I hope everyone’s Labor Day Weekends went well! My weekend was a bit exhausting, but I am recovering slowly over the work week. I wanted to take sometime this week to write an article on weddings. I am attending a wedding this weekend and wanted to do a post on Roman weddings and the traditions that permeate to modern times.
Roman couple joining hands; the bride’s belt may show the knot symbolizing that the husband was “belted and bound” to her, which he was to untie in their bed (4th century sarcophagus). Courtesy of WikiCommons & Ad Meskens.
Introduction on Roman Weddings:
In order for the union of a man and woman to be legitimate, there needed to be consent legally and morally. Both parties had to be willing and intend to marry, and both needed their fathers’ consent. If all other legal conditions were met, a marriage was made. The Roman purpose of marriage was not one love, but in order to produce legitimate (citizen) children.
Getting Ready & Attire:
Just as normal brides fuss, perfect, and obsess over their wedding day, the ancient bride had many facets to be concerned with as well. In modern times, the bride goes over details about the shape and fit of the dress along with needing something “new, borrowed, and blue.” The Roman bride had her own ceremonial requirements to fulfill.
The first thing she did was surrender her childhood toys, belongings and toga praetexta. This was to reflect her leaving of maidenhood and entry into motherhood. The day of her wedding, her hair would be done in a unique hairstyle that only brides wore called: tutulus. This is where the hair is divided into six locks (sex crines) and was fastened with fillets (vittae) on the top of her head with a cone (meta). Then her hair was parted with a bent iron spearhead (hast recurva or hasta caelibaris). The reason for why a bride’s hair may be parted this way is somewhat uncertain. However, this ritual may have been done to keep evil spirits away from the bride and her hair.
DRESS & VEIL:
The bride’s attire, like that of today, was special and worn only once. She had a flammeum, which was flame colored veil. It was probably the most symbolic thing she wore. This tradition of wearing red continued through the Middle Ages until Queen Victoria made the white wedding dress famous.The veil was oblong, transparent and matched her shoes (lutei socci). The veil left her face uncovered and she wore a flowery wreath. Her gown consisted of a tunica recta, a white flannel or muslim tunic that had been made on an old-fashioned upright loom, and a cingulum, girdle.
TYING THE KNOT & UNTYING THE KNOT:
The ritual of bride’s belt was the Nodus Herculaneus which is known the knotted belt of Hercules. It was suppose to symbolize the virility of Hercules, because he fathered seventy children. The belt is tied and knotted and only the groom can loosen it. This is one derivation of the ritualistic actions for the meaning of “tying of the knot.”
The verb used for a woman marrying is nubo is related to the Latin word nubes (cloud) and means “I veil myself.” From this verb comes nupta (a married woman) or nova nupta (a bride) and nuptiae, a wedding. You can think of a modern term like “nuptials.”
Ceremony & Choosing a Date:
(The following video although not professional is a fun video that explains my points concisely.)
Ceremony was usually optional for most weddings, and was not a requirement. Sometimes a wedding and marriage could be made via letter. The wedding ceremony was more of a procession from the bride’s house (paterfamilias) to the grooms house. This may be one reason why the bride walks down the aisle to the groom in modern weddings. For the Roman bride, her parents would watch for omens (bad dates, ominous weather, etc.) and would plan the wedding for the best date. Interestingly, most weddings were planned in July or (Quintilis), because it was a fortuitous month. The deductio in domum mariti or pompa, procession, moved from the bride’s home to the groom’s home, like the Greek wedding procession.
SAYING “I DO” & THE KISS
When the bride’s family would hand over the bride to the groom, there would be some verbal exchange to the effect of “Ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia,” “Where you are Gaius, I am Gaia.” The new couple would offer up a sacrifice for good fortune. The tabulae nuptials (marriage contract,)was drawn up beforehand and agreed upon would be presented. This marriage contract was originally sealed with a kiss which showed a loyal and “loving” agreement between the bride and groom. Although the kiss is not a formal requirement of the ceremony, most regard the gesture as a joyful start of the marriage. The most traditional way guests entice the new couple to kiss is by clinking their glasses.
Next, the bride rubbed the doorway with fat and oil and wreathed it; thus reinforcing her role as domestic wife. She then crossed the threshold very carefully or was even carried over in some instances, since it was unlucky to step on it or trip on her way into her new house. Ancients also believed that evil spirits, in a last-ditch effort to curse the couple, hovered at the threshold of their new home, so the bride had to be lifted to ensure that the spirits couldn’t enter her body through the soles of her feet.
Thank you for reading, I hope you learned something new! Enjoy your weekend.