“The way in which a marriage is conducted has changed over time, as has the institution itself. Although the institution of marriage pre-dates reliable recorded history, many cultures have legends or religious beliefs concerning the origins of marriage.”
For most of European history, marriage was more or less a business agreement between two families who arranged the marriages of their children. Romantic love, and even simple affection, were not considered essential. In fact at some times, too much affection in a marriage was considered a sin. Stress about the necessity of marriage has historically been a nearly universal source of stress.
In Ancient Greece, no specific civil ceremony was required for the creation of a marriage – only mutual agreement and the fact that the couple must regard each other as husband and wife accordingly. Men usually married when they were in their 20s or 30s and expected their wives to be in their early teens. It has been suggested that these ages made sense for the Greek because men were generally done with military service by age 30, and marrying a young girl ensured her virginity. Married Greek women had few rights in ancient Greek society and were expected to take care of the house and children. Time was an important factor in Greek marriage. For example there were superstitions that being married during a full moon was good luck and, according to Robert Flacelière, Greeks married in the winter.
Like with the Greeks, Roman marriage and divorce required no specific government or religious approval. Both marriage and divorce could happen by simple mutual agreement. There were several types of marriages in Roman society. The traditional (“conventional”) form called conventio in manum required a ceremony with witnesses and was also dissolved with a ceremony. In this type of marriage, a woman lost her family rights of inheritance of her old family and gained them with her new one. She now was subject to the authority of her husband. There was the free marriage known as sine manu. In this arrangement, the wife remained a member of her original family; she stayed under the authority of her father, kept her family rights of inheritance with her old family and didn’t gain any with the new family.
The first recorded use of the word “marriage” for the union of same-sex couples also occurs during the Roman Empire. The term, however, was rarely associated with same-sex relationships, even though the relationships themselves were common. In the year 342, the Christian Emperors Constantius and Constans declared same-sex marriage to be illegal.
From the early Christian era (30 to 325 CE), marriage was thought of as primarily a private matter, with no religious or other ceremony being required. Until 1545, Christian marriages in Europe were by mutual consent, declaration of intention to marry and upon the subsequent physical union of the parties. The couple would promise verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or witnesses was not required. This promise was known as the “verbum.” If freely given and made in the present tense (e.g., “I marry you”), it was unquestionably binding; if made in the future tense (“I will marry you”), it would constitute a betrothal. One of the functions of churches from the Middle Ages was to register marriages, which was not obligatory. There was no state involvement in marriage and personal status, with these issues being adjudicated in ecclesiastical courts. Whereas the rape of male citizens was outlawed in the 100s CE, gay marriage was outlawed in the mid-300s by two of Constantine the Great’s sons, Constantius II and Constans. While Constans was later denounced for having male lovers, emperors continued the condemnation of homosexuality. For example, a law decreed in 390 required any man “taking a women’s role” in sex was to be burned to death.
In the 12th century, aristocrats believed love was incompatible with marriage and sought romance in adultery. Troubadors invented courtly love which involved secret but chaste trysts between a lover and a beloved.
The average age of marriage in the late 1200s into the 1500s was around 25 years of age. Beginning in the 1500s it was unlawful for a woman younger than 20 years of age to marry.
As part of the Counter-Reformation, in 1545 the Council of Trent decreed that a Roman Catholic marriage would be recognized only if the marriage ceremony was officiated by a priest with two witnesses. The Council also authorized a Catechism, issued in 1566, which defined marriage as, “The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.” Since England broke with Rome in 1534, this change did not extend to the regions affected by the Protestant Reformation, where marriage by consent continued to be the norm. As part of the Reformation, the role of recording marriages and setting the rules for marriage passed to the state. By the 1600s many of the Protestant European countries had a state involvement in marriage.
Short video explaining history of marriage
In the early modern period, John Calvin and his Protestant colleagues reformulated Christian marriage by enacting the Marriage Ordinance of Geneva, which imposed “The dual requirements of state registration and church consecration to constitute marriage” for recognition.
In England and Wales, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1753 required a formal ceremony of marriage, thereby curtailing the practice of Fleet Marriage. These were clandestine or irregular marriages performed at Fleet Prison, and at hundreds of other places. From the 1690s until the Marriage Act of 1753 as many as 300,000 clandestine marriages were performed at Fleet Prison alone. The Act required a marriage ceremony to be officiated by an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church with two witnesses and registration. The Act did not apply to Jewish marriages or those of Quakers, whose marriages continued to be governed by their own customs.
In England and Wales, since 1837, civil marriages have been recognised as a legal alternative to church marriages under the Marriage Act 1836. In Germany, civil marriages were recognised in 1875. This law permitted a declaration of the marriage before an official clerk of the civil administration, when both spouses affirm their will to marry, to constitute a legally recognised valid and effective marriage, and allowed an optional private clerical marriage ceremony.”
Thai marriage certificate.
“The mythological origin of Chinese marriage is a story about Nüwa and Fu Xi who invented proper marriage procedures after becoming married.
In ancient Chinese society, people of the same surname were not supposed to marry and doing so was seen as incest. However, because marriage to one’s maternal relatives was not thought of as incest, families sometimes intermarried from one generation to another. Over time, Chinese people became more geographically mobile. Couples were married in what is called an extra-clan marriage, better known as antithetic marriage. This occurred around 5000 BC. According to modern Chinese scholars of a Marxist persuasion, matriarchy prevailed in society at that time, therefore husbands needed to move to, and live with, their wives’ families. Yet individuals remained members of their biological families. When a couple died, the husband and the wife were buried separately in the respective clans’ graveyard. In a maternal marriage, a male would become a son-in-law who lived in the wife’s home. This happened in the transformation of antithetic marriage into monogamy, which signifies the decline of matriarchy and the growing dominance of patriarchy in ancient China.”