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Weddings in Ancient Greece

The Greek word for marriage or wedding ‘γάμος’ comes from Indo-European ‘geme’, ‘To marry’.

In the Odyssey a wedding is described, Book IV, “…the palace of glorious Menelaus. Him they found giving a marriage feast to his many kinsfolk for his noble son and daughter within his house. … So they were feasting in the great high-roofed hall, the neighbors and kinsfolk of glorious Menelaus, and making merry; and among them a divine minstrel was singing to the lyre, and two tumblers whirled up and down through the midst of them, as he began his song. [20]

The wedding continues at the end of Book IV, “…and meanwhile the banqueters came to the palace of the divine king. They drove up sheep, and brought strengthening wine, and their wives with beautiful veils sent them bread. Thus they were busied about the feast in the halls.”

In this case the word ‘γάμος’ seems to imply both a marriage and a wedding feast. What is described is the feast. But it is plain from the description that the bride would leave her home for the family and city of her husband. The festival here described is not a procession of that transfer as is so commonly described during the classical period, but rather an entertainment at the palace home of a bride and a groom since this is, in fact, a double wedding. The word used by Homer, ‘ἐμέλπετο’, implies singing, celebrating with song and dance and not eating. In the Odyssey in the context of the story, the wedding is interrupted by the arrival of Telemachus who is then served food and drink. So a meal may be after the singing and dancing. Also it seems likely that the sheep driven up will be sacrificed and roasted to be served with the wine. There is also the suggestion in the Greek of Homer that these marriages being celebrated were arranged by Menelaus according to his promises.

Homer in the Odyssey compares the feast of the wooers to a wedding feast,
which must have been common in Ancient Greece. The wedding feast would
have been a group of young men friends of the married couple’s families. Homer
further suggests that the feast is furnished by the bride’s family, but that
the groom brings wedding gifts which are displayed at the feast. Among the
entertainments at such a feast would be a minstrel, and perhaps tumblers. A
swine might be slaughtered to provide food for the feast.

In The Shield attributed to Hesiod and dated no later than 560 BCE a wedding is described, line 274:

Some on a four-wheeled chariot,
were escorting a bride to her husband,
and their wedding songs
rose loud into the day.
And in the far distance
the light of bright torches
in the hands of serving maids
danced in the night, and the maids themselves,
brimming with festive verve, pressed on, 
trailed by bands of minstrels and singers.

This seems to describe a wedding process in the evening led by maids with torches, the bands of minstrels and singers, and finally the bride in a four wheeled chariot. They are evidently heading to the house of the groom.

In Alcestis of Euripides line 915, “Once with pine-torches from Mount Pelion and bridal songs I entered, holding the hand of my dear wife, and a clamorous throng followed, praising the blessedness of my dead wife and me, because she and I, both nobly born, had become man and wife.”

Bride and Groom
Ancient Greek Wedding Bride and Groom

In this picture a bride and groom are presenting themselves at a wedding
feast. The bride wears a red chiton and the groom is nude. If the groom was
not nude he would also wear a red chiton. During the classical period feasts
were served on low table to guests lying on high couches. The tripod represents
the type of gift the groom would present to the bride’s family.

During the Classical period marriages were arranged for a woman by a responsible male, either
a father or a brother. Husbands sometimes paid for the bride, but a dowery
was more likely. A girl was betrothed after 5 and married at 15 usually to
an older distant relative. A torchlight procession took the bride from
her house to the house of her husband, where the marriage was consumated.
Singing and dancing accompanied the consumation outside the bedroom door.

Classical Bride
Classical Bride

In Sparta the situation was different with the groom staging an abduction of the bride. Yet this should not be considered a realization of the myth of Leda and the swan. Aeschylus in his The Suppliants line 79, states:

Grant not to youth its heart's unchaste desire,
But, swiftly spurning lust's unholy fire,
   Bless only love and willing wedlock's crown!

Consider also this story relating Polymele: (Iliad book 16, line 176) “And of the next company warlike Eudorus was captain, the son of a girl unwed, and him did Polymele, fair in the dance, daughter of Phylas, bear. Of her the strong Argeiphontes became enamoured, when his eyes had sight of her amid the singing maidens, in the dancing-floor of Artemis, huntress of the golden arrows and the echoing chase. Forthwith then he went up into her upper chamber, and lay with her secretly, even Hermes the helper, and she gave him a goodly son, Eudorus, pre-eminent in speed of foot and as a warrior. But when at length Eileithyia, goddess of child-birth, had brought him to the light, and he saw the rays of the sun, then her did the stalwart and mighty Echecles, son of Actor, lead to his home, when he had given countless gifts of wooing, and Eudorus did old Phylas nurse and cherish tenderly, loving him dearly, as he had been his own son.” In this story the young women becomes pregnant but gets married anyway. Her son is raised by her father.

Now consider this: Homer, Odyssey, 11.260 “And after her I saw Antiope, daughter of Asopus, who boasted that she had slept even in the arms of Zeus, and she bore two sons, Amphion and Zethus,” In Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.6.1 he states “This woman Epopeus carried off.” Then the mortal father of Antiope, Nycteus came after Epopeus and as a result both her father and her husband were killed. Only then did Antiope give birth as she was returning to her family. Since her father died she went to her uncle Lycus. Then “There is a river called Dirce after the wife of Lycus. The story goes that Antiope was ill-treated by this Dirce,” Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.25.3. It seems in this case that Antiope got married even though she was pregnant, but she was then punished for getting pregnant before she was married. She might also have been punished for letting herself be married without her family’s approval.

Weddings in Ancient Greek Myth and Art

Weddings of Goddesses and Mortals

  • Aphrodite and Anichises
  • Eos and Tithonus
  • Selene and Endymion
  • Peleus and Thetis
  • Cadmus and Harmonia

Pictures:

Resources:


Questions and Answers

Question: what id marriage in greek society

Answer: The suitors assembled in the home of the prospective bride and
each made a proposal of marriage. The father considered the proposals
and choose the groom. The father might require a contest among the contenders
to help him decide. In the case of Atalanta the young men had to beat the
prospective bride in a footrace.

Homer mentions a wedding banquet, and gifts of wooing from the man to
his bride. But later
during the classical period a dowery seems more appropriate
because Medea (in Euripedes’ Medea) says “The most
unhappy creature is a woman; Who must first buy a husband with
her wealth.”

At weddings they wore their finest clothes, but sometimes they went nude.
The whole wedding party paraded around, sang, and danced. The women made
offerings and sacrifices to Athena and Aphrodite.

Question: were ancient women arranged to get married? was there a certian way
to dress?

Answer: The father or other responsible male arranged the marriage. They
wore their finest clothes to the wedding.

Question: What age do women have to get married and why

Answer: Women were married at about 13. Their fathers would arrange the
marriage at that age with a man who was about 30 so the women could receive
a substantial education from her husband.

Question: Did women have any choice in who she married? It appears marriage
was not an emotional arrangement. Yet Hector and Andromache (my two fav
characters of Greek myth) seemed to really love each other. Were they just
lucky?

Answer: Women in many societies have had to learn how to encourage suitors
they favored, and discourage the ones they did not. So they influenced the
choice. Sometimes they were unlucky and had no influence. Sometimes they
were lucky and got a good husband in spite of the fact that the husband was
chosen without her knowledge or consent. But it is difficult to enjoy life
with a wife who is unhappy. Some husbands go to great pains to please their
wives just for this reason.

Question: the marriage customs were very elaborate…but what are the exact
details?…such as carrying a pomegrannate as a sign of fertility.

Answer: Some customs can be clarified by reviewing art. For example
Hebe does not carry a pomegranate in the wedding of Hercules and Hebe:
Philadelphia MS5462 but it is common to see a hood on the bride. The material
in art represents the classical period while the epics refer to a period 800
years earlier. In the Odyssey (Book I) Homer states: “As for the wooers bid
them scatter them each one to his own, and for thy mother,
if her heart is moved to marriage, let her go back to the
hall of that mighty man her father, and her kinsfolk will
furnish a wedding feast, and array the gifts of wooing
exceeding many, all that should go back with a daughter
dearly beloved.”

In Book IV of the Odyssey Homer states: “…renowned Menelaus. Him
they found giving a feast in his house to many friends of
his kin, a feast for the wedding of his noble son and
daughter. His daughter he was sending to the son of
Achilles, cleaver of the ranks of men, for in Troy he first
had promised and covenanted to give her, and now the gods
were bringing about their marriage. So now he was speeding
her on her way with chariot and horses, to the famous city
of the Myrmidons, among whom her lord bare rule. And for
his son he was bringing to his home the daughter of Alector
out of Sparta, for his well-beloved son, strong
Megapenthes, {*} born of a slave woman, for the gods no
more showed promise of seed to Helen, from the day that she
bare a lovely child, Hermione, as fair as golden Aphrodite.
So they were feasting through the great vaulted hall, the
neighbours and the kinsmen of renowned Menelaus, making
merry; and among them a divine minstrel was singing to the
lyre, and as he began the song two tumblers in the company
whirled through the midst of them.

In Book VI of the Odyssey Athene speaks to Nausicaa:
“‘Nausicaa, how hath thy mother so heedless a maiden to her
daughter? Lo, thou hast shining raiment that lies by thee
uncared for, and thy marriage day is near at hand, when
thou thyself must needs go beautifully clad, and have
garments to give to them who shall lead thee to the house
of the bridegroom! And, behold, these are the things whence
a good report goes abroad among men, wherein a father and
lady mother take delight. But come, let us arise and go
a-washing with the breaking of the day, and I will follow
with thee to be thy mate in the toil, that without delay
thou mayst get thee ready, since truly thou art not long to
be a maiden. Lo, already they are wooing thee, the noblest
youths of all the Phaeacians, among that people whence thou
thyself dost draw thy lineage.

In (Book XVII) of the Odyssey Penelope says: “Whoso wish to
woo a good lady and the daughter
of a rich man, and vie one with another, themselves bring
with them oxen of their own and goodly flocks, a banquet
for the friends of the bride, and they give the lady
splendid gifts,…)

Question: What did they do at Ancient Greece weddings?

Answer: Read above.

Question: Did young women get to choose their husband?

Answer: Not directly, but they knew how to encourage and discourage suitors.

Question: What was the fate of a woman if her husband preceeded her in
death??

Answer: If her husband left no estate, then she returned to her parents
family, possibly to marry again. If her husband left an estate then she
became part of it. The estate would be offered to one of his relatives and
if he accepts it, he gets the wife as part of the bargain. He would give
up any wife he already had to take the estate.

Question: How was a widowed womens life in ancient greece

Answer: If she was poor she turned into a drudge to justify her existence.
She would be lucky if she sould live with her children. If whe was rich
she got a new husband, but not one of her chosing.

Question: what was the style of their wedding dress?

Answer: This was the same style as their street clothes, but much fancier.
They were also often veiled and hooded.

Question: Does the site exhibit a bias or slant? If so, what is it?

Answer: This page is part of a larger site on the Role of Women in the
Art of Ancient Greece. The site is more concerned with Minoan and Mycenaean
influences than Classical accuracy. This allows changes to be documented.
Visual arts are emphasized more than the literary arts.

Question: What authority or special knowledge does the author have?

Answer: I publish this material to be as truthful as possible for all to
see. If anyone finds an error that can be documented, I am happy to make the
necessary corrections.

Question: Hi! I am doing a Website Review for my Western Civilization class
at school. I have the following questions for you if you don’t mind answering
them:1. When was the site wedding.html last updated?2.
Does the site exhibit a bias, or a slant? If so, what is it?3. What training or
studies have you done to enable you to create this site? I would really
appreciate your help with these questions.Thanks again!

Answer:

  1. last update Oct 23, 2000
  2. This page is part of a site on Ancient Greek Women And Their Role In The Art Of Ancient Greece.
  3. I have a Master’s degree in Computer-based Education. I wished to get some
    experience with a web site that was useful so I put out about 50 pages
    of information in 3 areas of interest: Art, Computers, Environment. Of these
    50 pages only one has produced hits. As more people raise questions about the
    topic of Women in the Art of Ancient Greece I get drawn further into the subject.
    The wedding page was distilled out of the other material.
    (This material was posted Nove. 17, 2000)

Question: Who did Pericles marry?

Answer: Aspasia was the mistress of Pericles.

Question: How much land was given to the wife and husband after
they were married?

Answer: Sometimes the father of the bride paid a dowery to the husband
and sometimes the husband paid the father for the bride. The value of the
dowery varied and the form it took varied as well. Land was not always
involved.

Question: what types of food did they have at the greek weddings?

Answer: Festival food including sesame seeds and honey, bread in a basket,
and acorn, various grains, quinces and other fruits.

Question: was their any gods of goddesses of marriage?

Answer: Hera was the goddess of marriage.

Question: Were the Greek women allowd to get married? If so, were there any
certain expectations or reasons why they had to get married?

Answer: In ancient Greece marriages of women were arranged by the woman’s
father. A father did not need the daughter’s permission or opinion as to
whether she was ready. It seems as though a rapist might force a marriage
but only if the father of the victim agreed to it.

Question: Do the nymphs have anything to do with why nymphomania is
chracterized as a woman’s disorder?

Answer: Yes, and no. The word nymph has a double meaning. A mortal bride
is a nymph, and an imortal lesser goddess is a nymph. ‘nymphomania’ is a
morbid an uncontrollable sexual desire in a woman and the word means a bride
mania. ‘nympholepsy’ refers, on the other hand, to someone posessed by one
of the goddess nymphs. The words are related because nymphs are supposed to
be sexually promiscuous. Common belief states that once women experience
sex, then they are insatiable. This would relate the bride to nymphomania.

Question: did the greeks exchange rings, or have any type of ritual such as
that?

Answer: The woman had no possessions of her own so an exchange of rings
seems unlikely. The husband provided what ever jewelry she wore. In the
Minoan period women arranged their bangs according to their marriage status
while there was a sacral knot that appears in images. No one knows how
either of these were used.

Question: where can i find more pictures of ancient greek wedding?

Answer:

Question: What was the Status of Women in and outside marriage in Ancient Greece

Answer: In classical Greece the status of women is determined by the men in
their lives: their husband, if married, or their father if not. In Minoan
and Mycenaean society the status of women was determined by the property
they belonged to, and the men they married took on that status.

Question: Can a man of ancient greece have more than 1 wife(like Alexander
the Great’s father)?

Answer: A man in classical Greece can have only one wife that produces his
heir, but he can have relationships with many women as long as they are not
another man’s wife or daughter of his wife.

Question: An older distant relative? Typical age? How distant was the male relative? Had the girl any rights at all as to her marital fate? fate

Answer: Only men had rights in ancient Greece.

Question: What if a women did not love her husband would she still have to marry him?

Answer: In those days the fathers had the say as to who could marry. The
reason the father had the say is that his maturity could provide better
information on the long term success of the marriage. A smart father would
insure that there was a good chance for love between the marriage partners
because his future depended upon the success of the marriages of his children.
Unfortunately not all fathers turned out to be smart. Some arranged
marriages for social advancement, as a favor, or even for money. So some
women ended up in unhappy marriages.

Question: Are there any quotes regarding wine and love and marriage from Ancient times?

Answer: Read Plato’s Symposium.

Question: where did the weding take plsce? at her house or at her future
husband?

Answer: The wedding was a procession from the bride’s house to the
husband’s house. After she arrived at the husband’s house the bride and husband
were sequestered while they consumated their marriage. The wedding party
continued to sing songs of encouragement outside their door.

Question: I have a couple questions regarding Wedding Ceremonies in Ancient Greece…i know this doesn’t seem very important but i need as much info. as possible…We are doing a play in class on Ancient Greek Weddings and I (wedding coordinator) would PLEASE like to have these q’s Answered 1- What would be an example of a song or type of music they would use during wedding ceremonies? 2- Would the bride dance with her husband after they were married? 3- Would the bride and groom kiss during this ceremony 4- Would the bride and groom walk down the aisle together? 5- Would there be a feast after the two people were initially married? 6- Would everyone sit at tables? If you have ANY info. on this PLEASE give it to me ASAP…thanks for listening

Answer: 1. Ancient Greek music was either played on the Lyre or reeded
flute. Resources follow:

2. No. The bride and the groom got together for sex.

3. No. As soon as they got together they would have sex.

4. No. They went into a bedroom to have sex.

5. There might be a wedding feast as part of the ceremony.

6. No. Tables might be rare. But the food would be served on tables.

Question: What food did they serve at ancient greek weddings and may i have the recipes?

Answer: Greek recipes

Question: ve to do a research paper on greek weddings and i am not allowed to use the internet for my research

Answer: But you can use the internet to find where to research. For
example this article indicates a wedding in the Odyssey that you can reference.

Question: what color did ancient greeks wear on their wedding

Answer: Red.

Question: Can you get some better picture of the weddings ask someone to
draw onw for you and post it on your site with color and stuff.Because the
pics that u r showing are not colorful and to complicated thanks!!!!!!!!!!

Answer: If you want the situation simplified then you must specify carefully
what aspect of the wedding you want pictured.

Question: ancient greek married life

Answer: Often the Greek husband was married at 30 and the wife at 13.
The early years of the marriage involved a period during which the husband
schooled his wife. The pair probably lived with the husband’s parents so
his mother may have done this. The pair spent their evening an night together
and slept together. They at least had their own room if they lived in the
house of his parents. Evenings were spent in a social meal with other members
of the family and perhaps a bard who provided news. In the morning the
husband left the house to work while the wife stayed with other women. She
may have had slaves to organize or she may have been a part of a larger
organization with the slaves organized by her mother-in-law. Some holidays
were spent together while others were separated by sex.

Question: What did the women in Ancient Greece where when they were getting married?

Answer: A red dress.

Question: do u have any pix with marriage thats not on a vase?pix of the people getting married or porn?

Answer:

Question: what do they wear in for the wedding

Answer: The bride was well covered in a red dress and veil but the groom
was sometimes naked, or he wore a similar dress but no veil.

Question: What happened if the women cheated on her husband?

Answer: Judging from the stories about Hera, this did not happen very often.
And it was only significant if she was caught. Women who were unsatisfactory
were sent back to their parents.

Question: what would happen to a young couple that had fallen in love with
one-another?

Answer: If their fathers approved, they would marry. If they did not
approve they could not marry. If they went ahead and had sex then the man
might be prosecuted for rape and expected to pay the family of the woman
compensation. They might then be married, but it is still possible that
the woman’s father would pledge her to another.

Question: i need lady for merriage

Answer: There is no doubt that an ancient Greek girl would make a wonderful
wife, but they have all been dead for over 2000 years.

Question: I am doing a presentation on Ancient Greek Life, I have chosen
Marriage as my topic. Your information here is great, my question is” What
years represent “Ancient Greek” ? Our timeline is 3000BC to 300 AD – does your
information fall into those years, if so, what year(s)?

Answer: A lot changed in the time you mentioned so it is helpful to
subdivide the period.

  • Minoan Age 3300-1450 BCE)
  • Mycenaean Age 1450-1050 BCE)
  • Dark Age (1050-750 BCE)
  • Archaic Age (750-479 BCE)
  • Classical Age (479-336 BCE)
  • Hellenistic Period (336-168 BCE)

Normally Ancient Greek refers to Greek speaking peoples and so is more
properly 1450-168 BCE since the Minoans did not speak Greek. Some would also
exclude the Hellenistic age because it had an international flavor so
1450-336 BCE is the most conservative meaning. Notice that the customs
were not constant throughout the period so it is often desirable to refer to the shorter periods.

Question: At what age were ancient greek women married?

Answer: Marriages began to be arranged for women when they were 13. Clytemnestra was married at 13. But Helen married later, perhaps at 18.

Question: Hi i am doing a history essay on anicent greek wedding dress i have alot of questions if you dont mind anwering them. 1.Why was it worn and what was the importance of the wedding dress? 2.was there any development over the years of anicent wedding dresses? 3.Was the dress different for rich and poor greeks? 4. How was the fabric made and the construction of the wedding dress? 5. What type of patterns and style was the dress? 6. was it expensive , was it easy to move in was it comfortable? 7. did they wear more than one dress on their wedding day? 8. did they have bridesmaids ? what did they wear? 9. Who was influenced by this dress? 10. were there any social, culture, technological or cilmate things anout this dress. Thank you for that and if anything else you think that will be helpful is really appreciated. Its really hard to find information about a dress but it is really interesting. And do you have any specific photos of what the dress actually looked like details and patterns found on the dress as i need it for a presentation and just pictures of what the bride looked like.

Answer: First you need to read the article at: http://www.jstor.org/pss/497644. This is relevant because the wedding dresses of ancient Greece were red. The suggestion is that they may have been red silk. The article explains that the red silk dresses came from the Greek island of Amorgos. These dresses were diaphanos and very revealing. It is possible that there was development of the wedding dress. The first important development was the loom. Before the loom dresses were made of knotted string. After the loom was developed dresses were made of two rectangles of cloth. During the Heroic period dresses were made of linen or wool. Later cotton was imported from Egypt and Silk came from China. The Peplos dress made of two rectangles of cloth was worn by women in Greece for over 1000 years from about 750 BCE to about 250 AD. During this period there were many changes in the way the peplos was arranged, folded and decorated. The main differences between the rich and poor was the material of the dress, how it was colored, and the jewelry that adorned it. During the classical period linen was the cheapest followed by wool, cotton, and silk the most expensive. Of the colors brown was the cheapest followed by yellow, red, and purple the most expensive. As for jewelry silver was more expensive than gold.

The peplos always consisted of rectangles of cloth woven on a loom. Sometimes embroidery was incorporated in the weave or it was applied later. The peplos was very comfortable to wear for women. But they were not practical for active wear. Dresses were commonly worn for months or years at a time so it seems unlikely that they would wear more than one dress on their wedding day. A simple rectangle of cloth for a slave to wear might not cost that much. But a rectangle of silk would cost a small fortune.

The brides are often pictured with what are called attendants. There are pictures to study to see what they wore. If they were slaves they might not wear anything.

Other pictures:

Question: If a women/girl is to get pregnant before she marries, what would be the consequence, and would she get a chance to get married without any complication if that were to happen?

Answer: There are a number of possibilities for a girl in ancient Greece:

  1. The family would try to get a bride price for a girl. If the girl was beautiful suitors would bring gifts that her family would enjoy. If she got pregnant then this process would be interrupted and the family could get very angry.
  2. The father might have insisted on his right to arrange the marriage of the girl and if she was pregnant but not by his choice he could be very angry.
  3. If she became pregnant by a god the family might be very pleased because the offspring of a deity were always heros or heroines.
  4. They might put her out of the house and expect the father of the child to take care of her.
  5. Her pregnancy might be seen as an asset to a suitor because it proved that she was fertile. He would then marry her.
  6. The baby might be exposed and allowed to die and the pregnancy forgotten.

Question: You said that women would usually get married to a relative. How distant were they? For example would siblings ever marry or first cousins?

Answer: There are plenty of examples among the ancient Greek deities where siblings married. But on earth this was not so likely. Still it was not impossible. Plainly the custom in ancient Greece was to get a bride price, literally to sell the girl to her suitor. In most cases the girl would marry the man who could put up the largest bid for the girl. In some cases the girl was simply abducted and the family would get nothing. It might happen that the richest suitor was a relative. The biggest problem for a woman marrying a relative was if her husband was wealthy and he died. Then the family would assign the widow a husband from her husband’s relatives. This was so the family would not lose access to her husband’s money.

One problem in understanding marriages in ancient times had to do with the increased importance of the family. Family groups formed tribes which were a governing body. There were taboos against marrying close relatives but there may have been problems with marriages outside of one’s tribe. So marriages may have often been between not so close relatives. Another consideration may have had to do with the working arrangements of the family. When a girl married she moved into her husband’s family. How work was apportioned in that family may have been up to her mother-in-law or even her grandmother-in-law depending how big the family unit was. It was pretty likely that there was a family compound and that the girl would have to be compatible with the other women relatives in the compound. Parents of the bride and groom may have had to negotiate just to determine that all would be compatible and the girl would be productive in her new family. It might be easier to determine compatibility among closer relatives than more distant ones.