i’m going to figure out the english(/dutch) if it’s the last thing i do…. (~_^)

it’s been asked a few times around here: was there something special about the pre-christian germanics? something special that perhaps made them more open to the roman catholic church’s/kings’ & princes’ demands to outbreed (i.e. quit marrying their cousins — and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they were marrying their cousins before the arrival of christianity — see here and here and here)?

one possible thing i have come across (and there could of course be others) is that kinship was reckoned bilaterally in pre-christian germanic populations — in other words, down through both the father’s and mother’s side of the family. related to this (i think — ah! and wikipedia backs me up on this) is that the form that “clannishness” took in germanic society was that of kindreds rather than actual clans (like you found in places like scotland or even today in parts of the balkans). as we saw in this previous post, a kindred is a set of relatives based around a core individual — so your kindred might include your parents, your siblings and their kids, your uncles and aunts on both sides and their kids (i.e. your cousins), your second cousins, all of your cousins’ kids, and so on (however far out your particular society happens to reckon kindreds). this is different from a clan which is based upon a specific ancestor in the past. a clan can continue to live on when any individual member dies, while a kindred is more ephemeral — when an individual dies, his kindred sorta … dissipates. as we’ve seen, anglo-saxon society was based around kindreds; so, too, were all of the germanic groups in pre-christian (and post-christian for differing lengths of time as we’ll see below) europe. these kindreds were called sippe.

now, i have been searching and searching … and searching! (even in german) … for more info on germanic kindreds. all i ever find are general statements by historians that the medieval germanic groups were based upon the sippe/kindred, blah, blah, blah, but no specifics on when or how this changed — germanic populations are not centered around the sippe today — or if there were any differences between the different germanic groups when it came to kindreds. pretty much of all the historians i have read generally refer back to just a handful of sources which usually include lorraine lancaster’s work on anglo-saxon kinship from 1958 (which i covered in these two posts here and here) and dame bertha phillpotts’ work on kindreds and clans which was published in 1913. in 2010, cambridge university press republished phillpotts’ classic, Kindred and Clan in the Middle Ages and After: A Study in the Sociology of the Teutonic Races, so — taken along with the fact that this is one of the sources everyone refers back to — i’m going to assume that phillpotts is the definitive work on germanic kindreds (unless someone out there can direct me to another source!).

so, i’ve been reading phillpotts.

dame phillpotts looked at the laws and wills and literature from seven medieval germanic societies — iceland, norway, sweden, denmark, north germany & holland, belgium & northern france, and england — to find out what role the kindreds played in these societies (especially wrt wergild payments/feuds) and when the kindreds faded out. i’ll probably talk about the former in some later post(s), but let’s see now what she had to say about the latter: what was the timing of when the importance of kindreds disappeared in each of these populations [pgs. 245-46]?:

“In Denmark, signs of the partial survival of the kindred are not wanting even at the dawn of the 17th century, in spite of the hostility of powerful kings (from 1200 onwards), and of the Protestant Church. In Schleswig the old customs defy legislation levelled at them by king, duke or *Landtag* for another century still. In Holstein, though it is probably that the participation of the kindreds in wergild disappeared sooner than in Schleswig, they yet left their mark on other institutions, and certain of their functions continue to be exercised until near the end of the 18th, and indeed even into the 19th century. This is especially, but not solely, true of Ditmarschen, within whose territory alone we find the fixed agnatic kindred which can be loosely termed clan. In Friesland the kindreds survive throughout the 15th century. In Hadeln and Bremen, and in the neighbourhood of Hamburg, they seem to have held out against adverse legislation until about the same date.

“In the more northerly parts of Central Germany we find occasional traces of their existence throughout the earlier Middle Ages. In southern Teutonic lands the last trace of a real solidarity so far discovered dates from the 13th century. In Holland and Belgium the kindreds remain active throughout the 15th century, and indeed into the 16th, and hardly less long in Picardy. In Neustria, too, there are traces of organized feuds and treaties between kindreds until far into the 14th century, and so also in Champagne. Normandy, on the other hand, yields no evidence. In England the activity of the kindreds seems reduced to a minimum already in the 7th and 8th centuries, when we first catch a glimpse of Anglo-Saxon institutions…. In Iceland we have seen good reason to believe that the solidarity of the kindred was a thing of the past by the time the emigrants landed on the shores of the new country. In Norway we have caught a glimpse of a gradual disintegration of the kindred, beginning perhaps as early as the 9th, and consummated by the end of the 13th century. In Sweden, on the other hand, everything points to the survival of kinship-solidarity throughout the 14th century [footnote: except in Gotland], and possibly for very much longer.”

i’ve mapped phillpotts’ outline indicating which century saw the end of kindreds in any given area. the purple square in northern germany is dithmarschen, which looks to be the medieval epicenter of the germanic kindred — it’s the place where, according to phillpotts, the kindred was the strongest — was really a patrilineal clan, in fact (kinda like in scotland — click on map for LARGER version):

kindreds map 02

phillpotts’ theory for why the kindred was so weak so early on in england, and not really present at all in iceland or normandy, was that this was due to the fact that these populations had migrated by sea to new lands. this could make sense. in migrating by sea in the early medieval period, you might not load up scores of boats and move with all of your extended kindred. you might just load up a couple of boats with you and your immediate family and maybe your brother and his immediate family. then, when you arrive in your new world, you don’t have a very extended kindred, so the kindred is not very important in your society (england, iceland, normandy).

so what about those ditmarsians, eh? they’re kinda cool! they are right around the corner from the frisians who were also pretty clan-like, especially with lots of feuding. what they had in common, of course, was that the two groups resided in marshy areas which could not be manorialized (er, well, there was no point to manorialize those regions since you couldn’t really conduct agriculture there — not with medieval technology anyway). about the ditmarsians [pgs. 199-200]:

“The marshes of Friesland (in the Netherlands), as well as the northeastern corner of Germany and southern Denmark, formed another region of peasant liberty against seigneurial power. As already noted, in 1240 Bartholomaeus Anglicus remarked on the exceptional freedom of the inhabitants of Frisia, who appeared to live without lords. Just east of Frisia and slightly north along the North Sea coast, at Stedingen, peasants revolted against the archibishop of Bremen and the count of Oldenburg beginning in 1200. They refused to pay oppressive dues (tributa) and, according to the ‘Rasted Chronicle,’ sought to defend their ‘liberty’ against all claims of lordship. They were eventually subjugated but only with great difficulty. It required the proclamation of a crusade against these ‘heretics’ by Gregory IX to bring an end to their decades of successful resistance. The Stedingen peasants were decisively defeated at the Battle of Altenesch in 1234.

“Among the indirect beneficiaries of this war was a federation of independent peasant communities in another small marshy territory, Dithmarschen in Holstein. Lying slightly north of Stedingen, Dithmarschen was protected by the Danes against the ambitions of the counts of Holstein and others who had expanded in the wake of the Wendish Crusade of 1147. The Dithmarschen peasants abandoned the alliance with the Danes and so profited from the military setback suffered by Denmark’s King Waldemar in 1227 at the hands of the city of Lubeck, the counts of Holstein and Schwerin, and the archbishop of Bremen. Their autonomy under the lordship of the archbishop of Bremen was acknowledged in the aftermath of the Danish War. Dithmarschen supported the crusade against the Stedinger and found its nominal subordination to the archbisops convenient during the thirteenth century. The power of family clans grew at the expense of the lesser nobility, and the Dithmarschen peasants formed capable military forces that could defeat mounted knights on the swampy terrain of their homeland.

The extended families of Dithmarschen established a confederation that would be defended against the claims of the counts of Schleswig and Holstein beginning in the early fourteenth century and the kings of Denmark in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In 1559 the Danes at last successfully invaded Dithmarschen, defeating the peasants and massacring the inhabitants of the capital, Meldorp, whereupon Dithmarschen was annexed to Denmark.

“Dithmarschen was, therefore, a free peasant community from the late thirteenth century until 1559, aware of itself as an anomaly and with a strong political cohesion born of military necessity. Dithmarschen litigated, signed treaties, and concluded agreements with Denmark, Holstein, and other neighboring powers. It also successfully defended itself in battle.”

three cheers for the ditmarsians! (^_^)

so it seems as though the germanics had a comparatively “weak” kinship system before they ever encountered christianity. one historian, giorgio ausenda, has suggested that the pre-christian germanics practiced father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage like the arabs today. i think this must be completely wrong. with fbd marriage you get strong, patrilineal (unilineal) clans/tribes, not kindreds based on bilateral descent. the germanics probably married maternal cousins of some sort, and maybe even relatively infrequently compared to a population like, say, the chinese. dunno. impossible to say at this point in time (who knows in the future, though … with thousands of samples of skeletal remains from the medieval and earlier periods in europe and elsewhere genetically analyzed for relatedness … an hbd chick can dream, can’t she?).

it may not have taken that much, then, either to persuade the germanics to adopt the cousin marriage bans and/or for the practice to really loosen the genetic ties in those societies. they might have been comparatively loose already. except in places like dithmarschen and that whole area of northern germany/southern denmark. what i, of course, want to know then is did those populations continue to marry cousins for longer than those where kindreds disappeared sooner? i shall endeavor to find out!

(p.s. – i totally have to get this book!)

previously: kinship in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society ii

(note: comments do not require an email. endeavour.)

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