An Ancient Greek Wedding in the 5th Century BCE
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Ancient Greek Wedding
Weddings in ancient Greece were a major part of a person's life, especially for the bride-to-be. The weddings were usually arranged by the bride's parents (Kitto 220).
The marriage symbolized:
The wedding consisted of three parts:
In ancient Greece, there usually was a certain time when couples decided to marry. According to Flacelière (62), Greeks married during the winter. However, various superstitions say that Greeks were married during the time of a full moon. A common month in which couples married was the month Gamelion (January) which is sacred to Hera and means "the wedding month."
The average age difference between husband and wife was fifteen years. Hesoid's advice was that "A man should marry at about thirty, choosing for his wife, a girl of sixteen" (quoted in Flacelière 59). Although there were no formal laws governing a specific age to marry, Flacelière (59) also mentioned that girls could marry as soon as puberty hit. As Powers notes,
"A girl married at the age of fifteen because it was presumed to guarantee virginity. Gentlemen married at thirty because that was the usual age when they finished their military service".Also, Bonnard (128) states that "In order to have a legitimate wife, she must be the daughter of a citizen."
One of the pre-wedding ceremonies was the feast. Powers states that the feast was held at the bride's father's home the day before the wedding took place. After the feast, the bride-to-be made childhood sacrifices, since she would be a child no longer. These sacrifices included:
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Another pre-wedding ceremony was the bath. This event took place the morning of the wedding day. One researcher stated that a procession would acquire water from a special fountain called Callirhoe (Flacelière 62). But another researcher stated that a child would draw water from a spring or river (Powers). One thing that both researchers agree on is that the procession or child used a loutrophros, which was a double handled, painted vase.
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This special ritual bath was usually just for the bride, but sometimes, according to Flacelière (62), it could be for the groom.
The actual wedding started off with the Betrothal, or the Engyésis. This was an oral petition that literally means 'the giving of a pledge into the hand.' It is a pact between the suitor and the father of the bride. This dialog by Meander is a great example of the Engyésis.
PATAECUS: I give you this girl, that she may bring children into the world within the bond of wedlock.
POLEMON: I accept her.
PATAECUS: I agree to provide a dowry of three talents with her
POLEMON: I accept that too - with pleasure (quoted in Flacelière 60).
"Look at her!"
Later on in the evening would finally be the unveilings of the bride. Both Flacelière (63) and Powers mention that although it may be that the bride is unveiled before she leaves to go home with the groom, it was more plausible to unveil when she arrived home, only in the presence of her husband. Therefore, the actual unveiling time was uncertain.
Another important part of the wedding ceremony was the journey home. This departure was very painful for the bride. In fact, it was probably physically painful as well as mentally painful because according to Powers, the groom grabbed her wrists while she said her farewells. This was the time that the father 'gave' his daughter to the husband.
The day after the wedding was the day of the banquet. This was held at the groom's home (Flacelière 64). The banquet was just like a modern day reception with:
The dances that people probably danced were the:
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Marriage in ancient Greece was not like a modern wedding. This marriage was to merely pass the girl on to a different 'owner'. In fact, Bonnard (128) states that:
"A minor from the day of her birth to the day of her death, a woman only changed from one guardian to another when she married" (128).