The origins of marriage show us that the ceremony we so enjoy today, wasn’t always laced with love and romance. Although matrimony predates recorded history and even the term itself, there are examples of it throughout even the earliest of histories. Each culture dates its timeline and definition of this union differently.
The earliest unions usually came about as a way of ensuring paternity. Tribe members could not be sure of their heirs if the women they were sleeping with had multiple partners. The only way to prevent this was to form some sort of sexual exclusivity. As most of us realize, this wasn’t usually a two-way street. The idea of men having only one sexual partner is a fairly new development.
However, there are a few tribes throughout the world where women are the driving force in a marriage. The term Polyandry refers to a woman who has two or more male partners. Although it’s rare, twenty or so tribes throughout the world subscribe to this idea.
Marriages in Europe
Early European unions developed quite differently. They were primarily business transactions between families. Getting married was seen as a way to extend a family’s political reach or as a way to procure more assets. Rarely would people unite for love. It was, for all extents and purposes, a contract and little else. The origins of marriage started to look more like the unions we recognize today in the 12th century. This was when women became obliged to take the name of their husband.
While matrimony during the middle ages was usually arranged well in advance, the spread of Christianity spread with it the idea of free choice. More and more people started to form ties out of their own free will and less out of obligation.
Today we are a long way from where we started. Laws prohibiting marriage based on the color of one’s skin have been overturned and legal same-sex unions are allowed in several areas of the world. Marriage has evolved into a true union rather than a business or reproductive transaction.