Unlike other ancient cultures, the Romans believed that marriage was a celebration of monogamy – meaning that, by law, a Roman citizen could only have one spouse (husband/wife) at a time.
This idea of “monogamous marriage” is the norm for marriage nowadays, but at the time, it was very different to other cultures. In most places, high-status men were allowed to have multiple wives.
Aside from being monogamous, it was also required that consent (permission) be given for the marriage of a man and woman to be recognised by the state.
Both parties had to state that they wanted to marry each other, or give evidence in public that they were in a relationship; for example, being seen holding hands while walking the streets.
Divorce was not allowed for most of the Roman Empire’s rule – when you got married, you got married for life. Same-sex marriage was also not allowed, meaning that men could only marry women and women could only marry men.
Many Ancient Roman wedding customs are still around today. For example, when a man could afford it, an engagement ring was given to the bride.
This ring was a symbol to show that the woman was about to become a wife, and that she was no longer available to other men. Just like in the modern world, the engagement ring was worn on the third finger of the left hand – what we now call the “ring finger.”
This finger was chosen because it was believed that there was a nerve running from this finger all the way to the heart! On their wedding day, Roman women also wore a special dress and veil, which is similar to the wedding outfits worn by women nowadays.
But Roman weddings weren’t exactly like our ones. For example, the Romans got married much younger than we would – a girl could get married at the age of twelve, but fourteen was the most common age for boys and girls to get married.
There was also more of an emphasis on how the bride “switched ownership,” as she went from being her father’s possession to being her husband’s. To signify this, when a girl got married, they would give up their bulla and never put it back on.
A bulla was a protective amulet worn by children in Ancient Rome, and the bride giving it up represented the fact that it was now expected for her husband to protect her instead. A dowry (a gift of money, land or livestock) was usually given to the groom’s family by the family of the bride.
This was particularly important in marriages between rich Romans, where the economic and political effects of their marriage were more important than whether the couple loved each other or not.
A lucky day was always chosen for weddings. June was a common month for people to get married, while marriages in February and May were forbidden and made illegal.
On the morning of the wedding day, the bride was dressed by her mother. The bride’s wedding dress was tied with a belt around her waist.
The knot the belt was tied in was called the “Knot of Hercules” (the god Hercules was considered the protector of married couples) and only the bride’s husband was allowed to untie it. The bride and groom would stand in front of a priest for the ceremony.
After giving their permission to be wedded to each other, they would sit on stools facing the altar. They would then make an offering to Jupiter together.
This offering is where our tradition of having a wedding cake comes from; the offering to Jupiter would nearly always include cake! After the ceremony, the bride would be escorted to her husband’s house.
She was accompanied by her family and often strangers (who would join for fun) all the way to her new husband’s front door, where nuts would be thrown at the couple to celebrate their new marriage.
Once the groom carried his bride through the front door, the wedding was complete, and the couple were now considered husband and wife.