The Roman wedding is the basis for many modern western marriage customs. While there are some differences (especially regarding ages and choice of spouse), the similarities that have survived are quite remarkable. The following is a list of some basic wedding customs in ancient Rome.
1) An engagement ring was a typical gift, when affordable. This ring was worn symbolically on the third finger of the left hand, as it still is today, because the Romans believed that a nerve ran from this finger directly to the heart.
2) At the wedding ceremony the bride was dressed in white, wore a veil and was accompanied by a bridesmaid.
3) A Roman girl was considered ready for marriage at the age of 12, though 14 was the standard for both bride and groom. Fathers would choose a husband and conduct the required arrangements, including the size of the dowry, with the groom's family. Especially in patrician or upper class families, economic or political considerations were far more important than love or compatibility of the couple.
4) A lucky day for the wedding was carefully chosen to avoid any ill omens. June was an especially favored month, while marriages in February and May were forbidden.
5) Marriage essentially transferred a woman from the authority of her father or male head of the family (pater familias) to the authority of her husband. In theory that control extended even to life and death, but in reality it was limited to economic matters. Any dowry brought into the wedding was then the property of her husband.
6) Prior to the late Republican period, divorce was virtually unknown. Changes in the marriage laws allowed women to keep control of her dowry. This made divorce and self sustenance a far more viable option for women.
7) Consent to the marriage had to be shown publicly to make the union official. One way to show consent was for the future bride and groom to appear in public holding hands.
8) On the morning of the wedding day, the bride was dressed by her mother. The most important part of her wedding dress was a belt, tied around her waist in the "knot of Hercules" as Hercules was considered the guardian of wedded life. Only the husband could untie this knot.
9) The wedding was typically held at the home of the bride's father. There had to be witnesses present, generally 10, for the ceremony to make it legal. The bride and groom would stand before a priest and hold hands. Consent was given again by the bride, as an ancestor to our modern exchange of vows. The Roman vows were a chant, and were the same words for all brides and grooms. The bride would say: "Quando tu Gaius, ego Gaia." (When-and where-you are Gaius, I then-and there-am Gaia.) Its origin is deeply rooted in the lucky meaning of the name Gaius.
10) After the words of consent, the bride and groom sat on stools, facing the alter. An offering was made to Jupiter, which usually consisted of cake. Once the priest had made the offering, this cake was eaten by the bride and groom, and congratulations were offered by the attending guests. Dinner immediately followed.
11) After the dinner party, the bride was escorted to her husband's house. This ceremony was essential to the completion of the marriage, so it could not be omitted. Anyone could join the procession, and many people did, just for fun. The mother held her daughter, and the groom took his bride with a pretend show of force from her mother's arms. The entire procession then paraded to the groom's house. Nuts were thrown by the participants as opposed to our modern tradition of rice.
12) Before entering her new home, the bride once more recited the consent chant. Then the bride was carried over the threshold by her husband, and the doors were closed to the general public while guests were invited in. The bride lit a fire with a special torch carried in front of the procession. The torch was then blown out, and tossed among the guests, who scrambled for it, much like a bride's flower bouquet is today.
Did you know...?
The ancient Roman's called their engagement ring the betrothal (Truth) ring. The Romans were the first to wear the ring on the third finger of the left hand. It's also thought that the Romans were the first to start inscribing or engraving their rings.