In Son of Babylon, we see an old Babylonian wedding, and the feast following another. In researching this chapter, I leaned heavily on the work of Dr Samuel N Greengus, and his article Greengus, S. “Old Babylonian Marriage Cereminies and Rites.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 20, no. 2 (1966): 55-72 I will not include spoilers here for the book, however readers will see for themselves how I tried to give an accurate portrayal.
There are a number of myths and rumours about Babylonian weddings. Many of these were propagated by Herodotus, who wrote his histories between 430 and 420 BCE. In his comprehensive studies, Greengus highlights what more contemporary sources say about the subject. He explains not only the matchmaking process but also the rich array of rituals and gifts that made these weddings truly unique. Cuneiform tablets from the period provide further insights into the Old Babylonian wedding practices, detailing the exchange of gifts, the legalities involved, and the elaborate feasts that followed the ceremonies.
Central to the Old Babylonian wedding customs was the meticulous matchmaking process. Families played a pivotal role in this regard, with parents and close relatives being the chief architects of marital unions. Social compatibility and the careful consideration of the bride and groom’s backgrounds were the main considerations. To solidify these unions, the exchange of gifts and dowries was common practice, sealing the commitment between families. These dowries could include valuable items such as jewellery, livestock, and land, symbolising not only the union of two individuals but also the fusion of their family’s wealth and influence. One important gift was a ring. The groom gave this to his new wife.
Before the wedding, the bride was prepared by her attendants. She would bathe with plant soap and ritual oils including cedar oil.
The actual wedding ceremony itself was a grand spectacle in Old Babylon. The event commenced with an elaborate procession. The groom, resplendent in his finest attire, would lead a merry cavalcade of well-wishers to the bride’s residence. There, amid the strains of music and jubilation, the bride, dressed in a meticulously crafted gown and, unlike in contemporary cities, not wearing a veil, would be formally presented to her groom. Also unlike in nearby cities, the clothes at a Babylonian wedding would be more lavish and colourful.
Gifts of food were laid on trays for everyone to see. The groom would be accompanied by his best man and close companions, while the bride would have her own attendants. The groom formally requested permission to enter, with both he and his companions presenting further gifts of sheep, beer, milk and grain. A beer pouring ritual named the kirrum also took place.
After the ceremony, they prepared a lavish feast using the gifted food. With he party over, the groom and his companions would remain at the bride’s family home for a few days, before accompanying them to their new residence.
The “kettubu,” a marriage contract meticulously crafted to outline the rights and responsibilities of the couple, played a pivotal role. This legal document, etching their vows in stone, served as a crucial safeguard for both parties.
I believe the parallels with modern weddings are obvious, and the threads of connection between this amazing civilisation and our own are plain to see. Readers of Son of Babylon will hopefully also find I represented many small details I discovered in my research in both wedding scenes. I believe historical fiction should educate as well as entertain, and I hope readers will find I have managed to find that balance.