Many of today’s wedding traditions base their origins from the customs of Ancient Rome. A key example is the Wedding Processional. However, many of the Roman’s customs have changed quite a bit over the past 2,000 years.
In ancient days, the Roman wedding processional began at the bride’s house where the wedding vows were exchanged. The deductio in domum mariti or pompa, procession, was a necessary part of the Roman wedding ceremony, it publicly acknowledged the rites of marriage and anyone in the community was allowed to join in the procession as it moved to the groom’s home.
Music was certainly a part of the processional. The groom would take part in singing the Fescennine verses. A surviving specimen of the Fescennines used at weddings is the Epithalamium of Manlius. These verses are distinguished by their licentiousness.
The groom would also take part in lighting a wooden torch called a Spina Alba from the bride’s hearth. At the door of the bride’s house, the bride and groom would re-enact the scene of the seizure of the Sabine women. The bride would clutch her mother’s arms, only to be pried away by the groom.
The bride was then escorted by three boys as she traveled to the groom’s home. One of the boys would hold the Spina Alba. Priests would lead the bride to her future home followed by her family, friends, musicians and slaves. The slaves would carry gifts that would no doubt be needed for the bride’s new life.
As the bride processed, her guests and on lookers would take part singing the hymen hymenaee, and shouted Talasio, or other crude jokes. Hymen Hymenaee is an epithalamium or bridal song. It was to be sung by a chorus of youths and maidens singing alternately, but not always with precisely equal stanzas. The youth would sing sections praising the Hesperus and marriage, while the maidens would recite the stanzas pertaining to the fears and sorrows of surrendered maidenhood.
The procession was often accompanied by musicians performing on, flutes, pan-pipes, syrinx and aulos (reed instruments), the kithara (a Greek lyre), and tympani (early tambourine). It is interesting to note that musicians in the time of Ancient Rome held low social position, although, they sometimes enjoyed public patronage and even imperial patronage.
The groom would need to arrive at his home to greet the bride as she arrived so the procession would split into two parts giving the groom time to arrive home first. Once the bride arrived the torches were thrown away and the bride would rub the doorway with oil and hang wool over the door. She was then lifted over the threshold. It is believed that the threshold was sacred to the goddess Vesta and stepping on it could lead to infertility. The Ancient Romans were also very superstitious and should the bride trip while walking through the door it would have been a sign that ill fortune would be ahead for the marriage.