inbreeding amongst germanic tribes

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

pg. 142:

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.

pg. 143-44:

“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.”

pg. 145:

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.

pg. 147-48:

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.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

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.)

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11 Comments

  1. If the inbreeding had been substantial, then precipitous or semi-precipitous onset of outbreeding might well produce a small increase in IQ, handsomeness, etc. I wonder if such an effect might produce a mild efflorescence in culture and life, that might have helped drive the wave of christianization (or other detribalization waves elsewhere in history, if there are any). This could be both because the efflorescing groups attain military-economic power and take direct action to convert others, and/or also because other groups see and desire the efflorescence. One wouldn’t necessarily know that it had to do with breeding, but knowing isn’t necessary.

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  2. @rs – “This could be both because the efflorescing groups attain military-economic power….”

    i’ve been trying to think through all the unintended consequences of the strong exogamy that the church encouraged in the west — i came up with things like individualism and democracy (for all) and even prolly higher iq — but your scenario is really interesting. i didn’t think of higher iq resulting in, say, the germans out-competing other groups. that’s a neat idea! not to mention that that might’ve helped spread christianity even further. globally, in fact!

    @rs – “How else would an (IMHO) so fundamentally harmful religion spread?”

    if it’s any consolation to you, i think the church might’ve been hoist by its own petard. (~_^) it encouraged outbreeding soooo much that europeans (almost everywhere) are now so individualistic that they can’t be bothered with the Heavenly Father anymore. those sort of familial ties just aren’t of any interest. the sweet spot for christianity was prolly sometime in the late middle ages/early renaissance when people were not marrying their first-cousins but prolly were still marrying in their village, i.e. their fourth- or fifth-cousins. not anymore.

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  3. I guess heterotic changes due to outbreeding aren’t “necessary”. (Though reaction time & coordination is another really good one – might be key in warfare.) The idea that christianity simply helped Euros cooperate and think on a larger political scale is also a strong theory by itself.

    Incidentally, I think the Germanics and Celts – from what evidence there is – had a very admiring view of the Mediterranean cultures since at least a few centuries before 0. At least, they certainly copied the motifs of the art. It’s interesting if they had this attitude for so long without following suit by forming cities, etc. Why wouldn’t you ‘win’ by just building the first fortified city in Germany, in 100 AD? Apparently they had slaves (the gang-chains survive) and I’m sure their villages were fortified. Perhaps cities only win after grain farming pretty much completely replaces cows. You can’t keep the cows inside the city walls during siege. It’s established that very mixed grain/cow systems were present much longer in the north, which seems to be why the Romans generally found Nordish larger than themselves (but not always unconquerable for that).

    Still a little strange that writing didn’t catch on, even without cities.

    It’s bizarre to me to think of that time, so recent and yet pretty much a blank until Caesar’s conquest of Gaul – and in Germany or Norway, much later. Apparently the Gauls had mostly or only non-embodied gods, such as the wind or lightening or something.

    It’s easy to imagine cows adapting to the north faster than cereals, despite the longer generation time. After all cows make their own heat, and can probably evolve to make more pretty fast, if necessary (probably a lot of standing genetic variance, but even without it…). Whereas any number of wheat protein species might malfunction in the cold, and they each have to cold-adapt separately. That they can largely do in parallel (especially if there is no Haldane limit in practice*), but some will take longer than others, and the plant might only be about as strong as its weakest link.

    * a question too difficult for me to have any opinion on

    Reply

  4. RS,

    “It’s interesting if they had this attitude for so long without following suit by forming cities, etc”

    They did but only in the most optimal conditions e.g. gold mines or major trade routes. The first reference to Celts was by Greeks in their trading colonies on the Black Sea talking about the people who controlled the amber trade route along the Danube around what is now Bohemia. Apparently they lived in large stone-walled towns. I’d guess their standard food surplus was too low to support towns without an extra boost from mining and/or trade?

    (It was those Celts who came over the alps and sacked Rome around 400BC, 800 years before the German tribes did the same (although personally i think the Celts and Germans were two migratory waves from the same pool.)

    .
    “You can’t keep the cows inside the city walls during siege.”

    I always imagined that was why British hill forts were so large – room for the cattle.

    .
    “Still a little strange that writing didn’t catch on, even without cities.”

    There are names carved in stone so there must have been writing to practise / learn the letters, just not on anything that lasted. Although that still leads to why it wasn’t used more widely.

    .
    “It’s easy to imagine cows adapting to the north faster than cereals, despite the longer generation time. After all cows make their own heat”

    I wonder if heat might have been the critical factor until the climate warmed up. Long-houses were designed to house both cattle and humans in different sections of the same building. You could see that as a form of primitive insulation cum central heating.

    Reply

  5. > I always imagined that was why British hill forts were so large – room for the cattle.

    One thing i didn’t think of was bringing hay. I was thinking grass…

    But I’m not sure what kind of hay supply you can lay up, in actual practice, vs grain.

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  6. “But I’m not sure what kind of hay supply you can lay up, in actual practice, vs grain.”

    I suppose in an emergency anything is better han nothing – plus i guess a lot of the time tribal warfare was in reality just a big raid so the cattle wouldn’t be there for long.

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  7. > if it’s any consolation to you, i think the church might’ve been hoist by its own petard. (~_^) it encouraged outbreeding soooo much that europeans (almost everywhere) are now so individualistic that they can’t be bothered with the Heavenly Father anymore.

    I’m not sure irreligion is an improvement. Gomez Davila wrote that irreligious times were forcing a fair number of men of the Roman church to admit that ‘paganism’ has or had a certain value. (Not sure what exactly he is referring to here. Certainly to European paganism, but possibly also hindusim and shinto and maybe even the likes of taoism.) Mutatis mutandis I’m semi-prone to agree. Of course there are any number of moments and gestures in christianity to which I am bound to deeply defer. On the other hand there’s the universalism thing and the meek thing.

    But anyway, the religion question is a large and much discussed one, about which I\ve not had any novel ideas.

    Reply

  8. Excellent work! As an indian,I have always been fascinated by the European efflorescence and the ease with which they have dominated all the ancient and stable civilisations.In particular, the Germans have virtually made the modern world with almost all of the fundamental steps in science and engineering taken by some gErman or the other.
    Yet throughout classical and right upto 1000’s they remained contented with whatever they had and worshipping their old gods,with few achievements if any.My suspicion that north EU iq was driven by christian expansion seemed to be trumped by the scholars becoming celibates,but your blog suggests alternative mechanisms by which it could have occurred; the rate of evolution would have magnified as the unfit would have been rapidly weeded out in the case of enforced outbreeding;whereas in previous times,an unfit person could be accommodated due to his relatedness. The guilds that formed as a result of this dispersal would be heavily cognitively based as gain was the motive.
    So it does seem to me that white civilization is a product of christiainity,even if unintended,and so they hold on to it though specious ideologies like secularism and liberlaism,in spite of numerous other disadvantages that it brings.The age of the old gods has passed and nothing can bring it back,and I must confess a sadness at it’s passage.

    Reply

  9. I am from Slovakia, my father was Rutenian from northeast part of Sk….:
    …..“We know from the laws that the paternal uncle was the most important next of kin after the father…….
    Well Ruthenians observe this until today. We are now spread all over the country, but this was hammered into our heads and is still observed until now. We are Russian Orthodox by religion, all Ruthenians.

    Reply

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