Marriage, or kyrazyrion, in Ephyra is of indisputable social and familial significance. It is regarded as one of the landmarks in any man or woman's life, but for each is experienced differently, as man and woman hold different rights and responsibilities in how they conduct themselves within the marital framework. Arranged by the parents, marriages of benefit, politics, and pragmatism are the norm in the Freehold's mainstream Selian culture, as well as reflected in the variety of its subject peoples, whom are permitted to conduct their own marriage rites and ceremonies, merely lacking the recognition of official status by the state. Unions in Ephyra contains various points of interest, including how they are arranged, the dowry, the presence of incestuous matches, the rights of the offspring, concubinage, and social views on divorce, adultery, and remarriage.
I. Convention and perception of marriage
... - Public and familial interest
... - Arranged marriage
...... - Power of the asepro aekesio
...... - Selecting a spouse
...... - Founding of a household
......... - Responsibilities of the azārezyrys
...... - Women as kyrazyryssy
... - Laws and marriage
...... - Children and inheritance
...... - Incest
...... - Age for marriage
...... - Heiresses
II. Wedding procedure
... - Engagement
...... - Contest for a bride
...... - Betrothal
......... - Dowry
... - Ceremony
...... - Consummation
... - Divorce
...... - Abuse
...... - Adultery
...... - Passive homosexuality
...... - Infertility
... - Remarriage
... - Status
... - Rights of children
... - Polygamy
Public and familial interest
Contrary to marriage in modern European and American states, emphasising the individuals of the union and concepts of mutual love and years of prior courtship, Ephyral tradition (rooted in its Selian ancestry) promotes marriage as an interest of the society and state at large, as well as subordinating personal interests to that of the family. This concept is firmly rooted in Selian culture, be it examined in its Archaic or Classical age, the Selianistic Era, the early Freehold, or today, with marriage seen by men and women of the Freehold's citizen classes as the establishment of familial ties to expand the family, establish friendships, heal rivalries, and to otherwise secure what are deemed 'good matches' for primarily the daughters of a given family.
The legislators and leaders of old reflect this, and often there would be laws in the ancient city-states of Selia levying taxes upon those men who didn't marry by a certain age or in some rare cases, taking criminal action against them. The reasons for this, as well as a reflection of the modern attitude, is that for men and women both the highest duty of the citizen at large was to raise strong and healthy legitimate children for the continued survival of their state and civilisation. Marriage facilitated the legitimacy of offspring, ensuring inheritance and status, and as a result, was almost universal amongst the citizen population then, as it is now.
With the main objective of marriage being seen as childbearing, infertility in a woman or impotence in a man are far more damaging to a reputation and marital worth in Ephyra than they might be in other nations. Both can serve as a grounds for divorce, if it is believed that the woman cannot conceive nor the man capable of seeding. The impact of the principle of childbirth on Ephyral sexual customs is substantial, and whilst through mutual dedication to the concept of their household, solidified with regular sexual intercourse for the creation of children, a man and a woman married may come to love one another; love is not the object nor the prerequisite of sex in any setting, and sex as a legitimate act between citizens is associated to marriage, not with love. As men of Ephyra seek prior sexual gratification via the use of prostitutes or slaves, these women acting very much in a servile position, so to does the wife, and in the setting of marriage, the union of a man and woman is seen as having little to do with affection one way or the other, and more to do with duty and obligation.
Marriages by Ephyral custom are arranged between the families; customarily between the prospective groom and the father of the prospective bride. However, the father of the groom may also take interest in any such negotiations to voice approval for the choice and lend weight to the proposal, and this is often sought by many men marrying for the first time. Neither the groom nor the bride's mother play any particular role in the arranging of a marriage, though the mother of the bride is in a position to take a more active role of interest should she wish to.
Marriages are formally arranged by betrothal, and the prospective bride's worth valued based on her youth, beauty, perceived fertility, domestic skills, as well as the dowry available. A suitor by contrast will be valued on his seniority, honour, his fitness (the tradition that the husband needs to be capable of defending those dependent on him), his financial means, and his social status. The arrangements of a marriage may be organised privately with a suitor the prospective bride's father has had in mind, or they may be more public events, where multiple suitors compete for the bride, often in physical tournaments to symbolise the aforementioned tradition of defence, but also in the offering of gifts reflecting wealth. These events are more common amongst nobility, but are not at all unheard of amongst the lower citizen classes. Whilst it is certain that the groom has more say in marriage than his prospective wife, the opinion of the eligible young woman is never completely overruled, though to dismiss a suitor she need demonstrate him to be of poor character and unreliability, and ergo lacking in the core virtues of an Ephyral citizen. By Ephyral law, if a woman has had three arranged marriages, all of which have ended in divorce, her father or other legal guardian finds himself unable to enforce a decision upon her, and she achieves a greater level of emancipation.
The asepro aekesio, or 'master of the household', has a duty primarily towards his daughters when they reach the eligible age for marriage at fourteen, to select for them a husband of good character and means. It is his duty and authority to perform this, and once it has been announced within the community that he is looking for a suitor for his daughter, she will debut, and suitors will proclaim their interest to him. Alternatively, no public announcement may commence and the negotiations are done privately, particularly for incestuous marriages or marriages of great political significance. Either way, the young woman has some but little say in who she marries, and many married women confirmed deference to the wishes of their father in the selection of their husband. Important to note however is the role of both the father and the mother on the eligible woman years prior to her debut. As a girl and adolescent, she will have been taught what it is that is valued in a husband, and come the time of her eligibility, will often be able to exercise enough insight on the matter to support or even recommend a choice to her father.
It is to the father however, not the bride, that the suitors appeal for their interest to be considered. Any competitions however in which the bride may be won take place before her, as well as her mother, and potentially married aunts and sisters, that she may consult them for advice on how to judge the suitors, and that these women as a council of sorts may recommend a handful of choices to the father for consideration.
Many young women defer either way to their father's wishes, although rebellion and some more drastic actions are not completely unheard of undertaken by women for the purpose of evading marriage for a variety of reasons. However, as an extension of the familial concern, it is the decision of the asepro aekesio whom his daughter will marry. His influence is exercised far less directly on adult sons, but as his word carries weight, his approval will almost always be sought by a son for a particular match.
As mentioned, young women appealed to men looking to marry via their youth, feminine beauty, domesticity, fertility, and the dowry (predicted based on the wealth of the family). This pursuit of youth and beauty in particular, for the objective of siring healthier and strong children, sees mainstream Ephyral culture exhibiting one of the lowest averages of first-time marriage for women on earth. Whilst by law, a female beholden to a asepro aekesio may be betrothed and married at any age once she has reached the age of fourteen (enough time to have flowered through menarche), marriage is typically delayed for social and health concerns. The average age of first time marriage for women is nineteen, falling to seventeen for upper class women. However, marriages as early as sixteen or as late as twenty-two are not remarkable in earliness or lateness regardless of class.
A woman unmarried beyond the age of twenty-five may find herself the subject of ridicule and ostracism, whilst marriage prior to fourteen is outright illegal. The permitting of marriage from fourteen however is due to the value placed on the time a female enters childbearing age; and whilst marriage is almost always delayed by years after this event, the focus of law upon it emphasises its significance. Whilst it is a common social belief that the younger a woman marries, the more desirable she is, delay in marriage can be for a variety of reasons including intent to arrange a match of blood-purity, a match of political intent, or concern for the health and / or abilities of the young woman in question.
Ultimately however, the majority of women are married between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, which produces a considerable contrast when compared to their husbands.
Men are held in regard by women and the women's fathers via a variety of factors, which do not tend to overlap with the feminine. Social status, physical fitness, financial situation, and seniority of age are all taken into consideration. Hypergamy is a common event even manufactured, as daughters of particular beauty may become tools of social advancement for their family to establish connections with a family of higher class. Physical fitness is held in high regard for men as a virtue in and of itself, signifying both his ability to defend his family and fight for his state. Indeed, the completion of military service is seen by many as a necessity, and completion with honours is a selling point. A man's ability to financially provide for his wife and their children is of utmost importance, with wealth also reflecting the status he holds in society as a freeborn landholder. Seniority reflecting experience and development in life is also valued, and men can typically begin looking for a bride from the age of twenty, though rarely before the age of twenty-five. Marriage after thirty-five is considered late. Some overlap with women exists here though, particularly again for political or incestuous reasons. As with women, the upper classes marry younger, and many lower class men do not marry until nearing thirty, and some not for a few years after. This can create an age disparity between husband and wife as large as the former being twice the age of the latter, or a gap of a mere two to three years, or even (rarely) the bride being the elder of her husband.
Physical contest for the winning of the bride as a prize, alongside the offering of substantial gifts (the selection of which marks acceptance), is regarded as an honourable and valid course, and the number of contestants reflective of the status of the young woman. However, the Ephyral regard the idea of buying and selling brides abhorrent, and the gifts do not mark a purchasing of the bride but a display of wealth and financial ability, whilst the betrothal of the young woman was in return a gift to cement the alliance.
Marriage in Ephyral society is held up as the foundation of a family and their household under the rule of the asepro aekesio, introducing into that house a wife who will bear the children to succeed it, and perform the domestic duties to keep it internally prosperous and healthy. This concept is little more than a furthering of the already cemented idea of marriage and procreation as the highest duties of citizens, males and females, and the only duty shared in effect by both. Once married, the household is largely considered an active political entity, as the husband now possesses (though very limited) authority over a member of his household, who is now a dependent.
The azārezyrys, meaning 'husband', is imbued through kolos (custom) as the asepro aekesio both authority and duty to the political structure that is his family and household. This is a circular relationship, as the authority exists to enable the exercise of duty, whilst the practice of duty affirms his right to authority. As a result, men who abuse their authority or fail in their duties upon or to their wife, children, and any other legal dependants such as siblings, nieces, nephews, or parents, find themselves subject to great social censure from their local community, which may be cited as a strength of reason for a wife to initiate divorce by fault; resulting in his social shaming and ostracism as a man without virtue, reliability, discipline, and no right to authority. The loss of these socially perceived values in a man can be crippling for social and economic futures, highly motivating men through fear of shame but also motivation to honour, as men who uphold the duties of their position become locally renowned men with influence, to ensure that their duties are carried out diligently, and their authority is exercised with consideration to those whom it will impact.
The duty of any asepro aekesio is to ensure through his labour, a stable income and ergo financial prosperity for his household (often to permit the exercise of domestic duties by his wife). A secondary duty held high even today is that of protection, and it is the responsibility of this man to deal with any individual who by word or action threatens a dependent of his household. This may be settled by court or by a physical contest, the latter of which most powerfully demonstrating his physical ability to defend his household. This concept of defence is also exercised through his prior or current military service, which demonstrates a willingness and an ability to defend his family as a social unit of the broader Ephyral state, by joining arms with his fellow citizen men to fight at large the enemies of their civilisation. Men who are dishonourably discharged from service may never find themselves in the position of asepro aekesio, as proof of military service and even sometimes military valour is often demanded by the father of eligible young women. A failure to provide this makes one a very poor candidate for a son-in-law, and as a result, the vast majority of men in this position have already proven their service to Ephyra and therefore an ability to defend the family.
His authority over the family is to empower him to carry out his duty; the protection and regulation of his family and household, to keep it in line with the values of kolos, to keep it prosperous, and so forth. To ensure this, he is granted by said kolos, minimal authority over the woman he is married to, but near unlimited authority and scrutiny over his children; males typically until adulthood, and females perpetually. Should he replace his own father at that position, sisters and brothers below age of majority also fall subject to his control. For any and all females under this authority, his duty is to find them suitable husbands, and keep an extensive moral check on them to prevent their seduction and loss of virtue. Whilst these women may be consulted upon the choices made, it is ultimately his right to decide. A right that by convention, the majority of women acknowledge as standard. These matches made do not typically influence sons unless incestuous in nature. For sons, they are expected to respect the wishes of their father in these affairs, and not to marry without his approval. Until age of majority at sixteen, a son is subject to the same scrutiny as a daughter, but henceforth granted autonomy and responsibility for his own decisions and mistakes.
However for these duties towards his children to even be carried out, he must first sire them. To that end, the most immediate responsibility towards a newly wedded wife is to honour her as a woman with children sired legitimately, an act which also validates himself as carrying out his procreative duties. This is often first performed on the wedding night itself, where the consummation is held as the uniting of a man and woman in the most intimate possible manner, legitimately, thereby confirming them as married. The announcement of a wife's first pregnancy is made by the azārezyrys to the community at large, and an event for celebration unto itself. Whilst there is no agreed amount of children deemed a minimum success, the common rate is around three to four children born from a wife to a husband for the majority of Ephyral social classes. The upper classes see increases in this however, often producing five or six.
If a man is successful as azārezyrys and asepro aekesio, affirming his own duty by siring multiple children (honouring his wife and social perception of her fertility and morality also), and maintains for that family a stable and liveable income, defends his family's honour when challenged, selects good men for his daughters to wed, and takes a respectful but appropriate interest in his son's marital desires, then he will in his community acquire a reputation of virtue, dignity, honour, and authority; a man to whom younger men may turn for advice, and who mothers tell their daughters is the ideal azārezyrys for them to wed; often promoting his sons as a biological extension of that virtue.
The duties of women in marriage, as a kyrazyrys, vary from the men distinctly, as their role is contained almost entirely within the private sphere. Where men prove to the fathers of the eligible young woman their virtue, honour, prosperity, lineage, and more, the young bride is presented in a far more modest way. Her father assures her fertility and virtue, her mother assures her domestic skills. The only factors that remain are her station, beauty, and dowry.
Unlike men, wives have a split loyalty. To the house of their birth, to which they may be recalled at any time by their fathers (without regard to wishes of either husband or wife), and to the house of marriage. In marriage, women often find a great degree of liberation. The potential suffocation of their father's (and mother's) scrutiny of their daily lives is largely lost due to her relocation to the home of a man whose authority over her extends no further than what is necessary for preservation of the household and its reputation in public. This can extend to confining her to the house, verbally, or even physically chastising her for transgression, but beyond that, no obedience is owed or indeed demanded. The duty of the wife is domestic; the wife maintains the household using the prosperity her husband earns, furnishing and presenting it as a home. Like men, their highest immediate duty was to become pregnant, and bear children, for whom they would also hold the responsibility of caring, feeding, and raising (with greater input on the daughters).
Where men enter marriage prepared insofar that they have sufficiently demonstrated to another man his capability and moral fortitude of acting as a husband, young girls are prepared for marriage life early on by imitating their mothers. Girls often aid their mother with the housework, which is in and of itself an unnecessary additional motive for reproduction, as girls may serve as helpers for a woman in a family with no slaves or servants, learning how to mend clothes, how to clean, cook, and even raise children by attending their younger siblings. By the age of menarche, many young girls are proficient in numerous domestic skills, and by the time of their passage into womanhood at fourteen, their domesticity is a strong advertiser for her quality as a bride, permitting their father greater selectivity in determining a suitor. This factor, often instilled in the minds of girls by the mother, motivates many a young girl to improve her marital options.
In a household however, the kyrazyrys has little to no legal authority. Whilst permitted freedom with how she dispenses of household prosperity, using it to purchase food, clothes, and other goods and services necessary, there is little else including children she can exercise a socially permitted rule over. This legality is often contrasted heavily by reality. It is rare for a man to arrange matches for his daughters without first consulting his wife upon them, calling upon her view as a woman on the men available for their daughters to marry. Similarly, mothers will exhibit significant influence over their sons when it comes to their marriage to judge the suitability of the young woman presented. Indeed, the de facto influence of a woman who takes to her duties proficiently and diligently, and is consequentially approved of for her moral virtue and dutifulness, can be quite considerable. Held up by sons as a nurturing and guiding matron, by daughters as an aspiration of womanhood, and by her husband as the model wife; while her public renown for any reason would bring shame upon any virtuous woman, such wives can expect to command respect and a level of authority within the house often unseen by outsiders due to the sheer private nature in which it is exercised.
In numerous ways, the private duties of a woman may be considered passive, in line to their perceived sexuality. Action is taken by the husbands to ensure that they both live comfortably, with honour, and can exercise their own duties. It is the prosperity earned by her husband's labour that allows her to furnish the house, and buy food, clothes, and a range of other goods. The affirmation of her fertility may only be legitimately demonstrated via her impregnation by her husband, a role which in Ephyral sexual custom, the woman is the passive or servile party. Yet this does not in the eyes of Ephyral kolos exempt the woman as a social concept from praise, recognised importance, or her own virtue. Numerous writings from past and present attest to this, highlighting with no uncertain terms the value of the wife and the importance of her contribution to the state via the exercise of private responsibility.
A legal marriage in the Freehold, known as kyrazyrion therenkon, made distinct from concubinage or unlawful cohabitation that may be subject to accusations of seduction or even abduction as either tort or criminal accusations, requires the status of the participants to adhere to certain qualifications. At least one participant must be a full Ephyral citizen, and both participants must possess the right of marriage (kyrazyrio theris), afforded by status or special right but also subject to revocation. Without this right, which is denied between certain family members and social classes, marriage is not valid, the woman with whom a man cohabits shall not be regarded as his wife, and children are neither his legal heirs nor subject to his paternal authority.
The right of marriage is not a right so fluid that one must check if they have it, but it is one that is regardless a necessity. In many cases, a lack of a right of marriage exempts a right of concubinage in substitute, though not always, and concubinage with those who one may not legally marry is feasible in some but not all arrangements. If a marriage is legal, with two citizens with the right of marriage, or one citizen and a non-citizen (Lykosian or metic, not provincial) who possess such a right, all children born from this union shall be regarded as the legal heirs of the father and inherit his status, subject also to the authority which he is granted by the nature of kolos.
This arrangement also permits the living of the woman with the man as his wife, subject only in part to his authority and otherwise removed from her father's direct scrutiny. Such a cohabitation may not be considered abduction when organised through legal marriage, nor can sexual intercourse between man and woman united in marriage be considered seduction.
In the societal mind, and in the majority of the Ephyral's own perception, the primary and to some singular goal of marriage is the production of children. Citizens producing citizens. It is for this reason that a citizen is necessary for marriage, as the state observes no logical goal in permitting the right of marriage between two Lykosians, metics, or provincials; only the right of cohabitation through concubinage.
Children born out of legal marriage or intermarriage are recognised as the legal heirs and legitimate offspring of their father, whose status they inherit. This occurs regardless of the mother's status as far as legal marriage is concerned. The sons and daughters of an Ephyral man shall be considered citizen regardless of whether they were born from an Ephyral or Lykosian woman, whilst the marriage of an Ephyral woman to a Lykosian man will see her children be bestowed a Lykosian status. As these legal heirs, they are entitled to legal inheritance. This inheritance is concerned primarily in a will with sons, but also with daughters to some extent (the inheritance of a daughter is often considered her dowry in marriage), allowing the legal children and heirs of a man to lay claim to his estate and receive shares as per his bequeathing of property in his will.
For daughters of such unions, they fall under the near-total control of their father's power even beyond the age of majority (this is limited in the case of a Lykosian father, but heavily present in the form of custom). The daughters of legal marriage therefore will themselves be married, bringing their dowry as inheritance, and retain a higher status than women who enter concubinage. The legal daughters of a marital union in which her father (and ergo her status) is Lykosian, find themselves perhaps with greater legal autonomy though still subject to the Lykosian paternal authority (enshrined as a means of greater integration to the Ephyral system, if absent similar prestige and cultural significance), with potentially reduced dowries. For Lykosian women however the option of marriage provides more upwards movement due to their lower status. She may enter concubinage with another Lykosian, or an Ephyral, or into marriage with the latter (particularly if her family can provide a large dowry). Whilst this will not increase her social status to citizen, her standard of living is likely to improve, and Lykosian women hold a reputation in Ephyra for a more 'aggressive' autonomous pursuit of high ranking men if their families have the means to facilitate it, compared to the relative passivity of Ephyral women.
With regards to equal inheritance, there is no restriction on how much property of her father a daughter may inherit, although convention usually bequeaths to her less than her brothers, particularly if she is already married (even otherwise, her inheritance may be specified as her dowry). However, it is the value of inheritance which idealises legal marriage, particularly for men, as it permits them to pass on their property to their descendants.
The kyrazyrio theris, right of marriage, is granted between certain members of extended or close blood proximity, excluding in effect only those who relate to one another in the line of direct ascent or descent. Consequentially, those related by blood such as cousins (first, second, third; or first, second, third removed etc.), siblings of full or half-blood, and avunculate relation (uncle to niece, or aunt to nephew) are granted the kyrazyrio theris, and men may take women of any such relation as a wife. Unions of prior marriage are also permitted, allowing men to make a wife of a woman who is cousin, sibling, aunt, or niece to him by matter of law as a step-relation. Unions of adoption can, again, be permitted if adhering to certain requirements. A man may make a wife of any woman who is adopted as his sister, cousin, aunt, or niece.
The kyrazyrio theris however does not apply to blood-based, marital based, or adoption based unions of direct ascent or descent. For a man to take to bed with, or attempt to make wife of, a woman who is classified as mother, grandmother, daughter, or granddaughter (or indeed any degree of direct ascent or descent beyond these examples), be they related to him by blood, as in-laws, or adopted into their family, is considered a union of abomination and a criminal act.
Outside these proscribed unions however, marriages of an incestuous nature are not all that uncommon. Myths and legends of Selian religion portray such unions heavily (both valid and abominable), whilst the Selians' own genetic resistance to the full physical defects and to an extent, psychological defects posed in other populations by such unions, has resulted in no mainstream opposition to the custom outside of the aforementioned abominable acts. For families both highborn and lower, these matches can be either traditionally inspired or politically motivated.
Families of considerable prestige and ancestry value, to a greater extent than the lower classes, value a concept of blood purity and genealogy to not only the Selian race but to particular ancestors. For these families, the wedding of a man to his sister (considered the purest form), or otherwise a cousin or a niece (aunt-to-nephew marriages are rare), preserves in the blood the genealogy and ancestry to this particular individual, as opposed to splitting it into the ancestry of other families. Marriage to other families is not at all uncommon amongst these higher-ranking men, nor is it in any manner shameful or undesired; however these families do place a greater importance on bloodlines. A secondary benefit of course to such marriages is that the dowry given to a daughter remains in the family if she weds her brother or cousin or uncle, even if split into another branch. Whilst an attractive idea, it comes at the cost of forging relations with other families, a goal for which marriage is often a tool amongst all classes, including the lower.
For the lower classes, whose less illustrious or unknown ancestors produces a less intense importance of ancestry outside of tribe and race, marriage between families of no relation is by far the norm, and when it isn't, rarely do these unions come closer than cousins. This is not the consequence of any greater aversion to the closeness of brother and sister, but simply mindfulness of the importance of daughters in creating bonds of blood with other families or estranged branches within a family. For a daughter to wed her brother may in the eyes of lower class citizen men be seen as a waste of her use. Networks are created between families via marriage, families who then act as allies to support one another in law, employment, and other enterprises. For this goal, eligible daughters are an invaluable asset, leading to a very sharp distinction in the rates of sibling marriage between lower and upper classes.
There are however cases where the marriage of cousins or siblings, particularly those of a half-blood, is itself politically advantageous. Following divorce, death of a spouse, and then re-marriage, the firstborn heirs to a man may find themselves facing competitions of inheritance from the newborn children born to their father's new wife. Their father may reconcile this potential rift-in-waiting by promising the daughters of his new wife to wed the sons of his former or late wife, as well as arranging further marriages from his wife's family, including her brothers for his daughters to marry, or her nieces for his sons. However, the sheer complications such events are known to cause often lead men to re-marry only if their first union saw no children, or otherwise take a concubine.
Ephyral marriages tend to be noted for their significant discrepancy between the ages of husband and bride, even at first-time marriage. These are the results of different ideas in the rites of passage for male and female children into adulthood, and their expected roles within society and the household requiring different skill sets. For men, this is invariably harder, depending heavily on their own personal feats. For women, half the battle resides in their physical qualities, emphasising youth, fertility, and beauty. With the other half being secured essentially by the time they are ready to marry, this makes the ideal bride in Ephyra a woman of younger age. Men seeking brides however must be acknowledged as honourable and worthy enough by the prospective father-in-law, a process which can take many years after their graduation into adulthood.
For men this average age of first-time marriage is documented at twenty-eight years old. This of course is subject to variation depending on class and circumstance. Legally, a man may marry from the age he becomes an adult at sixteen, entering public life as an enrolled citizen and soon to begin military service. However, marriages before the age of twenty are virtually unheard of, and whilst marriages in early twenties do occur, they are contained almost entirely to the aristocratic classes and even there they are of some rarity. Though men are expected to be experienced and mature before marrying, to ensure they have the ability needed to govern their household as is expected of a citizen, too long of a delay is equally negatively received. Men who are unmarried beyond the age of thirty-five are penalised through a tax increase, which rises again if no marriage is secured at forty. This tax is to compensate the nation in lieu of the children the man should have already sired. As a result, the late twenties have emerged as a popular age of marriage where men have a good decade behind them as an adult, but also time to spare if their initial pursuit of a bride does not yield immediate results.
A young man in his twenties must aggressively pursue and maintain social capital by way of honour and patron-client relationships, both of which will help him secure a bride when he is looking to wed. The quality of this bride in both her station and characteristics may depend strongly on his own, or how he is able to manipulate his patrons and demonstrate personal honour, masculinity, and capability. As a result, the idea of being a young man ends when his primary goal becomes the acquisition of a wife, representing his transition from aggression in the pursuit of honour, to temperance in the directing of familial affairs. This average age of twenty-eight places men considerably older than their intended wives.
These prospective brides have an average age of marriage of nineteen, a nine-gear gap to the average age of their husbands. This is not at all reflective of the actual gaps however, which can be narrower or far wider. The legal age at which a citizen woman is both recognised as a woman and becomes marriageable is at fourteen. The discrepancy between a woman's legal age of marriage and her average age is - though not as wide as a man's - a consequence again of social pressure, but for unique gynocentric reasons. The most important of these in the psyche of the Ephyral is the health of a bride and her fitness to bear children. The younger the bride when she conceives, the higher the rate of maternal and infant mortality. This has been countered since the rise of the Ephyral Freehold by a conventional delay in marriage from the age of fourteen. Fourteen has instead become the age at which many young women are betrothed to intended husbands, with whom they will go to live once her family decides she is ready.
Whilst the concept of teen-aged brides strikes many other nations as barbaric or as a form of child-marriage, the attraction to late teen-aged female youths is a characteristic biologically noted in men across all cultures and time. Selian culture has never remarked upon this attraction as unseemly, and actual child-marriage (wedding to those below sexual maturity) in the eyes of the Ephyral state is both a capital crime and highly repulsive to the citizen populace.
Consequently, marriage within a year or two of her fourteen birthday is not unheard of nor the subject of much criticism in Ephyra, as can often be the case for the eldest daughters of aristocratic families for whom political networks and alliances through blood still play some significant role. This is not a rule however, and whilst the average age of marriage for these aristocratic women is at seventeen - two years younger than their freeholder sisters -, marriages taking place in the late teens or early twenties is no remarkable phenomenon. Secondary reasons for the delay of marriage in young women have been the now obsolete concept of female income. When citizen girls of largely agrarian background had to labour, the loss of their labour when they move to the house of their husband may have discouraged early marriage to maximise their economic input to the family. This would've indirectly benefited them in terms of their health when bearing children, but this reason has fallen significantly as fewer and fewer citizen women seek or obtain employment. The third reason however is higher than ever. The threat to women from outside forces such as abduction or murder has fallen drastically. Their increased safety as a daughter no longer requires a hasty transformation as a wife to place them under the guardianship of a younger and fitter man, able to defend her more readily. However, this fear always remains, and whilst women can marry as late as twenty-two years old, any later is considered to be unusual, and women unmarried beyond twenty-five are thought of as having been 'voted undesirable'.
As a consequence of these averages and variations, the distance in age between a man and his wife can be as a little as a few years, or the husband being twice his wife's age. Male seniority over his wife is both a byproduct and intention of the circumstances at play. Though naturally and by law, he is the higher authority of the house above her, a superior age reinforces this further.
When incestuous marriages - more common amongst the aristocracy in terms of closer blood relations - are taken into account, trends shift. Men marrying their sisters or cousins of similar age tend to do so younger, unless the siblings are spaced out enough for this to be unnecessary. Aristocratic girls will also abandon their trend of earlier marriage to facilitate this. However, cousin-marriages being the most common allows for a more conventional arrangement, as a man may marry his uncle's daughter of suitable age without any need for self-correction on when he decides to marry. Further, the tradition of uncle to niece marriages can also keep to a conventional level the customary seniority and age gap between a man and his wife, the latter he is expected to protect.
When divorce or death occurs in marriage, a re-marriage often follows after a suitable mourning period. This is most common for men below the age of sixty, and women below the age of forty. Men re-marrying typically seek women either of proven fertility in their late twenties or even thirties, particularly if they themselves did not sire children on a divorced or deceased wife; or they may opt for the first-time marriage prospect of a younger, teen-aged bride. Women re-marrying will rarely marry a man who has not been wed before unless she was young when divorced or widowed. Because women re-marrying are almost certainly non-virgins, this makes them a less desirable option for a first-time marriage, and marriage in general. Whilst it is still common for them to wed for their demonstrated fertility if they have a child, they are likely to receive fewer suitors due to advanced age and lack of virginity unless they are politically significant.
Beyond the possession of the right to marriage, marriage is made legal and valid in the eyes of the law and of society respectively with the formation of marriage contracts in the form of a betrothal and exchange, before the ceremony takes place and the bride moves in with the groom. Without some or all of these steps, what exists may be considered to be concubinage, or invalid completely, and be regarded as a seduction or an abduction. To prevent this, both families involved usually extend the process of arrangement for some time, with some marriages arranged years prior to their actual cohabiting as man and wife, in order to ensure all necessary steps are met.
The open steps of marriage is the process of engagement. In Ephyra, engagement does not refer to the agreement of marriage, but the means by which this is achieved. Engagement begins when the asepro aekesio with legal guardianship of a woman of marriageable age, conventionally her father, makes what is typically a communal announcement that he is permitting his daughter to be betrothed. The age at which this might be done for a female can vary, and it is common in the modern day for the woman to be declared as permitted to marry at an age where legal marriage can shortly follow. Historically, girls might be engaged and betrothed as young as five years old, to be married over a decade later, but this practice has slowly been phased out including amongst the nobility, often save for marriages of incest.
Men of marriageable age interested in contesting for the father's approval to marry make their intentions known as a suitor, and often bring gifts to represent their wealth and means and consequentially their financial status. Only the gift of the man who is selected at the end of the engagement process is retained, forming the first act of the later gift exchanging. Declarations by a man permitting his daughter to marry are not necessarily public, and several suitors may be privately invited in such contest. The advantage to such a measure is a more select pool of suitors the father has preexisting approval of, however many fathers utilise the public communal means of attracting suitors, as this may yield more promising if previously unknown suitors, forming a stronger basis for family ties. The amount of men declaring interest can vary substantially on a number of factors.
In Ephyra, a bridal contest is the means by which the father of an eligible woman selects his future son-in-law from a pool of men all seeking such a position, and evidently seeking the daughter as a prize. These contests have customs, but they are flexible, and usually do vary on a case by case basis. Such contests are almost always performed in sight of the prospective bride, that she may see her suitors and potentially lend some weight to the selection, and allowing her suitors in turn to measure her beauty as a factor of interest. There is however no customary interaction between the suitors and the bride.
Another element common to these contests is the oath of protection. This trend emerged in Selia as a consequence of the partial-myth of Helaena of Sparakos, whose suitors were so many and powerful that her father feared rejecting any. One suitor proposed that the contestants who wished to win her hand swear oaths of protection to the man who would win, whoever he be. This forms a pact of unity between contestants, as only one can win, and ensuring by formal oath that none will take action against the victorious candidate nor the bride should he be rejected. Although the danger of this in the modern era is practically zero, it is done as a means of acknowledgement that the woman's father is the judge, and his decision is lawful and cannot be contested.
Outside of the giving of gifts, contests of physicality are common, representing the husband's means to defend his wife. This is again another custom rooted more in ancient need than in present, but serves as just one of several factors emphasising physical fitness, and care of the body serves also to demonstrate self-discipline. Through one means of contest or another, those who wish to win the daughter of a man compete, and a victor is in the end announced. The other suitors reclaim their gifts, and acknowledge the selected man as to whom they owe the oath of protection. What follows this is the final process of the engagement, the betrothal itself.
The betrothal is performed at the end of the engagement, with witnesses from both families, and the exchange of ritual words. The selected suitor now formally presents his gift to his would-be father-in-law, who accepts, embraces the suitor, and promises his daughter to him in return. It is from this point that the father-in-law and son-in-law acknowledge one another as such, even if the ceremony of marriage has not yet been completed, as all the means necessary for it to do so have been completed. The date of the marriage is arranged here, so that the bride may participate in the female rituals the day before marriage. Further gifts are often exchanged between the two families during this intermission, formalising and embedding the basis of their union.
Marriages are often arranged for dates on which a full moon takes place, believed religiously to heighten a woman's fertility. It is as the betrothal that the bride and groom are more formally introduced, and by custom they will spend time with one another during the time between betrothal and marriage to heighten familiarity. It is during this process that if the bride wishes to end the marriage, she must demonstrate her betrothed to be of poor character. If this is demonstrated to her father's suitability, the betrothal is broken and all gifts returned. This is not a common occurrence however. It is also at the betrothal which another important aspect of the marriage is negotiated; the dowry.
The dowry is of considerable important to any son-in-law as it is a means through which the family of his bride will contribute to his household, ensure his bride's means, as well as forming part of the inheritance for his own children, as well as a means of insurance against her infidelity (this works the other way also against a man's abusiveness). Dowries are always negotiated proportional to the bride's family's means, and a larger dowry is an incentive for both father-in-law and son-in-law. For the former it is a demonstration of trust in the marriage, a display of their means and prosperity, and care in the well-being of their daughter. For the latter it concerns matters of inheritance and insurance.
Dowries come in a variety of means; promise of property (land or slaves), financial wealth, physical materials and furnishings for a home, as well as others and usually as a mixture of two or three types. The dowry is distinct from the bride's own property which she may bring with her into marriage. This does not become part of the household and remains hers, and will be taken back with her along with the dowry if divorce follows.