Skip To Content

    15 Unexpectedly Barbaric Origins Of Modern Wedding Traditions

    You may now kidnap and strip the bride!

    1. Your stag night began in Sparta.


    Spartans celebrated a single man's last night of freedom with a raucous party (although, somewhat disappointingly, they watered down the wine to avoid a wedding day hangover).

    Related: Bachelor parties in French-speaking countries are still known as l'enterrement de vie de garçon ("the burial of the life as a boy").

    2. You can thank Pope Innocent III for your engagement ring.


    Pope Innocent III introduced the period of waiting between betrothal and marriage in 1214, and engaged couples started displaying their commitment with a ring.

    Archduke Maximilian of Austria was the first person to put a diamond ring on it, when he got all up in Mary of Burgundy's grille in 1477.

    Related: Engagement and wedding rings go on the third finger of your left hand because ancient Egyptians believed the vein in that hand ran directly to the heart.

    3. And Queen Victoria for your wedding dress.

    Sony Pictures

    Queen Victoria started the trend for white weddings when she commissioned a white lace gown for her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. Before that, brides just wore their best dresses on their wedding days.

    4. Impending weddings were originally publicly announced to prevent incest.

    The 'posting of the banns' is a Roman Catholic tradition that dates back to 1215, and was introduced so that people could speak up about potentially clandestine and incestuous marriages.

    Admittedly these origins aren't particularly barbaric yet, with dresses and popes and watered-down wine. But just you wait.

    5. Until the 18th century, it was common practice for grooms to abduct brides before the wedding.


    Bride kidnapping has been a thing since the founding of Rome, when Romulus threw a giant party, invited the people of Sabine to a party, and then stole all their women.

    English brides could expect to be kidnapped until the Marriage Act was passed in 1753, and mock-kidnappings are still a wedding tradition in parts of Eastern Europe. Sadly, the real thing is still practiced all over the world. Hooray for progress.

    6. The groomsman who proved to be the most skilled kidnapper became the "best man".

    Flickr: lorilove / Creative Commons

    Which is fair enough. You wouldn't want the worst man beside you on your big day.

    7. And the kidnapped bride stood to the groom’s left, so that his right hand was free to fight off rival suitors.

    Taiga / Shutterstock

    In Anglo-Saxon England, the best man accompanied the groom up the aisle to help him defend the bride.

    8. Even when weddings became more civilised, the wedding was still a business transaction between the father of the bride and the groom.

    Flickr: takeiteasybut / Creative Commons

    Once upon a time, women were still chattel and all marriages were arranged marriages. This all started to change after the married women's property acts in the 1880s, and it's where we get the tradition of the father walking the bride up the aisle.

    9. In ancient Rome, bridesmaids and groomsmen were decoys for the bride and groom.

    Flickr: seanosh / Creative Commons
    Flickr: zoetnet / Creative Commons

    The wedding party dressed alike to confuse evil spirits who might target the bride and groom, which is slightly more commitment than organising the bridal shower, tolerating orange taffeta, and trying not to turn up drunk on the day.

    10. Wedding guests in 14th-century England would literally tear the clothes off the bride for luck.

    AAresTT / Shutterstock

    The tossing of the bouquet and throwing of the bride's garter developed as a distraction technique, presumably because brides were sick of stumbling naked into their own receptions.

    11. The bouquet itself was originally made of herbs like garlic and rosemary, rather than flowers.

    Drinevskaya Olga / Shutterstock

    It was thought that these herbs would ward off evil spirits.

    12. Tiered wedding cakes evolved through a medieval kissing game.

    Paul Rich Studio / Shutterstock

    In medieval England, guests would stack cakes higher and higher and the bridal couple would have to kiss over taller and taller piles of wedding cake, leading to the tiered confections we see today.

    13. Roman grooms carried their brides over the threshold to protect them from the demons that lived in the floor.

    14. Ancient Norse bridal couples went into hiding after the wedding, and a family member would bring them a cup of honey wine for 30 days.

    Kachalkina Veronika / Shutterstock

    Which is how we got the honeymoon — we celebrated weddings with one moon's worth of honey wine.

    15. Tying tin cans to the bridal car comes from a French folk custom called the "charivari".

    Phaendin / Shutterstock

    This was a tradition in the Middle Ages, where the newlyweds threw a midnight party for the local community. Why? To apologize for all the abducting, obviously. And presumably the fighting, floor demons, and garlicky bouquets.

    So no matter how awry your wedding goes, just remember it could be worse.

    You could be naked and married to your brother.