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Early marriage was borne of ancient societies' need to secure a safe environment in

which to breed, handle the granting of property rights, and protect bloodlines. Ancient

Hebrew law required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother's widow.

But even in these early times, marriage was much about love and desire as it was

social and economic stability. In its roundness, the engagement ring, a custom dating

back to the Ancient Rome, is believed to represent eternity and everlasting union. It

was once believed a vein or nerve ran directly from the 'ring' finger of the left hand to

the heart.

Many other modern day marriage traditions have their origins in these ancient times.

Newly-weds are said to have aided fertility by drinking a brew made from honey during

certain lunar phases and it is this tradition from which we derive the origins of the word

Understanding of marriage contrasted greatly from culture to culture. Some cultures

viewed the institution as endogamous (men were required to marry within their own

social group, family, clan, or tribe), exogamous (marrying outside the geographical

region or social group) or polygamous (allowing men to take more than one bride).

Polygamy was formally banned towards the end of the Roman Empire with laws against

adultery, fornication and other relationships outside a monogamous lifelong covenant.

The seeds of modern marriage were sowed here and they extended into the modern

Western world.
In European nations, marriage was traditionally considered a civil institution. Around

5AD great Christian theologians such as Augustine wrote about marriage and the

Christian Church started taking an interest in the ceremony.

It was at this point that Christians began to have their marriages conducted by

ministers in Christian gatherings, but it was in the 12th century that the Roman

Catholic Church formally defined marriage as a sacrament, sanctioned by God.

In Catholicism, it is still believed that the Sacrament of Matrimony is between God, the

man and the woman, while the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century CE re-valued

marriage as a merely life-long and monogamous covenant between a man and a

During the Victorian era romantic love became viewed as the primary requirement for

marriage and the rituals of courting became even more formal. An interested

gentleman could not simply walk up to a young lady and begin a conversation. He had

to be formally introduced and only after some time was considered appropriate for a

man to speak to a lady or for a couple to be seen together.

Once formally introduced, if a gentleman wished to escort a lady home from a social

function he would present his card to her and at the end of the evening the lady would

review her options and chose who would be her escort! She would then notify the lucky

gentleman by giving him her own card requesting that he escort her home.

Almost all courting took place in the girl's home, always under the eye of watchful

parents. If the courting progressed, the couple might advance to the front porch. It was

also rare for couples to see each other without the presence of a chaperone, and

marriage proposals were frequently written.

Divorce has existed for about as long as marriage so although we've had a lot of

practice at monogamy, we're still not very good at it!

The ancient Greeks liberally allowed divorce, but even then the person requesting

divorce had to submit the request to a magistrate, who would determine whether or not

the reasons given were sufficient. In contrast divorce was rare in early Roman culture.
However, as the empire grew in power and authority, civil law embraced the idea that

either husband or wife could renounce the marriage at will.

Throughout the last thousand years, divorce was generally frowned upon and from the

earliest years of the Christian age the only 'proper' way to dissolve a marriage was by

annulment - a status that was granted only by the Church. Of course, one British king

changed all that during the Sixteenth Century by having arguably the most famous

divorce in British history.

In 1533 Henry VIII famously broke England's ties with the Catholic Church and changed

the face of our nation forever purely because he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon

and marry Anne Boleyn.

In many parts of 16th and 17th century Europe and America, the concept of 'bundling'

was widely used. This process allowed courting couples to share a bed, fully clothed

with a 'bundling board' to separate them. This allowed a pair to talk and get to know

each other in the safe confines of the girl's house.

In some parts of 18th Century Europe a biscuit or small loaf of bread was broken over

the head of the bride as she came out from the church. Unmarried guests scrambled for

the pieces, and they would place them under their pillows to aid their own fortunes in

marriage. It is believed that the tradition of having a wedding cake stems from this

strange custom.