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.
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).
In the reception room ("groom's house"): Photos from William's family, the symbolic marriage bed, the spear point, flowers and candles.
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:
Instead of pine torches, the bridesmaids carried pine-scented candles in "Roman" holders.
- Enlist more family and friends to help us set up and clean up the wedding hall.
- Allow more time to pack for the honeymoon.
- Get more pictures of the wedding procession.
- Make note cards with our lines on them.
- Remember to put the spelt bread on the altar! (It's written in the ceremony, but we forgot to put it out, and had to fake it with a bowl of spelt flour instead.)
- Make sure all the participants know what time to show. Then tell them again. (We only had two people miss the ceremony, but they were an important two.)
- Make the caterer provide an estimated total (his charges were not bad, but they were a surprise when we added everything up!).
- Managed to eat more of the food we paid for! We heard many times about the excellence of the asparagus and shrimp, but hardly got near it ourselves...
- Brought more candles!
Things we're glad we did:
- Hired a car to take us to the airport for the honeymoon.
- Had out-of-town friends and family over for an open house the day after the wedding.
- Said "no" to everyone who wanted to stay at our house on the wedding night.
- Got chocolate cake. (It's our favorite, even if it's not Roman.)
- Had friends as officiants, musicians and photographer. Because they knew us, they were able to bring a more personal interest to bear on our wedding - much better than someone for whom this would be just another job.
- Married each other!
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.
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 newlyweds with the groom's paterfamilias, who dignified the occasion in a lacerna (mantle) and tunic.
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.
One couple's Roman wedding. Photos, ceremony, program and music.
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Links and books for those interested in Roman social history.