several of my previous posts discuss how, during the medieval period, the christian church in europe — along with tptb of the day — altered the mating patterns of europeans by (at least trying to) put a stop to cousin marriage amongst the natives, a practice that would lead to a loosening of the genetic ties between the members of the population(s).
jack goody suggests that this was a new and strange policy without precedent invented by the church fathers, i.e. there was no foundation for banning cousin marriage in the bible or in roman society from whence a lot of the church fathers came.
that seems to be pretty right from what i’ve read, but michael mitterauer says that this move toward greater outbreeding might’ve started earlier in ancient greece (was it related to this?) and that the holy roman catholic church’s policies may have simply been part of a wider trend.
mitterauer, who i’m going to quote at length below because i just found what he had to say so doggone interesting, sums up all the linguistic changes related to kinship that happened across europe after the mating laws changed. i mentioned before that i thought that kinship terms indicate who you can and cannot marry — now it seems, from what mitterauer has to say, that they mostly indicate who you cannot marry. (so, back to hawaii for a sec, since everyone of your age [in your village, presumably] were called either “brother” or “sister,” this must have meant that you couldn’t marry any of them. and this makes sense, because any of them could’ve been your real brother or sister!)
ok. big quote from mitterauer [pgs. 68-74]:
“Fundamental trends in the changing kinship systems in Europe can best be deduced from the modified kinship terms in various European languages…. Three major transformational processes illustrate this statement with regard to European kinship systems.
“We can describe the first fundamental trend in the shifting of European kinship terms as the gradual appearance of the same, or parallel, terms for paternal and maternal relatives, which is best shown in the expressions for a parent’s siblings. All the Indo-European languages of Europe originally distinguished between the father’s brother or sister and the mother’s brother or sister. Take Latin as an example: the father’s siblings were called patruus and amita, and on the mother’s side, avunculus and matertera. In Middle High German the terms were Vetter and Base, Oheim and Muhme. As the history of almost every European language evolved, distinctions between paternal and maternal relatives became neutral. And so French used oncle for both parents’ brother (derived from the Latin word for a maternal uncle, avunculus) and tante for either parent’s sister (following from the Latin word amita, a paternal sister). These bilaterally applied terms spilled over into other languages, for instance, English and German. Similar parallel nomenclatures developed that were based on kinship terms in one’s own language, in Polish, for example. Greek was the first European language to eliminate the terminological distinction between the father’s and the mother’s side, a transition that began as early as between the fifth and third century BC. Vulgar Latin in late antiquity was next. All the Romance languages derived from Vulgar Latin have the same terms for both sides of the family: Italian, Sardic, Rhaeto-Romance, Provencal, French, Catalan, Spanish, Portugese, Sephardic Spanish, Aromunian, and Rumanian. This process was therefore complete by the early Middle Ages throughout the territory of the old Roman Empire. The first Germanic language to undergo this change was English, beginning with the Norman Conquest. Basically the same change occurred in German in early modern times. There were two different developments in the Scandinavian languages. One tended to completely equate the father’s and mother’s siblings by using the same terms; the other did too, but formed compound words to differentiate the sides of the family. This was the case, for example, with farbror and morbror in Swedish, and with analogous forms in Icelandic and Scottish English. These descriptive compounds were fundamentally different from the completely independent terms for each parent’s siblings in the early phases of Indo-European languages. It was not a matter of eliminating the opposition between the paternal and the maternal sides but of essentially equating them, as is apparent from the structure of the terms themselves. And in the majority of the Slavic languages, too, the process of parallelizing outlined above took place, first in Czech and Polish, relatively late in Russian. The Slavic languages in the Balkans, on the other hand, have retained a differentiating terminology for kinship to this day: Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, and Bosnian still have concepts distinguishing between a paternal and a maternal brother. The same holds for Albanian, where even parents’ sisters are differentiated. In this region the great process of transforming European kinship terminology, which emanated from southeastern Europe 2,500 year ago, has not yet reached its end.
“A second fundamental trend in the transformation of European kinship terminology is the use of identical terms for blood relatives and in-laws. This paralleling process was also at work in Vulgar Latin during late antiquity. The term cognati at first referred to blood relatives who were not under the authority of the pater familias. Sometime around the fourth century, this concept underwent a substantial expansion: it came to include ‘affined’ relationships (the Latin affinis refers to persons related by marriage). The word affinis therefore fell into disuse in late antiquity and was replaced by cognati. In-law now became, through marriage, like blood relatives. This sense of cognati survives in kinship terms in the Romance languages. The trend of using the same terms is even more pronounced in another terminological complex. French, Dutch, English, and German have a suite of concepts for relatives by marriage that is formed from compounds made from the designations for nuclear family members. Beau-pere corresponds to schoonvader, ‘father-in-law’ to Schwiegervater, belle-mere to ‘mother-in-law.’ The same goes for beau-frer, belle-soeur, beau-fils, and belle-fille. All these related people had no names in Latin or Old High German that were in any way similar to the names for their closest blood relatives. Originally, the terms in all Indo-European languages for relatives by marriage were unmistakably different from those for blood relatives….
“The third basic trend in the transformation of the European kinship terminology is unique by its very nature and therefore especially instructive for understanding the whole process of change: the increasing number of parallels in the nomenclature of blood relatives and so-called spiritual relatives. A spiritual kinship was originally established by sponsorship at baptism. Then, in the wake of this model, other relationships came into existence that were created around other sacraments — relationships that eventually were regarded as kinship. In general, ties that were instituted on a religious basis were conceived of as kinship ties…. Inside Europe, it is found during the Middle Ages only in societies converted to Christianity….
“The decisive factor in this great transformation of kinship terminology in Europe was the influence of Christianity. This is more obvious in the parallel terms for blood and spiritual kinship than it is in the two basic trends discussed earlier. From an analytical perspective, we can distinguish three levels of influence: first, direct and intentional influence on kinship systems via canon law; second, indirect structural changes to fundamental elements of Christianity; and finally, the ramifications of traditions from classical antiquity that cannot be considered specifically Christian but that Christianity passed on to medieval societies.
“The first type of influence incorporates first and foremost the church bans on marriage between relatives. These began in the fourth century and reached their zenith in the eleventh. The influence of the canonical norms is perfectly evident in the English terms for relatives through marriage such as ‘father-in-law,’ ‘daughter-in-law,’ and so forth. What is meant in these terms by the word ‘law’ is canon law. Even though a ‘law’ is not mentioned by name in similar, parallel terms, canon law is the motivating force behind them. The basic principles guiding the changes in terminology, or the assimilation of terms, were exactly the same as those in Christian churches that prohibited marriage between relatives. The development of unions categorized as incestuous was a highly complicated affair in the various Christian churches and was in no way uniform at all times and in all places. But these unions share some basic tendencies: the equating of the paternal and the maternal lines, of blood kin and kin by marriage, and the inclusion of spiritual kin in the family. It was easily recognized from the relevant bans on marriage who was seen in the early Middle Ages as being related to whom from a Christian standpoint, and the bans were added to, step by step, right up into the High Middle Ages. We find it difficult to comprehend today just how preoccupied the era was with the fear of incest — and not only in the various Christian churches but in Jewish circles as well….
“That the great transformational process of European kinship terminology must also have had pre-Christian roots is clear from a sequence of events over a long period of time. The rudimentary beginnings are found in the Greek language from the fifth to the third century BC, and it is very likely that broader considerations further influenced these processes. Traditional ancient Greek kinship terminology was probably transmitted just the way ancient Greek traditions were, by and large within a Christian context. The term ‘brother’ can serve as a concrete example. The expansion of the concept of ‘brother’ beyond blood kinship in several Romance languages led to the emergence of a new term for the biological brother. This can surely be traced back to a Christian influence, but the phenomenon itself is not genuinely Christian. In various Eastern religious communities, strangers became ‘brothers’ by means of initiation ceremonies. The teachings of the Stoics spread the term even further. The use of ‘brother’ in urban contexts for a brother in office or a fraternity brother goes back a long way. Hellenistic urban cultures may be regarded as the social foil for this phenomenon, which, thanks to Christianity, continued to live and have an effect on medieval European societies….”
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