Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Marriage in the time of Sparta

Just last week I was teasing a 20-year-old guy/man/kid about getting his news from Mad Magazine, and here I am regurgitating something that I found on Cracked. But Cracked has links to other things to back their stories up, and this kid just had a wild-ass story about David Bowie's eye, so I stand firmly by today's post.

Modern brides will do anything to get that perfect wedding day. Hair, nails, facials, dresses made of golden gossamer fairy wings; no expense is spared to play the part of the pretty, pretty princess on that special day. The brides of ancient Sparta were just like modern brides, if we were in Oppositeville.

A bald bride From f_rim (ephraim)

For starters, they began the big day by shaving their heads. Second, they donned men's clothes and sandals. Then, instead of participating in a ridiculously expensive ceremony with family and friends, prospective brides laid alone in the dark on a pallet, waiting for their grooms to come and steal them away in the night. Once a groom had his way with his new bride, he deposited her shaved, man-clothed self back at her parent's home. Done. Married. Que romantico!

She wouldn't see him again until the next night, or the night after that. Sometimes, years could go by before these married lovebirds actually saw each other in the daytime.


According to some historians, to help ease the Spartan groom into heterosexuality.

Spartan men were avid practitioners of dude-love. While we might be tempted to think this made them champions of gay rights, the reality was that women were so poorly regarded in ancient Greece that, not only weren't they regarded as citizens, they didn't even deserve your warm pork injection.

The problem was that when the time came to do their duty to their species, Spartan men didn't even know where to stick their bits. So to facilitate the soldier's transition from gay love to straight love, brides shaved away their femininity and threw on some man clothes.
As for the sneaking around stuff, Spartan men were required to live in military barracks until the age of 30, but the average age of marriage for men was 25. So most couples married, did the hanky-panky in the woods or whatever, made some babies, and didn't even live in the same household for the first few years of their marriages. Hey, we wonder how the Spartan men comforted each other over the absence of the women in their lives? Eh, we'll probably never know.

Here's the less-vulgar (and less-entertaining) scoop from Wikipedia:
Spartan men were required to marry at age 30, after completing the Krypteia [training]. Plutarch reports the peculiar customs associated with the Spartan wedding night:

The custom was to capture women for marriage(...) The so-called 'bridesmaid' took charge of the captured girl. She first shaved her head to the scalp, then dressed her in a man's cloak and sandals, and laid her down alone on a mattress in the dark. The bridegroom—who was not drunk and thus not impotent, but was sober as always—first had dinner in the messes, then would slip in, undo her belt, lift her and carry her to the bed. [sounds like an easy bridesmaid job? I'd rather shave the bride's head than plan a bridal shower, bachelorette party, AND wear a stupid dress]

The husband continued to visit his wife in secret for some time after the marriage. These customs, unique to the Spartans, have been interpreted in various ways. The "abduction" may have served to ward off the evil eye, and the cutting of the wife's hair was perhaps part of a rite of passage that signalled her entrance into a new life.

And, just to make this as TL;DR as possible, more information:
Marriage was stressed highly in Spartan society, specifically in the proliferation of young healthy children. However, the marriage ceremony for a Spartan man and woman was not highly ritualized. The woman was abducted in the night, her head would be shaved, and she was made to wear men's clothing and lye on a straw pallet in the dark. The groom afterward would return to the barrack of young men, and would have little or no contact with the bride from thereafter, save for purely procreative visits. A Spartan male could have multiple wives, (anthropologically known as polygamy) but lived mostly amongst his mess and barrack mates with little connection to the opposite sex. Until the age of thirty or onward, a Spartan man's life was entirely dedicated to his state and to the army.

And now you can go about your day knowing that you have an interesting tidbit of information to share at that wedding you don't want to attend this summer. You're welcome!

-Kay Banks

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