Via: Short history.
Ancient Egypt is one of the most prolific ancient civilizations that has been talked about in recent times. Whether it be the pharaohs or the great pyramids, we are fascinated by the culture that lived in Egypt 4,000 years ago. So you might’ve always wondered how Ancient Egyptians married and what the oldest weddings were in their long history. Today we will find out, so let's get started.
Check out another post like this on Ancient Roman and Greek Weddings.
What was the Oldest Wedding In Ancient Egypt?
Although not the oldest wedding, Ancient Egypt was one of the first civilizations to have formal ceremonies for tying couples together as a pair. The oldest wedding is thought to have originated from Ancient Mesopotamia and Babylonia in modern-day Iraq.
The ‘oldest wedding’ in Egypt was not recorded, so all we have to go on is famous examples of weddings to give an idea of what the elite ceremonies were like for Pharaohs. Take, for example, the wedding between Ramses II married a Hittite princess, which occurred around 1300 BC in the 34th year of his reign.
How Did Ancient Egyptians Marry?
Sources contradict each other on how Ancient Egyptians married. However, an interesting note is that they had no word for ‘to marry’ as we see today. This shows that even if they had couple binding rituals, they vastly differed from what we practice today.
Some say marriage was a choice that anyone had the option of who they wedded to, whilst others say that women didn’t have much choice as their family paired off her to a suitable husband. These sources vary when we talk about Ancient Egypt as we deal with hundreds of years and unions between people of different classes.
Most sources that talk of weddings are of specific examples of elites, particularly Pharaohs and their Queens. Even if the rest of society was free to marry who they wanted, those in power were required to continue their lordly bloodlines. So, it was lawful and encouraged for kings to marry close relatives, including their sisters, even if outlawed in the rest of society.
A famous example of a young Pharaoh marrying his half-sister is the marriage between Tutankhamun and Ankhesanamun. Around 1350 BC, when she was born, Egypt was in a period of political and religious unrest, so it became a tradition to preserve the ‘god-touched’ bloodlines of the royal throne. She married her half-brother when they were both teenagers, under an unhappy backdrop of family pressures to secure an heir and dealing with the aftermath of their father converting the land to monotheism. Tut would die young, and her life as a widow would go unrecorded with the death of her husband.
What Were Ancient Egyptian Weddings Like?
We don’t know how Tut and Ankhesanamun, but looking at the scriptures, we can get a basic idea of how weddings might have occurred. However, remember that these events were not as showy as today because unions were often for political strategy..
Firstly, the bride and groom didn’t need legal documents to sign, as Ancient Rome invented this requirement. But what secured their union in the eyes of society? This requirement varied from elites to common folk and affluent kings.
Pharaohs held state events with great days of celebrating involving the whole of Egypt. Likely, with a big state celebration of marriage, workers might’ve had the day off and expected to attend a local public square.
The ceremony would have been guided by priests of gods such as Hathor and later a single god as the state adopted monotheism. Attendants would wear specific clothes to indicate their ranks, such as the Pharoh wearing his crown and royal robes and his bride a lovely dress and jewellery. Then the bride and groom would be walked through a series of rituals with the guidance of their priests. This could include the burns of spells for good luck, offerings to the gods, and words of love between the couple.
Whether an elite wedding or an informal event by peasants, it was agreed that the moment the wife moved into her husband’s house, they were officially together. So for the king and queens, after the ceremony, when the bride moved into the palace, they were now unified. So you can imagine this unification event would’ve just as much splendour as the visit to the temple.
An example of a royal wedding that might’ve gone this way was Ramses II when he married a Hittite princess. After the union, there would have been a lot of celebrations through plentiful food and dancing.
What is the Ancient Egyptian God of Marriage?
Although marriage in Ancient Egypt was not as we see it today, and there was no god of marriage, several gods were worshiped for patronage to love. Hathor was the Egyptian god of love and would’ve been called upon during the ceremony to give good fortune to the couple in the days ahead. Later on, she was replaced by the Greek god Isis.
In Ancient Egyptian mythologies, gods married each other, too, in certain tales. For example, Anubis, the god of preserving the dead and leading them to the afterlife, was married to the goddess of the seventeenth nome of Upper Egypt, Anput. They were said to be each other’s halves in their union, and through their marriage, they became whole. In addition, many gods, although not all, are shown to be married to a female counterpart of a similar name.
What was Love in Ancient Egypt?
Although marriage was for political gains, Ancient Egyptians believed in romantic love and affection between couples. This is seen in the many paintings of couples in temples showing physical affection for each other, giving each other flowers, and dedications to the goddess of love, Hathor. In addition, there is evident respect between husbands and wives, an intimacy that isn’t always absent in a partnership, even if arranged.
A love story in Ancient Egyptian mythology worth pointing out is the love shared by Isis and Osiris. Isis was the daughter of Geb, the earth god, and Nut, the sky goddess, who fell in love with the god of the underworld Osiris.
They’d both been born together in the same womb, falling deeply in love even before their birth, and when they did arrive, they quickly set about making their passionate union known. Together they bore the god Horus, who later came to symbolize the power of the Pharoah.
What was Sex Like in Ancient Egypt?
Even if the scriptures try to hide it from the world, the truth is that sex has not changed in the thousands of years of humanity’s existence. In Ancient Egypt, sex was just as common as it is today, people had needs, and people had children with or without being officially tied to others.
One source that shows how much Egyptians loved sex is the graffiti discovered in temples, on cave walls, pottery, and all other forms of archaeology. Above, we can see a potsherd uncovered from a site showing a couple having a pleasurable time, and the fact it was made and second that it survived is incredible. We see from this that people love to draw erotic scenes just as we love to read erotica novels today; the Ancient world isn’t so far removed except in years.
What Were Ancient Egyptian Wedding Rings?
Via: Glencairn Museum.
Rings in Ancient Egypt were not used in formal marriage ceremonies officially but were common gifts or objects worn in everyday life. These bands served many functions in Ancient Egyptian society, from helping ward off evil spirits to being a striking piece of jewelry to complete an outfit and make a social statement.
There were many types of rings, from signet rings used to officiate official documents and prove one's social status to bands that had embroidered precious stones with unique designs. Gold was a highly sought-after material, so the wealthy dominated that market with precious stones, while the common folk who wanted rings resorted to cheaper materials like clay, shell, teeth and bones.
Was There Homosexuality in Ancient Egypt?
Although queer relationships and identities were not common in Ancient Egypt, there is evidence from a 1964 excavation of a tomb revealing the bodies of two men, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, that suggests they had a close relationship.
In life, they shared the title of overseer to the manicurists to the king Nyeserre Ini, the Pharoah of Egypt, around 2,500 BC. They were buried together, and based on Egyptian records, many have interpreted their unusual relationship as one of the first recorded same-sex relationships. However, the most substantial evidence is the murals of the pair embracing and either man taking their wife's place in traditional scenes.
However, they both also had wives and children, suggesting that if their relationship was genuine, they were still bound by the societal pressures of producing heirs through a union with women. In the scene from their tomb (depicted above), their heirs surrounded them, with their wives absent.
Married life in Ancient Egypt
Once united, a couple would settle into married life, working as a unit to ensure the survival of each other and produce heirs for their family’s longevity. The husband would work, whilst his wife would stay at home and bear children, although there are examples of women continuing to have a career outside the traditional family unit.
Women still had control over most of their rights and property; even if they had a husband, they could decide if she wanted to stay married or leave their husband at any time. However, sometimes without work, this would be easier said than done. Regardless, women took on various roles in the community, and some even became Pharaohs.
Final Remarks: How Did Ancient Egyptians Marry? The Oldest Weddings in Ancient Egypt
Even if Ancient Egyptians didn’t ‘marry’ in the sense of the words as we understand it today, you cant deny that they viewed the unions between couples as important parts of their lives to ensure the survival of their culture.
Gods were important to love lives, and the mythologies around god marriages inspired unusual arranged marriages between families in places of high power to ensure no one outside their family could become king of Egypt. Thankfully, this tradition is not continued today in modern weddings.
The Egyptians valued love, and even if marriage was mainly between a man and a woman to produce heirs, there is also evidence of romantic love. Couples did enjoy themselves, and some even were open about their sexuality, and society embraced their gay relationship in death. The fact we still have archaeological evidence of Egyptian sex life, marriage and gay couples is a marvel and one we can reflect on and say not much has changed.
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