Roman wedding ceremony
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
So saying, she set the love-lit heart ablaze, made bold the wavering mind, and banished shame.
First they approach the shrines, and pardon seek amid the altars…
Aeneid IV.53-55.


Presented here is a modern ceremony offered only as a suggestion for those who wish to marry in the tradition of the Religio Romana. Primarily the ceremony is reconstructed from the form of Roman marriage that was known as a coemptio, to which other elements from a confarreatio have been added. (See the attending article Nuptiae.) While the modern ceremony presented here is condensed into roughly an hour, in ancient times the various segments would have taken place over a period of three days to a week, with a good deal of feasting and celebrating along the way. Those who wish may freely adopted or alter any segment of this ceremony for their own marriage rites.

The reconstructed ceremony calls for a priest, here called the pater, and a bride’s maid, called the pronuba, to officiate. Parents of the bride and groom may stand in as the pater and pronuba, at their respective "houses." Additional participants may be three or more boys called gemelli, as well as the parents of the bride, and male guests may act as the pronubi. The bride (nova nupta) wore a traditional costume and hairstyle (see Nuptiae), while the groom (nova maritus) would wear his toga virilis.

In this reconstructed ceremony either two houses are to be used, or two areas in one house. Two rooms, or two ends of one large room may represent the "houses" of the bride and groom. At one end, representing the bride’s house, the sponsalia will take place at a simple altar. At the other end, representing the groom’s house, will take place the nuptiae with a banquet table and the groom’s lararium. An altar with a fire should be set up before the lararium. A special place will be set aside for the bride and groom at the banquet table. This consists of two chairs over which a single lamb’s skin or wool blanket has been placed. An additional table should be set up to hold offerings that will be used in the ceremony. Between the two "houses" will be a door whose hinge the bride will bless and then be carried through over the threshold.

Required for the ceremony will be offerings of flowers, fruit, wine, and incense, and additional offerings may be included. The nova Maritus will need at least one copper coin (nummus usus), part of a pine branch, keys, and symbols of water and fire (a ewer of water with a basin, and a bundle of elm twigs). A set of scales and weights are mentioned, but not required. For the nova Nupta there should be three coins (aurei), one of these carried in a small purse, part of a juniper branch, a spindle with wool and distaff (or something to represent these). Carried in a box by one of the gemelli are toys or children’s clothing, five candles, wool fillets, oil and an herb sprig, and a small twig of whitethorn (or hawthorn). Mola salsa and a special bread prepared by the bride, as well as a torch (or candle) and the bride’s offerings will be carried by other participants for the bride.
<Sponsalia>

Pater: Favete linguis!Considite, quaeso.

Priest: "Quiet,please, and be seated."

SanctissimaMater Ceres, Iuno Nuptialis, Diique supremi, cum facibusardentibus vos testamur hac in confarreatione.

Priest: "Mostholy Mother Ceres, Nuptial Juno, and the heavenly gods, withwedding-torches set ablaze we call High Heaven to witness thismarriage."

{Sacerdosignem in ará accendit.} The priest lights thefire on the altar, then says:

Auspicato,omina bona accepi. Sic purgatus est hoc locus ad ritummatrimonium. Venite nunc NN et NN ante hanc aram ut affirmetisfideles coram Diis vos libenter adnuere his nuptiis.

Priest: "Theauspices taken; the birds favor. Thus this place has beenpurified for a rite of marriage. Come now NN and NN to this altarto declare faithfully before the gods that you willingly giveyour consent to this marriage."

{Novus maritusante aram sacrificat floribus thureque.} Thegroom approaches the altar, makes offerings of flowers andincense. With his right hand over the flame he declares:

{Novus maritus}PerIovem Iunonem deosque omnes adiuro. Ita me Iuppiter, Iuno, diiqueomnes iuvent ut ego adnuo libenter hanc feminam in matrimoniumducere.

Groom: "ByJupiter and Juno, and all the gods and goddesses, I swear.Jupiter, Juno, and all the gods, I declare that I do willinglyconsent to take this woman to be my wife."

{Maritusnuptae dicit:} Veni consens, hoc est non ad haecconsensi foedera ut eum vellum discedere, non liceret.

Groom: [To thebride] "Come now with your consent, that this accordwill not be shamed, let it not be lawful for us to willinglyseparate."

{Nova nuptaante aram sacrificat floribus thureque.} Thebride, led by her Pronuba, approaches the altar and placesofferings of flowers and incense. With her right hand over theflame she declares:

{Nupta} Per Iovem,Iunonem deosque omnes adiuro: Ita me Iuppiter, Iuno, diique omnesiuvent ut ego, NN, adnuo libenter NN nubere.

Bride: "ByJupiter, Juno, and all the gods and goddesses, I swear. Jupiter,Juno, and all the gods, I, NN, declare that I do willingly givemy consent to take this NN to be my husband."

The priest holds up aset of scales with a small weight in one pan, and the groomplaces coins in the other pan until he tips the scales.

{Pater donatmarito nummum.} The bride’s fatherpresents the groom with a copper coin as a token dowry. He handsthe bride one coin to hold in her hand, a second coin in a pursefor the bride to carry in her garments, and places a third coininto the right shoe of the bride. The bride’s father thenmakes an offering at the altar, and places a token toy of thebride alongside the offerings. From the altar the bride’smother takes a spindle and distaff that she gives to the bride.

<Domum deductio>

Her mother and bride’smaids then embrace the bride. The groom seizes the bride, and themother offers mock resistance. The bride is next led inprocession. Before her is a boy bearing a lighted flame and twoother boys support her arms. (Traditionally the bride was ledfrom the house of her parents to that of her husband. If tworooms are being used to represent these houses then she is ledaround the first room in a counter-clockwise direction.) In hertrain will be other participants carrying offerings and items sheis to use in the ceremony. The procession ends at the "frontdoor" of the groom’s house. Here the bride will make ablessing of his house.

{Nupta unguitadipe suillo (oleo) cardones ostii et spinam (crataegum) superostium suspendit, carmen dicens.} The brideanoints the door hinges with lard (or oil) and places a branch ofwhitethorn (hawthorn) over the door. She then recites the spellof expulsion.

Nupta: Exi! Si hodiecasa, si ante casa. Si hodie creata, si ante creata. Hanc pestem,hanc pestilentiam. Hanc viduitam, hanc vastitam. Hanc siccitam,hanc calamitam, hanc intemperiem. Hac religione evoco educoexcante de isti casam. Exi!

Bride: "Comeout! Today from this house, before this house, today created,before it was founded, this disease, this pestilence, this want,this desolation, this drought, this misfortune, this inclemency,with pious rite I do call out, I summon forth, I sing (all evils)away from this house. Be gone!"

The groom enters hishouse. Friends of the groom (pronubi) thenlift the bride into the groom’s house, taking care that herfeet do not touch the doorframe and that she not stumble.

{Maritus donatnuptae ignem aquamque.} The groom offersemblems of fire and water to the bride, that she must then touchin acceptance. The bride then greets the groom.

Nova nupta:Ubitu Gaius, ego Gaia.

Bride: "As youmay be Gaius, so am I Gaia."

The bride is then seatedand the groom washes her feet with the water.

Maritus: Lar familiaris,tibi mando fortunam bonam huius tuae filiae NN, quem inmatrimonium duxi. Dii Penates, vos testor, ut audiatis. NN hancclavem domi committo, sicut commisi ei cor meum.

Groom: "LarFamiliaris, I commend to you the good fortune of this yourdaughter, NN, whom I have taken to be my wife. Divine Penates, Icall you to be witness, I say this, O Penates, that you may hear,I entrust NN with this key to my house as I have entrusted herwith my heart."

{Maritus donatclavem domi nuptae.} The bride rises, placingher spindle and distaff on the seat prepared for the bride andgroom. The groom gives the keys to his house to the bride.

<Nuptia>

Pater: Sacrificate nuncdeis deabusque, ut testes sint ac vos in promissis firmitertenere.

Priest: "Makenow your offerings to the gods and goddesses, that they maywitness and hold you firm in your vows."

{Maritus etnupta nunc alternis vicibus sacrificant Iovi et Iunoni.}The bride and groom each in turn makes offerings beforethe gods and goddesses. They first return to the table whereofferings are located. The bride should carry offering forJupiter while following the groom back to the altar. The groomleads the bride three times around the altar, moving in aclockwise direction. He then approaches the altar with his righthand held forward at waist level, palm up. For each offering hewill turn to his bride to receive the offering. Flowers, otherobjects, and plates of food may be placed on the altar, wineshould be poured into a bowl that rests on the altar, and anyincense is burned. After offering to Jupiter, both bride andgroom return again to the table. This time it is the groom whowill carry the offerings to Juno and follow the bride. Again theycircle the altar three times, led by the bride who shouldapproach the altar in the same manner as before. If the bride andgroom have selected to invoke other deities as well, the sameprocedure is followed for each god and/or goddess individually.

Novus maritus:SanctePater Iuppiter supreme, te his donis obmovendis bonas precesprecor, uti sies volens propitius nobis, domo familiaeque nostraemactus his donis.

Groom: "HeavenlyFather, Jupiter supreme, in making this offering to You, I praywith good prayers that You watch over us and our household; maythis offering honor You."

Nova nupta: Salve Mater alma,Iuno Nuptialis, te his donis obmovendis bonas preces precor utisies volens propitia mihi, domo familiaeque meae. Macta his donis.

Bride: "Hailnurturing Mother, O Juno Nuptialis in making this offering to YouI pray with good prayers that You look favorably upon us inmarriage and bind our wedding vows; may this offering I make bean honor for You."

{Sacrificaveruntdis deabusque.} The bride and groom make theirsacrifices.

The bride and groomreturn to the table and place any trays or other vessels they hadused in making their offerings. They then return to the altar tomake their vows. Additional vows may be given than are presentedhere. The groom should hold a twig of pine, while the bridecarries a twig of juniper.

Pater: Iane, Iuppiter,Iuno atque, dii me omnes testes vos testor mihi.

Priest "Janus,Jupiter, Juno, and all the gods and goddesses, I call you to bewitnesses."

Priest [to the brideand groom]: "In good faith, before the gods, make now yourvows."

{Maritusvirgulam pini nuptae donat. In ignem eam ponit.} Thegroom hands a branch of pine to the bride. She places the branchinto the fire and vows.

Nupta: Testor Iovem,Tellurem, et omnes deos immortales, ut testes sint. Me si fatameis paterentur ducere vitam.

Bride: "ByJove, by Tellus, and by all the immortal gods who bear witness.To me, by my own faith, for as long as I may live."

{Maritus ponitanulum in digitum nuptae. Nupta virgulam iuniperum marito donat.In ignem eam ponit.} The groom places a ring onthe bride’s finger. She then hands the groom a branch ofjuniper that he sets into the fire. The groom then gives his vows.

Maritus: Testor Iovem,Tellurem, et omnes deos immortales, ut testes sint. Me si fatameis paterentur ducere vitam.

Groom: "ByJove, by Tellus, and by all the immortal gods who bear witness.To me, by my own faith, for as long as I shall live."

<Dextrarum iunctio>

The Pronuba clasps theright hands of the bride and groom and joins them together beforethe altar. The bride and groom may then kiss afterwards.

Pronuba: Dexterás nunciungite, et sic promittens uná vivere maritus et marita.

Bride’s Maid:"Now join hands one to the other, and seal your pledgeto live together as husband and wife."

{Nupta signaignis aquaeque et maritus nummum in Lararium deponunt Nupta duosnummos ante Deos Penates ponit.} The bridegives offerings to the Lares and places the tokens of fire andwater in the lararium. The bride gives to the groom the coppercoin she carried in her hand during the domum deductio. The groomplaces this copper coin before the Lars familiaris. Then thebride removes the copper coin that her father had placed in herright shoe and offers this to the Penates. (A third copper coincarried by the bride in a purse is intended to be deposited laterwith the lares compitales.)

Nupta: Lar Familiaris,Dii Penates, vobis precor, ut me accipietis in familiam vestram,conservetis signa ignis aquaeque a marito meo NN hodie donata, etdomum nostram beetis.

Bride: "LarFamiliaris, Penates, to you I pray, that you accept me into yourfamily, safeguard these tokens of fire and water presented to methis day by my husband, NN, and that you may bless our household."

<Confarreatio>

Pater: Considete, quaeso.

Please be seatedtogether.

{Maritus novuset nova nupta considunt apud mensam.} The groomleads the bride to the banquet table where they are seated sideby side on two chairs over which a wool blanket or sheepskin hasbeen thrown. The Pronuba will serve them drink and the spelt cake.Both bride and groom must remain seated while they are servedwine and bread and the priest concludes the ceremony with hisblessings.

Pater: Sumete nunc etbibite vinum, ut sit symbolus mixturae sanguinis vestri.

Priest: "Takenow the wine and drink, as a symbol that your blood is now mixedas one."

The groom takes up achalice of wine, pours an offering to Jupiter into a bowl, andthen sips from the chalice. He then hands the chalice to thebride. She likewise pours an offering to Jupiter and takes a sipof wine. Each in turn say:

Maritus: Hoc macte esto. Nupta: Hoc macte esto.

Groom and bride: "Maythis honor You."

Pater: Sumite nunc panemsanctam et edite, ut sit symbolus unionis corporum vestrorum invitá.

Priest: "Takenow the sacred bread and eat, as a symbol that your bodies arenow joined together in life as one."

<Vinum bibimus acpanem farreum edimus.> The groom takes upthe bread and breaks off a piece and offers it to the bride toeat. She then breaks off a second piece of bread and offers it tothe groom to eat. The remaining bread is placed on a platter asan offering to the gods.

Pater: Iuno, et tonitrucaelum omne ciebitur.

Priest: "Juno,by heavenly thunder all shall be moved."

Pro Diimmortales vos coniugetis in matrimoniam confarreationi. In sequiter commixta grandinenimbus. Per deos, in fide bona, dixistis vos uná in matrimoniovicturos esse, quapropter nunc in vinculo conubiali coniunctiestis. Aut haec in foedera veni aut matrimonii et iungendum estsuperios aut certe ad posteriora pertinet.

Priest: "By thegods immortal, are you joined together in matrimony. Togetherforever after are you intermingled as the abundant clouds. Beforethe gods, by your oaths, since you both have said aloud that youshall live together as a married couple, are you now joinedtogether in marriage. Not by this ceremony have you been broughtinto shame or merely wedded, for by this is constituted asuperior marriage and certain to last into all posterity."

Candida perpetuo reside, Concordia, lecto,tamque pari semper sit Venus aequa iugo.

Priest: IllustriousConcord, may you always preside over this couple’s livestogether, and so may Venus always bring happiness into theirmarried lives and bless them with children. (M. ValeriusMartialis Epigrammata IV 13.7-8)

Diideaeque omnes, superi atque inferi, vos semper ament etfelicitatem velint.

Priest: "Mayall the gods and goddesses, above and below, always love you andwish you much happiness."

Ilicet!Nos uná NN et NN, marito et maritae, gratulemur!

Priest : "It isdone. Join now, all of you, in welcoming NN and NN, together ashusband and wife."

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