So we have talked about marrying like a Viking, the history of rings and love, and more recent guides to date like it was the 1950s, but what about classical love? How did ancient Rome and Greece marry? Today we will find out!
Marriage In Ancient Greece
Marriage during this time was not a legally binding contract as it is today; instead, as long as the family witnessed the ceremony, that was enough to solidify it. In addition, unlike today, in Greece, It was a social benefit to the broader society to get married, and it was exceptionally accurate if they were from affluent families. Rarely was it for love.
Ancient Greek Weddings: Gods of Love
Religion was quite important to the Ancient Greeks, so what were their gods of love and marriage? The Greeks had many gods that presided over the domain of marriage, but the most revered was Hymen. Then for matters concerning passion and love, there was Aphrodite.
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Ancient Greek Wedding: The Ceremony
Most Greek weddings took place at night and ran over three days.
The first day consisted of the proaulia where the bride spent the last day as an unmarried woman with ladies from her family and close friends.
The second was gamos which was the day of the actual wedding ceremony where the bride would stand with her groom and be spiritually bound to her partner and transferred from the projection of her father to her husband. Part of these ceremonies included a bath and a chariot procession to her new home. Finally, the bride and groom would step off into their chambers, and he would remove her veil to complete the evening.
The final day was epaulia, when guests would give gifts to the happy couple.
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Ancient Greek Weddings: The Role of Bride
The groom's bride remained owned by her father or parental figure until she became married to her husband, by which time the passage of ownership took place during the wedding ceremony. After that, it was a man's role to look after her, ensure he met her needs, and ensure he organised their home well, and she gave him children.
During the wedding ceremony, she would wear a veil with a gown and should shed their pubescent clothing to step forward into the role of becoming an adult. She completed this transition when she removed her cover at the end of the wedding.
Ancient Greek Weddings: The Role of Groom
Like the brides, the grooms had a significant role in the Ancient Greek wedding. They wore an ornate cloak with tunic and girdle on their head. Most historians talk more about the bride's part in the ceremony, but the groom was still required to ride the chariot and remove the veil from his wife-to-be.
In essence, despite the role of a man weighing larger than a woman in a social context, his role was minimal compared to women. This is because the whole marriage ceremony is about the exchange of ownership from a father to the bride's husband. She performs certain rituals to help strengthen this gift exchange through several avenues of ‘law’.
Marriage in Ancient Rome
The culture of Ancient Rome was heavily influenced by the Greeks that came before and then by their scholars who were Greek teachers for their subjects. So naturally, their marriage ceremonies were similar, but of course, Rome has its unique style to add to the mix! So just how different was a Roman wedding?
Ancient Rome Wedding: The Ceremony
A Roman wedding had many more laws about who could and couldn’t get married. For example, only Roman citizens could marry other Roman citizens, and if you had a specific class or job, you were heavily regulated with what you could or could not do.
So even before you married, you had to propose to the person of your affections and then you could show this off with an engagement ring. This tradition was born in this period, and you could now apply for permission from the state to marry your partner.
Once permission was granted, you were given an official conubium to get married. The ceremony often took place during the day and in the atrium of the bride’s father’s house. This would be a formal ceremony between their two families and then sealed at the end with a kiss.
Ancient Rome Wedding: The Role of Women
A woman before she married was still considered a child. But, like with Greek weddings, she came of age and ascended into adulthood with her husband when they tied the knot. So, before the wedding, she would get rid of her toys and child toga. In addition, she would replace her clothes with a tunica recta for the ceremony and wear an infula in her seni crines braided hair, and a flammeum orange veil covering her face.
She would learn to knit her own tunica recta before the wedding so that when she becomes a part of her husband’s household, she can also make his clothes. Then, after she married, she could wear a stola to intricate her married status.
For a woman to be perfect for a worthy husband, her family often needed to supply a dowry to his family. This would most often be all her possessions coming under her husband's ownership or payment from her father.
Ancient Rome Wedding: The Role of Men
A man in Ancient Rome held the highest role in the household, being in control of their wife and children. If they made a decision, it became law. When this came to the wedding, a boy would become a man when he took a wife, and they moved in together. His marriage was not simply for love, but more often due to a social obligation to further his social status and care for a woman to have her children. In addition, he had to advance his family line and uphold a good place in work.
A boy came of age, so his parents would give him a bulla amulet to hang around his neck with a toga virillis to show he was ready to wed. When he found a worthy partner, he would remove this during the wedding ceremony and replace it with a tunica recta alongside his wife. They wore clothing and symbolic idols, which showed the authority he would have over his bride in marriage.
Ancient Rome Wedding: Gods
The four significant marriage gods at a Roman wedding were Juno. Venus, Hymen, and Terra. The rituals they performed during the ceremony were to appease the patrons of love, marriage, fertility, and partnerships to ensure the wedding couples' long, happy lives. Part of these rituals sometimes included painting the bride’s face in red to ward off evil spirits in the name of Hymen, the god of marriage.
Ancient Rome Wedding: Celebrations
Romans knew how to throw a good party! Infamous examples of parties during the Roman period led to long-lasting impacts on the legends of great emperors and terrible tyrants. So with the marriage between a couple complete, they would have celebrated similarly.
Whereas poorer members of society might have had a small gathering to celebrate a wedding, possibly from a street vendor, the wealthy went all out. A party was not just about having fun but creating a display of how rich you were to the guests in attendance. The food needed to be perfect, the enslaved people were on point with their deliveries, and the wine was watered down enough and endless.
A wedding banquet would have been a larger party than the nobility had on a regular occasion. They would dress up, and get very drunk, networking to forge friendships and connections across the empire. Common customs included lying on one's side in a lounger and using minimal effort to shove food into your mouth with the aid of servants.
How we organize our lives is not too dissimilar to how the people of the ancient world formed theirs. We come into this world looking for somewhere to belong, and as we grow, we may fall in love and then get married to a perfect man or woman. Marriage is almost as natural at times as breathing, as it is an integral part of many people’s lives as they transition from a child into an adult. Even if thousands of years divide us from people of the ancient world, they are still human and very much like us.
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