Is domestic violence something that has just become noticed?

Not at all. Domestic violence, particularly wife beating, is not new at all.

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), who was executed when he failed to support Henry VIII’s efforts to divorce his wife, held views about woman way ahead of his time. More taught his wife Margaret to read and write, but when she learned slowly, her father suggested that he beat her as a way of encouraging her to learn! Sir Thomas declined.

The phrase rule of thumb comes from Judge William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in 1799. The rule of thumb established that a man could use any instrument to beat his wife "as long as it was no thicker than his thumb." Until the 1820s, American courts upheld this rule. The thumb rule could be considered an improvement since it set limits on what had been left to a husband’s discretion -- the size of the rod to beat his wife.

Probably in the Western world, the cultural antecedent relegating women to a submission may come from Genesis, where God said that a man shall "rule over" a woman, but that her "desire shall be for [her] husband."

Until comparatively recently in human history, wife beating was socially accepted as a privilege of the husband. In this regime of thinking, the wife was the husband’s property.