Something Old, Something New  :
Ancient Roman Weddings Are Us!

What could the customs and traditions of ancient Roman weddings possibly have in common with your own stylish, contemporary, cutting-edge wedding plans?

Are you thinking of getting married in Italy and want to add in some Italian culture traditions?  Perhaps you are planning an Italian style ceremony in your own country, want to know more about Italian wedding customs and add some classic touches.  Or maybe you just wish you knew a bit more about where all our modern wedding traditions come from.

Ancient Roman women wedding preparations
Photograph by kind permission of Monica - milky.way at Flickr.

It's even possible that you're as devoted to the culture of ancient Rome as you are to your husband-to-be and want to explore the idea of a themed ancient Roman wedding but don't know where to start ...

Look no further!

When we were planning our own wedding in Italy we wanted to know as much as we could about Italian culture, traditions and symbols.  We read books, we watched films, looked on the internet, talked to Italian people, learned from our Italian wedding planner - you name it, we did it.

In the process, we realised that many things we look on as modern traditions are based way back in ancient Roman weddings.  As ideas about the ceremony have developed over time some wedding traditions have been left behind, but many you will recognise as having been adopted in your own culture while others have become very much a part of Italian weddings today.

Here are some fun (and accurate!) facts about ancient Roman weddings.  Have a look, see what you think.  Adopt ideas if they appeal to you and adapt or leave them if they don't.

Italian culture : engagement traditions ancient and modern

Arranged marriages, dowries, rings, parties, and a contract sealed with a kiss - the things ancient Roman engagement traditions were made of.

Ancient Roman weddings betrothal

But how many of those ancient Italian culture traditions still exist in modern Italian engagement customs?  What do they tell us about your engagement party?  Who should pay?  What should happen?

And what about bachelor and bachelorette parties?  Did they happen before ancient Roman weddings?  Do they happen now?

This page tells you all you need to know about ancient engagement culture, and what it means if you want to have some Italian engagement customs of your own.

Engagement ring tradition in ancient Italy

Rings in ancient Roman culture were an important part of preparations for a wedding.  The formal contract, publically acknowledged at the engagement party, was marked by the giving of a ring by the groom to his bride-to-be.

Engagement ring tradition has developed since ancient times, yet Italian culture today still embraces many of the customs of Roman culture.

This page tells you about the origins of engagement and wedding ring culture in Italy; the meaning of the engagement ring; the tradition of 'fede' rings and how they influenced the Irish Claddagh ring; and the traditional wedding ring in Italy today.

Ancient Roman fashion for brides

Women of ancient Rome

Ancient Roman weddings gave status to the women of ancient Rome : wives held a position of respect and responsibility.

So who made an ideal wife?  How would the bride prepare for her wedding day?  What was her dress like?  How did she wear her hair?

And, importantly, what Italian culture, traditions and customs do modern day weddings still have which existed in ancient Italy?  Can we learn anything from ancient Roman weddings?

This page gives practical tips which will help if you are having an Italian-themed wedding, or if you are getting married in Italy and want to follow some very old Italian bridal traditions.

Ancient Roman clothing and the bridegroom

Italian men in modern wedding preparations may take a more active part in planning the day than was the case a generation ago, but details still tend to fall to the bride.

Ancient Roman weddings were no different.  This page describes the part the groom played in his wedding day and the clothes he would have worn.

It also looks at the Italian culture and traditions for men at weddings which have been passed down through the generations from ancient Rome to modern Italy.

Bridesmaid duties in ancient and modern Italian weddings

Bridesmaids were as important a part of ancient Roman weddings as they are of weddings today.  Many of the bridesmaid duties which are still a central part of Italian weddings began in ancient Rome.

This page tells you everything you need to know about bridesmaid customs in Italian culture, from Roman times to the present day  : how the women of ancient Rome still influence bridesmaid traditions; what colour bridesmaid dresses are acceptable; what are current bridesmaid hair ideas; and how many bridesmaids there should be.

The remainder of the guests were, as they are today, family and friends of the bride and groom and their parents.

However, being invited as a guest to a marriage in ancient Rome was viewed as a great honour and to attend was considered a duty.  Invitations were rarely turned down and to do so was to risk insulting the families of the bride and groom.

The ancient Roman marriage ceremony

The legalities of marriage in ancient Rome did not have to be carried out formally in a ceremony but for aristocratic families certainly were.

This page explains exactly what happened during the ancient Roman marriage ceremony, and looks at the traditions which have remained to this day.

And if you want to add some authentic Italian wedding traditions into your own ceremony, we explain how these ancient customs can easily become part of a modern marriage service.

Italian wedding cakes and ancient Roman weddings

From formalities to feast : the link for ancient Roman weddings between the wedding ceremony itself and the celebrations that followed was the cake.

This page looks at how the ancient Romans first developed the wedding cake : what it was like, how it was used, and how it became the extravagant confection we think of today.

It looks briefly at Italian wedding cakes today, and at how you can incorporate the ancient Roman food traditions relating to cakes in your own wedding to give it that authentic Italian feel.

Don't miss it!

Ancient Roman food and the wedding feasts of the Empire

Just as in wedding celebrations today, the wedding reception in ancient Rome was an extremely important part of the day.

This page looks at ancient Roman food  :  what was available, how it was presented, how it differed from modern Italian wedding food, and what hasn't changed much.

And it suggests what you can do if you want your own reception to reflect the wedding traditions of the ancient Roman wedding feast.

And so to bed ...

Musicians play at an Ancient roman wedding

As darkness fell the bride would by symbolically "ripped" from her mother's arms by the matron of honour.  Carrying a spindle as a symbol of her womanly skills and accompanied by the musicians and guests who would shower her not with paper confetti or with rice but with walnuts, another sign of fertility, she leave her parents' house and walk to her new home where her husband would be waiting.  Superstitious to the end, ancient Roman husbands were the first to carry their brides over the threshold; tripping at that point was viewed as a portent of terrible things to come.

For the third and final time upon entering the house the bride would give her consent to behave as an obedient wife before being led to the wedding chamber.  Inevitably it would be decorated with yet more signs of fertility, particularly fruit; the guests stood outside singing while the matron of honour helped the bride undress.  Together they would offer a sacrifice to  the gods for the success of the marriage, and the bride would then be left alone with her husband.

Back to the future : ancient Roman weddings and modern wedding traditions

The wedding industry in America alone is said now to be worth over $100,000 billion; the average American couple is said to spend between $17,000 and $27,000 on their wedding.  The growth of the industry despite the current economic recession has recently been described as "an unstoppable path to profit."

Casina Valadier, Rome

But in terms of wedding culture perhaps ancient Roman life was not, after all, so very different in its key customs from our own. Here is where modern traditions came from. From engagement parties to the giving of a ring; from elaborate hairstyles to sweet-smelling bouquets; from wedding cake to sugared almond favours : the Romans had it all.

Despite the commercialisation of weddings, a modern day marriage ceremony can combine elegance, sophistication and style with an intimate, family-based, cultured event packed with the symbolism, customs and rituals of centuries of tradition.

And for that, we have
ancient Roman weddings to thank.



Learn more about ancient Roman jewelry here

More facts about ancient Roman culture

Go from Ancient Roman Weddings to our home page


Our wedding cakes and the confetti photo were taken by Cath.

The final image of our wedding venue was provided by Gabriella Lojocarno.

All other images on this page, unless specified, are courtesy of the VRoma.com project.

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