Those two famous words every girl knows…and some guys fear. But in Ancient Rome the famous words were “Ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia” or translated “where you are the male, I am the female” or ‘to whatever family or clan you belong, I also belong.
Today, the question asked by the priest, “Who gives this bride away?” is answered by the father answers usually, “Her mother and I.” In the days of Ancient Rome, the bride was passed from the control of her father to the control of her husband.
The bride’s father -with the influence of the mother-determined who the daughter married.The groom had very little say either because even he answered to his papa. Marriage was of convenience not love. It joined two houses. Yet, the bride did not take her husband's name. In fact, if, after a time, papa didn't like this marriage, he could divorce his daughter from this marriage and remarry her again. Neither bride or groom had a say. But it wasn't good politics.
Let’s start with the engagement or betrothal or ‘sponsilia’. According to Augustus, a bride “sponsa’ could not become betrothed under the age of 10 because she was expected to be able to understand what this was all about. However, we’ve heard of betrothal in Rome with a infant. This was to rebel against Ausgustus’ taxation on unmarried men. So, if an unmarried man betrothed a babe who couldn’t marry him until she became ten years of age, he had ten years of freedom. However the typical age for his first marriage of the groom or sponsus was in his late twenties. The sponsa or bride was in their mid to upper teens.
Another interesting clue is that the betrothal gifts were showered upon the couple. The engagement was informal and could be easily broken. Thus the gifts were simple household gifts, easily returned. Vases, tableware, blankets. Easy to return.
However, the groom could make substantial gifts during the engagement and wedding. Why? Because, Roman law forbade the exchange of substantial gifts between husband and wife AFTER marriage for political reasons to prevent him from giving his wife land and apartments that the state was about to remove from his possession. So he gave them before marriage.
The concrete symbol of a betrothal or engagement was a ring. It was originally made of iron or gold. This was slid onto the third finger of the left hand. Why? It was believed that the Egyptians discovered that a very delicate nerve starts with this finger and runs directly to the heart.
There were three types of marriages back then. ‘Coemptio’ or a bride purchase. Five witnesses see the groom make a fake purchase of his bride from her father. A second was ‘Usus’ or cohabitation or simply living together. If the bride lived with her groom for a full year, they were wed. However, should she stayed with a friend or family for three days during that year, the marriage was not valid.
And then there was the ‘Confarreatio ‘or the formal wedding. Not all days were suitable for marriage. It was fatal to marry when the spirits of the dead were at large (no Halloween) Feb 18 and Aug 24, Oct 5 and Nov 8, nor was March and May. Thus the saying “Wed in May and rue the day.”The first half of June was iffy until the 15th after the cleaning of the temple Vesta. Festival days were good for widows but not virgins. Second half of June was best of all. This was nature’s month of abundant fruitfulness. The gods of marriage belonged to nature or land. as Ceres.
The Confarreato was the only form of marriage deemed legitimate by Rome and to divorce required the approval of the pontifix maximus or highest priest. This priest also presided over this ceremony where the family and friends sat accordingly.
The groom simply appeared spotless in his tunic and toga, not necessarily his senatorial toga but if he was a senator he wore this pristine, gleaming white wool wrap boasting his position in Rome by the purple stripes it carried..
Her hair had been imprisoned in a crimson net the night before In the morning, her hair was parted by a bend spear into six plaited locks bound by woolen fillets as the Vestial virgins wore as symbols of their chastity. This bend spear instead of a comb implied her husband’s sexual domination and related back to the kidnap and rape of the Sabine women as plundered goods. If the bent spear had killed a gladiator it was even more efficacious.
Her hair and face was fully covered by a veil ‘the flammeum ‘of transparent fabric of brilliant orange or flame colored and matched her shoes. Upon her head rested a wreath of marjoram and verbena, myrtle, and orange blossoms.
Her dress or was woven by her own hands well, early on it was. Later it just appeared to be hand woven wool or linen that would never be worn in the original form again. In the future the bride wore the matrons dress or stola, a gown that was embroidered along the hem. This tunica was fastened at the waist by a woolen belt called ‘the knot of Hercules’ to avert ill-fortune. Over this was a cloak or palla of the color of saffron.
The Wedding Day
The day started at the bride’s home where she gave up her childhood toys, and was led to the priest who…either presided in the house of the bride or in a temple. Either case, the groom’s guests sat on his side and the bride’s sat on her side of the aisle. Personal family sat up front nearest the ceremony where the bride and groom sat together on a bench covered with a sheep’s fleece sacrificed for the occasion.
The priests over saw the sacrifices of doves or pigs, a ewe but rarely an ox. The witnesses usually five bridal/five groomsmen witnessed the auspex and the proceedings and, if good, the wedding could proceed . The bride’s right hand was given over by her father to the right hand of the groom who took possession of his daughter.
The couple shared a spelt cake.
The priest blessed them. The bridal veil was lifted, either by the groom or the bride who repeated the ritual words “Ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia.”
The marriage contract was signed, which included the inventory of the bride’s possessions down to the last hair pin. If in the case of divorce, everything had to be returned to her father or guardian… down to the last hair pin. The contract was signed by the priest, fathers, and witnessed by the bridal party.
Cheers of “Feliciter!” resounded in the halls.
The day was young so the bride now reclined with her groom who was congenially harassed and all ate and celebrated until evening. The bride was then removed from her mother’s arms (symbol of the Sabine women being kidnapped) with a display of resistance. The couple was accompanied her to the groom’s house in a wild parade of celebration, led by a happy flute player. Again, “Talasio!” proceeded them. She was led through a pummeling of walnuts or nuts (surely shelled) that the children scrambled to claim. These could also playthings of the groom from his childhood, and the rattle on the pavements was a merry prophecy.
Three young boys of living parents led her. Two held each of her hands while the third carried a torch to light the hearth of her husband’s home. Usually this was whitethorn or pine and only one of the five lit during the procession. Her attendants carried her spindle and distaff, symbols of her virtue and domestic diligence.
They reached the groom’s house. The boy threw the torch away to a scramble to obtain it, thus granting the person the promise of a long life. (Or if this was NOT a happy arrangement between bride and groom, the bride could obtain the torch, extinguish it and place it under the marriage bed to end this ‘long life” or the groom could secure it and let it burn itself out on a tomb.)
The bride rubbed oil and fat on the doorposts (symbol of wealth and well-being), wreathed them with wool and was then carried over the threshold , spread over by a white cloth and blanketed with greenery, by the groom or by his attendants (another symbol of the kidnapping) . Inside the groom presented her with oil and water of which she touched.
The third and most honored bridesmaid, led the bride to a nuptial couch where the groom invited her to recline. The then removed the cloak/palla, and tried to untie the Herculean belt while the party dispersed. Or a wedding song was sung as one of the young boys led the bride to the bedchamber to be undressed by women who had been married only once. It was then the groom was admitted to the room.
The following day the bride and took part in the religious cults of her new family wearing the stola of a matron. And he went to work most likely.
So, much is still shared with Rome even today, even with the marriage of two hearts.
42years and counting.