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.
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
) 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
). Dio Cassius (56.10) gives the
limit as 25,000, probably meaning drachmae,
were equal to 100,000 sesterces, and that is the amount named by
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.
(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.
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
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This second clause was practically repealed by the Lex Falcidia (Gaius,
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
); and if no good cause for
her disinherison were shown, she would obtain at least a share (Paul. 4.5;
). If he made
no will, she would get an equal share with other sui
The intention of the Voconian law apparently was to curb the extravagance, by
limiting the pecuniary means, of women (Gel.
). One of the
interlocutors in Cic. R. P.
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.
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.
). What was the interpretation of “census” in
this law after the last burgher list was made by Vespasian is not known
(Mommsen, Röm. Staatsr.
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
). Cf. Voigt, Condict.
p. 227; Huschke,
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
to further degrees.
Of the many discussions on this law, see particularly Savigny, Verm.
(1820, 1849); Haase,
Vangerow, Lex Voconia