eh — i don’t think so.
giorgio ausenda in “Kinship and marriage among the Visigoths” and “The segmentary lineage in contemporary anthropology and among the Langobards” thinks yes, although he admits that there’s not much evidence either way. i already posted about the first article here; now here’s my summary of the second one:
ausenda examines the types of marriage, lineage and kinship systems in pastoralist societies that have been studied in modern times in order to infer what these structures may have been like in germanic tribes, since the germanics were also pastoralists. he discusses the father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage system that’s found in the arab world, but he also points out that some pastoralists practice mother’s brother’s daughter (mbd) marriage [pg. 23-4]:
“Endogamous pastoralist populations are those belonging to the ‘Arab sphere’. These populations are considered endogamous because of their preference for patrilateral first cousin marriage, i.e. FBD marriage which, in fact, occurs with a very high frequency.
“Anthropologists explain such alliances in terms of the necessity of maintaining a close cooperation between an individual and his father and brothers for the benefit of the joint property, their livestock, and to further lineage stability.
“Many authors stress the considerable importance that sons have for the furtherance of the household’s pastoral economy. The endogamous practice stems from the fact that ‘the lineage group aims, primarily, at keeping a young woman to betroth her to one of its own young men’. The priority of a close kinsman’s claim to a girl is so stringent that among most populations marriage requests must be approved by close kin to make sure that no closer relative with a claim to the girl may come forward later….
“Outside and bordering with the above areas some populations are exogamous, e.g. Central Asian nomads, the Toubou of Chad, Somali nomadic populations. While the features of Middle Eastern and North African endogamy have been carefully studied, the exogamy of other populations has not received a satisfactory explanation. In these cases the prevelant type of marriage is with MBD, i.e. with women belonging to the Mother’s clan, different from the agnatic one. Spencer pointed to this lack of explanation and ventured that the search for a mate outside one’s own group may be due not only to demographic reasons, i.e. lace of a suitable bride in one’s own clan, but also:
“‘…for more positive considerations, such as the need to maintain reliable relationships with other groups in ecologically strategic places, both nomadic and settled.’”
again, ausenda concludes that the pre-christian germanic tribes practiced fbd marriage, but i can’t see that he offered any good reason for his conclusion.
there are a few points that weigh in favor of mbd marriage, in my opinion:
1) that, according to tacitus, there was a strong, almost sacred, bond in early germanic society “between a mother’s son and a mother’s brother” [pg. 10]. mother’s brother? mother’s brother’s daughter marriage? it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to imagine that mbd marriage was pretty common when there was such a strong relationship between a man and his maternal uncle.
2) tacitus also noted [pg. 10]: “‘The larger a man’s kin and the greater number of his relations by marriage, the stronger is his influence when he is old.’” well that sounds like what spencer, quoted by ausenda above, said about mbd marriage and building alliances with outside clans. i talked about this in another post, too — marriages with maternal cousins offer greater alliance building opportunities than marriage with paternal cousins. paternal cousin marriages (fbd and fzd) keep everything and everybody in the same patrilineage. if you want lots o’ alliances and lots o’ extended family members, maternal cousin marriage is the way to go.
the next two points have to do with the status of women in fbd versus other societies. in fbd marriage societies, women have quite a low status — not just your usual secondary status to men (like in most traditional societies) — but really kinda freakishly low. think burqas and honor killings and not being allowed to drive in saudi arabia (altho maybe that’s a good thing!). so:
3) from wiki-p: “The weregild or recompense due for the killing or injuring of a woman is notably set at twice that of a man of the same rank in Alemannic law.” this is exactly the opposite of fbd marriage societies today — in saudia arabia and iran, for instance, the diyya (weregild) for a muslim woman is half that of a muslim man.
4) in all (i think) contemporary fbd socieites, women are required to follow purdah to some extent or another. head covering for women in northern europe, on the other hand, seems to have been introduced by the church. it does not appear to have been a pre-christian practice.
women obviously had a secondary status to men in pre-christian germanic society, but i don’t think they were shut away and were treated so much like “possessions” as women in most fbd societies are.
i’m goin’ with mbd marriage for pre-christian germanic tribes.
why on earth do i care? i dunno. i just got kinda stuck on the topic (in an aspergian sort-of way). i promise i’ll move on to some other groups/topics now! (^_^)
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