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Love? (Sorry romanticist,) Business is Business.

Hey guys, so back then in the early days marriage wasn't always about being lovey dovey and what not, there were some financial issues that had to be taken into consideration too! While love & affection may be the main factor of a marriage in some societies (especially in Ancient Egypt), it is an economic decision for many ancient civilizations. After much debate and research between our group members, we do agree that with every one union, business transactions, or marriage (no exception here), there is a string of financial questions that have to be answered (Perdersen, n.d). In our opinion, this line of questioning could should be thought of when two individuals decide to get married, especially in this century (where it thrives on monetary success).  

In this post, we will shed some light on the financial considerations ancient civilizations might face when legally recognizing the union of a man and a woman (or in some jurisdictions, 2 people of the same sex) as partners in a relationship and suggests some possible answers in the ancient world. Moreover, we will also assess how this could be applied to the era that we live in today! :)


“What assurance is there that the groom might not have second thoughts between engagement(betrothal) and the marriage?”

You see, ladies (or at least their family in the Chinese context) need assurance on how they (or their daughters) would not ‘left on the shelf’ if the groom decides to call it off between the period of the betrothal and marriage.

Thus, as a gesture of sincerity, a sum of money, property or goods (bride price) would be given to the bride’s family, more specifically the father as a symbol of sincerity. While this topic on dowry and bride price might not be practiced in many modern societies today, we felt that this could be tied to the modern symbolism of the engagement ring (Bride’s Book of Etiquette, 2002), where men would spend a hefty amount of money on a ring to show his sincerity, genuineness or love to his wife-to-be.



The first ever recorded account of a diamond engagement ring was when a German King proposed to his wife-to-be in 1477 by offering her a diamond to seal his vow. Hence, as time evolved, dowries and bride prices now take place in the form of engagement rings today!

All in all, to ensure that a man will not change his mind between the betrothal and marriage, dowry and bride price were practiced in the ancient civilization/ an engagement ring would be given to the bride today, as a symbolism that represents a formal agreement to a future union between the couple and their families.

“In this newly formed sacred union, who controls the wealth?”

While women would like to think that marriage is an equal partnership, between two people; it is sad to say that it’s not so in the ancient world. Traditionally, brides were often sent to their husband’s family and were not allowed to legally own properties in ancient civilizations. Instead, women in ancient civilization were only given the task to look after children and “feminine work” such as weaving, cooking or household-related work.  As a result, the man, more specifically the husband would be in control and accountable for a household’s finances.


"Since the bride (or groom in some societies) will be moving from one civilization/class/ economic unit to another, is the civilization/class/ economic unit that is losing a member entitled to compensation for lost labor?"

Ah-ha! So here comes the rationale behind bride price. In primitive societies, bride prices are seen as a form of compensation for the lost of a labor from a family, household, or civilization. However, this reference changed and did not apply in ancient civilization as its meaning was now connotated to demonstrate genuineness towards a man’s wife-to-be. As time moved on, this was no longer a worry for many families today as women are no longer seen as “just a helping hand for the home” instead, they are able to have a place in society, just as their male counterparts. Thus, women are able to earn their own money, and help their own family financially (if they want to).


"Now, how did dowry & bride price apply to an Athenian woman, like Rhea

With contrast to woman living in ancient egypt, Rhea was only allowed to possess her own jewellery, clothings and her own personal slave, furthermore she could not engage in politics or sign a contract. Moreover, a man/ male guardian is needed to look after her – be it to manage her, or manage her financial interests. Initially, the guardian (kyrios) would be her father, then husband or closest male kinfolk.


We believe that women in this civilization were objectified as they were passed from one man to another (father to husband). This is because, when Rhea, was in her teens, was ready to be married off, her guardian (father or close relative) would choose a potential husband on her behalf and negotiate with her husband-to-be on the size of dowry that was to be given in exchange of his daughter. More often that not, an Athenian women teenager would marry a man in his 30 (pedophilia, much?). This was to ensure that Rhea was still a virgin.  A celebration/ “gamos” would be held to honor the passing of a woman/girl from her father to her husband.


Additionally, Rhea would not have known or meet her husband-to-be until the dowry has been made and betrothal had been agreed to. Moreover, it was total absolute that woman/girl who possesses a hefty dowry would marry a man with similar financial background, while a woman/girl in the possession of a lesser dowry would marry a man of lower financial status.


In Athens, we assert that the main purpose of a dowry was to enlist the aid of the bride’s family to contribute to foundation of the capital to start a family. This means that, a man, Rhea’s husband would be the one handling business affairs of the family. Another function of the dowry in Athens was to provide a financial base that would assure the necessities of woman’s life as wife – to make sure that: Rhea was financially capable to support herself and her children in the event her husband died or wanted a divorce.


Here in Athens, the dowry was managed by Rhea’s husband who could spend the takings on his family however he felt was right – however the dowry, itself belongs to the Rhea. While there were no legal requirement that Rhea’s husband must provide a dowry, there were societal pressure to do so in Athens. Back then, it was unthinkable for a man to not provide a dowry for his wife-to-be during this period. This was because the absence of a dowry would question the legitimacy of an Athenian marriage.


Moreover,  in the event of a divorce, or her husband’s death, the value of the dowry would belong to Rhea to sustain her family. However, the rule “woman could not own property” still applies. Thus, even though the dowry belongs to Rhea, she would still need a man to manage it on her behalf. In return, this dowry would help provide for the maintenance of Rhea’s family (something like an insurance  policy to us in this era!).


In the eyes of the law, Rhea is not eligible to own any property, thus while she possess the dowry, only a man is able to manage it, like for her husband as an example. Marriage in the ancient times doesn’t sound so fun anymore does it?


*Rhea’s story is based on: