la endogamia en la españa medieval

ok. so, moving counter-clockwise around the periphery of europe: spain.

medieval spain is complicated. ¡muy, muy complicado! there are so many different populations: visigoths, other germanics, moors, basques, cantabri, jews…. so, this is not going to be the last word on inbreeding in medieval spain at all. it’s barely even the first word.

but, broadly speaking — really broadly speaking — there was a north/more outbred versus a south/more inbred divide in medieval spain. that’s pretty much because you had christians in the north who, like we’ve seen, were under pressure from the church authorities to out-marry; and you had muslims in the south who brought with them their tradition of strong inbreeding.

the visigoths controlled a large part of the iberian peninsula in the early medieval period (418-721). they converted (or, at least, their king at the time did) to nicene christianity in the late 500s (they’d been arian christians before that). ausenda suggests that the pre-christian visigoths married close-relatives, including cousins, and that they had a patrilineal, tribal society. like the other gemanic tribes, they began to outbreed more and more after converting to christianity since the church demanded out-marrying.

this scenario is probably more or less correct, but i wonder if the visigoths were actually less influenced by the church’s laws than other germanic peoples living further north, like the franks. mitterauer insists, rightly so imho, that tribalism and feudalism do not go together (see, for example, the irish). you cannot get to a feudal society until you get rid of tribalism — and you cannot do that without outbreeding. the visigoths in spain, according to mitterauer, were less feudalistic than their counterparts the franks, so perhaps they hadn’t moved so far along the outbreeding path as the franks during the early medieval period.

then the moors arrived and wreaked bloody havoc on the whole system.

from “Islamic and Christian Spain in the early Middle Ages” by thomas glick [pg. 146]:

“Until recently, the nature of kinship and its shaping effect upon social and political institutions in medieval Spain was not a topic accorded much importance by historians…. This imbalance has been rectified by the work of Pierre Guichard, who has demonstrated the tribal organization of Andalusi society of the Emirate and, in the Christian orbit, Ruiz-Domenec, Garcia de Cortazar, and others have identified the dissolution of the extended family as a significant and central social process of the high middle ages.

the latter pattern we’ve seen already amongst the northern germanics: the church and tptb put an end (more or less) to inbreeding in those populations which brought about the demise of the tribes. the introduction of the feudal/manorial system plus continued outbreeding further broke down the extended family (a tribe being just a very extended family) leaving central europeans with nuclear or stem families (a stem family is where one married child remains living with his parents, so you get grandparents + a nuclear family in one household).

more from glick [pgs. 146-48]:

“The Arabs and Berbers who conquered the peninsula did so not as isolated warriors, but as members of organized tribal groups. The Arabs and most of their early Berber allies were members of agnatic, patrilineal groups forming a segmentary social system, whereby individuals belonged to a hierarchy of increasingly inclusive segments, from the clan up to the tribal confederation. The basic tribal unit, the qawm (variously translated fraction or clan), is a unit of several hundred tents or families, linked agnatically. That is, the kinship system ascribes importance only to relationship through males. In such a system, endogamous marriages are viewed as the ideal because through endogamy power, prestige, and wealth are retained within the agnatic group rather than shared with a competing group into which a daughter might marry, with parallel-cousin marriages (the wedding of one’s son with the daughter of the paternal uncle [i.e. fbd marriage]) preferred. A cross-cousin marriage (with the daughter of the maternal uncle or paternal aunt) is considered exogamous because the offspring gain a different lineage. The more powerful a tribal group is, the more women it will attract from outside, the fewer it will lose, and the more endogamous it will become.

“Guichard demonstrates that the early Muslim residents of the peninsula settled in tribal or sub-tribal groups and that, indeed, it was the policy of important figures to travel with tribal entourages and to reconstitute their clans once the decision to settle in al-Andalus had been reached….

“Segmentary organization gives rise to typical political forms. The basic unit is the clan — the Arab qawm, the Berber canton — which lives and fights together. The segmentary tribal structure makes it possible for such groups to subsist in relative isolation and, at the same time, because they are embedded in larger solidarities, to join in political or military federations with related groups. This gives rise to the kaleidoscopic pattern of atomization and amalgamation which is so characteristic of western Islamic, particularly Berber, society.”

so, in moorish spain, we have arabs and berbers practicing fbd marriage and living in a tribalistic society. tens of thousands of people who had been living in spain before the arrival of the moors converted to islam during the medieval period. it’s unclear to me what percentage of them adopted the marriage practices of the conquerers. it sounds, however, as though it was not an insignificant amount as glick points out [pg. 151]:

[C]onsanguinity remained a powerful social force [throughout the middle ages] (and so remained even among the Moriscos of the sixteenth century, who resisted taking Spanish names because such an act made it impossible to keep track of agnatic lineages), as did ethnicity.”

finally, from glick again [pgs. 149-51]:

“Arab and Berber tribal structure found political expression in the organization of confederations or alliances, which were formed according to the underlying logic of segmentary societies. The essence of this kind of political organization is that politics is viewed as a zero-sum game. The wealth, power, and prestige of one’s own group are increased only by decreasing those of a rival group, leading to a more or less permanent state of conflict between neighboring groups as well as to characteristic patterns of alliances….

“Much of the political history of al-Andalus, therefore, is occupied with accounts of tribal in-fighting, generally along lines of moiety division….”

this is totally unlike what was happening in northern europe throughout the middle ages. northern europeans became less tribal — in spain, especially southern parts of spain, tribal life was alive and well.

until the reconquista.

glick describes how, in the wake of the reconquista, feudal structures took hold throughout spain, starting in the north and progressively moving southwards. the population converted back to (or to) catholicism — ’cause they had to — and, presumably, they had to start following the catholic codes on marriage, altho as we saw above the mariscos resisted this for quite a long time.

quite extraordinarily, researchers looking at catholic church dispensations for cousin marriage in sigüenza in north-central spain between the 1950s and 1980s found that the folks there were marrying their first- and second-cousins at a rate of 12.6% [pg. 4; abstract here]. in the early 1940s, the overall rate for endogamous marriage in spain — and this is including uncle-niece marriage — was 4.1% [pg. 4]. the overall rate for france in the late 1940s was 0.8%; london in 1950, 0.4%; the netherlands in the late 1940s, 0.2% [pgs. 2 & 5]. close relative marriage has obviously remained more common and more important for longer in spain than in northern european populations.

so, now we’ve looked at one of the i’s and the s. the p is prolly pretty similar to spain. next stop, italy. aaaaaah — la dolce vita! (^_^)

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

previously: inbreeding in europe’s periphery

also previously: northern vs. southern spanish iq, redux and, from the reluctant apostate, Mapping The 2009 PISA Results For Spain And Italy

(note: comments do not require an email. ¡olé!)



  1. As an aside, the upper class / aristocracy in Spain was often fair skinned. The very phrase “blue blood” denoted skin fair enough to see the blue veins.


  2. I can see where too much tribalism at times could be a problem. But, speaking in very general terms, I think that whites throughout most of recent history have the opposite problem: too little tribalism.

    In the modern multi-racial state, it seems that tribalism pays off. The out-grouping individualism of whites does not. It seems that the high IQ / tribalistic combination (seen among both Ashkenazis and North Asians) pays off in dividends in the modern multicult state.


  3. @tom – “But, speaking in very general terms, I think that whites throughout most of recent history have the opposite problem: too little tribalism.”

    yes. that’s the conclusion i keep drawing — especially on days when i’m not in a very chipper mood. i keep wondering if we have a unity problem — on a very fundamental level. i could be wrong, of course.


  4. […] Southern Spain (and presumably, Portugal) is by comparison more straightforward.  Muslim invaders conquered much of the peninsula in the 8th century and would have conquered the rest of the continent if there wasn’t a concerted effort by the European armies to stop them.  The Muslims remained in control of the southern part of the peninsula, being slowly pushed back—and eventually expelled—by Christian forces.  During this time, Muslim-style cousin marriage was prevalent. […]


  5. It appears that Moriscos (Muslim Catholics) did not intermarry with their already Christian neighbors, in significant numbers. Christian women found Morisco men to be effeminate, and Christian men only wanted Morisco women if they had a large dowry.

    Read The Handless Maiden: Moriscos…, page 58.


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