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The History of Marriage


There have been many different things written and said about marriage from the sweetly inspirational to the hilariously cynical. But what many of them have in common is that they sound like they express a universal and timeless truth when, in fact, nearly everything about marriage, from its main purpose to the kinds of relationships it covers, to the rights and responsibilities involved, has varied greatly between different eras, cultures, and social classes.

有许多有关婚姻记载或口述下来的不同事物,从甜蜜鼓舞人心的、到幽默挖苦的都有。但它们其中许多共通的事,是它们听起来都像它们传达了一个众所周知 且不朽的真理,当实际上,几乎关于婚姻的一切,从它的主要目的到它涵盖的各种婚姻关系、到其中牵涉的权力和责任,都已在不同世代、文化、及社会阶级之间产 生了巨大的变化。

So, let's take a quick look at the evolution of marriage.


Pair bonding and raising children is as old as humanity itself. With the rise of sedentary agricultural societies about 10,000 years ago, marriage was also a way of securing rights to land and property by designating children born under certain circumstances as rightful heirs.


As these societies became larger and more complex, marriage became not just a matter between individuals and families, but also an official institution governed by religious and civil authorities. And it was already well-established by 2100 B.C. when the earliest surviving written laws in the Mesopotamian Code of Ur-Nammu provided many specifics governing marriage from punishments for adultery to the legal status of children born to slaves.

当这些社会变得更大且更复杂时,婚姻变得不只是个人和家庭间的事务,也是由宗教和民政当局所管理的一种法定制度。其在西元前两千一百年就已经确立, 当时在美索不达米亚的乌尔纳姆法典中留存最早的书面法律条文提供了许多管理婚姻的细节,从通奸的惩罚、到生为奴隶的孩子其法律定位。

Many ancient civilizations allowed some form of multiple simultaneous marriage. And even today, less than a quarter of the world's hundreds of different cultures prohibit it. But just because something was allowed doesn't mean it was always possible.


Demographic realities as well as the link between marriage and wealth meant that even though rulers and elites in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Israel had multiple concubines or wives, most commoners could only afford one or two, tending towards monogamy in practice. In other places, the tables were turned, and a woman could have multiple husbands as in the Himalayan Mountains, where all brothers in a family marrying the same woman kept the small amount of fertile land from being constantly divided into new households.

人口统计的现实以及婚姻和财富之间的连结,代表了即使古美索不达米亚、埃及、和以色列的统治者和精英们有多位妻妾,大部分平民还是只能负担一或两 位,实际上趋向一夫一妻制。在其他地方,情况扭转了,像在喜玛拉雅山脉的女人可以拥有多位丈夫,在那儿家中所有兄弟娶同一位女子,避免少量的肥沃土地被持 续分给新的家户。

Marriages could vary not only in the number of people they involved but the types of people as well. Although the names and laws for such arrangements may have differed, publicly recognized same-sex unions have popped up in various civilizations throughout history. Mesopotamian prayers included blessings for such couples, while Native American Two-Spirit individuals had relationships with both sexes.


The first instances of such arrangements actually being called "Marriage" come from Rome, where the Emperors Nero and Elagabalus both married men in public ceremonies with the practice being explicitly banned in 342 A.D. But similar traditions survived well into the Christian era, such as Adelphopoiesis, or "brother-making" in Orthodox churches, and even an actual marriage between two men recorded in 1061 at a small chapel in Spain.

这样的安排确实被称作“婚姻”的第一个例子来自于罗马,在那儿尼禄和埃拉伽巴路斯皇帝两个都在公开的典礼上,以在西元342年时被明确禁止的习俗迎 娶男性。但相似的传统进入公元也存活得很好,像是Adelphopoiesis(希腊文)、或是东正教中的“拜结兄弟”、甚至还有在1061年于西班牙一 间小教堂记载的两位男性的真实婚姻。

Nor was marriage even necessarily between two living people. Ghost marriages, where either the bride or groom were deceased, were conducted in China to continue family lineages or appease restless spirits. And some tribes in Sudan maintain similar practices.


Despite all these differences, a lot of marriages throughout history did have one thing in common. With crucial matters like property and reproduction at stake, they were way too important to depend on young love. Especially among the upper classes, matches were often made by families or rulers. But even for commoners, who had some degree of choice, the main concern was practicality.

不论所有这些不同之处,纵观历史许多婚姻的确有一件共通的事。有像是财产还有传宗接代危机的重要问题,婚姻太过重要了,以致于无法只倚赖不成熟的爱 情。特别是在上流阶层中,婚姻通常是由家族或统治者配对的。但即使对平民来说--他们拥有某种程度的选择--主要的担忧还是现实。

The modern idea of marriage as being mainly about love and companionship only emerged in the last couple of centuries. With industrialization, urbanization, and the growth of the middle class, more people became independent from large extended families and were able to support a new household on their own. Encouraged by new ideas from the Enlightenment, people began to focus on individual happiness and pursuits, rather than familial duty or wealth and status, at least some of the time.

对于婚姻主要关乎于爱情和陪伴的现代概念,仅仅在过去几个世纪中浮现。随着工业化、都市化、还有中产阶级的发展,越来越多人从大家庭中独立,并能够 自行供养一个新的家庭。受到启蒙时代全新思想的鼓励,人们开始着重在个人的幸福和追求,而不是家庭责任或是财富和地位,至少在某些时候是这样。

And this focus on individual happiness soon led to other transformations, such as easing restrictions on divorce and more people marrying at a later age. So, as we continue to debate the role and definition of marriage in the modern world, it might help to keep in mind that marriage has always been shaped by society, and as a society's structure, values and goals change over time, its ideas of marriage will continue to change along with them.

而这种对于个人幸福的重视很快的导致其他转变,像是放宽离婚的限制,还有越来越多人晚婚。所以,当我们持续在现代世界争论婚姻的角色和定义,记住婚 姻一直以来都是由社会所形塑的可能会有所帮助,而当社会的结构、价值观、和目标随着时间改变,婚姻的概念也将会持续跟着它们改变。

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