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The exact dating of when pearl jewelry, and specifically the pearl necklace, became the prerequisite gifts for bridal wedding jewelry cannot be pinpointed with exactitude. However, there is evidence attested to by by the scholars of ancient Greece, which dates the pearl’s relationship to the bride back to at least the time of classical Greece, circa 600 B.C. At this time, pearl jewelry was offered as tribute to the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Aphrodite, known as Venus to the Romans, was one of classical Greece’s most important and influential deities. In classical Greece, Aphrodite was a highly revered goddess of the ‘Olympian’ pantheon ruled over by Zeus.
However, her existence in Greek mythology actually dates far further back, to the time of the earlier pantheon of ‘Titan’ gods more than one thousand years before the birth of Christ. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, often depicted with her entourage of ‘Oread’ mountain nymphs. Nubile and infinitely desirable, mythology states that any man who laid eyes upon Aphrodite instantaneously fell under her spell. Aside from her engaging characteristics, and like all deities of the Greek Pantheon, she was said to hold special status over; doves, swans, dolphins, roses, apples, pomegranates, oyster shells and of course the pearl.
Aphrodite was linked to, and usually portrayed in relation to the sea. In etymological terms her name reflects this; ‘Aphros’ was Greek for ‘Foam’, her full name ‘Aphrodite’ meaning ‘Risen from the foam.’ Legend has it that Aphrodite was born from the foaming sea around the islands we know today as Cythera and Cyprus, located in the Mediterranean off mainland Greece. Both islands were pivotal to her worship, where she was known respectively as Cytherea and Kypris: it is here that she is believed to have made her first appearance in Greek culture. At the end of every classical Greek calendar year, which in our terms ran from the first of July to the next, Aphrodite was honored by a festival called the ‘Aphrodisia.’
The celebration of ‘Aphrodisia’ fell on the 4th day of ‘Hekatombaion’ at the end of the Greek calendar year; this is our month of June and the date we presently hold as tradition in which a bride is married. The ‘Aphrodisia’ festival was widely celebrated throughout Greece, but nowhere were the festivities more devout than at the temples of the Agora in Athens, and the Acrocorinth in Corinth. By today’s standards, the ‘Aphrodisia’ festival was a slightly bawdy, pagan celebration of female fertility, with athletic games, dancing and feasts lasting many days. Although not a wedding as we define it, the principal rite of the ‘Aphrodisia’ consisted of the pairing of young women with priests of the temple.
The remainder of the general public paid their tribute to the goddess with the highest value offerings possible; the gift of pearls. In classical Greece, as in the Roman Empire, pearl gemstones were the most valued of all jewels, their high prices ensuring their status above all other gemstones and even gold. The divergence of all these historical factors: the worshiping of the goddess of love, the ancient fertility ceremony of the ‘Aphrodisia’in June and the tribute of pearls upon the unison of two beings, are undeniably linked to the gift of a pearl necklace to a June bride on her wedding day in modern culture.