History of marriage
History of marriage pre-dates reliable recorded history but most of the cultures have myths, stories, legends and religious beliefs built around the origins of marriage. If we closely analyze these resources on marriage we will find that in almost all cultures marriage was more than a union between two consenting individuals. In ancient times the consent of individuals was not that important and the prime requirement for marriage was to actually provide a secure environment for the next generation and protect properties and bloodlines. In those days marriage of individuals from different cultures or religions was impossible. Things have changed a bit now and the way marriage is conducted today is very different from that of the ancient times. Today marriage is defined as a social, religious, spiritual and legal union of individuals and such a union is also called as matrimony or wedlock. To understand the history of marriage we also need to look at the origins of marriage and the real motive behind marriage.
History of marriage: The origins of marriage and the motive behind marriage in the ancient days
As I had mentioned before, marriage in the early times was not a personal affair between two consenting individuals. The real motive behind marriage in those times ranged from protecting property, expanding property titles, expanding the wealth of the clan in terms of land and material goods, earning wealth through dowry, preventing inter-culture and inter-religious relationships, providing secure environment for the next generation, expanding the bloodlines and finding the heir apparent for a family, clan or tribe. So we can see that in ancient time, marriage was an institution where economic, political, cultural and religious influence far outweighed the consent or choice of the individuals who were actually going to get married. Almost all marriages were arranged marriage and in these marriages the individual’s choice did not matter at all. These were the times when marriage for women was nothing but an event where they were sold as property to somebody. The influence of the society and the “other considerations” in marriage was so high that in many culture women were forced to marry the brother of their husband if the husband died early. The history of marriage also highlights one more important phenomenon which suited the powerful and the wealthy. This was the phenomenon of multiple marriages by men.
The truth of ancient marriage was that in those days marriage was in fact polygamous. The purpose of such marriage was as I had mentioned earlier to expand property, earn dowry and find suitable heir apparent and therefore men married many times to achieve these goals. So we can think about the condition of women in these kinds of circumstances. They were not looked as individuals but properties to be purchased and sold. In fact the genesis of the civil arrangement of marriage did not emerge from any noble purpose designed to unite one man and one woman but marriage as an institution with civil arrangement developed in close parallel to the emergence of private property rights. Religious guidelines to marriage were further added on with an eye to keep the rich flock within a particular religion. There was no saintly or humanitarian motive behind the interference of religion in marriage as an institution. The only motive was power and control over assets and individuals. Now let’s look at the history of marriage by glancing the major periods in history.
History of Marriage: Marriage in Greek and Roman periods and the status of women
The ancient Greek society was highly patriarchal in nature and the status of women in these societies was nothing to boost about. If we look at the history of marriage in this period then we will find that marriage in the Greek period was considered as an economic and political affair and women did not have much say in their own marriage. Things were little better in Roman times. Though even in the Roman times marriages were done for political and economic reasons, women had a larger say in the domestic affairs after the marriage. They had the rights to run the household, take decisions for education of their children, protect the sanctity and honor of their families and even they had the right to share the high honors and respect shown to their husband. Most of the marriages in Roman times were arranged marriages but some Romans even married for love. In fact marriage was a private affair in ancient Rome. Though marriage was considered as a personal issue in ancient Rome still necessary legal requirements were needed for individuals to get married. Later marriage became an important state issue when Emperor Augustus made it his business. He felt that not enough marriages were taking place and this was not good for the welfare of the society and therefore under his patronage marriage was pushed and promoted by the state by various means. Now let’s have a glance at the history of marriage in the Christian era. The Christian era can be divided as the early and later periods for study purpose.
History of Marriage: Marriage in the early Christian era
In the early Christian era marriage was mostly a private affair. The good news was that by these times marriage in Europe had actually become an affair where mutual consent of the individuals was required. There was some relief for women in these changed circumstances. In this period there was no need for any religious or other ceremony to solemnize the marriage. The couple could verbally promise to each other and the marriage was done. By the Middle Ages marriage in Churches began to occur. By the 17th century marriages in Church had become a norm in Europe and the role of religion and church had greatly enhanced in the “personal affair” called as marriage. The church even acquired the role of preventing and annulling the marriage on various grounds. These powers were grossly misused by those in power and those with ulterior motives. Women did not have anything better under these circumstances. The study of the History of marriage cannot be complete unless we look in depth into the practices and norms of marriage in other cultures and societies around the world.
History of Marriage: Marriage in other cultures and the status of women
If we closely analyze the history of marriage we will find that women had different status and roles in marriage based on different cultures, their histories and the period of times. In ancient Egypt, women had equal status and rights as of men. They could inherit property, do business and choose their grooms. Women were also considered to be the heir apparent and this was true for the royal families also. These things changed in the latter history of ancient Egypt. From a society which gave good consideration to women, the later Egyptian societies under the great pharaohs became highly patriarchal and male dominated. The institution of marriage was used in this era for economic, political and religious games for one-upmanship of those in power and reckoning. The practice of the royals also percolated down to the commoners. Throughout the world, the medieval times was not good for women in general. Leaving apart some of the ancient indigenous societies and tribes, women in general had a subordinate role in every sphere of life. Medieval women in all major cultures had very limited role in their own marriage. They never married for love. If we look at the history of marriage in medieval times we will find that marriage was always arranged by the elders in the household in collusion with the religious and social gatekeepers of the society. The people involved in the marriage didn’t have much say in the decision. Dowry was a major consideration for marriage. Overall economics, caste, religion and social status decided the fate of women in marriage in these times and the post married life for women involved a life of household drudgery with minimum access to education, property or inheritance.
Article by Sanjay Nair
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