in “Kinship and marriage among the Visigoths“, giorgio ausenda tries to elucidate the … well … kinship and marriage patterns amongst the visigoths!
there’s not a lot of direct evidence to work from, so ausenda looks at the law codes from various germanic tribes (visigoths, lombards, alamanni, bavarians) from different time periods as well as at the gothic bible (kinship terms, etc.) for any indirect evidence.
he finds that the patrilineal side of the family was of primary importance in germanic tribes and that the father’s brothers were significant members of the germanic family. related to this, he finds some hints — but only indirect ones — that parallel cousin may have been a common form of marriage in germanic tribes early on, possibly even the preferred one. in any event, he does think that endogamous marriage was probably the norm in earlier periods, but then a shift occurred (due to pressure from the church and the state) towards more exogamous marriage practices.
below are some key passages from ausenda. first, here’s some info on the sources he used:
- Lex Visigothorum – ca. 480 (Code of Euric) / 654
- Pactus Alamannorum / Lex Alamannorum – ca. 620 / 730
- Lombardian laws – Edictum Rothari – 643 A.D.
- Lex Baiwariorum [Bavaria] – ca. 745
- Liutprand’s Law – King of the Lombards – 8th century
- Gothic Bible or Wulfila’s Bible – 6th-8th centuries
“We know from the laws that the paternal uncle was the most important next of kin after the father. In the Leges Alamannorum XL [early 7th century or 8th century] De patricidiis et fratricidiis, the patruus [paternal uncle] comes right after the father and before the brother. In Rothari’s [643 A.D.] edict the paternal uncle is called barbas or barbanus in its latinized form. The term is mentioned in Ro. 163 as referring to one of the closest relatives against whom someone might plot death. The closest relatives mentioned in that law, with the paternal uncles, were brothers and parallel cousins, i.e., the closest male agnates beyond the father….
“This is in tune with kinship relationships among social groups with patrilineal descent where, in general, the father’s brother is the most important kin next to the father.“
“One of the main characteristics of agro-pastoral populations to this day is their high degree of endogamy, i.e. marriage with close relatives within the lineage or corporate group. In fact the great majority of present-day agro-pastoralists are characterized by unilinear descent and in most cases the paternal line is the priviliged one. At the time of the invasion [of Rome], the Langobards [Lombards] had a patrilineal descent system. This is shown beyond reasonable doubt by the genealogies written in the prologues to their laws and in their histories. That they had a segmentary lineage system [e.g. clans & sub-clans] cannot be established beyond doubt, but is highly probable….
“As far as the Langobards [Lombards] are concerned, practically no direct clue is available in their laws as to whether they had preferential marriage and whether this was with a parallel cousin [e.g. fbd]. The adoption of Christianity must have caused considerable changes to occur with respect to pre-existing marriage customs about which practically nothing is known directly.”
“The early exsitence of preferential marriage among close kin can be inferred from later laws forbidding those marriages considered ‘illicit’ and ‘incestuous.’
“In Rothari’s edict [643 A.D.] the only prohibition, mentioned in Ro. 185, is against marriage with a (widowed) step-mother or (widowed) sister-in-law — for the widower — with a step-daughter; however, there is no specific law against close kin marriage, i.e. close cousins. Perhaps this is an indication that, until three generations after Langobardic [Lombardian] settlement in Italy, endogamous marriages were still practiced….
“A law among the Leges Alamannorum [early 7th century or 8th century] has almost the same wording [as a law in the Leges Baiwariorum] and the same penalty, but stresses also prohibition against parallel cousin marriage, ‘filii fratrum, filii sororum inter se nulla praesumptione iungantur.’
“In the later Leges Visigothorum Chindaswinth [642/643 A.D.] substituted the law of the previous Eurician code [c. 480] with a wider prohibition which excluded from marriage persons ‘from the father’s or mother’s descent, and from the grandfather or grandmother or the wife’s parents, also the father’s wife or widow or left by his relatives…thus no one shall be permitted to pollute in a libidinous way, or desire in marriage close blood [relations] until the sixth degree of descent.’ The law exempts those persons who, ‘with the order and consent of the princes, before the law [was enacted] should have adopted this [form of] marriage.’ Again more than a hint that close-kin marriages were practiced in the early days and gradually prohibited by increasingly strict laws.“
“Langobardic [Lombardian] laws concerning forbidden marriages also became stricter over time. Liutprand 33 [8th century] forbade marriage with the widow of a cousin, but no further prohibitions were reflected in the laws. We know, however, that more extended prohibitions were made compulsory by the Church….
“This shows that both Church and State were interested in forbidding close kin marriages. Their common concern becomes clear when one bears in mind the recognized difficulty the Church had, from the fourth century onwards, in expanding into the countryside….
“In conclusion, the strenuous effort [by the Church] to penetrate the countryside entailed a long-drawn battle against traditional religion, whose vehicle was the kin group, and substituting the authority of the elders of the kin group with that of a religious elder, the presbyteros. At the same time the king’s rule was undermined by revolts on the part of the most powerful kin groups, clans or sections, whose conspiracies and murders menaced the power of the state. Thus Church and State became allies in trying to do aways with the political power of extended kin groups utilizing all manners of impositions. One of the most effective among them was to destroy their cohesiveness by prohibition of close kin marriage.“
previously: whatever happened to european tribes?
update 06/29: see also more on inbreeding in germanic tribes
(note: comments do not require an email. or any geneaological skillz.)