The history of marriage is often considered under History of the family or legal history.
See also: Marriage in ancient Rome and Ancient Greek wedding customs
Many cultures have legends concerning the origins of marriage. The way in which a marriage is conducted and its rules and ramifications has changed over time, as has the institution itself, depending on the culture or demographic of the time.
According to ancient Hebrew tradition, a wife was seen as being property of high value and was, therefore, usually, carefully looked after. Early nomadic communities in the middle east practised a form of marriage known as beena, in which a wife would own a tent of her own, within which she retains complete independence from her husband; this principle appears to survive in parts of early Israelite society, as some early passages of the Bible appear to portray certain wives as each owning a tent as a personal possession (specifically, Jael, Sarah, and Jacob’s wives).
The husband, too, is indirectly implied to have some responsibilities to his wife. The Covenant Code orders “If he take him another; her food, her clothing, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish(or lessen)”. If the husband does not provide the first wife with these things, she is to be divorced, without cost to her. The Talmud interprets this as a requirement for a man to provide food and clothing to, and have sex with, each of his wives.[clarification needed] However, “duty of marriage” is also interpreted as whatever one does as a married couple, which is more than just sexual activity. And the term diminish, which means to lessen, shows the man must treat her as if he was not married to another.
As a polygynous society, the Israelites did not have any laws that imposed marital fidelity on men. However, the prophet Malachi states that none should be faithless to the wife of his youth and that God hates divorce. Adulterous married women, adulterous betrothed women, and the men who slept with them however, were subject to the death penalty by the biblical laws against adultery  According to the Priestly Code of the Book of Numbers, if a pregnant woman was suspected of adultery, she was to be subjected to the Ordeal of Bitter Water, a form of trial by ordeal, but one that took a miracle to convict. The literary prophets indicate that adultery was a frequent occurrence, despite their strong protests against it, and these legal strictnesses.
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 and women in their teens. It has been suggested that these ages made sense for the Greeks because men were generally done with military service or financially established by their late 20s, and marrying a teenage girl ensured ample time for her to bear children, as life expectancies were significantly lower. 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. Inheritance was more important than feelings: a woman whose father dies without male heirs could be forced to marry her nearest male relative – even if she had to divorce her husband first.
There were several types of marriages in ancient 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 did not gain any with the new family. The minimum age of marriage for girls was 12.
Among ancient Germanic tribes, the bride and groom were roughly the same age and generally older than their Roman counterparts, at least according to Tacitus:
The youths partake late of the pleasures of love, and hence pass the age of puberty unexhausted: nor are the virgins hurried into marriage; the same maturity, the same full growth is required: the sexes unite equally matched and robust; and the children inherit the vigor of their parents.
Where Aristotle had set the prime of life at 37 years for men and 18 for women, the Visigothic Code of law in the 7th century placed the prime of life at 20 years for both men and women, after which both presumably married. Tacitus states that ancient Germanic brides were on average about 20 and were roughly the same age as their husbands. Tacitus, however, had never visited the German-speaking lands and most of his information on Germania comes from secondary sources. In addition, Anglo-Saxon women, like those of other Germanic tribes, are marked as women from the age of 12 and older, based on archaeological finds, implying that the age of marriage coincided with puberty.
From the early Christian era (30 to 325 CE), marriage was thought of as primarily a private matter, with no uniform religious or other ceremony being required. However, bishop Ignatius of Antioch writing around 110 to bishop Polycarp of Smyrna exhorts, “[I]t becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.”
In 12th century Europe, women took the surname of their husbands and starting in the second half of the 16th century parental consent along with the church’s consent was required for marriage.
With few local exceptions, 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.
In 1552 a wedding took place in Zufia, Navarre, between Diego de Zufia and Mari-Miguel following the custom as it was in the realm since the Middle Ages, but the man denounced the marriage on the grounds that its validity was conditioned to “riding” her (“si te cabalgo, lo cual dixo de bascuence (…) balvin yo baneça aren senar içateko”). The tribunal of the kingdom rejected the husband’s claim, validating the wedding, but the husband appealed to the tribunal in Zaragoza, and this institution annulled the marriage. According to the Charter of Navarre, the basic union consisted of a civil marriage with no priest required and at least two witnesses, and the contract could be broken using the same formula. The Church in turn lashed out at those who got married twice or thrice in a row while their formers spouses were still alive. In 1563 the Council of Trent, twenty-fourth session, required that a valid marriage must be performed by a priest before two witnesses.
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. During the Middle Ages marriages were arranged, sometimes as early as birth, and these early pledges to marry were often used to ensure treaties between different royal families, nobles, and heirs of fiefdoms. The church resisted these imposed unions, and increased the number of causes for nullification of these arrangements. As Christianity spread during the Roman period and the Middle Ages, the idea of free choice in selecting marriage partners increased and spread with it.
In Medieval Western Europe, later marriage and higher rates of definitive celibacy (the so-called “European marriage pattern”) helped to constrain patriarchy at its most extreme level. For example, Medieval England saw marriage age as variable depending on economic circumstances, with couples delaying marriage until the early twenties when times were bad and falling to the late teens after the Black Death, when there were labor shortages; by appearances, marriage of adolescents was not the norm in England. Where the strong influence of classical Celtic and Germanic cultures (which were not rigidly patriarchal) helped to offset the Judaeo-Roman patriarchal influence, in Eastern Europe the tradition of early and universal marriage (often in early adolescence) as well as traditional Slavic patrilocal custom led to a greatly inferior status of women at all levels of society.
The average age of marriage for most of Northwestern Europe from 1500 to 1800 was around 25 years of age; as the Church dictated that both parties had to be at least 21 years of age to marry without the consent of their parents, the bride and groom were roughly the same age, with most brides in their early twenties and most grooms two or three years older, and a substantial number of women married for the first time in their thirties and forties, particularly in urban areas, with the average age at first marriage rising and falling as circumstances dictated. In better times, more people could afford to marry earlier and thus fertility rose and conversely marriages were delayed or forgone when times were bad, thus restricting family size; after the Black Death, the greater availability of profitable jobs allowed more people to marry young and have more children, but the stabilization of the population in the 16th century meant fewer job opportunities and thus more people delaying marriages.
The age of marriage was not absolute, however, as child marriages would occur throughout the Middle Ages and later, with just some of them including:
The 1552 CE marriage between John Somerford and Jane Somerford Brereto, at the ages of 3 and 2, respectively.
In the early 1900s, Magnus Hirschfeld surveyed the age of consent in about 50 countries, which he found to often range between 12-16. In the Vatican, the age of consent was 12.
As part of the Protestant Reformation, the role of recording marriages and setting the rules for marriage passed to the state, reflecting Martin Luther’s view that marriage was a “worldly thing”. By the 17th century, many of the Protestant European countries had a state involvement in marriage.
In England, under the Anglican Church, marriage by consent and cohabitation was valid until the passage of Lord Hardwicke’s Act in 1753. This act instituted certain requirements for marriage, including the performance of a religious ceremony observed by witnesses.
As part of the Counter-Reformation, in 1563 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.”
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, an irregular or a clandestine 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 recognized as a legal alternative to church marriages under the Marriage Act 1836. In Germany, civil marriages were recognized 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 recognized valid and effective marriage, and allowed an optional private clerical marriage ceremony.
In contemporary English common law, a marriage is a voluntary contract by a man and a woman, in which by agreement they choose to become husband and wife. Edvard Westermarck proposed that “the institution of marriage has probably developed out of a primeval habit”.
As of 2000, the average marriage age range was 25–44 years for men and 22–39 years for women.
Main article: Chinese marriage
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 are supposed to consult with their family trees prior to marriage to reduce the potential risk of unintentional incest. Marrying one’s maternal relatives was generally not thought of as incest. Families sometimes intermarried from one generation to another. Over time, Chinese people became more geographically mobile. Individuals remained members of their biological families. When a couple died, the husband and the wife were buried separately in the respective clan’s graveyard. In a maternal marriage a male would become a son-in-law who lived in the wife’s home.
The New Marriage Law of 1950 radically changed Chinese marriage traditions, enforcing monogamy, equality of men and women, and choice in marriage; arranged marriages were the most common type of marriage in China until then. Starting October 2003, it became legal to marry or divorce without authorization from the couple’s work units.[clarification needed] Although people with infectious diseases such as AIDS may now marry, marriage is still illegal for the mentally ill.