A Roman Wedding

Notes on Reconstructing a Roman Wedding

First of all, this is an interesting and fun theme for a wedding. A great many modern traditions (veil, cake, ring) can be traced back to ancient Rome, and the ceremony itself is solemn enough to please even the most discerning.

Reception table
In the reception room ("groom's house"): Photos from William's family, the symbolic marriage bed, the spear point, flowers and candles.
By adhering to Roman traditions, it's also possible to do this on a budget by holding the wedding after dinner (so that the refreshments need only be snacks), making Roman costumes (the bride's entire outfit cost about $250, the groom's about $150).

The biggest stumbling block for many couples will be the groom's reluctance to wear a toga. William offers his assurance that if it is constructed and worn correctly, a toga is both comfortable and dignified.

By setting the wedding a bit later in the Roman period, it's possible for a Christian couple to rewrite the ceremony to suit their faith, keeping some of the old traditions while making the event spiritually meaningful to them.

All brides and grooms should be prepared for things to go wrong. In our case, lightning knocked out the power a few minutes before the bride arrived, which mean the whole event took place by candlelight. Much to the caterers' relief, the power came back after the newlyweds departed. Many speculated that this was the intervention of Jupiter.

Things we would do differently if we had it to do over again:
Pine torch Instead of pine torches, the bridesmaids carried pine-scented candles in "Roman" holders.

Things we're glad we did:


One of the most useful resources we found on the Roman toga is the glossary in the back of Colleen McCullough's "Caesar's Women" - a simple diagram and explanation. This is enough to construct one, provided the maker has minimal sewing skills.

Bride & groom with his dad
The newlyweds with the groom's paterfamilias, who dignified the occasion in a lacerna (mantle) and tunic.
Wearing a toga takes a little practice - for one thing, you can't do much with your left hand - but is more comfortable than a tuxedo. Museum Replicas, a re-enactors' catalog, sells a pair of red Roman-style sandals, and Birkenstock makes some that are not only authentic-looking but extremely comfortable.

The book The World of Roman Costume provided valuable help to us - or rather, to Patricia's friend Theresa, who constructed the bridal gown. Hints include sewing a little extra cloth together at the shoulders to hide the bride's undergarments, and fastening the gown in place for the wedding with a tiny pin or loop of thread.

The greatest expense in costuming was paying for good material, but this was well worth it. Many run-of-the-mill fabric stores do not carry the lightweight wool that works best in Roman costuming, and it is worth finding this and paying for it, particularly if you are going to be wearing the costume in hot weather.

The bridal veil hangs correctly because the rectangle of linen was cut to a semicircular shape. In the confusion of having the power go out, we forgot to pin it to her hair, so it slipped down during the ceremony. Afterwards, the bride wore it draped over her shoulders in the manner of a married woman's palla.

We dispensed with the garland in the bride's hair, figuring that with the veil and the curls she had enough on her head.

It is not impossible to obtain wearable Roman jewelry at a reasonable price. Patricia was lucky enough to marry an antiquities dealer, so this was easier than usual for her. In her ears she wore openwork bronze earrings from Roman Gaul (first or second century AD), and on her right hand she wore a silver ring from about the same period. Around her neck she wore a gold pendant cast from a coin of the emperor Julian.

A brief overview of Roman wedding customs and the role of marriage in Roman society.
Our Day
One couple's Roman wedding. Photos, ceremony, program and music.
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