Vivian O.

Marriage is as old as man; it always existed -whether as mere informal relationships prevalent in primitive times, or as a more institutionalized and legalized unions today. Early marriages preceded religion and somewhat stemmed from innate desires first as biological beings to copulate and procreate, and secondly as social beings- to create family stability and economy.

For many, the term marriage may mean different things, but a fact which has remained is the seeming acceptance and prevalence of marriage systems among ancient indigenous peoples and societies. And, even in more modern societies with better human organization and advancement, the basic notion of marriage as a union of man and wife hasn’t changed much. From ancient primitive African populations to ancient European and Asian peoples, the union of a man and a woman was symbolic. While for many it was the only socially acceptable medium for procreation of heirs, for others it was a means to strengthen alliances and enhance micro family economies. However, societies may have introduced modifying laws that mainly seek to regulate or protect these unions.

From ancient times and, depending on the population, marriages grew from a mainly unorganized structure as prevalent in primitive times, to a more distinct and unique institution with great nobility in more recent civilizations.

Brief history of marriage

Marriage culture is a tradition that developed only about 4,500 years ago. Prior to this time, it had been mere sexual relationships, unregulated and never an institution for establishment of legitimacy for offspring, for the purposes of inheritance.

Around 1.8 million years ago, the first humans who lived at the time really did not have organized marriages. This is because these early humans were only beginning to evolve. They were learning to use fire and some complex tools. They would have presumably just had sex, and perhaps with many partners, and the products of these sexual activities simply joined the rest of society without tags of “sire-ship” or parentage. Nobody cared about who sired who, and inbreeding was likely prevalent.

Early human Behavior

Early humans foraged, hunted and gathered with the simple tools and implements they forged. While the females carried and cared for the babies (while picking up food, fruits and nuts), the males were mainly needed as protectors and hunters. And because they moved geographically in search of food and warmth, there was a tendency for partners to wander off and inadvertently separate. They had no need to stay together judging by the prevailing circumstances at that times; some may have stayed together but that was not the norm.

Early Man’s Transition to Modern Behavior

Around 50,000 years ago, man began to evolve behaviorally and culturally. According to anthropological research, man’s transition to behavioral modernity began with the development of culture, language, specialized lithic technology, and strategic big game hunting [1] [2] [3]. They began burying their dead, using animal hides and skin to make clothing, hunting with more sophisticated tactics (such as using traps or driving animals off cliffs), and engaging in cave painting.[4].

As human culture evolved and advanced, different populations of humans began to improve on already existing technology such as making of needles and fish hooks from bones and horns. They began making other specialized tools, jewelry and arts and crafts (such as cave paintings). They organized their living space better, performed various rituals (such as burials with grave gifts), traded by barter and cautiously explored less hospitable geographical areas[4]. With this advancement in man’s behavior and culture came advancement in marital ties and behavior. With this, there was a growing need to have marriages in a more formal or ceremonial way (that was recognized) and with greater stability according to the prevailing norm in the community. It was at this point in time, that the notion of organized marriages came into being.

History of Marriage

About 1.8 million years ago, when the climate became warmer and the forest receded, man had a need to move out into the savannah areas, where their diet consisted largely of gathered vegetation, fruits, nuts and scavenged meat left behind by animal predators. A diet based on more meat made babies to be born earlier requiring more care from their mothers. Mothers therefore had an increased need to feed and cater for their children.

Between 1.8 million and 23,000 years ago, the men and women whose offspring were the most likely to survive were those that formed the very first “marriages” or “unions”. These may not be formal or organized but mere sexual unions between men and women, in which they would probably have been together for quite a couple of years, say three or four, before one partner, or the other, would wander off elsewhere.

This temporal “togetherness” however meant little family stability. With this arrangement, there was little or no need for elaborate marital ceremonies or formality. However, all this changed with the advent of the agricultural era. This period paved way for more stable and longer “relationships” or “togetherness” so to say, leading to improved family relation.

The Agricultural Era pioneered Marriage

Around 23,000 years ago humans began to grow own food, and this impacted and transformed human culture and relations. As hunter-gatherers settled down into an agrarian way of life, society had a need for more stable familial and living arrangements. A favorable climate and more advanced man-made tools meant that an agrarian lifestyle and culture was entrenched.

Since men were physically stronger, they went out, tilled the land and reared the livestock. Women on the other hand, stayed closer to the home, prepared the meals, catered for the children and engaged in other chores.

This is the era in which marriage became the union between two people a man and a woman that was recognized and respected by their community. Since planting and harvesting tied people to their land, neither men nor women had any inclination to wander off. And so, they stayed together and worked the land to feed and cater for the children they produced.

Overtime, as communities began to settle on what was becoming a normal way for them to organize a family, marriage began assuming the notion of “legal contract” between men and women. Subsequently, this “normalcy” was then transformed and codified into law. Depending on the prevailing norm within the population, the laws were created to reflect and substantiate the norms. Marriages were then becoming recognized by the prevailing law of that society. These laws reflected the norms of the society and sought to preserve it.

Reasons for Early Marriage Unions

Marriage’s primary purpose was to bind women to men, and thus guarantee that a man’s children were truly his biological heirs. It came from a biological desire of both men and women to see their children survive. It was an evolutionarily survival strategy. It was mainly borne out of a need to secure a safe environment in which to procreate, protect property rights and bloodlines. Early marriage originally had little to do with religion. Although, there might have been little about love or desire, it was mainly for social and economic progress as well as producing legitimate children and heirs.

For how long has the Marriage institution existed?

For a long time, marriage has existed as a central element of human life in nearly every culture in recorded history. Marriage as an organized institution can be traced to as far back as 4,500 years ago. Prior to that, it was mainly informal and unorganized. The first recorded evidence of marriage ceremonies between one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C. in Mesopotamia. These early marriage ceremonies were depicted by ceremonial union of a man and a woman, usually with the father handing over his daughter.

Marriage culture of ancient peoples

The understanding and practice of marriage contrasted greatly from culture to culture. While some cultures viewed the institution as endogenous (men marrying within their own social group, clan, or tribe), others were exogamous (marrying outside the clan or social group) or polygamous (men marrying more than one wife). But one thing seemed fairly common among these ancient traditional cultures the union of a man and woman/women.

In ancient Egypt for instance, marriage was a social and economic arrangement. Though there are no recorded elaborate marriage ceremonies, most of the time a woman needed her parent’s permission to marry, and some marriages were between full or step siblings. But the norm was either monogamy or polygamy (polygyny) and marriages were mainly endogamous.

In Ancient Rome, the engagement ring is believed to represent eternity and everlasting union. It was believed that a vein or nerve ran directly from the ‘ring’ finger of the left hand to the heart.

How marriage has evolved

Today, marriage in the real sense of the word has not changed much. The motivations for it may have changed, but marriages still occur, perhaps with a greater participation by religious institutions. With an even liberal connotation attached, many couples continue to marry, finding fulfillment and happiness with their chosen mates.

Man’s innate desire to couple and procreate always existed, but has been further entrenched and enhanced by the institution of marriage. Laws that developed around marriage overtime actually did not create it, instead, it only reinforced its existence. Marriage, although still maintains its primary notion, it has continued to evolve.


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