The historical beginnings of weddings among prehistoric nomads has often been depicted as barbaric in various popular media productions, particularly the movies. Stone Age weddings have long been centred on the myth of cavemen bashing women over the head and dragging them off by their hair. Current research indicates that our very early ancestors were not as barbaric as their reputation would indicate.
Prehistoric tribes were nomadic and mostly banded together for protection from animal predators. Groups were better than individuals at finding water, hunting and protecting their territory from marauding rivals. Loyalty to the tribe was more important to their existence than individual alliances and group weddings are now believed to be the beginnings of the extravaganzas of today.
As ancient civilizations changed, nomadic tribes settled down and formed agricultural societies that spawned trading with their neighbouring societies.
Along with that change, the ancient Egyptians became the first civilization to recognize the idea of marriage as a legal entity. They also invented the engagement so the couples could get to know each other better and would be able to determine whether or not they would be compatible as a married couple.
The dowry and the marriage contract were also Egyptian inventions, along with a sumptuous feast and hours of singing and dancing during and after the actual wedding. When the newly married couple left the joyful festivities, the crowd threw fresh wheat into the air to symbolize their fertility.
While the Egyptians invented the engagement period, the ancient Romans were responsible for the giving of an engagement ring, who believed that a round ring signified eternity. Wedding rings were believed to create a strong marriage that would last forever. The ring or rings were worn on the ring finger of the left hand because the belief of the day was that a love vein stretched from that finger directly to the heart.
During medieval times marriages were arranged by families with an eye on the possible financial benefits of a "good" marriage. Love had very little or nothing to do with medieval marriages. Property rights and political alliances were the motivating factors behind the marriages between children of land owners. Those without property or wealth could usually marry as they pleased.
St. Paul is credited with changing marriage from a contractual agreement between families to a sacrament of his church. In 866, Pope Nicholas I issued a declaration that marriage was binding if the couple gave their consent and no further ceremonies were necessary.
Some historians believe that early Christians believed that marriage was a holy sacrament, but it didn't become official until the 12th century. Romance didn't enter the marriage process until 300 years later when the troubadours promoted it in verse and song.
In the late 1500s, the Council of Trent issued a decree that marriages had to be conducted by a priest and at least two witnesses. At that time marriage became a sacrament meant to save couples from sin and to further reproduction. Love wasn't part of marriage at this time either.
Today, marriage is the official bond between two people who love each other and are committed to the responsibilities of raising a family. If you look at the history presented above, you can still see the fragments of hundreds of years of ancient belief still active.