Most ancient societies needed a secure environment for the perpetuation of the species, a system of rules to handle the granting of property rights, and the protection of bloodlines. The institution of marriage handled these needs. For example, in ancient Hebrew, the law required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother's widow.
How Long Marriage Existed For
Marriage comes from Middle English which was first seen in 1250-1300 CE. However, the ancient institution likely predates this date. The main goal of marriage, earlier on, was to act as an alliance between families. Throughout history, and even today, families arranged marriages for couples. Most couples didn't marry because they were in love, but for economic liaisons. The people involved didn't have much to say about the decision then, and often don't today, either.
Women and Brides
In our modern world, some marriages are by proxy, some involve a dowry (the bride's family giving money or presents to the groom or his family,) and some require a bride price (the groom or his family giving money or a present to the bride's family). Few may have any courtship or dating, but most have deep-rooted traditions.
Different periods of time and various cultures have very dissimilar histories when it comes to women. Ancient Egypt, in theory, gave women equal rights, but it wasn't always practiced. Medieval women, on the other hand, faced dual responsibilities to religion and marriage.
One nearly universal marriage tradition is that of the engagement ring. This custom can be dated back to the ancient Romans and Egyptians. It is believed that the roundness of the ring represents eternity. Thus, the wearing of wedding rings symbolizes a union that is to last forever. In fact, it was once thought that a vein or nerve ran directly from the "ring" finger of the left hand to the heart.
Many forms of marriage exist today:
- Common Law Marriage: An informal marriage and legal network that makes people married due to living together for a period of time.
- Cousin Marriage: A marriage between cousins. 26 states allow first cousin marriages.
- Endogamy: The tradition of marrying within the limits of a local community only.
- Exogamy: When you marry outside of a specific clan or tribe.
- Monogamy: Marrying one person at a time.
- Polyandry: Women who have more than one husband.
- Polygamy: The practice of having more than one spouse at the same time.
- Polygyny: A man who has more than one wife.
- Same-sex Marriage: Partners of the same sex who are married.
Marriage and Religion
The notion of marriage as a sacrament, and not just a contract, can be traced to St. Paul who compared the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and his church (Eph. 5 v, 23-32).
Joseph Campbell, in the Power of Myth, mentions that the Twelfth-century troubadours were the first ones who thought of courtly love in the same way we do now. The whole notion of romance didn't exist until medieval times and the troubadours.
Pope Nicholas I declared in 866, "If the consent be lacking in a marriage, all other celebrations, even should the union be consummated, are rendered void." This shows the importance of a couple's consent to marriage. It has remained an important part of both church teaching and marriage laws through the years.
There appeared to be many marriages taking place without witness or ceremony in the 1500's. The Council of Trent was so disturbed by this, that they decreed in 1563 that marriages should be celebrated in the presence of a priest and at least two witnesses. The marriage took on a new role of saving men and women from being sinful and procreating. Love wasn't a necessary ingredient for marriage during this era.
Years later, the Puritans viewed marriage as a very blessed relationship that gave marital partners an opportunity to love and forgive. Today, many people hold the view that regardless of how people enter into matrimony, marriage is a bond between two people that involves responsibility and legalities, as well as commitment and challenge. That concept of marriage hasn't changed through the ages.