Constantine was nothing if not incredibly (some might say obsessively) concerned with the rites, rituals, and laws surrounding marriage. A law of 335 written to the Vicar of Spain (CTh. 3.5.6) expounded on a topic already addressed numerous times: betrothal gifts. If a betrothed couple had already engaged in the osculo interveniente ('exchanged kiss') and one died before the actual marriage could take place, then half of the gifts given by the male betrothed would go to the surviving partner and the other half to the family of the deceased. If there had been no kiss? The gifts would go back to the givers or his heirs (Evans-Grubbs, 67). The turn of phrase "sealed with a kiss" came about because kisses could in fact create a binding contract. Moreover, kisses were a potent social currency that Americans today regularly underestimate.
|Polyphemus and Galatea Kissing|
As Constantine's law exemplifies, mutual agreements were often sealed with a kiss. This didn't just go for marriage contracts, it also went for much larger diplomatic agreements. Before a large crowd, Sulla and Mithridates embraced and sealed the Peace of Dardanus with an osculum pacis ('kiss of peace'). As Adrienne Mayor has noted, it is interesting to try and reconstruct what the Eastern king Mithridates must have been thinking as he was kissed on the cheek by Sulla. Persians kissed social equals straight on the mouth, but received kisses on the cheek from social inferiors (Mayor, 226). The kiss signalled the conclusion of the negotiations and the fact that a new relationship had been formed, but did Mithridates find it a bit strange he was being kissed on the cheek? Likely.
|Judas' kiss given to Christ|
(Ravenna, Saint Apollinare Nuovo, 6th c.)
|Obama kisses Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence - |
The Daily Mail called this "another example of his
Judith Evans-Grubbs, "Marrying and Its Documentation in Later Roman Law," in To Have and To Hold: Marrying and Its Documentation in Western Christendom, 400-1600 (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 43-94.
Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithridates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press, 2010).
J.P. Toner, Popular Culture in Ancient Rome (Polity Press, 2009),