Women in Late Antiquity:Pagan and Christian Lifestyles
The origin of the dowry was to protect the wife's financial security since it was not in the interests of the state to have poor widows, often with children, dependent on it. "Any property she inherited or acquired after her father's death remained her own. Her dowry could be used by the husband from the time of marriage, but with the powerful restraint that he might have to give some or all of it back if there was a divorce - exactly how much depended on the law of the time and the terms of the marriage settlement. It did not simply become his property. . . If the husband had a financial disaster, return of dowry took precedence over the claims of his creditors."