Dating might be hard. An hours-long swiping on Tinder really can tire your finger. After that, you must choose what to wear, what to say, how often it is okay to text, and make sure that your heart doesn’t get broken. From the bright side, we are at the point of Dating History when everything is easy.

In most parts of the world, we can choose what to date. Our parents don’t arrange our marriage, we don’t get auctioned and we don’t have to worry about marrying our cousin. As a matter of fact, these were major business back then. Keep reading Dating History to find out how the love life looked thousands of years ago.

In the prehistory of mankind, the biggest challenge was to find a partner who is not your cousin.

Most likely, at the beginning of humanity, love was as simple as possible. Life in the society of Stone Age hunters, fishermen and collectors was largely a struggle for survival. You don’t have time to write a poem about love if Saber-toothed tiger tries to eat your family. There was always a high risk of dying from an attack by a predator or an enemy, illness, or starvation. That’s why dating traditions, if any, were probably based on strict principles.

Dating history
Photo: Stock Photo © kseniaksenia2

There is no surviving evidence that the union of women and men could be made by the seduction tricks which were used in later times –  giving the intended an impressive painting on caves, talking about the feelings, or singing a song about love by the campfire.  Skilled hunters, male or female, were more likely to attract the opposite sex. There are also indications that diplomatic skills were needed to draw attention to yourself.

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The biggest challenge for small societies, which usually included no more than 25 people, was to find a partner who would not be your brother, sister, or cousin. DNA studies of skeletons from 34,000-year-old cemeteries in Russia revealed, contrary to expectations, that inbreeding was still rare. So most likely small settlements worked together to change partners and avoid inbreeding.

In Mesopotamia, couples didn’t meet each other before marriage.

More than 4,300 years ago, in ancient Mesopotamia, one of the guarantees of stability in society was marriage. It ensured the continuation of the family and social order. Thus, marriage in this ancient civilization was a mandatory obligation. Exactly in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), scientists have discovered the oldest written evidence of love and marriage ties. 

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In a medical handbook from the 7th-century BC is written: If a patient laughs for no reason, and loses his appetite, these symptoms are caused by unhappy love and can affect both men and women. However, the preserved historical sources do not show that there were many opportunities for romantic love in Mesopotamia. Most often, the couple simply did not meet each other before marriage. Usually, parents took care of any kind of flirtation and the creation of a good union. They negotiated the dowry and other financial terms.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, during his lifetime in the 5th century BC, there was another habit in the many cities of Mesopotamia. Each year, unmarried women sat in a row in the city’s central square and were auctioned: they called one after the other, and the men bid for their price. “The father could not give his daughter to whomever he wished, but the bidder had to have witnesses confirming that he could safely marry his chosen one,” says Herodotus.

dating history
Marriage market in Mesopotamia

In Sparta, naked women sing and dance in front of boys to encourage marriage.

Around the 7th century BC The mythological Spartan legislator, Lycurgus, came up with a set of laws. They regulated all areas of life, including private life: common Spartan meals, marriage, raising children, clothing, and so on. The Lycurgus was convinced that this would give birth to healthy boys in the families for a strong national army. Among other things, the king’s laws said that women should not paint or otherwise highlight their beauty. On the other hand, they were free to live in the company of men and were famous for their fighting abilities as well as their sharp tongue.

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Strict rules made flirting a little harder, but Lycurgus had created a system for it too. According to the Greek philosopher Plutarch, on religious holidays the ruler made well-trained women sing and dance naked in front of boys. “This tradition encouraged marriage,” writes Plutarch. Older unmarried men have been strictly forbidden to watch naked performances – they had already missed their opportunity, writes the philosopher. In society, bachelors were often viewed with contempt because they had not created children for the state.

The Roman Empire had a love handbook.

Although the Romans were conservative, in Ancient Rome dating was very popular – at least in secret. Around 20 years BC, the Roman poet Ovid published a humorous love handbook. The poet claimed that the amphitheaters where gladiatorial fights take place and the chariot race arenas are the best places to flirt because the gallant could sit next to the chosen one and show their interest. “If she gets dust on her knees, clean them with your fingers. If there’s nothing there, clean anyway – don’t miss the opportunity to serve her,” the poet told to the young men.

dating history
Seduction in Roman Empire. Photo:

Another good technique was to tell glamorously about those who fought that day and hope that the chosen one would not notice falsehood in the story. It was equally important that the groom did not have blackness under his nails, hair in his nose and that he did not smell like a sheep shepherd. Finally, the man had to remember to flatter the woman — and never ask her age, Ovid suggested. For women, the handbook recommended that they appear more in society, because ‘the unknown cannot be coveted’. It was a good idea to try both young and old lovers.

In biblical times men had to work for the bride’s family for several years.

In ancient Jewish life in Biblical times, the path to a woman’s heart led through her father. He accepted the husband only if he left a good impression. This was also known to young Jacob when he fell in love with the beautiful Rachel in the Old Testament book of Moses. So Jacob offered to work for her father, Laban, for seven years, if he would then give his consent to her daughter’s marriage.

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In recent times, similar arrangements existed in Bhutan, where men had to work for three years for the bride’s family. However, Jacob’s case did not end happily for the first time. At the end of seven years, that Laban made a feast and gave Jacob his elder daughter Leah. The shocked fiancé called the daughter’s father a cheater, but he replied, “We don’t give out the youngest before the oldest.” Jacob had to work for another seven years before he finally got his great love for the second wife.

Vikings were famous for their ability to attract women because they washed every week.

For the ancient Scandinavians, between the 8th – 11th centuries, marriage was a practical measure that should ensure the well-being and status of the family. The Nordics, whose highest value was an honor and battle fame, saw the romance as something suspicious that deprived men of common sense. For example, those that tried to enchant women with poems risked being expelled because personal love poetry was seen as an insult to the woman’s honor.


Although in ancient Scandinavian society marriage was always a mutual agreement between families. A young man had the opportunity to show his interest in an unmarried woman. The conversations took place through the father of the bride. However, he often asked her daughter if she would accept the partner. If the marriage failed, the couple divorced.

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dating history
Viking love.

The young people did not go on dates in their modern sense but took every opportunity to flirt. One of the meeting opportunities was in the popular assembly, where the Scandinavians discussed and resolved disputes. Many fathers took their daughters there to give the young people an idea of each other.

The Anglo-Saxon chronicles say that the Vikings were famous not only for their brutality but also for their ability to attract women. They brushed their hair every day, washed every week, and changed their clothes often. “Thus, they threatened the virtues of married women and persuaded even the daughters of nobles to become their favorites,” a chronicler wrote angrily.

In the developed Middle Ages famous knights’ competed in life-threatening tournaments to gain the favor of a noble lady.

The glorification of love became popular in the medieval flowering times when in the 12th-13th centuries troubadour culture flourished in southern France. Poet-singers ignited women’s hearts with romantic verses. Melodies were composed for the troubadour poems, and they became songs.

In the 12th century, the poet Chretien de Troy wrote several poems about the fabulous hero King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, which led the European aristocracy to the scourge of love. Following the example of the knight Sir Lancelot, who fell in love with Arthur’s wife Guinevere, the knights enjoyed seducing beauties.

In order to stand out the groom had to be not only a heroic warrior but also a musician and a poet. Famous knights’ tournaments became a big battlefield, where men competed in life-threatening games to gain the favor of a noble lady.

In Europe, the love language of hand-fan was born.

dating history
The fashion of Hand fans in Europe. Photo:

In the 17th and 18th centuries, hand fan was an important part of the costume of a noble lady. Even a special love language of fan emerged. Depending on how the woman moved this accessory, she could show interest or indifference. The fans were useful for public meetings with a large number of people, as they did not always provide an opportunity to talk. It could also be used in cases where a woman discreetly wanted to attract a man’s interest. Fan language was popular with both sexes, easy to translate, and men did not have to lose their dignity in public in the event of rejection.

Fan language

  • The fan lies on the right cheek: yes.
  • Left cheek: no.
  • Slow ventilation: I am married.
  • Half-closed fan: you can kiss me.
  • A closed fan at the right eye: where can we meet?
  • Draw a fan over your eyes: I’m sorry.
  • A fan close to the heart: I love you.

In Britain, couples could hold each other’s hands only after the engagement.

dating history
A Victorian lady’s dance card

In Queen Victoria’s 19th century (1837-1901), when Britain became fascinated with etiquette, dating was an art. Both women and men had to constantly follow their behavior to stay on the narrow path of fellowship. Many met at parties where men had to write their name on a woman’s dance card under the watchful eye of her mother in order to dance a dance with the intended lady.

Further contacts began with the gallant leaving his business card at his chosen home. If the woman was not interested, she sent the business card back. Otherwise, the lady sent her mother’s business card.

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The man was then allowed to visit his mother. If he was lucky, there was also the chosen young woman. There were strict labeling rules. 7.30 pm was considered a suitable time to visit, and the gallant was allowed to stay, at most, for an hour and talk politely, mainly with the mother. If the family liked him, the man was invited for tea and outings. However, the groom was allowed to express his feelings for the chosen ones on Valentine’s Day card. Only after the engagement, the couple could hold each other’s hands and exchange light kisses.

From 1692 newspapers began to print dating ads.

Only a few decades after the first printed newspapers began to appear, a new dating concept emerged – dating ad. The first known such advertisement was printed by the British newspaper “The Athenian Mercury” in 1692, but a dating and employment agency was opened in London as early as 1650. Dating ads were perfect for lonely townspeople and remote villagers.

In the 19th century, the number of dating advertisements increased rapidly, and several newspapers even specialized in this direction. After another boom in the 1960s, media began to replace newspapers and magazines as matchmakers. In 1971, engineer John Peterson created the first computer dating system, Dateline. It paired candidates by looking at the questionnaires they submitted.

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