The ancient Greeks upheld their traditions and the wedding ceremony was no exception.
In ancient Greece, marriage was usually arranged between the families of the bride and groom. The bride had no say in it as from childhood she was under her father’s guardianship and upon her marriage, her husband became her new master or kyrios. Having reached puberty, the girl’s father would choose a suitable suitor, and the prospective groom and father-in-law would engage in a process called engysis (“giving of a pledge into the hand”) where the issues of dowry and guarantees of the girl’s skills and purity were agreed upon.
The marriage ceremony itself was made up of three phases, spread over three days. There was the “proaulia” which was the time leading up to the marriage where the bride to be would spend her last days with her mother, female relatives and friends, making preparations for the wedding. A ceremony would be held where the bride would make various offerings or “proteleia” , among which would be her childhood toys and clothing, or a lock of her hair, denoting a formal end of her childhood. It was her way of asking for the gods’ blessings and protection in this new phase of her life.
The “gamos” or wedding day would start with the nuptial bath of the bride for purification. The bride’s costume included a veil, a symbol of her purity which was not removed until the wedding. Then the bride and groom would make offerings at the temple to ensure a fruitful future with many children. After this, the wedding feast could begin. This was one time when women were allowed to attend even though they sat at separate tables from the men. All sorts of meats, custards, cheese, pastries, cakes and sesame sweets were offered. Entertainment included dancers and singers. In the evening, the most important part of the wedding took place and that was the “ekdosis” or the process of transferring of the bride to her new home or oikos. As her veil was lifted, the bride was handed over by her father to her husband, and he declared that “in front of witnesses, I give this girl to you for the creation of children.”Then the procession could begin. The bride rode a cart or chariot with her husband while her mother carried torches to ward off evil spirits. Arriving at their destination, the groom lifted his new bride to the threshold and his mother welcomed her new daughter into their home. There followed rituals to ensure prosperity and fertility. The bride would then burn the axle of the cart, symbolizing she could not return to her childhood home. Later that night, the wedding chamber would be guarded by the groom’s friends while the bride’s friends sang special songs to ward off evil and help the couple in their desire to produce healthy children.
The final day of the wedding ceremony was called the “epaulia” The couple were woken with songs from the maidens who had stayed awake all night and some of the male guests. The bride was offered gifts to help her settle into her new life as wife to her husband and daughter to her in-laws.
The visitor to Athens has an opportunity to see the ancient Greek wedding featured in the Acropolis Museum’s ground floor Showcase 5 exhibit. The wedding scenes represented on the loutrophoroi (ceramic water vessels) have been arranged in a way that illustrate the accompanying labels.
Cover photo credits: Preparations for a wedding - ancient Greek ceramic painting