Most view marriage these days, as an expression of their love for their mate. However, the history of marriage circulated much with tradition, culture, religion and laws. From the time of the ancient Israel, ancient Greece and Rome, medieval Europe, to modern Europe and America, marriage has been a public institution that has been continually changing. Throughout these times, marriage was considered more of an economic partnership than of a love partnership. However, the notion of marriage as a sacrament and not just a contract can be traced way back to the first marriage. When this event was hosted and made possible by God.
The first marriage to be ever recorded was with the first man and woman, Adam and Eve (Gen 2: 23,24). And, this followed popular Biblical couples such as Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and Joseph and Mary. Ancient Israelite, followed a patriarchal family structure where women was regarded as a property and not an actual equal although this changed in the course of time. The main purpose of marriage was to procreate and to continue the bloodline. A man could also have several wives and concubines just like Jacob who had two wives, Leah and Rachel, and had children with Leah and Rachel’s slaves. King David also had several wives and King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. However, monogamy was encouraged and later became a trend. Divorce was not promoted, but was only allowed if a man found the wife unfavorable. In which case, the wife would be sent out from their home after he writes a bill of divorce. The wife on the other hand, does not have the right to divorce her husband.
During the ancient days in Greece, marriage was considered a practical solution rather than a romantic affair. They mostly regarded this as the main institution of their civilization. Marriage became a compulsory and those who did not marry were not allowed to receive important public positions and were treated with disdain. Most of the time, a father would make an arranged marriage for his thirties son, picking a teenage girl who would bring them lawful offspring. Marriages were made monogamous. However, married men could still take prostitutes and concubines for their sexual pleasures. Divorce was made easier for men than for their wives. However, a wife who chose to divorce her husband could take back her dowry, thus making their husbands to think twice before deciding on their divorce.
Ancient Rome experienced significant changes in marriage as it started with most men having great power over their household. A man could punish, sell, or even kill his wife and children as how he saw it right. However, during the imperial times, a husband and a wife were considered equal allowing women to enjoy their lives and property. There were different types of marriages during those days, the most common type of marriage did not involve any ceremony, but was just a formality of living together for a year so that they could be considered legally married. Divorce for this type of marriage was also easy as they can dismiss each other without any legal battle. Another form of marriage was made for the upper class where a couple creates an elaborate ceremony with ten witnesses and a priest to perform the rites. And, if a divorce occur between them another ceremony was needed. Compared to other ancient civilizations, ancient Rome was fair to women by providing them with a monogamous relationship and equal partnership in marriage.
European marriage changed as Christianity became popular. The church became powerful and controlled marriages and divorce. The old primitive customs of treating women as similar to a slave were abolished by the church and made marriage as a free will for both partners. Marriage and divorce were once made as a civil and private affair, but with the intervention of the church, couples were made to marry with their consent. They also abolished divorce and increased the number of marriage prohibitions. Throughout the medieval times, marriage was considered an economic relationship rather than a romantic affair. And, although the church helped in improving the status for married women, their position still remained low.
The Catholic Church wanted to control marriages during the 16th century when the Protestant Reformation rejected most of the dominant marriage doctrines of the church. The English Puritans of the 17th century wanted marriage to be purely secular with no minister performing the ceremony, but by a justice of the peace. However, in 1563, the church responded by demanding that all marriages take place before a priest and two witnesses. This was permitted until 1753 in England since Henry VIII made the church of England to be in charge of all marriages. This ended in 1792, during the French Revolution where they introduced compulsory civil marriage. Then other countries such as Germany and most of the Western world followed. Divorce was allowed again under special circumstances. The only problem for divorces during those days, when the English Parliament granting them, was that they were difficult and expensive making only a few couples to file for it.
With most of marriage history revolved around economic partnership, the rise of equality in our modern days gave most women in most countries the advantage to choose whom they can marry. Although there are still some countries that consider marriage as a business deal and wealthy families that want their fortune to retain within their circle, the advantage of marrying because of love is now more common.