Marriage in the Ancient World In the Western world (and generally speaking) before imperial Rome, girls were deemed sufficiently mature for marriage and sex when they first started menstruation (and boys, by the way, when they developed pubic hair). By the end of the empire, the age of consent for girls had been well settled, as the “official” age of reaching puberty was set at 12. In fact, the lowest median age of first marriage since the early 1700s was had by the baby boom generation, where the age dropped to 20.5 years in 1950.
Although these marital circumstances may have existed for quite some time among early humans, there are a number of reasons why neither polygamy nor polyandry could have survived as universal or general practices.
For one thing, some societies practiced infanticide, killing primarily female infants, and creating a scarcity of women.
For another, among those tribes and nations who were constantly at war with each other, there would inevitably be a scarcity of men in proportion to the women.
Gratian was followed by others including Hostiensis (Henricus de Seguisio) who opined that a young woman’s physical development, not her age, should determine whether she was ready for marriage.
Recent scholarship indicates that although medieval marriages could occur at ages as young as 12, that might not have been the norm: While marriages at very young ages could and sometimes did take place, particularly for girls of high social status, it would be a mistake to see marriage below or around the age of puberty as the norm even for young noblewomen.
a large proportion of the sample married between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, [and] . This is consistent with data gathered in England, France and Germany that puts the average mean age of first marriage for women at 25.1 from 1750-1799 and 25.7 from 1800-1849.
showing that urban girls [in Yorkshire] tended to marry in their early to mid-twenties and rural girls . In fact, the average age of first marriage for all of the colonies studied was 19.8 before 1700, 21.2 during the early 18 century.
For example, in Massachusetts records dating from 1652 to 1800 demonstrate that the mean age of first marriage for ladies was between 19.5 and 22.5 years, and records for other colonies reflect similar ages.
Marriage in Early America A study performed by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) on marriage in North America and Western Europe mirrors the findings of the Yorkshire researchers; the NBER found that young women from the 17 centuries were not all that young when they got married.
Many anthropologists and social historians have expressed their views that early humans practiced polygamy (one man with several women in the marriage union) or polyandry (several men with one woman).
In either case, quite likely the women involved in the union probably had been captives before they were wives.