Codex Theodosianus  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

European marriages

For most of European history, marriage was more or less a business agreement between two families who arranged the marriages of their children. Romantic love, and even simple affection, were not considered essential.

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 or 30s and expected their wives to be in their early teens. It has been suggested that these ages made sense for the Greek because men were generally done with military service by age 30, and marrying a young girl ensured her virginity. 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 can be forced to marry her nearest male relative—even if she has to divorce her husband first.

Like with the Greeks, Roman marriage and divorce required no specific government or religious approval. Both marriage and divorce could happen by simple mutual agreement. There were several types of marriages in 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. A law in the Theodosian Code (C. Th. 9.7.3) issued in 342 CE prohibited same-sex marriage, but the exact intent of the law and its relation to social practice is unclear, as only a few documented examples of same-sex marriage in ancient Rome exist.

From the early Christian era (30 to 325 CE), marriage was thought of as primarily a private matter, with no religious or other ceremony being required. Marriage in sixth-century Europe has been characterized as political polygamy. The Germanic warlord Clothar, despite being a baptized Christian, eventually acquired four wives for strategic reasons, including his dead brother's wife, her sister and the daughter of a captured foreign king.

In the twelfth century, aristocrats believed love was incompatible with marriage and sought romance in adultery. Troubadors invented courtly love which involved secret but chaste trysts between a lover and a beloved.

In fourteenth-century Europe, ordinary people could no longer choose whom to marry. The lord of one Black Forest manor decreed in 1344 that all his unmarried tenants—including widows and widowers—marry spouses of his choosing. Elsewhere, peasants wishing to pick a partner had to pay a fee.

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. 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.

The average age of marriage in the late 1200s into the 1500s was around 25 years of age. Beginning in the 1500s it was unlawful for a woman younger than 20 years of age to marry.

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 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 Reformation, the role of recording marriages and setting the rules for marriage passed to the state. By the 1600s many of the Protestant European countries had a state involvement in marriage. As of 2000, the average marriage age range was 25–44 years for men and 22–39 years for women.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Codex Theodosianus" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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