so, what about mating patterns in greece, then?

the ancient athenians, as we’ve seen, and other ancient greeks, quite frequently married their cousins. (in ancient greece you could even marry your half sister! not your full sister, though.) this was a problem since it resulted in strong extended families or clans that periodically would take over the governing of athens for their own benefit. although these tyrants were not always unpopular, the members of the athenian noble families did operate in such ways as to benefit their own. even cleisthenes, whose very clever reforms made athenian democracy possible, probably came up with the reforms to keep other families out of power.

but 500 b.c. is a long time ago. what’s been happening with mating patterns in greece since then?

i haven’t been able to find out all that much about medieval (byzantine and ottoman) greece, but i do have a few details. the eastern church (the greek orthodox church) banned first- and, possibly, second-cousin marriage in 692. this is a couple hundred years after rome put a ban on first-cousin marriage. by the 500s, the roman church had also banned second-cousin marriage. so, western europe was definitely ahead of greece in the don’t-marry-your-cousin game already by the first half of the first millennium.

the emperor justinian, however, was the first to ban marriage between godparents and godchildren. that was something that came to the western church as well, eventually — but such a ban appeared first in the east [pg. 197]:

“The ban on marriage between those involved in baptismal sponsorship seems first to have been formulated by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, who ruled from A.D. 527-65, in the context of the prohibition on marriage with a fictive child…. [H]e went on to declare: ‘We prohibit absolutely a marriage between a godfather and god-daughter (a sacrosancto suscepit baptismate), even when he has brought her up (as an alumna or foster child). For nothing demands so much paternal affection and impedes marriage as a tie of this kind, which through the mediation of God binds these two souls together.’

“Prohibitions on marriage to spiritual kin, which emerged first of all in the Byzantine area, of which Italy was a part, were later extended. Godparenthood already existed among the Franks and in the Anglo-Saxon world but without any prohibitions on marriage; these were only imposed upon the West in the eighth century as a result of the growing influence of the papacy.”

so, not only could you not marry your immediate family or many members of your extended family, you couldn’t even marry some other random people who probably lived in your village. enforced outbreeding.

i’m not certain, but i don’t think the eastern church went all crazy with cousin-marriage bans like the western church did (out to sixth cousins at some point!), but i don’t actually know for sure. i imagine that the scenario outlined above (ban on first- and, maybe, second-cousin marriage + godparents-godchildren) probably lasted throughout the byzantine period. again, i’m not certain about that. haven’t seen any sources suggesting otherwise, though.

what happened during the ottoman period is anybody’s guess. lots of greeks converted to islam during the ottoman rule. did they start to practice cousin marriage like other muslims and then later convert back to christianity? no idea. this whole period of time is a blank space in my notepad file for the moment. so, fast-forward to…

…the 1970s! from a study of the good people of methana [pgs. 127-129]:

“On Methana, the limits of the group of people considered to be significant blood kin stretched as far as second cousin: that is, descendants of great-grandparents. Marriage between first cousins was considered incentuous. Between second cousins, it was considered highly undesirable and virtually never occurred. Marriage of third cousins was allowed and was often considered favourably (discussed later).

“The exogamous (out-marrying) group consisting of consanguines (blood kin) extending bilaterally (i.e., through both the mother’s and father’s lines) to second cousin was generally described by Methanites as the soi, a word likely to be of Turkish derivation…. The term soi in Methana usage is best translated as ‘kindred’: a group of kin related to an individual equally via the mother’s and father’s sides. Especially in the past, when large numbers of Methanites stayed on the peninsula and lived by agriculture, the computation of who was inside and outside the bilateral kindred was crucially important for finding marriage partners because there was a preference for marriage partners from one’s own village, or at least from Methana….

“Aschenbrenner identifies an emphasis [regarding the term ‘soi’] on patrilineal kin in a western Peloponnesian community, those with a shared surname forming monolithic surname groups manifesting a community of interest and mutual loyalty. All families within these groups are linked by kinship ties, some as remote as third cousin: significantly, third cousins define the prohibited limits of marriage….

“Already by the later nineteenth century, households in Methana villages tended to be located in clusters of immediate kin. Furthermore, although in past generation Methanites preferred marriage partners from their own village, for reasons outlined later, it was frequently necessary to find brides in other villages….”

pg. 143:

In the 1970s, marriages were mostly arranged, although decisions over prospective spouses were not generally considered to be the prerogative of any one person. A boy and girl choosing each other without parental intervention very rarely happened, and parents considered it likely to lead to complications….

“The primary consideration when families were contemplating a suitable marriage partner for a son or daughter was to ensure that they were outside the soi (kindred). Theoretically, second cousins could marry if they received dispensation from the bishop, but in practice this does not seem to have been an issue. In addition, as noted earlier, a marriage placed whole kinship groups into an important kinship relationship. In recognition of this, more than one marriage between two households was forbidden. Thus, according to Methanites, two brothers from one family could not marry two sisters from another family….”

pg. 147:

“In the old days, especially in the interwar years and before, land was a highly desirable commodity on Methana. Dowries, in particular, were often at least partly composed of highly sought-after agricultural resources, such as plots of vines, small irrigated plots, or olive trees. It made sense, therefore, to contract marriages between families living within the same village, if possible. That way there was more likelihood that dowries of agricultural resources would be readily accessible: dowries in other village territories which required substantial travel were distinctly less desirable. However, because of the realtively small size of most villages — the main study community had forty-three households in the early 1970s — the extension of the prohibition on marriage to the degree of second cousin, and the inclusion of fictive kin [e.g. godparents] within the prohibited sphere (discussed later), there were often few possible choices of marriage partners. Nevertheless, on occasions, families went to considerable lengths to ensure marriage within the village, such as the turning of a blind eye to the marriage of the female first cousin of the woman noted earlier to the male first cousin of her husband. The preference for marriage partners from the same village whenever possible further contributed to the semi-reality that the whole village was indeed related as one great family.

well, it probably was!!

pgs. 147-48:

In situation in which a marriage within the village was impracticable in the past, consideration was given to suitable partners in other Methana villages — the preference was so strong that only two women living in the main study village in the early 1970s were not from the peninsula. For partners in other villages, particular attention was paid to third cousins. Because the parental generation of the potential partners were second cousins, and therefore kin, the families were reasonably well known to each other. In particular, the reputations of the families and the personalities of the two young people and the young woman’s potential mother-in-law [with whom she would have to work with on a daily basis in her new household] would be known, even though they lived in separate villages.”

mating patterns in greece’s (or methana’s) recent past are very interesting! on the one hand, there are regulations not to marry too closely — no first- or second-cousins or even two brothers marrying two sisters. but on the other hand there were economic conditions that led to the common practice of not marrying out too far — third cousins were preferable or someone from the village (prolly fourth or fifth or sixth cousins), or at least someone from a neighboring village.

who knows how far back these traditions stretch? i can imagine them going back a few hundred years at least, but you never know about these things. certainly the first- and second-cousin and godparent bans seem to, perhaps, go right back to the 600s (with maybe some interruption during the ottoman years). i also wonder how similar the rest of greece was to methana in its mating patterns? it doesn’t have to have been just like methana, altho from the references cited in this book, it sounds like the rest of the peloponnese region certainly was. i’m guessing that the patterns throughout the entire region of greece were not all that different.

the degree of inbreeding we’re talking about here — third or fourth or fifth cousins — would lead, i think, to some level of clannishness or extended-family-ness. not full-blown tribalism like we see in arab countries; but greece certainly isn’t like northwest europe in its mating patterns, either.

and the fruits of this type and degree of inbreeding are the pretty rampant nepotism and widespread cheating seen in greece today. from michael lewis:

“The evening after I met with the minister of finance, I had coffee with one tax collector at one hotel, then walked down the street and had a beer with another tax collector at another hotel. Both had already suffered demotions, after their attempts to blow the whistle on colleagues who had accepted big bribes to sign off on fraudulent tax returns. Both had been removed from high-status fieldwork to low-status work in the back office, where they could no longer witness tax crimes. Each was a tiny bit uncomfortable; neither wanted anyone to know he had talked to me, as they feared losing their jobs in the tax agency. And so let’s call them Tax Collector No. 1 and Tax Collector No. 2.

“Tax Collector No. 1 — early 60s, business suit, tightly wound but not obviously nervous — arrived with a notebook filled with ideas for fixing the Greek tax-collection agency. He just took it for granted that I knew that the only Greeks who paid their taxes were the ones who could not avoid doing so—the salaried employees of corporations, who had their taxes withheld from their paychecks. The vast economy of self-employed workers — everyone from doctors to the guys who ran the kiosks that sold the International Herald Tribune — cheated (one big reason why Greece has the highest percentage of self-employed workers of any European country). ‘It’s become a cultural trait,’ he said. ‘The Greek people never learned to pay their taxes. And they never did because no one is punished. No one has ever been punished. It’s a cavalier offense — like a gentleman not opening a door for a lady.’

The scale of Greek tax cheating was at least as incredible as its scope: an estimated two-thirds of Greek doctors reported incomes under 12,000 euros a year — which meant, because incomes below that amount weren’t taxable, that even plastic surgeons making millions a year paid no tax at all. The problem wasn’t the law — there was a law on the books that made it a jailable offense to cheat the government out of more than 150,000 euros — but its enforcement. ‘If the law was enforced,’ the tax collector said, ‘every doctor in Greece would be in jail.’ I laughed, and he gave me a stare. ‘I am completely serious.’ One reason no one is ever prosecuted — apart from the fact that prosecution would seem arbitrary, as everyone is doing it — is that the Greek courts take up to 15 years to resolve tax cases. ‘The one who does not want to pay, and who gets caught, just goes to court,’ he says. Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the activity in the Greek economy that might be subject to the income tax goes officially unrecorded, he says, compared with an average of about 18 percent in the rest of Europe.

“The easiest way to cheat on one’s taxes was to insist on being paid in cash, and fail to provide a receipt for services.”

if you’ve ever been to greece and eaten in a restaurant or had a couple of drinks in a taverna, you know you don’t get a receipt … and you should be prepared for the look you’ll get if you ask for one. (~_^)

because of how they have mated up until fairly recently (things must be changing nowadays with more people moving to urban centers), the greeks are quasi-tribal — or more like quasi-clannish. they don’t want to contribute to the common pot because they are more attached to their regional extended-family group than they are to the larger populace, i.e. the greek nation (if you can really call it that).

what taki views as the “highly individualistic greek” who is “too self seeking” is really a greek who is strongly attached to his rather extended family and who is unwilling to make sacrifices at the expense of those genetic ties. in other words, he is a good altruist. he’s just a bad citizen, that’s all.

previously: inbreeding in europe’s periphery and la endogamia en la españa medieval and inbreeding in italy and il risorgimento and italian inbreeding?

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



  1. Hi, ‘hbdchick’. I’m greek (in greece) and I find your observations on how deep the shit we are in really is very insightful. It’s pretty deep, if I interpret them correctly – I think “we’re f****d” would be another good way to put it.
    {We are also quasi-stupid if I remember Lynn’s data well, although you being polite wouldn’t actually say that.}
    Sicily was also heavily greek in ancient times and this continued up until the middle ages, as one of the last vestiges of the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) empire on the italian peninsula. So, we’ve spread our good influence to that unfortunate place too.

    The eastern ‘orthodox’ (a.k.a. “you’re all a bunch of heretics”) church is a load of crap. They actually preferred the turks instead of merging with the catholics, as was attempted by the last emperors (see here) to no avail, 1453 came too soon.
    Anyway, what can you do, it ‘ll take centuries to fix us and we don’t have the time. The turks are roaring again both demographically and economically, so see you again in 4-5 centuries. Bye!

    Δημήτρης Θ.

    {Ah… America, America}


  2. hi dimitris,

    “Anyway, what can you do, it ‘ll take centuries to fix us and we don’t have the time.”

    i wish i could give you guys the time somehow ’cause i love greece and love the greeks (in a purely platonic [heh!] sort of way, of course) and so i really, really hope things work out the best for you guys. (if you would just get the h*ll out of the e.u. sooner rather than later, that might ameliorate your problems a bit … perhaps ….)

    “Sicily was also heavily greek in ancient times and this continued up until the middle ages, as one of the last vestiges of the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) empire on the italian peninsula. So, we’ve spread our good influence to that unfortunate place too.”

    i know, i know. (~_^)


  3. Re: conversions. Greeks who converted to Islam became Turks. In the 1922 “exchange of populations”, Muslims were considered “Turks”, regardless of what language they spoke, and Orthodox Christians in the western part of Asia Minor were considered Greeks. So a Turkish-speaking Christian with Eurasian features was a Greek, and was moved to Greece (or Constantinople), while a grey-eyed brown-haired, Greek-speaking Muslim was expelled to Turkey, because, being Muslim, he was a Turk.


  4. If I may be permitted to respond to a rather old post:

    yes–it seems all true to me. It seems to me that there is an even greater reliance on the kinds of kin-group relationships you discuss under conditions of crisis–such as those which afflict Greece at present–than in more prosperous times (Italians, and not just southern Italians, have reacted similarly, I think).

    I was recently in Greece for a third long sojourn in two years (I first visited in earnest in 2006), and it appears to me that rural and small-town Greeks are more insular and less welcoming every time I visit–also consistent with a retreat into kinship networks under hardship.

    Incidentally, though: you do in fact get receipts for almost everything you buy in Greece (a packet of gum for 1 euro or a bottle of water for 50 cents from a periptero, for instance). This is so to the extent that it can become a (very mild) irritation.


  5. Of course, the presence of 3.5-odd million, mostly unwelcome and illegal, immigrants isn’t likely to engender an ‘open society’ (*vomit*) either.

    OK–enough out of me.


  6. your research has a major weakness, methana is not at all representative of greece in general, the people there (and all of west peloponesse) are arvanites, that is albanians, who came there during the middle ages, and as you know are highly clanish.


  7. That is true. Methana was an Arvanite community, and they were generally speaking, at least until recently- extremely endogamous as far as Greece goes. They also had a complex clan system, similar to that of Albanians proper and some other Greeks like Maniotes and Cretans.

    That being said, these prohibitions on cousin marriage are quite “flexible” on the smaller islands of the Aegean archipelago.

    Would like to see any more research you have done on this since this post.



  8. Ironically, the above groups (Maniotes, Cretans, Arvanites) seem to have dominated the Greek state since it’s inception. Hence the amoral familial state of things in the current Hellenic Republic, sadly.


  9. First, I was glad by seeing the title post written in my native language.
    I must clarify something which you of course know, but many other commenters might not. Ancient Athense isn’t the whole of Ancient Greece or Ancient Greek culture. It just has more things written about it, because it was a prosperous and mighty place for so long. I find it very probable that other places were endogamous as well, and maybe more, especially remote places like Epirus, Macedonia and small islands.
    As for Byzantine and Ottoman times, I don’t know, but I can assure you that the orthodox church enforced bans upt to 7th cousin at one time, but like most such strict rules, it was never followed exactly. In the 18th century, two monks from the Holy Mount composed in greek a book called the Rudder, which contains all the church rulings from the start of christianity, up to the 7 Ecumenical Counsils, until their day. It is a despicable book filled with insults towards Ancient Greeks and Ancient Greek culture, and full of ultra-oppressive rules that could make Saudi Arabia seem like a liberal paradise. The only penalty missing is the death penalty, and that because only the Ottoman government had the right to execute criminals. They however prais byzantine emperors under whom deviants were executed, like homosexuals. In this book now, it says about the rules against incest, that a marriage is incestuous up to 7th cousin. I don’t know if that ever took effect, but I read in Wikipedia that in some christian villages in Ethiopia, that still holds. The groom is not obliged, but the bride is, in accordance with evolutionary principles, to count back seven generations, and if she finds a common ancestor with the prospective groom’s family, she must reject him.
    Today, marriage up to certainly first, and I think up to second, cousin is illegal. Third is not. I have heard of only one case in Thrace were two third cousins married, but even his relatives see it as strange at least. I have also heard about inbreeding in isolated islands in the past, but I don’t know more about it. The fact is that modern Greece is an exclusively outbreeding society, and many people I know with ancestors from villages or from villages have a spouse from another village. I wondered for sometime if that was a custom against inbreeding, thank you you make me remember it again, and I will ask older people to see if this is true. In modern Greece, consanguinious marriage not only does not exist, it isn’t ever talked about.
    Regarding Methana, I didn’t know about the whole story. Generally I don’t know much about peloponnesian customs, because I don’t know many people from there. I only know that people from Mani were historically clanish, the leaders lived in towers and blood feuds were common. Whatever the case, Methana is a very small part of Greece, and as the previous commenters told, Greece had historically many different cultures, some very strange. For example in the village Elimpos of the island of Karpathos only the firstborn son and daughter could inherit. The next sons in line would go out of the village to work, often in ships, while the next daughters in line would never marry and just serve the firstborn and her family. That borders eusociality. A very unusual, harshe and cruel system, but not representative of Greece as a whole.
    Everything regarding the tax evasion is 100% true. Although it seems more of shop owners cut receipts recently. Whatever the improvements, we are very, very slow to improve. I don’t know where we are heading.
    As for modern Greek clanishness, I cannot discern any strong tendency for that, but that may be perhapse because I live in the same culture. It seems the opposite, that is, after the years of economic development in the 80s and 90s, the society moved towards individualism. No, it isn’t like northwest Europe, but not like Albania, FYROM, and Bulgaria either. Perhapse Greece as a whole is a little better than Southern Italy. Only as a whole, because the closely-knit family structure can be seen still in villages and some small towns. Again, it is not Arab style collectivism. A woman many years unmarried might get anxious questions from her family if she will ever marry, but nothing over that. She won’t get pressured like in older times. Also, murder for inter -familial or intra-familial matters no longer exists today, but until nearly 50 years ago, blood feuds and even some honor killings were practiced in remote parts. Now if we hear those things happening in another country, we will say how primitive they are.
    But there is an exception to all the above. Gypsies. They still live and value much extended families, daughters marry young and they are endogamous, although I don’t know if they are consanguinious, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they were, as many of their marriages are informal and settled among themselves, and no church is involved. I happen to know some Gypsies, and they tell me about their families and tribes, how disputes are resolved and other things, that seem strange to my culture. They are somewhere between tribal and clanish according to your classification. Even those were forced to change due to the society they lived in. They aren’t real, autonomous tribes like in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
    We must change, but we don’t have the time to evolutionarily change now. On the other hand, we must not become self-flagelating individualists like in the anglosphere today, because we are threatened by scours of muslim immigrants. A mixture between Japan and an Eastern European country will be fitting for Greece I think.


  10. I forgot to add also that the word soi used in Methana is in fact used throughout Greece today. It is turkish-derived and means extended family.
    Finally, what about Cyprus. It seems Cypriots are more Jew or Arab-like. I don’t know if they are inbred or not though. However, they are economically more successful in comparison to Greece, and seem more intelligent.


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