A Brief History of Married Life (Part 1)

historic wedding

Since wedding season is upon us, we thought it would be interesting to explore the history of marriage, how it has changed over the years, and how it has stayed the same in the form of traditions. We hope you enjoy our two part post where we delve into some unique wedding traditions from around the world. Today, we’ll be talking about the history of marriage!


With all the court cases and referendums we keep hearing about in national and international news, it is fair to say that marriage has changing. Those who are shocked by these changes should try to rest easy though because marriage has come along way since the earliest practice of the ceremony. Consider this, “love” wasn’t considered an aspect of marriage up until roughly 200 years ago.

The very earliest marriages were little more than tiny socio-political alliances. Rather than focusing on borders and mutual assistance like international alliances, weddings were designed to build up the family strength. Instead of looking for a partner with a good job and low student loan debt, families decided to wed children off in order to gain neighboring tracts of land and bigger flocks. If you think dealing with in-laws is bad now, remember that once upon a time your in-laws might have been the only source of food for hundreds of miles.

We might take a faithful partner for granted these days, but centuries ago sleeping around was not only common, it was practically required. Most marriages prior to the ninth century were actually polygamous with usually the husband having multiple wives. In some cases a woman could be married to multiple men, or groups could even be married to each other. Monogamy took hold only after the Catholic Church made its presence known in the West. No matter how you pray, I think we can all be grateful that the worst we have is an ex liking the spouse’s Facebook picture rather than dealing with multiple spouses.

Equality in many areas might seem like a long ways away depending on how you look at it, but when you consider the history of equality in marriage compared to today, some things don’t seem so bad. For example, up until as late as the 1970’s women in the United States couldn’t have bank accounts or credit in their names. Beyond that, men could actually sue someone for “loss of services around the home” if their wives were killed by an accident. This is one aspect of history we should all be glad is in the past!

While many of these things have improved in many ways, there are still wedding traditions at home and abroad that tap into something much older than we know. Many of these traditions defy records and only continue because—well—they’re traditions.

One particularly interesting tradition is the case of villages in Africa. Here in the West we think of the “honeymoon” as an intimate time for a new couple to revel in a little peace and romance after the wild build up to the wedding. Some African peoples practice a type of “honeymoon” where the bride and groom are far from alone. In these groups of people it is common for an elder of the community to be present on “the wedding night” to assist the bride. In some cases it may even be the bride’s own mother who is there for those first few nights.

We’ll have more traditions from around the world next week. In the meantime, let us know if you have any family traditions that you consider unique, or tied to origins you can’t explain.

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