The History of Matrimony

Matrimony has existed since ancient times, in different forms which reflect the customs and values of various societies.

The Sumerians, the Assirians and the Babylonians saw marriage exclusively as a contract between two people in the same way as the Ancient Greeks, who contracted a marriage solely for economic and social reasons.

In Ancient Rome marriage was seen as a form of social climbing to pass from one caste to another, and was valid also for the man. The marriages were arranged when the couple were still children.

The bride’s dress was white, a symbol of her virginity, fastened with the knot of Hercules which only the groom could untie.

Another important accessory was the veil which was removed the day after the marriage had been consummated, the veil was saffron yellow and was symbol of the fire of Vesta, the godess who protected the family hearth. On her hair, which was made into six plaits in honour of the six vestale virgins, the bride wore a crown of lilies , corn ears, rosemary and myrtle (symbols of purity, fertility, masculine virility and long life).

The boy gave the engagement ring, in precious metal or iron, on which two hands clasping were engraved, to the girl. The marriage took place a few years later with a religious ceremony. The signing of the marriage contract marked the conclusion of the rite. The newly-wed bride was carried over the threshold of their home by the groom as was the custom of both the Romans and the Greeks.

The boy gave the engagement ring, in precious metal or iron, on which two hands clasping were engraved, to the girl. The marriage took place a few years later with a religious ceremony. The signing of the marriage contract marked the conclusion of the rite. The newly-wed bride was carried over the threshold of their home by the groom as was the custom of both the Romans and the Greeks. Divorce was permitted and it was not unusual for men and women to marry four or five times. Cesar himself was married four times, Cicero divorced his wife to marry a girl who was younger than his daughter, Tullia.

In all cultures incestuous marriages were prohibited between children and their parents, whilst marriage between brothers and sisters was actually imposed in some cultures such as in Antique Egypt, in Persia, in Uganda, in the Hawaii Islands, in Sri Lanka and among the Incas.

With the advent of Christianity, matrimony assumed a sacramental value with the sole purpose of assuring procreation. But the sacred nature of the union between husband and wife determined the indissolubility of the bond leaving no possibility for a voluntary dissolution. This position is still maintained today by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and by the Hindus who consider matrimony to be an unbreakable bond. Dissolution is only granted in exceptional cases after careful consultations with bodies especially designed to evaluate each case: bodies such as the Court of the Sacred Rota in the case of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the Middle Ages, from the xth and –xith centuries, recognising the great significance of marriage, the church transformed it into a religious ceremony and so consolidated its authority over the institution by banning civil ceremonies. Notwithstanding, marriages only took place for interest and money, it was a way of uniting patrimonies and land.

There are no precise rules regarding the wedding gown and the bride wears the most beautiful dress that the family can afford. The train only appeared in the XVIth century and it has remained one of the most essential and classic features of most wedding gowns today.

The earliest wedding gown to be documented was that of Princess Philippa, daughter of Henry 1Vth of England, who at her marriage to Erik of Demark in 1406, wore a tunic with a cloak in white silk bordered with grey squirrel and ermine. In the Middle Ages, known also as the Dark ages, matrimony was completely severed from love and became a contract in every sense of the word.

In the 17th century Royal sovereignty annulled the concept of faithfulness in marriage. During this century the new bourgeoisie which was emerging, was convinced that this kind of custom would make society corrupt. During this period which was marked by deep religious lacerations, the celebrations became more intimate. Money was invested in the trousseau and for the dowry and the dress was also used after the marriage.

In the 18th century, the time of the great Revolutions in America and France, the arrogance and lack of values of the aristocracy were finally and permanently eradicated. Love again became fundamental in marriage and also an essential part of the human rights established after the two Revolutions. In this century bridal gowns with floral motifs were worn and the Imperial Style originated in France: pastel colours were used and the line cut under the bust made the hips and abdomen appear less prominent.

The romantic period interpreted marriage as the natural consequence of love and at the same time condemned any kind of relationship outside of this. Traditions such as the long, white bridal gown, gloves, the reception and the wedding cake began in the 19th century.

In the twenties shorter wedding dresses with longer veils become fashionable. The creator of this new feminine style was “Coco Chanel”. In the mid- thirties, the famous marriage between Princess Marina of Greece and the Duke of Kent (1934) launched a new look. The bride wore a tight bodiced silver and white dress in lamé, with long, tight sleeves and a train which reached the ground. She wore a diamond tiara with a tulle veil three metres long. During the second world war, the bridal gown was borrowed or hired for obvious economic reasons. After the war, in the fifties, Cristian Dior created a feminine image with a thin waist, high, rounded bust, a wide skirt with petty-coat, a tight bodice and low neck-line.

In 1956 Grace Kelly married Prince Ranieri of Monaco:it took 25 metres of silk satin, 25 of taffeta , one hundred metres of tulle and three hundred metres of antique lace to make her gown.
Since the 1960’s, with the advent of feminism and the revolution of the sexes, the dress no longer has a precise style. Through agreements between the State and the Church, known as “Patti Lateranensi” the rules of interaction between the civil and the religious aspects of marriage have been established.
At present, in 2000 people prefer to marry at a more mature age often after a period of living together, fewer children are born, both for economic reasons and for lack of time to bring them up because women are more independent and work outside the home.


Nowadays, the housework and looking after the children are jobs shared by husband and wife. Some couples decide not to marry but to live together, but the wedding day remains for most people the most wonderful day of their lives.


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