Marriage and European Views Fertility
Puberty And Marriage
Historical demographers have provided further evidence that the early modern, northwestern European practice of deferred marriage among women was not common in earlier periods among Mediterranean populations in which few girls seem to have delayed marriage much beyond puberty. In ancient Mesopotamia, for example, teenaged girls were married to adult men in their thirties as was the case among the Jews whose intimate lives have been chronicled in the remnants of the Cairo genizah. One gains some appreciation of the rabbinical injunction to early marriage for women from the following extract from the Mesopotamian Talmud: "Concerning the man who loves his wife as himself, who honors her more than himself, who guides his sons and daughters in the right path, and arranges for them to be married around the period of puberty, of him it is written: Thou shalt know that thy tent is at peace."
Among the Romans—or at least the elite—there was a pronounced inequality in spousal marriage ages. Girls who had just reached menarche were frequently married to men in their mid-twenties. Similar findings—based on Inquisition registers, Renaissance taxation records, marriage contracts from the Toulouse area, and fourteenth-century Macedonian documents—have all described a situation in which teenaged girls were married to men ten years their senior. Early ages at first marriage for women continued to be a characteristic of eastern Europe and many parts of the Mediterranean basin as late as 1900.
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