The modern idea of romantic love, as the most causal of history buffs know, has not been well embraced across the ages. Over the centuries, the inequalities between men and women made ideal romantic relationships virtually unknown. People didn’t marry for love, but for a host of other, more practical reasons.
Life in ancient Rome was no different. Girls stopped receiving formal education around age eleven, and between the ages of twelve and fourteen, were considered 'ready to marry.' Often, economic conditions and inter-family relationships were deemed more important than love, and these young ladies often found themselves pawns in power games beyond their control.
Typically, women in Rome lived their lives under the auspices of a man: father, brother, uncle, husband, son, depending on the season of her life. He controlled the money (until late in the Roman Empire) and thereby controlled the women in his care. When a woman married, a dowry went from her pater familia to her new husband in a symbolic transfer of power over her. Even when defining relationships, women never won. They were legally forbidden from adultery, though men were not, and while homosexuality among men was tolerated, lesbianism never found any such equal footing.
All this is not to say women had no power. Power is gained where one can find it. A wife and mother was the power behind the family and home, and could wield considerable strength. She saw to the education and upbringing of any children, and while she didn't earn a salary, she often decided how and where money was spent.
We can intuit that true love did blossom between men and women, that spouses who were forced together grew to love one another, that pairings to groom political favor or gain economic advantages did not necessarily exclude the woman from a good quality of life or a loving spouse.
And, as you may know, many of our traditional wedding symbols come from ancient Rome. The wearing of a ring on the third finger of the left hand symbolized an engagement. The bride wore a white gown and veil and was attended by a ‘bridesmaid.’ And the month of June was favored by the gods for pairing, and so continues to be the highlighted month for modern weddings.
I’m interested to hear your take on this question: have we romanticized the past to bring it more in line with modern views…or do modern marriages still look to create advantages, whether economic, political, or personal?
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