laura betzig makes a convincing argument that, especially for the elites — both secular and clerical (think popes and bishops) — marriage in medieval europe might have been monogamous, but mating wasn’t. not only were the elites not all that monogamous in their mating practices, many of them were also incestuous [pgs. 185-86]:

“In the same vein — and maybe richest of all accounts — is Lambert of Ardres’ ‘Historia comitum Ghisnensium,’ the early thirteenth-century pean to his benefactor, Count Baudouin. Marc Bloch calls Baudouin ‘hunter, toper, and great wencher’ (1961, p. 104), and Georges Duby has made a lot of the last. As he puts it: ‘Life in a noble household was a hotbed of sex’ (1983, p. 70). Or, as Lambert says: ‘”From the beginning of adolescence until his old age, his loins were stirred by the intemperance of an impatient libido…; very young girls, and especially virgins, aroused his desire”‘ (Duby 1978, p. 93). Roissy Baudouin and his kinsmen are said to have preferred pretty women; no matter how casually sexually encountered they are all described as ‘beautiful.’ And, evidently, fruitful: This count was buried with twenty-three bastards in attendance, besides ten living legitimate daughters and sons (p. 94).

“Even these might have been just the fruits of the family tree’s primary limbs. As Lambert notes, Baudouin by no means kept account of all his bastards. These were usually scattered far and wide. And, as Duby notes, noble men would just as soon have the ignoble women — the servants, slaves, and whores — who begot so many of them. The lovers noble men did remember may have included their vassals’ daughters, ‘but there is more evidence that they were the family’s bastard daughters, who formed a kind of pleasure reserve within the house itself’ (Duby 1978, p. 94). This kind of sex was, then, endogamous. Noble or half-noble women begat noble or half-nobel children, ad infinitum. ‘Illegitimacy was a normal part of the structure of ordinary society — so normal that illegitimate children, especially males, were neither concealed nor rejected’ (Duby 1983, p. 262). They always had the right, at least, to bed and board in their father’s house. ‘That house was always open to them’ (p. 263.) Bastards like these, the cream of the illegitimate crop, are most likely to have made up the twenty-three who watched when Baudouin was interred.”

so, not a big surprise, powerful men in the middle ages tried to maximize the number of offspring they had. and they even mated somewhat incestuously sometimes.

this made me wonder how different marriage or mating patterns affect relatedness within a society — apart from mating with relatives or not, that is. i mean: how does monogamy or polygamy affect the relatedness between the members of a society?

so, forget about cousin marriage and all that jazz for a second. here’s what strict monogamy looks like (think christian europe). (yes, i know there’s always a little hanky-panky — the milkman and mrs. jones, for instance — this is just schematic.):

first of all, triangles are men and circles are women. i colorized only the men ’cause it just got too confusing to colorize everybody. the women have been numbered instead. the point is that, here in strict monogamy land, there are six men and six women, none of whom are related, who marry/mate, and each pair has two kids. each pair of kids, then, (barring any hanky-panky) is related to their parents and each other, but not to anybody else in their society. each little nuclear-family is a discrete, “atomized” group. (this isn’t completely the case in a real population, of course. in every natural society, the members are related somehow, even if it’s distantly.)

in contrast, polygamy narrows the gene pool since one man can have several wives. thus there are several sets of half-brothers and half-sisters within polygamy land who are (obviously) all related to one another (think arab and many african countries). and some men fall out of the gene pool altogether. here mr. green marries contestants women numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6, while messrs. red, orange and yellow are out of luck:

so, with polygamy, the gene pool within a society narrows. in reality, what typically happens, at least in arab/muslim societies, is that the polygamy occurs frequently within the extended family, so that the gene pool narrows even more within the extended family. the other thing that often happens — particularly in arab countries — is that there is a lot of divorce, so in reality you have something like a serial monogamy, only it’s a serially polygamous society.

(whew! this is gettin’ complicated. *hbd chick wipes brow*)

finally, serial monogamy (think the amhara of ethiopia — or modern western society):

here in my schematic serial monogamy land, each of the men has married twice to two different women and has had one kid with each of them. so, each kid has one half-sibling via his father AND one half-sibling via his mother. so, the relatedness is not quite as narrow as in a polygamous society (every man does get to produce offspring) — but at the same time, there are more genetic connections between the members of the society than in a strict monogamy. (in reality, serial monogamy is often more like polygamy since many women vie for the chance to mate with the best men, while the whiskeys of the world are left out in the cold.)

in strict monogamy, in the second generation, each child shares (probably) 50% of their genes with their one and only sibling. in serial monogamy, each child shares (probably) 25% of their genes with two siblings. the connections look like this (plus the kids of mr. blue and mr. yellow at the ends are also related):

complicated, huh?

(btw — in polygamy, each child shares (probably) 50% of their genes with the sibling with whom they share a mother, and (probably) 25% of their genes with their half-siblings via their father.)

so, if we recall again that in a natural population the members of a society do, of course, share a lot of genes in common, then we can see that a strict monogamy would keep the genetic ties between non-family members “broad but shallow”; a population practising serial monogamy has somewhat narrower and deeper genetic ties between non-immediate family members, i.e. extended familiy ties within the society are stronger; and polygamy leads to narrow and deep genetic ties within the extended family, which becomes somewhat cut-off from the larger society. (this is even more so the case when you recall that cousin-marriage is common in polygamous societies.)

i think that the coporate and individualistic nature of western europeans (especially the english!) is connected to the (somewhat) strictly monogamous, non-cousin marriage mating patterns which have been around since the early medieval period in much of europe. these mating patterns set the stage for the selection of certain personality traits — individualism + clark’s traits — since western european families were mostly discrete and independent units making their own way in the world. these traits made western european man what he is today was yesterday.

the fact that europeans (including those of us in the u.s., australia, etc.) are now adopting serial monogamy must mean big changes are in store.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

(note: comments do not require an email. strictly monogamous.)

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