For thousands of years, the institution of marriage has been in a constant state of evolution. The established form of marriage recognized in each country, religious or social group at any given time is often colored with slight, but interesting variations. One can easily imagine scholars and historians at times throwing up their hands in frustration when people refer to ‘traditional marriage’ as there are far too many traditions, cultures, and time periods to consider. Marriage contracts and ceremonies were first documented in Mesopotamia in approximately 2350 BC, and the Bible tells that King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Families whose bloodline is important to power or inheritance would often regard marriage as a more political, non-romantic formality in which a potential spouse is considered not only for their virtue and appearance, but also for their wealth and power. These are referred to as dynastic marriages where a careful selection of a spouse is required to sustain a family’s royal status. Consideration would include the size of the land governed or controlled by the family as well as the stability of control over that territory, for when there is territorial instability within royal realms, other royals are less likely to marry into that family as it would weaken their own position. Another factor to consider is the royal families’ political alliances. A marriage could secure an alliance between two dynasties that sought to reduce their perception of threat from other dynasties. This could also improve a dynasty’s chances of acquiring territory by obtaining legal claim to a foreign throne, or portions of its realm, through inheritance from an heiress if a monarch had no male heir.
The Legendary Peace-Making Marriage Of Helen Of Sparta
The contest for the hand and subsequent marriage of Helen, princess of ancient Sparta in Greece, may be one of the most well-known tales in mythology, which tells of the necessity of surrendering a female member of a ruling family to gain peace or shore up alliances between city-states ruled by oligarchies or acknowledged royalty. When Helen of Sparta reached marriageable age, kings and princes came to court her, as she was renowned for her beauty. Some sent emissaries with extravagant gifts for Helen and her family, and others personally delivered these gifts. Menelaus, who later won Helen’s hand in marriage, did not attend, but was represented by his brother King Agamemnon of Mycenae.
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Top Image : Wang Zhaojun – O Shokun by Hishida Shunso (1902) ( Public Domain )
By: Martini Fisher