In most of our lives, marriage is an important milestone that we all look forward to. If it is time for you to hop on to the altar to exchange vows with the love of your life and to promise to love and cherish them forever, maybe it will be interesting to know the history of marriage. How it came about in the first place might not be as romantic as you think.
Did you know, for instance, that marrying for love is a relatively new concept in human civilization? Before that, the institution of marriage was all about joining families and keeping wealth within the next of kin. Over time, the evolution of human society led to many developments and transformations to make a wedding what it is today. Let us take a trip down the history of marriage.
The very first recorded evidence suggests that the notion of marriage between two people is at least 4,350 years old. There are speculations, however, that the concept has been around for longer. The main reason for two people marrying back then was to form an alliance between families, or for economic liaisons.
For thousands of years after, marriage was used to bind women to men so they knew which offspring was theirs. It was an unequal setting where women were treated as property, or means to bear children. If no children were borne, the man was free to send his wife back and start over.
Today, arranged marriages as such are recognized as outdated and dehumanizing, but they continue to flourish in several cultures where participants don’t often have a say in their future.
Religion and Marriage
When the Catholic Church became involved in marriage, divorce became illegal. It first dipped its fingers in marriage so that invalid marriages could be weeded out and this is where marriage contracts came in. Once married with the blessings of a priest, people had to register with the Church and could not leave their partners even if they wanted to. ‘Till death do us part” after all!
Because of the Church’s involvement, things improved quite a bit for women. Men were told to show greater respect for their wives and had to be sexually exclusive with them; otherwise, they could be excommunicated from the religion.
Love Enters the Picture
Many believe that the concept of marrying for love was invented by the French. The knights in shining armor who fell in love with someone else’s wife became the subject of much literature, such as Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere.
About 250 years ago, the idea that marriage should be between two people who love each other gained much traction. Marriage was based on love and possibly desire. This changed marriage into something far from an economic transaction.
When love entered the picture, it was a huge step for marriage equality. Some historians claim it was this change that led to women having greater leverage in what was previously a mainly pragmatic contract. Wives did not solely exist to please their husbands; the smitten prince, in fact, wanted to serve his lady love.
The real landmark that changed the elevated status of the husband, however, was achieved when women won the right to vote. The marriage contract was now between two equal citizens of the state that had the same rights. It goes without saying that we have the suffragists to thank for marriage equality.
While a lot of Greek and Roman literature speaks of marriage between people of the same gender, gay marriage was strictly outlawed in many parts of the world for a long time. Once it was established that you can marry for love and not just for practical reasons, it followed logically that love can exist between people of the same gender as well. As of 2015, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states of the US.
Despite it being so difficult to have photographs taken at the conception of photography in the 19th century, marrying couples wanted their blurred outlines in print. Since the equipment for photography up until the late 19th century was bulky and heavy, cameras couldn’t be carried around; the couple had to visit a studio to get their picture taken.
In the early 1900s when camera technology improved, it became possible for people to take multiple photographs of themselves and their family members. This gave birth to the wedding album that contained every photograph taken at a wedding.
Up until this point, all photographs were monochrome. Colored photographs didn’t emerge until after World War II. It took several years for them to become the norm.
Today, digital technology enables each of us to have several hundred photographs of our wedding and choose the best ones to display in our homes and online. Wedding photography, as it is today, is an art form and a means of expression. What a long way we have come!
Learning about the interesting, sometimes shocking, history of marriage may have changed how you will view yours. Regardless of its history, you are one of the lucky human beings who are able to be with the person they love; that has to account for something!
If you are located in the Greensboro area by happenstance, reach out to Doug Burke Photography at 336.486.9932 and we will make your union a sweet, happy memory for years to come, instilling it solidly in your personal history.