Marriage served to establish the family unit, the oikos, which ensured civic rights in Athenian society and produced legitimate children. Athenian women married young - from 15 (Xenophon, Oikonomikos 7,5). Men, by contrast, did not marry until they came of age at 18. Often they married after completing their military service (which lasted two years, from 18 to 20).

From the time of Solon, the procedure would begin with a verbal agreement. The agreement was a kind of contract between the husband-to-be and the girl's father or guardian. It was called engyie. The bride-to-be was normally not present at this ceremony, since her consent was not required by law. The dowry was an important part of marriage at Athens. Only in very exceptional circumstances could a girl get married without one. The husband gave a pledge that should the marriage be dissolved or his wife die, he would - if there was no heir - return the dowry. The marriage became legal as soon as the pledge was made. But proceedings were not complete until the bride had moved her effects into the groom's house. The festivities lasted three days. Two ceremonies, the proaulia and the epaulia, were celebrated on the days immediately before and after the wedding. (These names came from the verb aulizomai, 'I pass the night'). Athenians preferred winter marriages, and many of their weddings were celebrated in Gamelion, the seventh month of the Athenian calendar, sacred to the goddess Hera, the patron of marriage.

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