February 26th, 2014


Protecting a Romano-British estate from a greedy official

Time/Place: Roman Britain, 133 CE
Search terms used: "ancient roman wills", "ancient rome wills", "ancient rome inheritance", "ancient rome debt burden" (but also see links in my post)

A Roman woman has died in childbirth. Less than a year before, her husband, who is much older than she was, had a stroke from which he is unlikely to recover; he cannot speak. They have five minor children. The juridical legate has moved quickly to seize their villa for his own gain by appointing himself their guardian and claiming to hold the property in trust for them.

It does not seem that a will would have prevented this. According to LacusCurtius, only a paterfamilias or a widow not under the power of her father could make a will. Theoretically, the dead woman could have persuaded her husband, pre-stroke, to have honored her wishes in his will, but, now that he is mute, he can no longer be a testator. Also, strictly speaking, she is not a widow.

The dead woman's friends are seeking to discourage the juridical legate from this course of action in whatever legal way possible (killing him is not a good option, for obvious reasons). My beta, who has a reasonable knowledge of Roman law, suggested they might want to add a massive debt burden to the estate.

In life, the woman had fostered and mentored in her villa a great many young girls in the community, not only providing them with work but teaching them skills. She also offered to be pronuba to the protagonist, for whom she threw an extravagant wedding feast. Therefore, suggests my beta, one solution would be for as-yet-unmarried girls who had worked for her to claim that she'd promised to pay for their weddings, too — and for their male guardians/spokesmen in court to validate these claims. Their spokesmen could even "discover," retrospectively, "legal" documents in which such had been promised as a benefit of employment (despite there having been no employment documentation as such). While these hypothetical weddings would not be as extravagant as the protagonist's, collectively they could run up a great deal of money, as well as, of course, pose a lot of hassle for the juridical legate.

I am not entirely sure (a) I am fond of this resolution or (b) that I could write it in a way that would hold together in the narrative sense. Might anyone have any suggestions, pertaining either to the above solution or to other solutions (involving debt burdens or otherwise)?

This situation is specific enough that I have not found search terms very helpful. For what it's worth, in addition to LacusCurtius I've looked at this little_details post, as well as Wikipedia ("Fideicommissum" and "Legal History of Wills: Ancient Rome"). Edward Champlin's Final Judgments: Duty and Emotion in Roman Wills, 200 B.C.-A.D. 250 looked promising, but there is no preview for any pages in the chapter titled "The Family." I have not found any other books on Google Books that have been helpful.

Thanks in advance.

ETA: sollersuk has explained in detail how such a mentoring situation would have been quite anachronistic. As I've replied, I will likely handwave this/acknowledge it in the author's notes. I would still be interested in people's thoughts on the topic of adding a debt burden to the estate. Thanks again.