What’s better than marrying your true love? Having your closest family and friends standing by your side when you do, as the couple’s bridesmaids and groomsmen.
But these titles didn’t always have such a deep emotional connection associated with them. It was simply the law. According to the Roman ritual “confarreatio,” 10 witnesses were required to be present at a wedding while the couple recited sacred verses. Though these witnesses were all men, female attendants did escort the bride to the groom’s home for the ceremony. (This is why we get down on one knee to propose.)
The first bridesmaids appeared even before ancient Rome. In the Bible story recounting Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel, each wife brought a female servant to the ceremony; they were literally the brides’ maids.
Groomsmen, however, have a much darker back story. Much of their history revolves around marriages by capture, when a bride was literally captured and abducted from her family. (This practice started as early as Biblical times and unfortunately still continues today in many parts of the world.)
In some traditions, groomsmen were called Bride’s Knights because they helped carry the bride to the wedding. Best-case scenario: They were taking her from her disapproving relatives to be joined with the man she loved, protecting her from would-be kidnappers. The other, more troubling scenario: They were the bride’s kidnappers. It’s believed that the “best man” role originated with 16th century Germanic Goths, as the groomsman who kidnapped the bride. The best man then stood next to the bride during the ceremony to prevent other suitors or family members from taking her—and to make sure she didn’t run away.
Thankfully, the roles bridesmaids and groomsmen have today are much different from that of their ancestors—namely, coordinating bachelor and bachelorette parties, helping organize the wedding, and making sure the bride and groom have the best day possible. And if they happen to catch a bouquet or garter in the process, all the better.