Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Institute of Marriage of Ancient Romans

Ancient Roman Marriage -1
The Romans considered marriage as the fundamental institute and looked upon it as something sacred. There were different forms of marriage and the most convenient and traditional type was reserved for Patricians known as Confarreatio which was presided by the Flamen Dialis and involved the eating of wheat bread loaf which was part of the ceremony. The ceremony involved the transferring of the father’s authority over the bride, to the new husband. The second form of marriage was the coemptio which involved a contract. The third form of marriage was called Usus which was equal to a man taking the woman after spending an uninterrupted year of living together. Eventually, a fourth form of marriage developed which left the authority over the bride with her father – patria potestas and this form of marriage enabled to free the woman once her father died and though the authority at first passed to the husband this eventually weakened and woman became free to do as she wished with their inheritance. The three forms of marriage had different degrees of rights as well as different difficulty in divorce.

Ancient Roman Marriage -3
Unlike Usus, which is appropriately named was common particularly with the plebeians. After marriage the Roman woman would leave her father’s home and family to enter the home of her husband and once married, she was almost equal to her husband though not of the same legal standing with regards to the state. The Roman woman had the liberty to visit the city and go shopping or visit friends unlike the Greeks. Once the woman was married, she would take charge of her husband’s household, its slaves; look after the children’s education, especially the girls and take control of the family treasury. It is said that fathers would look after the education of their sons especially in the early ages till the Republic.

The ancient marriages ceremony also differed according to class and rank and the privilege of the ful shebang was for the noble Patricians. With regard to clothing, the bride would wear a particular type of hair-do; probably a wig which was similar to the style of the Vestal Virgins and the hair was split into six parts each of which was plaited. The splitting of the parts had to be done with a spear as a symbol of the warrior culture where the bride was marrying.

Ancient Roman Marriage -2
She would wear a long dress with a veil along with garlands of flowers while the dress was tied at the waist with a special knot and the groom would wear a formal dress, a plain Toga. Their wedding ceremonies began in the morning and a lamb was offered as a sacrifice in consultation with the augurs. They had the exchange of rings like the present times which in the beginning was of iron but later they used gold. They entered into a contract in the presence of a number of witnesses along with the Pontifex Maximus or a high rank priest. The priest in his turn would ensure that the couple joining in matrimony had to make certain their intention of marriage and that there was no reason where they might be prohibited from entering into marriage. The ceremony would proceed thus where the couple would sit holding their right hand together with the sacrificial lamb’s skin across their knees and would then eat the loaf of bread made from primitive unselected wheat which had been prepared especially for the bride for this special occasion. The wedding ceremony was then preceded by dinner at the bride’s father’s place with lavish food and drink followed with singing of songs called thalassius or thalaossi with music played on the flute and other musical instruments. The bride and the bridegroom, after dinner would be accompanied to their new home by their guest in a lively procession accompanied by a lit torch from the father’s home to light the hearth of their new home.

Ancient Roman Marriage -4
Then as a sign of leaving all childish things behind, those gathered would throw walnuts since nuts were very common in a child’s game. The bride would then oil the door’s hinges with melted Tallow in order to keep the sorcery away and the groom would lift the bride over the threshold which is also done in present days. Carrying the bride over the threshold was probably something to do with the threshold being sacred or it could done in remembrance of what the early Romans did while abducting the Sabine virgins, or probably done to avoid the stumbling of the bride while crossing the threshold since the stumbling was considered as a bad sign. Once the couple had entered their new home, the husband would hand over the key of the door, together with water and fire as a symbol of chastity and purity and then proceed to take her to the nuptial bed.

Roman proccession
Their family and friends would then have to wait until a matron who herself had been married said the necessary prayers and then the gathering leaving amidst joyful singing of songs in jest leaving the married couple wherein the bridegroom performs his task of untying a special knot of the bride’s belt to enjoy a happy married night. All are once again invited back the following morning to the new house for lunch with the bride formally being the new member of that family followed by her first sacrifice to her husband’s family spirits known as lares. 


That day the groom would also get engaged with his friend on a drinking match known as repotia during which a rule maker would be elected who was called the arbiter binendi. The Plebeian ceremony on the other hand resorted to a simpler style of marriage which was a contract between the groom and the father of the bride. Earlier it involved weighing and documenting the dowry which was to be handed over to the groom but later this became more of a formality than the actual marriage. Besides this all other marriage ceremonies remained the same including the dining and lunching.

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