by Julia Austin
When did government get involved?Only in the last several centuries did marriage become a legal matter
1. Polygamy was once the norm
Now only reserved for certain religions and groups, polygamy was common for a long time in history. Before modern medicine ensured safe childbirth, men had to have multiple wives to improve their chances of having at least some healthy, surviving offspring.
2. People used to marry ghosts
Family ties were so essential in keeping inheritance within the bloodline, that in some ancient cultures, if there were no living siblings available, parents would marry one child to the “spirit” of another child that had passed away.
3. Babies mandatory
In several ancient cultures, men could ask to have their marriages dissolved or even take on new wives if their current ones were unable to conceive.
4. The Church established monogamy
The early Christian church was the first group to state that marriage did not exist for the sole purpose of procreating, and said that infertility was not grounds for ending a marriage. After a long battle with old nobility, the church won and by the ninth century, monogamy was a central part of all marriages.
5. No ring, no inheritance
Even though monogamy was praised and normalized, infidelity is not a modern concept. But in many old societies, any child conceived out of wedlock had no claim to its father’s inheritance.
6. Marriages used to be a family matter
Before the 1200s, marriages were simply a contract between the families of the two betrothed—the church stayed out of it. Only in 1215 did the Catholic church require engaged individuals to post public notices of an impending marriage, in order to decrease the number of invalid unions.
7. When did government get involved?
Only in the last several centuries did marriage become a legal matter, with Massachusetts being a trailblazer in 1639, when it began to require marriage licenses. By the 19th century, most states required this.
8. Marry for love?
The concept of marrying someone for love only came to be considered within the last 250 years, and it only gained general respect within the last 100 years.
9. The farm-to-market transition
For a long time, family-arranged marriages were the norm, often revolving around the inheritance of land. But with the rise of modern markets, and individuals having the chance to become financially sound independently of their parents, the family had less and less say in engagements.
10. Different rights
Rights within a marriage only became completely equal around 50 years ago—that’s right: your grandparents may have been subject to some unbalanced laws. For example, at one time, if a man’s wife was murdered, he had the right to sue for loss of “services around the home,” but a woman could not do the same.
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