Getting Hitched Roman Style

In the United States and elsewhere, wedding season is quickly approaching.

If you’ve read Domna (Parts Two and Parts Four, especially) or The Trials of Hercules: Book One of the Osteria Chronicles, you’ll have been a guest at an Osterian wedding or two.

By now (because I keep going on and on and on about it), you’ll know that the world and culture of Osteria was heavily influenced by (“stolen from”) Ancient Rome and, to a lesser extent, Greece. So how does an Osterian wedding compare to one from the days of the Roman Empire?

You’re How Old?

First off, let’s talk ages. Osterians don’t mind marrying young, but except in rare cases, they wait until the age of 16 to tie the knot.

In Ancient Rome, I guess people were a bit impatient because girls could marry at 12, while boys had to wait until the ripe old age of 14. Still, even though this is cringe-worthy, most Romans married in their late teens or early twenties, but betrothals (like that of Sofia’s) could be contracted long before the wedding bells were forged.

Wedding, We Don’t Need No Stinking Wedding

As for weddings, early Romans didn’t have them. No, really. You were welcome to have a public ceremony, but it meant nothing other than that you wanted to show off.

Basically, the two partners consented to live together in a long-term relationship as husband and wife. This qualified as being married and gave their children full legitimacy. Modern day couples who co-habit are pretty much living in Roman style.

We’re Over the Whole Marriage Thing

Slowly, things changed and marriage, such as it was, fell out of favor.

Daughters fell under more control by their fathers and therefore had trouble forming a true bond with any man they wanted to call “husband.” It’s not to say Romans weren’t having sex outside of marriage, but by the time the Roman Republic ended (that’s to say, when Julius Caesar did his thing and ushered in the days of the Roman Empire), birth rates had plummeted.

And since no babies means no future tax payers, the government stepped in. Augustus (Roman Emperor Number One) started offering special privileges and incentives to couples who had more than three kids. Legitimate kids, that is.

Suddenly, marriage got a bit more popular.

It’s Time for the Wedding!

As is the case in many places today, June was the most popular month for weddings and ceremonies for the upper class was an all day affair beginning with the groom coming to meet his bride at her father’s home.

She’d be wearing a veil, flowers, and a dress specially made for the occasion. This all sounds familiar, but one aspect of the dress was a knotted belt (the knot was called The Knot of Hercules, hence the term “tying the knot” for marriage). And the knot could only be undone by the husband on the wedding night. I’ve no idea what happened if the poor guy was all thumbs.

But before the groom employed his Boy Scout skills on the wedding night, you had the official ceremony (often conducted in the bride’s home).

Prior to the ceremony, evil spirits would be ordered to stay away (seriously, if they’re THAT evil, they’re not going to listen, trust me). Then, the couple’s hands were joined by the matron of honor, ceremonial words were spoken by the bride (“Wherever you go, there also go I”), the couple would kiss, and it would all be official after signing a very romantic contract in front of ten witnesses.

Once everyone had their name jotted down, there’d be an animal sacrifice, some cake, the lighting of a sacred fire to “kindle” the couple’s fertility, and a huge dinner to celebrate.

Once the couple escaped the festivities, they went to the husband’s home where he carried her over the threshold…and hopefully wasn’t too far gone on wine to work through that knot!

Weddings in Osteria

In Osteria, I’ve worked in some of the Roman traditions while ditching others…namely getting married at 12 years old!

Osterian grooms, coming and collecting your bride is a nice touch, but not required because sometimes your bride will be selected for you in a big show at the arena (see The Trials of Hercules).

If you do go and collect her, you’ll then likely proceed to the temple to be married by a priestess. For the ceremony, you and the lovely lady, who is probably dressed in a white and silver dress (don’t worry, there’s no knot!), will clasp each other by the wrists.

A marriage cloth will then be wrapped around your wrists and hands as the priestess recites the marriage words. She then unwinds the cloth and you’re done.

Of course, Osterians love to party, so you might get caught up in the festivities before you can “complete” the wedding. In Osteria, sometimes this delay can be a welcome thing…it just depends on who you’ve been forced to wed. 

Thanks for attending this wedding party. If you’re ready, then let’s head back to the newsletter and wind things up.