marriage ceremonies

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Ceremonies were not identical all over Greece. For example, at Sparta they included a mock abduction. But they were shaped by largely similar perceptions about the ceremony and the deities concerned with it. Thus, Artemis was concerned with the girl's transition to womanhood, Hera, especially as Hera Teleia (‘the Fulfiller’), with the institution of marriage, Aphrodite with its erotic aspect. The evidence is more plentiful for Athens, where it includes images on vases, some of which (e.g. the loutrophoroi) were actually used in the wedding ceremony. What follows is centred on Athens. But the main elements were common to all; thus, the form of the preliminary sacrifices and offerings may have varied from place to place, but such sacrifices and offerings were made everywhere. After a ritual bath, in water carried in loutrophoroi from a particular spring or river, in Athens Callirhoë, the bride and groom were dressed and (esp. the bride) adorned. Then the feast took place at the house of the bride's father, during which (almost certainly) there took place also the rite of the bride's unveiling in front of the groom, followed by gifts to the bride by the groom. Probably also during the feast, a boy with mother and father still living, carried a winnowing‐basket full of bread and said, ‘I escaped the bad, I found the better.’ After the feast, in the evening, there was a procession from the bride's house to that of the groom, an important part of the ceremony, and a favourite image on black‐figure vases. The couple went on foot or in a carriage or cart, accompanied by the groom's best friend. The bride's mother carried torches; the procession included the bride's attendants, musicians, and others who shouted congratulations to the couple. The bride was incorporated in her husband's house through the same rite as that by which newly acquired slaves were received into the house: when she first entered the house, she was led to the hearth (see hestia) where nuts, figs, and other dried fruit and sweetmeats were showered over her and the bridegroom. They then went to the bridal chamber where the marriage was consummated while their friends sang epithalamia outside. On the day after they were sent gifts. See also marriage law, greek.


The favourite season was June. Usually on the previous day the bride put away her toga praetexta—she had come of age. Her dress and appearance were ritually prescribed: her hair was arranged in six locks, with woollen fillets, her dress was a straight white woven tunic fastened at the waist with a ‘knot of Hercules’, her veil was a great flame‐coloured headscarf and her shoes were of the same colour. Friends and clients of both families gathered in the bride's father's house: the bridegroom arrived, words of consent were spoken, and the matron of honour performed the ceremony of linking bride's and bridegroom's right hands. This was followed by a sacrifice (generally of a pig), and (in imperial times) the marriage contract (involving dowry) was signed. Then the guests raised the cry of Felīciter! (‘Good Luck!’). There followed the wedding feast, usually at the expense of the bridegroom. The most important part of the ceremony then took place: the bride was escorted in procession to the bridegroom's house, closely accompanied by three young boys, whither the bridegroom had already gone to welcome her. The bridegroom carried her over the threshold to avert an ill‐omened stumble; in the house she touched fire and water, was taken to the bedchamber and undressed by women who had known only one husband, and the bridegroom was admitted. Meanwhile an epithalamium might be sung. This is a generalized account of an upper‐class wedding as it appears in literature. There could be many variations of detail, and there could be different forms of marriage (see marriage law, Roman).


Subjects: History.

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