance to the bridegroom's house sweetmeats (καταχύσματα) were thrown upon the wedded pair; the doors of the house were covered with garlands, as were those of the bride's house.

Then followed the wedding-feast (θοίνη γαμική), usually in the house of the bridegroom—one of the most important parts of the entire ceremonial; for the guests were in fact witnesses to the marriage, and their testimony was the final and single proof that it had taken place, since documentary evidence was not looked for or provided (Demosth. c. Onet. p. 869.20; Athen. v. p. 185 a). At the wedding-feast women were allowed to be present, though at different tables from the men (Lucian, Conviv. 8). Sesame-cakes, symbolical of a fertile marriage, formed a part of the feast. At the conclusion of the feast the bride was conducted, veiled, into the bridal-chamber; the bridegroom closed the door; and a law of Solon enjoined that the bride and bridegroom should eat a quince together, to symbolize the sweetness of their conversation (Plut. Sol. 20). The epithalamium (q.v.) was then sung before the door of the bridal-chamber by a chorus of maidens, and the song was accompanied with dancing. But the Scholiast on this passage tells us that some epithalamia were sung in the early morning to wake the wedded pair, the two kinds being called κατακοιμητικά and διηγερτικά respectively.

On the second or third day after the marriage the bride for the first time showed herself without a veil, and the gifts which she on that day received from her relatives were thence called ἀνακαλυπτήρια or ὀπτήρια. Among them was a garment (ἀπαυλιστηρία) presented by the bride to the bridegroom, who, on the succeeding night, did not sleep with his bride, but in his father-in-law's house, the bride being unveiled, and the ἀνακαλυπτήρια presented the day after.

An offering to Aphrodité was made by the wedded pair, either on the wedding-day or on the day after. Another ceremony observed after marriage was the sacrifice which the husband offered up on the occasion of his bride being registered among his own phrateres.

Marriages generally took place in the winter (Aristot. Polit. vii. 16); and the month Gamelion (our January) derived its name from the favour in which it was held for this purpose. The fourth day of the month, according to Hesiod ( Op. 800), was the most favourable day; and as in a lunar month this would be the day on which the first crescent of the new moon appeared, the interpretation of Proclus seems correct: that the day when sun and moon met in the same quarter of the heavens was the day when man and woman might best meet in wedlock. Pindar, however (Isthm. vii. 44), and Euripides (Iph. in Aul. 717) prefer the full moon.

After marriage the wife lived with the other female inmates of the house in the γυναικωνῖτις, or women's apartments: in a large house these would be a separate building, connected by a passage with the men's rooms. The wife then had the superintendence of the entire household: she had charge of the education of the boys till they were put under a master, of the girls till they were married; she tended the sick, whether free or slave; the kitchen, the furniture, the stores came under her; and last, not least, the ταλάσια ἔργα (Xen. Oecon. vii. 6), all that related to the spinning and weaving of wool and the making of clothes, for it must be remembered that the clothes of an ancient household were mostly made within the house itself. If the establishment were a large one, the wife would have a house-keeper (ταμία) to assist her. If the husband were alone, the wife would dine with him, and familiar jesting would pass between them (Lysias, l. c.), or perhaps even serious conversation on politics (Demosth. c. Neaera, p. 1382.142); but if the husband had other male friends with him, it was thought indecorous for the wife to appear.

It will be seen that the wife had no lack of duties, but they were duties that would naturally be felt to be monotonous; and it is interesting to find that religious exercises were then, as in later times, one of the chief resources of the married woman.

II. Roman

Marriage was among the Romans a complete union for life between a man and one woman, which had for its main object the procreation of children (liberûm quaesundûm gratia). To marry and beget children, who could keep up the sacra familiaria, was the religious duty of a Roman, and also a duty to the State.

The only marriage recognized in early Roman law was that which was conformable to the Ius Civile, and which was called iustae nuptiae, in later times also iustum matrimonium (Ulpian, v. 1, 2). To this marriage of ius civile the matrimonium iuris gentium, or marriage according to gentile law, came to be opposed (Gaius, i. 87). The word matrimonium seems to have been used originally to signify a marriage which was not a civil marriage, the child of such marriage following the condition of his mother instead of that of his father, as would have been the case if he had been born from iustae nuptiae.

A Roman civil marriage was either cum conventione uxoris in manum viri, or it was sine in manum conventione (Ulpian, xxvi. 7). The marriage cum conventione in manum differed from that sine conventione, in the effect which it had on the condition of the wife.

By the marriage cum conventione, the wife came into the power (manus) of her husband, or, if he were a filiusfamilias, of his paterfamilias; leaving her own familia, she passed into the familia of her husband, and was to him in the relation of a filiafamilias (Cic. Top. 3, 14; Gaius, ii. 159). In marriage sine conventione the wife did not pass into the power of her husband; she was, as it were, a stranger (extranea) in his household, her relation to her own family remaining as before the marriage; she did not share in the familiaria sacra of her husband, and bore no civil relation to her own children. See Manus.

A marriage cum conventione was a necessary condition to make a woman a materfamilias in the strict sense of the word. In the marriage sine conventione the wife was merely uxor; that is, a wife and nothing more ( Cic. l. c.).

The right of entering into a valid civil marriage is called the ius conubii. The ius conubii belonged only to Roman citizens; the cases in which it at any time existed between parties not both Roman citizens, were exceptions to the general rule. “Roman men citizens,” says Ulpian (Fragm. 5, 4, 11), “have conubium with Roman women citizens (Romanae cives), but with Latinae and Peregrinae only in those cases where it has been permitted. With slaves there is no conubium.

Originally there was no conubium between the patricians and plebeians, but this was granted by the Lex Canuleia. See Lex, p. 941.

The Lex Iulia et Papia Poppaea placed certain restrictions on marriage as to the parties between whom it could take place. (See Lex, p. 942.) Thus certain marriages were prohibited on account of disparagement, as marriages between senators and freedwomen. The law allowed freeborn persons (ingenui) to marry freedwomen (libertinae). Persons within certain prohibited degrees of relationship could not intermarry. A union of persons within the prohibited degrees was an incestuous one. Relations who had the ius osculi, or right to kiss one another, could not marry one another. See Klenze, Das Familienrecht der Cognaten und Affinen nach röm. und verwandten Rechten, p. 16; and Muirhead, Roman Law, iii. p. 26.

In early times there could be no marriage between cognates within the seventh degree, but subsequently the prohibited circle was made less wide. There could be no marriage between ascendants and descendants, whether the relation was natural or by adoption; and a man could not marry an adopted daughter or granddaughter, even after he had emancipated her. Brothers and sisters, whether of the whole or half blood, could not marry, but a man might marry a sister by adoption after her emancipation, or after his own emancipation. It became legal to marry a brother's daughter after Claudius had set the example by marrying Agrippina; but the rule was not carried further than the example, and in the time of Gaius it remained unlawful for a man to marry his sister's daughter (Gaius, i. 62; Tac. Ann. xii. 5; Sueton. Claud. 26). Constantine prohibited a marriage between a man and his brother's daughter. Marriages between first cousins were in later times recognized.

Betrothal (sponsalia) was a necessary preliminary to marriage.

A marriage cum conventione might be effected by confarreatio, coemptio, or usus. Confarreatio was a form of marriage peculiar to the patricians, while coemptio seems to have been originally confined to the plebeians; but when conubium was extended to the plebeians, coemptio became a common form of intermarriage between the two orders. Confarreatio or farreum was a religious form of marriage, which principally consisted in an offering, with solemn words, of spelt bread (panis farreus) to Iupiter Farreus, in the presence of ten witnesses, the Pontifex Maximus and Flamen Dialis taking part in the ceremony. See Coemptio; Usus.

It remains to describe the actual ceremonies of Roman marriage: and it must be premised (1) that there was some difference according to the precise form of marriage adopted, though this distinction gradually disappeared and (2) that, as was said above, the greater part of marriage formality was voluntary, and that then, as in our own day, there might be weddings of a far simpler character. When therefore the complete ceremony of the most elaborate kind is described, it must be understood that a great deal of it was often omitted, and the marriage rites narrowed to little beyond the procession. In the choice of the wedding-day, superstition played a large part. May (as by many even now) and the first half of June were unlucky for marriages (Ovid, Fasti, v. 487; vi. 225). The reason was that the month of May took its general character from the festivals of the Lemuria (q.v.). In the first part of June came dies religiosi connected with the worship of Vesta. Besides these periods, it was necessary to avoid the dies parentales, Feb. 13-21; the first half of March; the three days of the opening of the lower world (mundus patet), viz.: Aug. 24, Oct. 5, Nov. 8; and also the days of Kalends, Ides, and Nones.

At the sponsalia, besides the formal words of the parent or guardian, Spondesne? Spondeo (Plaut. Aul. ii. 2, 78), the bridegroom gave the bride a present, as an earnest or pledge (arra, pignus), which was often a ring placed on the fourth finger of the left hand (our “ring finger”), which Gellius (x. 10) says is connected by a nerve with the heart.

On the day before the marriage the bride put aside her toga praetexta, which, with other belongings of childhood, was laid before the Lares, and put on the tunica recta, or regilla, which was woven in one piece in the old-fashioned way at the upright loom. The bride wore this dress also at the marriage, and a flame-coloured veil (flammeum), with which she was said nubere caput. The dress was fastened by a woollen girdle (cingulum) in the nodus Herculeus, as to the significance of which there is some difference of opinion. It has been explained by some as intended to secure a fruitful marriage, because Hercules had many children; Göll takes it to be an amulet against the evil eye (fascinum). But it is perhaps nearer the truth to take it to be the symbol of a stable marriage, and perhaps the original of the “true lovers' knot.” The hair was arranged in six locks (sex crines) parted by the point of a spear (hasta caelibaris), and held in place by vittae or bands. Hence the words crines and vitta are used by poets as a synonym for marriage. The custom of parting it with a spear is perhaps a relic of the old marriage by capture, and may convey the idea of the word δορίληπτος. The bride had also a wreath of flowers and sacred herbs (verbenae) gathered by herself, and the bridegroom wore a similar wreath (Plut. Pomp. 55). As an account of the dressing of the bride, the passage in Claudian, VI. Cons. Hon. 523- 528, is well worth reading.

In the house of the bride, which was decked with garlands ( 227; Stat. Silv. i. 2, 230), were assembled the relations, friends, and clients, as an officium (Juv.ii. 132). Then the omens were taken and announced by the auspices (Pro Cluent. 4, 14; Juv. x. 336), with the sacrifice of a sheep (cf. Verg. Aen. iv. 56). It had always been the custom to begin the sacred ceremony of confarreatio by consulting the omens, and the practice probably was as a rule extended to all marriages (De Div. i. 16, 28; Plaut. Cas. Prol. 85; Plin. H. N. x. 21). Valerius Maximus (ii. 1, 1) says that in his time the auspices formed in name part of the attendance, though no auspicia for marriage were any longer taken. After these preliminaries, the omens being favourable, the marriage ceremonies began. They were in four main parts:

  • 1. the contract;
  • 2. the giving away of the bride, with whatever sacred rites were used;
  • 3. the conducting (deductio) to her husband's house (the only invariable part);
  • 4. her reception there.
First the marriage tablets (tabulae nuptiales or dotales) were signed before witnesses (signatores), though the marriage was valid without this formality. When the form of marriage called coemptio was adopted (when either or both were plebeians), the formalities of an imaginary sale were gone through before not less than five witnesses, and a libripens (who held the scales at a sale): questions and answers as to the willingness on both sides followed, and with that ended this distinctive part of the marriage per coemptionem; the other ceremonies followed which were usual in all marriages. After the coemptio, or, where that was not used, after the signing of the tabulae nuptiales, a married woman, who must have been married only once, acting as pronuba, led the bride up to the bridegroom and joined their right hands. It seems probable that there was always some formal expression of willingness to marry, in the old patrician rite of confarreatio the set form of response from the bride was Quando tu Gaius, ego Gaia, which form of words was used also in the coemptio (Pro Muren. 12, 27). When the rite of confarreatio was followed the bloodless offering was made; a cake of spelt (farreum libum) was offered by the Pontifex Maximus and the Flamen Dialis to Iupiter: ten witnesses were present. With the offering to Iupiter a prayer was recited by the Flamen to Iuno as the goddess of marriage, and the deities of the country and its frnits—Tellus, Picumnus, and Pilumnus. During this ceremony the bride and bridegroom sat together upon two seats, which were placed side by side and covered with the skin of the sheep sacrificed before for the auspices: they sat to the left of the altar in the atrium and looked towards it: meanwhile a camillus, i. e. an attendant boy who was patrimus et matrimus, held (perhaps) all that was required by the priest for the offering in a covered basket called cumerus. Sir John Lubbock suggests that the wedding-cake cut by the bride is a survival of the farreum in this rite; but the original for that will be found, if anywhere in the Roman marriage, in the mustaceum. The rite of confarreatio suggests rather the sacramental view of marriage.

In what follows, marriages in general of all forms are described. The prayer where there was no confarreatio (and therefore no Flamen Dialis) was pronounced by the auspex, and was addressed to five deities—Iupiter, Iuno, Venus, Suadela, and Diana. It would seem that sometimes, at least, a victim was here offered. There was next a formal congratulation from the wedding guests in the word feliciter (which, if there was no sacred rite, came directly after the contract). Then came the cena nuptialis, which was certainly, as a rule, given by the bride's father, and therefore before the procession (Catull. 62, 3; Dio Cass. xlviii. 44; Capitol. Ant. Pius, 10). But, as in modern weddings, the place of the wedding-feast might be altered from considerations of space or economy, and it seems sometimes to have been in the bridegroom's house. The wedding-cake (mustaceum), which was made of meal steeped in must and placed on bay-leaves (Pliny, xv. 127), was cut up and distributed to the guests. Afterwards came the procession (deductio), the invariable part of the marriage. This took place usually at dusk, whence arose the custom of having torches (Catull. 62, 1). The bride was taken with simulated force from her mother's arms—clearly a survival of the marriage by capture, or, as the Romans themselves put it, a reminiscence of the Sabine marriage. Flute-players and torch-bearers went in front. The bride was conducted by three boys, patrimi et matrimi, two leading her by the hand, the third carrying a torch of whitethorn for luck. In the procession, besides the general crowd, there came also the camillus with his cumerus, and the bride's spindle and distaff were carried after her. Fescennine songs were sung during the procession (Catull. 61, 126), with interjections of Talasse. As to this deity of the wedding-day, reference may be made to Marquardt, Privatl. p. 54; Preller, Röm. Myth. p. 584 foll. He appears as Talasius, Talasio, Talassus, Thalassius, Thalassio. Livy (i. 9) gives us as bearing that name a companion of Romulus prominent in the rape of the Sabines, and derives the cry Talasse from him: but Talus ( Fest. p. 359) is an old Sabine name, and Talassius may have been a Sabine deity of marriage: Varro connects him with τάλαρος, a work-basket. On the whole a Sabine origin is most probable. The part of the bridegroom in the procession was to scatter nuts for the boys in the crowd (Verg. Ecl. viii. 30; Catull. 61, 131). Though Catullus says that it shows the putting away of childhood, it is much more likely that the nuts symbolized fruitfulness of marriage and plenty. The custom, which may be compared with the Greek καταχύσματα, has its representative in the throwing of rice at the present day. When the bridal train reached the bridegroom's house, the bride bound the door-posts with wool, probably as dedicating her work to it, and anointed them with oil or fat to signify health and plenty. All these actions were, so to speak, personified in a Dea Iterduca, Domiduca, and Unxia. The bride was lifted over the threshold (Plaut. Cas. iv. 4, 1; Catull. 61, 166), which, according to some, symbolizes the marriage by capture: others suppose the object to be the prevention of the bad omen, which would be caused by her stumbling on it. Sir John Lubbock (op. cit. p. 97) adopts the former view, and finds a similar custom among such widely divided races as the American Indians, the Chinese, and the Abyssinians. At the entrance the wife repeated the formula ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia; and the husband met her bearing fire and water, to signify that he admitted her to a share in the family hearth and the family lustral rites: the bride, on her part, brought three coins; one she gave as symbol of the dowry to her husband, another to the Lares of the house, a third was dropped in the neighbouring street as an offering for the Lares Compitales. The torch of whitethorn seems to have been scrambled for by the guests as a lucky possession, and the ceremonies were over. The lectus genialis had been prepared by the pronuba in the atrium. On the following day the second wedding-feast, called repotia, was given to the friends and relations in the new home (Hor. Sat. ii. 2, 60; Gell. ii.24.14), and the bride as a matrona offered at the family shrine.


See Newman's Aristotle, vol. i. pp. 168-198 (Oxford, 1887); Lenz, Geschichte der Weiber im heroischen Zeitalter; Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece, pp. 170-194; Van den Es, De Iure Familiarum apud Athenienses (1864); Westermarck, History of Human Marriage, Eng. trans. (London, 1891); Tylor, Primitive Culture, 3d ed. (London, 1891); Hearn, The Aryan Household (London, 1879); Baecker, Le Droit de la Femme dans l'Antiquité (Paris, 1880); Bader, La Femme Grecque (Paris, 1873); id. La Femme Romaine (Paris, 1877); Karlowa, Die Formen der röm. Ehe und Manus; E. Holder, Die röm Ehe; and the articles Donatio; Heres; Manus; Usus.

hide References (23 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (23):
    • Aristophanes, Birds, 1735
    • Aristophanes, Peace, 1316
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.126
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.172
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.180
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.130
    • Hesiod, Works and Days, 800
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.15
    • Xenophon, Economics, 7.6
    • Catullus, Poems, 61
    • Catullus, Poems, 62
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 4.56
    • Vergil, Eclogues, 8
    • Horace, Satires, 2.2
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.5
    • Plautus, Aulularia, 2.2
    • Plautus, Casina, 4.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 10.21
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 2.24.14
    • Plutarch, Pompey, 55
    • Plutarch, Solon, 20
    • Statius, Silvae, 1.2
    • Cicero, Topica, 3
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