What Was a Bride Gift? How Is It Different From a Dowry?

In some cultures, when a woman was married, the groom or his family made a payment to the bride’s family.  In some others, the payment by the groom or his family was to the bride, and the bride price was hers to control.  Such a payment to the bride or her family called a bride gift, or sometimes bride price or bride token.

Related: Dower, Dowry and Curtesy

Occasionally, the term “dowry” is used for a gift from a groom or his family to the bride, but dowry more usually means a gift given by the bride’s family to the groom or his family at time of marriage, or the goods that a woman brings to marriage and has some legal control over during the marriage.

Presumably, this evolved as a custom as compensation to the bride’s family for the loss of the bride’s contribution to her birth family’s welfare, whether in actual labor or in fertility. It may have also been meant to assure the bride’s family that her husband had sufficient resources to support her, if he could pay her family a bride gift..  In those traditions where the bride gift was paid not to her family but to herself, it was financial protection in case the woman became a widow or was divorced.

The custom is mentioned in ancient Mesopotamia, in the Code of Hammurabi.  In one mention, both dowry and bride gift are mentioned: if a woman should die without having given birth to sons, she would return to her father’s control, and the groom’s family was required to repay the woman’s father her dowry minus the bride gift.

Mentions in ancient Greek writings suggest a transition from bride gift to dowry.  Achilles, in the Iliad, is promised that he will receive a dowry on marriage, rather than having to pay a bride gift.

Ancient Germanic and Nordic practice provided for a morning gift, a bride gift given the morning after consummation of the marriage.  This custom continued much later among royal Europeans, when a member of the royalty married morganatically (where the wife and children would not inherit property and titles), for protection in case the woman became widowed.

Islamic law requires a payment of a bride gift directly to the bride for her use.

A husband being required to pay maintenance to his divorced wife after the divorce is a kind of delayed bride-price, and at least in Jewish law, seems to have evolved from the tradition of the bride-price.

In some customs, the bride gift, if property, was revoked and returned to the husband’s family if the woman was widowed and remarried.