Weddings in Ancient Greece

Weddings in Ancient Greece

Arranged marriages were considered to be a necessity as well as very advantageous for Ancient Greek society as a whole. Although there were different laws in each city attached to how couples were united and what that entailed, for our purposes, we will focus on the sacraments followed strictly by Athenians.

Weddings were very important to carry on the family heritage and thus prolonging their namesakes. In the Greek culture, every respectable woman became a wife if she could - with rarely any room for choice. Girls married between the ages of fourteen to eighteen, while typically men married in their twenties to early thirties and after they fulfilled their military service.

Marriages in ancient Greece were arranged by the parents of the intended bride and groom - as professional matchmakers were generally frowned upon. One of the three ways a groom would choose his wife was through a financial arrangement that was made between the families in the form of a dowry  - that usually entailed cattle. The other two bases were her presumed fertility, and what skills she possessed (such as weaving).

The sacred wedding rituals were intermixed by various ceremonies and overlying customs. Ancient Greeks tended to prefer to wed at specific times of the year. Some believed that the winter months were more preferable. There are also many superstitions that say they married during full moons for reasons of fertility. The most common month that most unions were made was  January ("Gamelion" - def. "marriage"), which was sacred to the goddess Hera. Moreover, in most of the Greek city-states, people were wed after dark.

The ancient wedding celebration was made up of a 3-part ceremony which took 3 days: the "proaulia", known as the pre-wedding custom, the "gamos", which was the actual wedding, and the "epaulia", representing the post-wedding rite.

In general, it would go as follows. Priests were not involved. Instead, certain observances were followed, after which the couple would live together. The rituals started with separate baths for the couple. Then, the groom would make his way to the bride's domicile riding in a chariot or a cart. A feast customarily followed at the bride's father's house, however, the women would sit and wait until the men were done and could then join and lead the conversation.

After which the groom would take his veiled bride back to his parents' house. She had to stand in a slow moving chariot or cart or some wheeled vehicle the entire way. Her family and friends walked behind the chariot. Some carried gifts just like those we give today like household goods and perfumes and vases and baskets. Some carried torches to light the way. Some played music to scare away evil spirits. To signify the occasion, both the bride and the groom wear a crown or wreath - a tradition that still exists to this day.

Lastly, they would be welcomed at the door by the groom's parents and led to the hearth. There they were showered with nuts and fruit - more specifically an apple was offered to the bride and once she bit into it, the marriage was legitimated. The newlyweds would then enter into their bedroom. Notably, in order for the wife to be fully accepted into her husband's family, a child had to be conceived from their union.