So long as the father lived, the persons legally subject to him could never hold property of their own, and therefore could not alienate unless by him so empowered, or yet bequeath. In this respect wife and child stood quite on the same level with the slave, who was not unfrequently allowed to manage a household of his own, and who was likewise entitled to alienate when commissioned by his master. Indeed a father might convey his son as well as his slave in property to a third person: if the purchaser was a foreigner, the son became his slave; if he was a Roman, the son, while as a Roman he could not become a Roman's slave, stood at least to his purchaser in a slave's stead (-in mancipii causa-). The paternal and marital power was subject to a legal restriction, besides the one already mentioned on the right Of exposure, only in so far as some of the worst abuses were visited by legal punishment as well as by religious curse. Thus these penalties fell upon the man who sold his wife or married son; and it was a matter of family usage that in the exercise of domestic jurisdiction the father, and still more the husband, should not pronounce sentence on child or wife without having previously consulted the nearest blood-relatives, his wife's as well as his own. But the latter arrangement involved no legal diminution of power, for the blood-relatives called in to the domestic judgment had not to judge, but simply to advise the father of the household in judging.
But not only was the power of the master of the house substantially unlimited and responsible to no one on earth; it was also, as long as he lived, unchangeable and indestructible. According to the Greek as well as Germanic laws the grown-up son, who was practically independent of his father, was also independent legally; but the power of the Roman father could not be dissolved during his life either by age or by insanity, or even by his own free will, excepting only that the person of the holder of the power might change, for the child might certainly pass by way of adoption into the power of another father, and the daughter might pass by a lawful marriage out of the hand of her father into the hand of her husband and, leaving her own -gens- and the protection of her own god to enter into the -gens- of her husband and the protection of his god, became thenceforth subject to him as she had hitherto been to her father. According to Roman law it was made easier for the slave to obtain release from his master than for the son to obtain release from his father; the manumission of the former was permitted at an early period, and by simple forms; the release of the latter was only rendered possible at a much later date, and by very circuitous means. Indeed, if a master sold his slave and a father his son and the purchaser released both, the slave obtained his freedom, but the son by the release simply reverted into his father's power as before. Thus the inexorable consistency with which the Romans carried out their conception of the paternal and marital power converted it into a real right of property.
Closely, however, as the power of the master of the household over wife and child approximated to his proprietary power over slaves and cattle, the members of the family were nevertheless separated by a broad line of distinction, not merely in fact but in law, from the family property. The power of the house-master--even apart from the fact that it appeared in operation only within the house--was of a transient, and in some degree of a representative, character. Wife and child did not exist merely for the house-father's sake in the sense in which property exists only for the proprietor, or in which the subjects of an absolute state exist only for the king; they were the objects indeed of a legal right on his part, but they had at the same time capacities of right of their own; they were not things, but persons. Their rights were dormant in respect of exercise, simply because the unity of the household demanded that it should be governed by a single representative; but when the master of the household died, his sons at once came forward as its masters and now obtained on their own account over the women and children and property the rights hitherto exercised over these by the father. On the other hand the death of the master occasioned no change in the legal position of the slave.
Family And Clan (-Gens-)
So strongly was the unity of the family realized, that even the death of the master of the house did not entirely dissolve it. The descendants, who were rendered by that occurrence independent, regarded themselves as still in many respects an unity; a principle which was made use of in arranging the succession of heirs and in many other relations, but especially in regulating the position of the widow and unmarried daughters. As according to the older Roman view a woman was not capable of having power either over others or over herself, the power over her, or, as it was in this case more mildly expressed, the "guardianship" (-tutela-) remained with the house to which she belonged, and was now exercised in the room of the deceased house-master by the whole of the nearest male members of the family; ordinarily, therefore, by sons over their mother and by brothers over their sisters. In this sense the family, once founded, endured unchanged till the male stock of its founder died out; only the bond of connection must of course have become practically more lax from generation to generation, until at length it became impossible to prove the original unity. On this, and on this alone, rested the distinction between family and clan, or, according to the Roman expression, between -agnati- and -gentiles-. Both denoted the male stock; but the family embraced only those individuals who, mounting up from generation to generation, were able to set forth the successive steps of their descent from a common progenitor; the clan (-gens-) on the other hand comprehended also those who were merely able to lay claim to such descent from a common ancestor, but could no longer point out fully the intermediate links so as to establish the degree of their relationship.