The history of gift giving dates back to the early Roman festivals held each January. It was customary for the Emperor's administration to present him with gifts of evergreen branches. Eventually the gifts evolved into honey and cakes representing sweetness and prosperity for the coming year.
The beginning of the wedding gift tradition is said to have developed from the dowry given by the bride or her parents as part of the marriage arrangement. Depending on the country, the dowry may have been given by the bride's parents to the bride or the groom or given by the groom's family to the bride's family as a form of payment for their daughter.
Often marriages were arranged by families in order to merge family fortunes. The families of the wealthy groom offered money, land or an ownership in the family business as "payment" for the daughter's hand in marriage. The brides family provided the groom with a large bridal dowry. The bridal dowry contained the necessary items for the bride to start a household. The dowry always included linens, towels, silver, china, glassware, silverware and other household needs. As years passed, the bridal dowry turned into the romantic tradition of The Hope Chest.
Roman Wedding image via crystalink.com