europe used to have tribes, just like arab and african societies today, migrating hither and thither, fighting over territories and regularly going to war with one another.

there were german tribes

gallic tribes

iberian tribes

british tribes

irish tribes

… etc., etc.

but by the high middle ages, most of these were gone. what happened?

i got five words for ya: the holy roman catholic church (and, later, many protestant churches).

the church BANNED cousin marriage — and fiddled with a lot of other mating regulations like divorce and such. no more polygamy, either!

lookie here from avner greif (“Family structure, institutions, and growth – the origin and implications of Western corporatism”):

“The conquest of the Western Roman Empire by Germanic tribes during the medieval period probably strengthen the importance of kinship groups in Europe. Yet, the actions of the Church caused the nuclear family — constituting of husband and wife, children, and sometimes a handful of close relatives — to dominate Europe by the late medieval period.

“The medieval church instituted marriage laws and practices that undermined large kinship groups. From as early as the fourth century, it discouraged practices that enlarged the family, such as adoption, polygamy, concubinage, divorce, and remarriage. It severely prohibited marriages among individuals of the same blood (consanguineous marriages), which had constituted a means to create and maintain kinship groups throughout history. The church also curtailed parents’ abilities to retain kinship ties through arranged marriages by prohibiting unions in which the bride didn’t explicitly agree to the union.

“European family structures did not evolve monotonically toward the nuclear family nor was their evolution geographically and socially uniform. However, by the late medieval period the nuclear family was dominate. Even among the Germanic tribes, by the eighth century the term family denoted one’s immediate family, and shortly afterwards tribes were no longer institutionally relevant. Thirteenth-century English court rolls reflect that even cousins were as likely to be in the presence of non-kin as with each other.

“The practices the church advocated, such as monogamy, are still the norm in Europe. Consanguineous marriages in contemporary Europe account for less than one percent of the total number of marriages. In contrast, the percentage of such marriages in Muslim, Middle Eastern countries, where we also have particularly good data, is much higher – between twenty to fifty percent. Among the anthropologically defined 356 contemporary societies of Euro-Asia and Africa, there is a large and significant negative correlation between Christianization (for at least 500 years) and the absence of clans and lineages; the level of commercialization, class stratification, and state formation are insignificant.”

the leaders of the church probably instituted these reproductive reforms for their own gain — get rid of extended families and you reduce the number of family members likely to demand a share of someone’s legacy. in other words, the church might get the loot before some distant kin that the dead guy never met does. (same with not allowing widows to remarry. if a widow remarries, her new husband would inherit whatever wealth she had. h*ck. she might even have some kids with her new husband! but, leave her a widow and, if she has no children, it’s more likely she’ll leave more of her wealth to the church.)

but, inadvertently, they also seem to have laid the groundwork for the civilized western world. by banning cousin marriage, tribes disappeared. extended familial ties disappeared. all of the genetic bonds in european society were loosened. society became more “corporate” (which is greif’s main point).

from wikipedia:

“[T]he Catholic Church has gone through several phases in kinship prohibitions. At the dawn of Christianity in Roman times, marriages between first cousins were allowed. For example, Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, married his children to the children of his half-brother. First and second cousin marriages were then banned at the Council of Agde in AD 506, though dispensations sometimes continued to be granted. By the 11th century, with the adoption of the so-called canon-law method of computing consanguinity, these proscriptions had been extended even to sixth cousins, including by marriage. But due to the many resulting difficulties in reckoning who was related who, they were relaxed back to third cousins at the Fourth Lateran Council in AD 1215. Pope Benedict XV reduced this to second cousins in 1917, and finally, the current law was enacted in 1983. In Catholicism, close relatives who have married unwittingly without a dispensation can receive an annulment.”

imagine in the days before the bicycle or motor-car how awkward it would’ve been to have to travel several villages over to find someone beyond your sixth-cousin to marry! imagine how difficult it was to figure out who that might be! no wonder the genetic ties within western european society became so loose! (i dunno about eastern europe.)

and, note the time-frame greif mentioned: out-marrying “for at least 500 years.”

no WAY modern democracy is going to flourish in arab or african societies any time soon!

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

previously: cousin marriage conundrum addendum and we’re doomed

update 06/22: see also inbreeding amongst germanic tribes

update 06/29: see also more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

update 10/19: if you’re new to the blog, check out the recap post. for more on the biologically-based changes to european society in the middle ages (and since then), see the “Inbreeding in Europe” series down there (↓) in the left-hand column.

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