more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

(this is turning out to be one weeeird meta-topic for a blog, but … eh … what the hey!)

in “The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe,” jack goody is in agreement with giorgio ausenda that the german tribes had had endogamous marriage practices, including cousin marriage, before the arrival of christianity. (they also had a lot of other good stuff like polygamy and concubinage. oh those wacky germans!)

goody suggests that cross cousin marriage (mother’s brother’s daughter marriage, for instance) was probably a common form amongst the germans since it is the most common form of cousin marriage in general — but, like ausenda, he doesn’t rule out father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage as a possibility.

personally, i’m leaning towards the conclusion that fbd marriage was not so common amongst the germans since they had a bilateral kinship system — in other words, an individual would reckon his extended family on both his father’s and mother’s sides (like most westerners do today). in societies where fbd marriage is common — like arab countries — kinship systems tend to be unilateral, in particular patrilateral, i.e. the father’s lineage is the most important. on the other hand, ausenda showed that the father’s brothers were the most significant family members after one’s immediate family in germanic society, so maybe the germans did tend towards a patrilateral system. perhaps their most common cousin marriage was patrilateral cross cousin marriage, i.e. father’s sister’s daughter, tho and not fbd marriage. dunno.

ausenda looked at the early german law codes to see what he could infer about germanic marriage patterns and kinship systems; goody looked at some law codes (like those of the anglo-saxons in britain) plus some other primary and secondary sources like correspondence between the early church fathers and the venerable bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People” completed in 731 a.d.

here’s what goody had to say [pgs. 34-7]:

“Bede tells of some of the problems involved in converting the pagan English. He explains how after Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, arrived in 597, he sent messengers back to Pope Gregory at Rome seeking advice on certain current questions, including ones relating to marriage….

“[T]he Letter of Gregory provides us with some very valuable evidence….

“Four of the nine questions on which Augustine asked advice from the Pope had to do with sex and marriage…. Augustine’s fifth question was more complicated and more revealing: ‘Within what degree may the faithful marry their kindred; and is it lawful for a man to marry a step-mother or a sister-in-law?’

“Pope Gregory’s reply clearly indicates the change that Christianity had brought to Rome and presumably to the other countries of western Europe. ‘A certain secular law in the Roman State allows that the son and daughter of a brother and sister, or of two brothers or two sisters may be married. But we have learned from experience that the offspring of such marriages cannot thrive. Sacred law forbids a man to uncover the nakedness of his kindred. Hence it is necessary that the faithful should only marry relations three or four times removed, while those twice removed must not marry in any case, as we have said….’

Since a special dispensation had to be given to those who had contracted such unions before conversion, it is clear that the practices of close marriage (presumably to cross-cousins, and possibly, as in Rome, to parallel cousins, at least to the father’s brother’s daughter) and of marriage to the widow of the brother or father (though not one’s own mother) must have been common in English, and indeed German, society. But they are now forbidden, the arguments against them being framed partly in physical terms (the likelihood of infertility) and partly in religious ones (on grounds of incest…).”

further, on how the political powers-that-be were also in on the action (along with the church) — we already saw this in all the law codes that ausenda looked at [pgs. 39-40]:

“Yet marriage to any close kin was forbidden by the Church and its proscriptions were given legal sanction by Christian monarchs. In Anglo-Saxon England the punishment for breaking these rules was very heavy, namely slavery, with the man passing into the ownership of the king and the woman into that of the bishop. Eventually these extensive prohibitions, which varied in extent over time, were relaxed as a result of the Protestant Reformation….”

finally, here’s a summary of how the regulations on cousin- and other close-family marriage became more restrictive throughout the medieval period [pg. 56]:

“In the sixth century the ban [on cousin marriage by the Church] was extended to the third canonical degree, that is, to second cousins, the offspring of a common great-grandparent ‘in imitation of Roman law which limited inheritance to the sixth degree of kinship’ (Oesterle 1949: 233), calculated in the Roman manner, that is, the third degree reckoned by the German or canonical method, which became dominant in the medieval period. Later the prohibition was pushed out still further to the fourth degree and then, in the eleventh century, to the seventh canonical degree, when the later method was used to recalculate the earlier prohibitions. Not only were these enormously extended prohibitions attached to blood or consanguineal ties, but they were assigned to affinal and spiritual kinship as well, producing a vast range of people, often resident in the same locality, that were forbidden to marry.”

william jervis jones shows that a linguistic shift in kinship terminology took place in german starting in the 12th century and continuing through, at least, the 15th century. to give a really broooad summary of his work, he found that, starting in the 12th century, more specific kinship terms shifted in meaning to be more inclusive or have wider definitions [pg. 195+].

just one example [pg. 190]:

“(3) From late in the 13th century, evidence begins to accumulate for a set of ‘downward’ extensions, in which a given Ego employs the same term for Alter and for Alter’s children (or Alter’s sibling’s children) of like sex. Interestingly, the earliest recorded cases have the linkage via the sibling, and are exclusively on the maternal side. Thus about 1300 we have signs of aeheim … being used with reference to the ‘mother’s sister’s son’, though its sense is still predominantly ‘mother’s brother.” A similar extension of muome to ‘mother’s brother’s daughter’ dates from 1336….”

kinship terms generally outline who you can and cannot marry [<< link opens powerpoint file]. in the case of the germans, before the medieval period, they had rather specific terms for people like "mother's sister's son" and "mother's brother's daughter" in order to distinguish these individuals — because some of them were probably more likely to be spouse material than others.

starting in the 1100s and onwards, these terms became increasingly fuzzy and less specific, prolly because you could no longer marry any of them, so what’s the point of distinguishing between them! nowadays all we say (in english) is "cousin" for a broad variety of people, both male and female, from either side of our family. we don't bother to distinguish between them, because most of us don’t consider any of them to be marriable (or, depending on where you live, there are even laws against it).

(presumably the same was true for the hawaiians, on an even broader scale. i'm guessing that they couldn't marry anyone of their own generation in their own village/sub-clan — all referred to as “brother” or “sister” — because any of those individuals might have been a sibling. the arabs, on the other hand, with their strong preference for fbd marriage have very specific kinship terms for all the players.)

german peoples were probably tribal once-upon-a-time because they practiced, not just endogamous marriage, but cousin-marriage. their tribes, however, don’t seem to have had quite the same flavor as arab tribes which practice fbd marriage, so i’m guessing the germans didn’t marry in that way much. tribes are tribes because people inbreed; but there are different sorts of tribes because different peoples inbreed in different ways.

european populations used to be tribal, but because we stopped inbreeding so much (thanks to the holy roman catholic church and other powers-that-be), we’re not so tribal anymore.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and inbreeding amongst germanic tribes and st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas

(note: comments do not require an email. oh look! a visigoth crown! neato!)

Advertisements

13 Comments

  1. “european populations…. stopped inbreeding so much (thanks to the holy roman catholic church and other powers-that-be),”

    If a Church and state enforced reduction in inbreeding was causal in the differences between European nations, the degree of inbreeding ought to have been roughly similar across Europe at one time. but we just don’t know with enough precision how common inbreeding originally was among the pagan Germanic tribes that later established themselves as a ruling class across western Europe after the fall of the Roman state.

    Inbreeding in early Christian Saxon England did exist but was it originally less common, more common, or as common as the inbreeding of southern Italy in a time frame where the church and state welded as much power? Inbreeding affects hereditary dispositions, and it became quite uncommon first in the advanced societies of Europe. Still it was very common in southern Italy well into modern times, when the influence of the church and state was strong. That makes me wonder.

    Reply

  2. @sean – “If a Church and state enforced reduction in inbreeding was causal in the differences between European nations, the degree of inbreeding ought to have been roughly similar across Europe at one time.”

    no, not necessarily. some secular leaders (kings/princes) might’ve wanted to play up clan differences whereas others may have wanted to get rid of them. think of the ottomans as an example (who, of course, are from a much later time period) — they liked all the clan and tribal divisions in their empire, and they used them to their advantage. a divide and conquer sort of thing.

    and the desire to get rid of clans by secular authorities seems to have gone hand-in-hand with the underlying economic system of a region (this is mitterauer again in Why Europe?). in those areas where they could have large grain-growing farms — i.e. the manors — and here we’re talking about a large area of northern europe (h/t greying wanderer) — the clans were a nuisance. they were getting in the way of the princes’ desires to have a nice, quiet little manorhouse and demense in the countryside. this didn’t really apply so much in mountainous regions where people were goat herders or whatever (e.g. the balkans). manors just weren’t built there — or arrived very, very late in the period.

    @sean – “we just don’t know with enough precision how common inbreeding originally was among the pagan Germanic tribes…”

    no, we don’t. and i wish we did know with more precision. what we need are full genome sequences from LOTS of pre-christian skeletal remains from throughout europe. and post-christianity so we can compare. until that day, though, (which i’m pretty sure will come — ever the optimist!), we have to go with what the historians tell us, and they are all pretty convinced that close marriages were pretty common in pre-christian germanic societies. otherwise there wouldn’t have been the need for all these church bans/secular laws against cousin marriage at the time of conversion and in the subsequent centuries.

    @sean – “Inbreeding in early Christian Saxon England did exist but was it originally less common, more common, or as common as the inbreeding of southern Italy in a time frame where the church and state welded as much power?”

    don’t know. good questions, though! i’m sure the rates weren’t the same all across pre-christian europe, but it’s difficult to know for sure what they were in pre-history.

    Reply

  3. The one thing we do seem to know is that in modern times consanguineous marriage was comon in Southern Italy especially Sicily. This is the big problem for the idea that consanguineous marriage was causal. Large powerful landowners have long been a feature of Sicily. Wikipedia “The economic history of rural Sicily has focused on its “latifundium economy” caused by the centrality of large, originally feudal, estates used for cereal cultivation and animal husbandry that developed in the 14th century and persisted until World War II”.

    I don’t see how it could have benefited big Silician landlords to encourage consanguineous marriage of people who would steal and abusively graze their land. Where there is a probem with the official forces of law and order the landlords would hire the most formidible locals as enforcers . This happened in Sicily and in the Highlands.

    Reply

  4. @sean – “Large powerful landowners have long been a feature of Sicily.”

    the latifundia system and manorialism are not the same thing (although the manors of northern europe grew out of the roman latifundia in gaul).

    a key feature of the manor is that it is a “bipartite estate.” the latifundium is not. from mitterauer (Why Europe? – pgs. 29-30):

    “The term *domaine bipartite* expresses an elementary, essential characteristic of this form of manorialism: the land of a manorial estate is divided into two parts. On the one hand, there is the lord’s manor house, or villa (*Fronhof*, *Herrenhof*), along with the properties belonging to it — farmland, meadows, gardens, and so forth. These are referred to collectively as the domain, or demesne (Latin *terra salica*, German *Salland*). Either the lord lives in the manor house or his steward does — the *villicus*, or *Meier* — who manages the domain and the servants living at the manor. On the other hand, there is a second category of people living outside the domain who also contribute to the manor’s economy: the *mansi*, or hide farmers/peasants. The farms transferred to these peasanst to be worked by and for themselves in exchange for services and corvee form the other part of the two-part estate….”

    the latifundia system had no such bipartite system. under the romans, the workers on the latifundia were actual slaves. i don’t know what they were in medieval sicily, but presumably they had fewer rights than those on manors (see mitterauer re. those) since the sicilian system is referred to as a latifundia system rather than a manor system.

    what happened in early medieval nw europe was that there was a shift from the latifundia system (where it had existed — mainly in gaul) to the manor system. in other words, there was a shift from using slaves to using what became known as serfs (serfs supported themselves on their own small farms whereas slaves had simply been housed and fed by the owner of the latifundium).

    one of the problems facing princes who wanted to expand the manor system (as they did right across germany — and the normans expanded it into england) were all these clans. it was difficult to bring whole clans into the manor system. what the manor owners wanted were individual workers who would not put up a fight (like those d*mn clannish people always did!) and who were not tied to an extended family. (modern industrialists like this, too — they like to have so many workers that are interchangeable cogs in the machinery — they don’t like it when larger groups of people unite together — like clans will always do.)

    one (one) of the solutions to this problem of the clans that the princes hit upon (with the help of the church) was to ban close marriage since this would break down the clan links. this is not an original idea. several chinese emperors tried this as well, only they never enforced the policy (see my mating patterns in asia series in left-hand column below). also, see this post for more on the transition to manorialism.

    @sean – “This is the big problem for the idea that consanguineous marriage was causal.”

    sorry, i don’t know what you mean by this. -?-

    Reply

  5. If a lord was enough of a lord to own a large landed estate he had fighting men at his disposal and controlled his area, and what went on in it. Outside of mountainous regions (where the hunted can ‘head for the hills) it is difficult for small local forces to survive if they prey on neighbours.

    Interfering with marriage practices would be a very indirect way to halt the depredations of the local bad actors. Manorialism meant powerful landowners, surely a lord could and would want to, stamp out any problems immediately, with no messing about. Anglo Saxon law was that the whole family could be punished for one persons act. Certainly under the Normans any transgression against the lord’s property would result in any culprits being killed (Or blinded and castrated, if the Norman was feeling merciful) .

    Manorial-ism was not conducive to mobile peasants and the labor market that Macfarlane talks about. It was strong in west England- Wessex. East Anglia way over on the other side of the country didn’t have a lot of it, so why would it be the twice as advanced an economic region in the 14th century ?

    Reply

  6. @sean – “If a lord was enough of a lord to own a large landed estate he had fighting men at his disposal and controlled his area, and what went on in it.”

    not if what they were facing were clans. again, see mitterauer and ausenda:

    “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.

    then we’re talking about costly military affairs. and none of those clans are a part of your manor system anyway. which is what they were trying to do — bring these people under their control.

    @sean – “Interfering with marriage practices would be a very indirect way to halt the depredations of the local bad actors. Manorialism meant powerful landowners, surely a lord could and would want to, stamp out any problems immediately, with no messing about.”

    we’re not talking here about the plundering of manors by clan groups. we’re talking about the initial set-up of the manor system across nw europe (which happened in stages). we’re talking about princes hoping and trying to set up manors — not already established manors that are experiencing raids from some wild peoples up in the mountains.

    @sean – “Manorial-ism was not conducive to mobile peasants and the labor market that Macfarlane talks about.”

    no, but manorialism initially — at least in nw europe (the situation was different in the east) — acted as a way to break down extended families. that was another — probably accidental — part of the process of breaking down the clans.

    @sean – “East Anglia way over on the other side of the country didn’t have a lot of it, so why would it be the twice as advanced an economic region in the 14th century?”

    i think perhaps because east anglia experienced the outbreeding push but not the manorialism which, as you say, is not conducive to creating a mobile peasantry.

    Reply

  7. Those refs mention Church and State and big landowners in Lombardy. but Southern Italy had all that too. You seem to be saying that a particular type of landed estate growing a particular type of cereal was an important factor to alter society and reduce cousin marriage . but Southern Italy had manorialism. In Sicily it didn’t endure because of local nobles would obstruct communications and water rights ect. it just evolved into a system where peasants sold their labour to small farmers who clustered around water resources and towns.

    Clans are useful for group competition right? Group competition would be most intense where abundant resouces permitted areas to be densely populated (close to the equator). And these groups would differentiate and form inbred clans to defend what was theirst. Look at the number of langauges spoken on one island in Papua New Guinea. That’s because those people are all fighting one another all the time. So thats where the tendancy to inbreed would be strongest. It would be weakest in northern Europeans.

    As far as I can see the ethnic composition predicts the social system. The declining Germanic ancestry moving north to south in Italy and east to west in England is still the most parsimonious explanation by my way of thinking. Where the Church the nobles and the manorialists were Germanic society effectively de-emphasised allegiance to blood relatives. Where the poplulation was less Germanic it did so far less effectively.

    Reply

  8. @sean – “As far as I can see the ethnic composition predicts the social system. The declining Germanic ancestry moving north to south in Italy and east to west in England is still the most parsimonious explanation by my way of thinking.”

    possibly. but that doesn’t explain the semai or the bushmen. or why pakistanis are more crazy tribal than indians (the ones from india).

    (edit: it also doesn’t explain why the germanics were inbreeding and “clannish” before they converted to christianity.)

    @sean – “Group competition would be most intense where abundant resouces permitted areas to be densely populated (close to the equator)…. So thats where the tendancy to inbreed would be strongest.”

    so why do the eskimos inbreed? and the mongolians? and north american indians in canada? and the saami and other reindeer herders in arctic regions? why do the semai, who live in malaysia, not?

    @sean – “Those refs mention Church and State and big landowners in Lombardy. but Southern Italy had all that too. …but Southern Italy had manorialism.”

    no. that is incorrect. READ mitterauer CAREFULLY.

    i approved this comment of yours because i think you are genuinely interested in the topic and you have some interesting points … but it’s reeeeeeeaaaaaally frustrating when you just keep repeating nonsense statements like the above which contradict ALL the evidence AND what the historians have to say.

    so — this is your LAST warning. i mean it! get your facts — and your references — straight or i’m just going to ban you outright. you’re wasting my time.

    Reply

  9. I don’t accept that the reported existence of inbreeding almost everywhere means it was once at a similar level almost everywhere. So without better evidence of how common it originally was, I don’t think that the differences in those counties in the last 1000 years can be put down to institutional interests within society outlawing inbreeding long ago.

    The decisive factor. I think is polygyny (there may be a conection to inbreeding, I have give refs in the a West Hunter comment rfor inbreeding being very common in the most polygynous place on earth. I also happens to be where multifaceted tribal civil wars are raging). Polygynous populations are violent

    I have found some references to Southern Italy haVING HAad manorialism, for a time.”The Decline and Fall of Medieval Sicily: Politics, Religion, and Economy says there was manorialism in Slicily, but it evolved into other forms. Here The church, King and Norman lords would have had every incentive to stamp out local power bases. Yet cousin marriage was common in Sicily into modern times. I think that the main reason is because Sicily is ethnically different to northern Italy, the high rate of inbreeding is just a reflection of that

    Family life in the Middle Ages casts doubt of there being widely different institutional interests from society to society in the West. It says the nobility lived a similar lifestyle all over western Europe and the manorial system was very widespread “Manorialism developed as an economic system that both exploited peasant labor and defended the peasant class from attack by grouping families into village communities under the lord of the manor’s protection. “here. Sorry for wasting your time, I like to think out loud and bounce ideas off other people. I’ll give it a rest.

    Reply

  10. @sean – “I don’t accept that the reported existence of inbreeding almost everywhere means it was once at a similar level almost everywhere.”

    no, i don’t either. i haven’t said that anywhere, and i’m sorry if that’s the impression you’ve gotten from what i’ve written.

    @sean – “So without better evidence of how common it originally was, I don’t think that the differences in those counties in the last 1000 years can be put down to institutional interests within society outlawing inbreeding long ago.”

    no. but given the extraordinary amount of secular laws passed throughout nw europe in the early medieval period banning cousin marriage — and all of the discussions by religious leaders (e.g. letters passing back and forth between popes and missionaries and meetings of councils, etc.) and all of the church’s bans on cousin marriage — out to sixth cousins at one point! — it is logical to conclude — as most historians of early medieval europe have — that cousin marriage was not infrequent amongst the pre-christian population of nw europe. the germanics may never have inbred as closely as sicilians in the 1890s — but they must’ve been inbreeding quite a lot since it was such an issue for the church and secular authorities. if it had’ve been a slight amount, no one would’ve bothered about it.

    @sean – “Sorry for wasting your time, I like to think out loud and bounce ideas off other people.”

    i like bouncing ideas off other people, too. h*ll — the whole blog is just one big idea being bounced around! feel free to bounce around any ideas that you like here — but it might be helpful if you indicated that they are ideas rather than some sort of facts ’cause it can be difficult to pick up on people’s intentions on the internet, know what i mean? when you say something like…

    “As individuals North Europeans instinctively don’t wan’t to mate with a 1st degree cousin.”

    …you need to be able to support that with some evidence. if you don’t have that, it’s still ok to say it, just preface it with an “i think” or a “perhaps” or a “maybe”.

    thank you for the references. i’ll have to check them out over the weekend, i’m afraid, as i’m a bit pressed for time today (and will be tomorrow, too). i promise to look at them, though!

    Reply

  11. @sean – “I have give refs in the a West Hunter comment rfor inbreeding being very common in the most polygynous place on earth….”

    afaics (and please correct me if i’m wrong), the only west hunter reference you gave relating to polygyny was this one (from this comment of yours) — and that doesn’t show at all whether or not there’s any correlation between polygyny and consanguineous marriages.

    Reply

  12. Hi, I have a question about cousin marriage. If you’ve addressed it elsewhere, simply point me in the right direction! I’m a new subscriber.

    The question is: what genetic advantages does cousin marriage provide? More specifically, if there were no disadvantages at all, wouldn’t cousin marriage be super widespread, because it is guaranteed to increase the number of shared genes? I’m operating off the selfish gene theory here.

    Your genes want more of themselves, cousins share a proportion of the same genes, therefore cousin marriage makes your children more “you” than marrying a random stranger.

    Thanks!

    Reply

Leave a Reply to EKG Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s