previous next


VOCONIA LEX This law was passed on the motion of Q. Voconius Saxa, trib. pleb., with the strong support of the elder Cato, A.U.C. 585=B.C. 169 (Cic. Sen. § 14; Liv. Epit. xli.). Its provisions appear to have been two: (1) That, beginning with the censorship of A. Postumius Albinus and Q. Fulvius Flaccus (A.U.C. 581-585), no one enrolled in the burgher list as having a property of 100,000 asses (qui centum milia aeris census est) should make any maiden or woman his heir (Cic. Ver. 1.42, § 107; Gaius, 2.274). Vangerow (in his treatise, p. 13) points out that this sum was the maximum qualification for the first class of Servius Tullius' arrangement (Liv. 1.43); and that as Cato's speech contained a reference to this classification, the restriction imposed by this law was in fact imposed upon the classici or first class (Gel. 7.13). Dio Cassius (56.10) gives the limit as 25,000, probably meaning drachmae, which were equal to 100,000 sesterces, and that is the amount named by Pseudo-Asconius (ad Cic. Verr. l.c.). Whether this substitution of “sesterces” for “asses” is due to mistake, or more probably to the tacit substitution in popular interpretation of the current coin for an extinct or disused one, cannot be decided (cf. Marquardt, Staatsverw. ii.2 p. 15). A Vestal Virgin was allowed to make a woman her heir (Cic. R. P. 3.17).

(2) Another clause (general in terms, and not confined to the case of women) provided ne cui plus legatorum nomine mortisve causa capere liceret quam heredes caperent: and Gaius points out, that if there were many legatees, the portion left to the heir might be very small (Gaius, 2.226, followed by Theophil. Inst. 2.22). Cicero refers to the law in words which are easily reconcilable with this, but, if taken strictly, mean that no one enrolled (i. e. in the first class) could give in legacies an amount more than would come to the heir or heirs (Verr. 1.43.110); a provision which would secure the heir or heirs at least half the estate. Quintilian's 264th Declamation has “ne liceat mulieri nisi dimidiam partem bonorum dare;” but this, whatever be its worth, is still consistent [p. 2.981]with Gaius, as showing the maximum which a woman could take under a will. This second clause was practically repealed by the Lex Falcidia (Gaius, 2.227).

The Voconian law did not interfere with a woman's rights to her share in an intestate estate (Gaius, 3.1 sqq.), nor with the claim of a daughter, granddaughter, &c. to a share where the will contained no disinheriting clause (Gaius, 2.124 sqq.). Hence a father, though unable to make his only daughter heir by his will (Augustin, Civ. D. 3.21), could bequeath her (not exceeding) one-half of his estate, or, if she was in his power, by omitting to disinherit her, could by the operation of the general law in effect leave her an equal share with other children, or, if strangers were made heirs by the will, could leave her one-half the estate. If he made a will and expressly disinherited her, she could contest the will, as undutiful (inofficiosum); and if no good cause for her disinherison were shown, she would obtain at least a share (Paul. 4.5; Dig. 5, 2). If he made no will, she would get an equal share with other sui heredes.

The intention of the Voconian law apparently was to curb the extravagance, by limiting the pecuniary means, of women (Gel. 17.6; 20.1.23). One of the interlocutors in Cic. R. P. 3.10 attacks its aim, and also its provisions, by pointing out that by not fixing a maximum sum which a woman could take or hold, the law would work (in one or other of the above-named ways) very unequally in the case of fathers of different degrees of wealth. Moreover, from Cic. Verr. l.c., it is clear that rich persons, by not being enrolled, perhaps purposely, perhaps by irregularity in taking the census (cf. Huschke, Census, p. 61), were sometimes free from the operation of the law. Trusts (fideicommissa), too, afforded another means of escaping what seemed to some an unnatural law. In Cicero's time trusts were not legally enforceable (Cic. Fin. 2.17.55); but when after Augustus trusts were protected by the praetor, the Voconian law could thereby be nullified at will (Gaius, 2.274). Its provisions were relaxed by the Lex Papia Poppaea (D. C. 56.10) in favour of those who had children, and it was probably repealed in fact, though not formally, before the time of Gaius (Gel. 20.1.23). What was the interpretation of “census” in this law after the last burgher list was made by Vespasian is not known (Mommsen, Röm. Staatsr. ii.2 p. 408).

The words of Pliny (Pan. 42), “Locupletabant et fiscum et aerarium non tam Voconiae et Juliae leges, quam,” &c. probably refer to the claims of the public treasury to inheritances left vacant or legacies lapsed in consequence of violation of the Lex Voconia, and of the Lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus or of that which imposed a 5 per cent. succession duty (vicesima hereditatum). Cf. Voigt, Condict. p. 227; Huschke, ZRG. 5.178. The policy, though not the words, of the Lex Voconia is thought by Paulus (4.8.20) to have led (jure civili Voconiana ratione effectum) to restricting the claims of women as heirs of an intestate estate to those who were sui heredes or consanguineae and not to further degrees.

Of the many discussions on this law, see particularly Savigny, Verm. Schr. 1.407 sqq. (1820, 1849); Haase, Rhein. Mus. 3.183 sqq. (1829); v. Vangerow, Lex Voconia (1863).


hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1.107
    • Cicero, For Rabirius on a Charge of Treason, 3.10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 43
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 17.6
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 20.1.23
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 7.13
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: