Weddings in the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds – Part 1 — TammyJo Eckhart, PhD
Today we welcome author and historian TammyJo Eckhart as she shares about weddings in Ancient Times. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this exciting blog.
The wedding ceremony today in the Western world would seem familiar to ancient Greeks and Romans, but it would also confuse them. Several of the traditions we use today date back to Athens and Rome, but other aspects of these ceremonies or the reasons behind them would confuse the ancients. Today, I’d like to introduce Donna Schlachter’s readers to some of these similarities and peculiarities of marriage in ancient Greek and Roman societies.
Each Greek city-state would have its own laws and customs about marriage, so I will concentrate on Classical Athens because the bulk of evidence comes from that period and place. Roman evidence comes from throughout the 1200 years of its history, but rather than confuse you, I’ll treat it as generic Roman information.
In Athens and Rome, as today, wedding ceremonies involved religious and legal rites. Who could legally marry was a matter for the state, because a heterosexual union might produce children who could make claims to citizenship, and the state always has an interest in who counts as a citizen. Throughout most of Athenian and Roman history, a citizen could marry a non-citizen, but there was a risk that the citizen might lose legal status or that the children would not be citizens. In neither society could slaves legally wed; there were requirements in Rome for slaves to be freed before a former owner could marry them. Today it is possible for active military personnel to get married, as was the case in Athens, but it wasn’t until very late in Roman history that active soldiers could. Those are the basic legal facts; let’s look at ceremonies that marked a marriage in the Greco-Roman world.
In Athens, a promise between two fathers (or male family heads) to have a son and daughter marry had to be witnessed by members of the families’ demos or city region. If there was ever a question of legality, these witnesses were the only way to prove the union. In Rome, legal marriage had two varieties – with and without manus, a term referring to the transfer of the bride from her father’s family to her husband’s. Both varieties involved a promise, similar to marriage in Athens, and while the witnesses were present the two families involved also signed a document, which each family would keep a copy of. Today the engagement announcement often seen in newspapers, on social media, or sent out via mail serves a similar purpose, but it holds no legal weight unless the couple takes things to court to recover financial damages. Prenuptial contracts are legal documents that some people do sign prior to getting married today, but that tends to be primarily confined to the wealthier segments of society.
So there you have it, Part 1 of a description of wedding ceremonies in Classical Athens and ancient Rome. If you’d like to learn more about marriage in either of these cultures, let Donna Schlachter know by commenting, and perhaps I’ll write another guest blog and give some more information. If you’d like to learn more about my non-fiction and fiction writing, check out my website.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed TammyJo’s introduction to weddings in Ancient Times, and that you’ll come back tomorrow for the conclusion of her blog.
Works Consulted for this Essay:
Blundell, Sue. Women in Ancient Greece.
Blundell, Sue. Women in Classical Athens.
Cantarella, Eva. Pandora’s Daughters.
Gardner, Jane F. Women in Roman Law and Society.
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity.
Reflections of Women in Antiquity, Edited by Helene P. Foley.
Women’s Life in Greece & Roman: A source book in translation, Edited by Lefkowitz and Fant.