The oldest written reference to the institution of marriage comes from Hammurabi’s Code of Ancient Mesopotamia (broadly covering modern day Iraq), and where the first permanent cities were established. This takes us back to around 1800 B.C., almost 4,000 years ago, however the custom of marriage certainly pre-dates even this.
Marriage came to Europe via the Ancient Greeks, but there were no set rules or procedures to be followed to create a lawful union. All that was required was mutual consent of bride and groom and that both acknowledged each other as their respective spouse. It is from the Spartans (of the 300 fame) who started the European tradition for men to marry in their 30?s and women as early as possible. The logic was that the men would have completed (and survived) military service (and this was a time when living to your 40?s was considered to be old age), while for women, if you wanted a virgin when you married it was considered best to marry a woman as young as possible.
More importantly, the Ancient Greeks also set the very clear pattern of marrying for position, wealth and power. The idea you married because you loved someone was irrelevant sentimentality or feelings did not come into what was a commercial transaction between families looking to advance or protect their own positions. Upon becoming a wife, a Greek woman lost practicality all of her rights which has taken over 2,000 years to reverse (and is still continuing in most parts of the world today).
The neighboring Romans adopted the custom from the Greeks, though they added a further layer of legality and ceremony to the concept. There were several different forms of marriage in the Roman Empire and which version was used depended on whether the woman was to join her husband’s family or remain associated with her own. A free marriage allowed the wife to own her own property and retain her own family’s name, but more importantly, she (and her original family) kept any property she owned or inherited within her own family. It was more traditional for a woman to be simply transferred to her husband and his family; the wife lost her right to inherit property from her old family and found herself under the total authority of her husband and his family.