William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


This is an Article with a dual purpose. First, it is concerned with the process of law reform: how do we judge a given reform’s success or failure? Do we adopt strictly linear metrics? Or do we look at nonlinear impacts? For example, in the campaign against tobacco, do we judge it a success because it has reduced cigarette smoking? Or because it reduced the political power of the tobacco companies?

Secondly, in this Article, I apply this complex means of analyzing law reform to the Emperor Augustus’s morals legislation. Legal historians have typically regarded Augustus’s morals legislation as having achieved, at best, mixed results. These historians, however, have tended to perform a linear assessment of the legislation. Did Augustus achieve the results he professed to want; that is, were cases of adultery prosecuted more frequently? Was elite childbirth encouraged? I argue, in contrast, that the legislation must be seen against Augustus’s larger political agenda, which was the subjection of elite families to the laws of the emerging Roman Empire. Seen in these political terms, I argue that the legislation can be judged in substantial measure as successful.