cities of tribes

i was googling something about ireland and tribes and clans for my last (why so) serious post, and came across this: Galway – City of the Tribes. heh! who knew?

they weren’t really tribes, tho, but extended mercantile families who ran the show in galway during the medieval period — until cromwell kicked them out, that is. there were fourteen of these “tribe” families — twelve were of anglo-norman origin and two of irish origin.

i don’t actually know for sure, but i betcha these fourteen “tribes” married and re-married each other over and over again. keep the money and power in the extended families, of course. i base this guess on what i read about the ruling oligarchy of medieval brussels…

tumbling down the rabbit hole that is wikipedia, i followed a link from the fourteen tribes of galway page (divided by two) to the seven noble houses of brussels page:

“The Seven noble houses of Brussels were the seven families of Brussels whose descendants formed the patrician class of that city, and to whom special privileges in the government of that city were granted until the end of the Ancien Régime…. All the members of the city council were exclusively recruited and elected from among those families who could prove patrilinear or matrilinear descent from the original seven families.”

these seven noble houses of brussels, in turn, reminded me about…

“Age, marriage, and politics in fifteenth-century Ragusa” (ragusa’s in sicily present-day dubrovnik!, btw). as in medieval brussels, you had to be a (male) member of one of these patrician families in order to be on the governing council of ragusa. here’s a taste of what these families’ mating patterns looked like [pgs. 102-104]:

“Marital Alliances Among the Casate [Ruling Houses]

“What was the significance of the casata for the marriages of its members? If marriages were arranged with a view towards their political usefulness and if the casata acted as a unit in political affairs, then we would expect to see evidence of casata involvement in arranging marriages…. [The researcher looked at] all marriage occurring between 1400 and 1520….

“[L]et us begin by examining marriages of the largest casata, the Goce. There were 207 Goce patrician marriages between 1400 and 1520 of which 191 were between the Goce and twenty-eight other casate. Eight were endogamous marriages between Goce sections. Like most of the larger casate within the patriciate, the Goce spread their marriages widely. This might be expected from the large number of Goce who married, the patriciate’s relatively small size and the Church’s restrictions on close kin marriage. But if the casate tended to spread their marriages broadly, that did not mean that they spread them evenly or in similar fashion.

“To study patterns of marriage alliance, a matrix of all marriages between casate was constructed. This information, however, is difficult to interpret because the casate differ so considerably in size and in the number of their marriages. One is more likely to marry a Goce than a Bocinolo, other things being equal, because there are many more Goce available for marriage than there are Bocinolo. Furthermore, we find that the Goce did not marry into eight casate. Since these were amongst the smallest of the casate, it is difficult to know whether this absence should be taken as an indication of dislike or simply lack of opportunity.

“To make allowance for the differences in numbers of persons marrying, the following procedure was adopted. First, it was assumed that if casata affiliation were not an important consideration in marital choice, then any individual male would be equally likely to marry any other individual female. On this basis the expected number of marriages between casate was calculated. Then the difference between the expected number of marriages and the actual number was calculated. A zero difference would indicate that the number of marriages which occurred between two casate was just about what would be expected on the basis of chance. A relatively large positive number would indicate an attraction between casate whereas a large negative one would indicate indifference or aversion….

If we examine the total number of marriages, it is possible to discern some clustering of allied casate. At the centre of one web of intermarrying casate are the Sorgo, one of the largest casate. They exchange with the Grade and Zamagna in fifteen and twelve marriages, respectively. The Grade and Zamagna also exchange with one another. These three casate are strongly interlinked by marriage ties and I shall refer to them as the Sorgo triangle. The Sorgo are also linked to the Caboga through seven marriages, but the Caboga show no special relationship with the other two Sorgo partners, the Grade and Zamagna. The Caboga have two marriages with the Zamagna, less than would be expected by chance, and the nature of their tie with the Grade is very one-sided. All the Caboga/Grade marriages involved Caboga women marrying Grade men.”

the author then goes on to outline all the other repeat marriage alliances between other ragusa casate, but in the interest of sparing your sanity, i won’t reproduce all those paragraphs here. (i think you get the gist from looking at just one of the casata’s connections.) but here’s a nifty diagram he drew up showing the marriage connections between the households:

the point is, the ruling families of medieval ragusa kept their wealth and their political power in the patrician families simply by marrying one another over and over again. some had greater alliances with certain families than others, so no doubt this produced some rifts within the ruling family class. but most importantly, they generally did not marry outside of their class.

you would think that, looking at this all from an inclusive fitness p.o.v., the patrician families might start to look after themselves more than they did the common folk of ragusa, since over the centuries they inbred with one another, somewhat closing themselves off genetically from the — you know — riff-raff.

more from david rheubottom [pgs. 106-107]:

“In a small community such as patrician Ragusa, one might expect to find inter-linking through marriage occurring over time. While there is no evidence that the Ragusans prescribed marriage partners in the sense introduced by Levi-Strauss, there may be regularities over time in the exchange of partners. In the discussion of societes complexes elaborated by Heritier, it has been hypothesized that people may be inclined to marry the nearest relative available beyond the prohitied degree. This suggestion has been the centrepiece of Delille’s historical analysis of the repeat marriages in the Kingdom of Naples from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries and his claim that such marriages constitute an intermediate type between elementary and complex marriage systems (1985). This work is important not merely because it confronts conventional wisdom about South Italian kinship, but because it redirects anthropological attention to the possible linkage between marriage systems and larger kinship groups.

“We have seen that the age difference at marriage militates against direct exchange between sibling groups. [It was customary for Ragusan sisters to marry before their brothers, so men tended to marry at a later age than women.] But the same age differences might have another consequence. According to Heritier’s hypothesis, the closest descendants of a common ancestor that might marry would be cases where a groom marries his MMBDD [mother’s mother’s brother’s daughter’s daughter!, i.e. his second-cousin]. Given the age differences we have examined, such a marriage would occur when the linking ancestors (the groom’s mother’s mother and her brother) would be about 69 years old. The next most likely marriage would be between a man and his FMBSD [father’s mother’s brother’s sister’s daughter, i.e. another second cousin]. In this latter case the linking relatives (the groom’s father’s mother and her brother) would be about 84 years old at the time of marriage. Also in this latter case the bride’s casata and the groom’s paternal casata would be identical.

“Using genealogical records in the database, it is possible to trace back through the ancestors of both bride and groom to search for common ancestors. Taking the marriages which occurred between 1440 and 1490, I have attempted to trace the ancestry of both bride and groom through five generations. The depth of the genealogical data does not permit fruitful searches beyond this limit. It was possible to search for linking relatives for the partners of 345 marriages. Looking particularly for possible links in the generations between the ascending (the grandparental generation) and the fifth generation, the groom potentially has eighty possible ancestors whom he might share with his bride. In practice the number of possible links is much less because of gaps in the genealogical records. This number of gaps increases as one goes back in time.

Of the 345 marriages studied there are only sixty-three (18 per cent) in which there is an identifiable linking relative. It is surprising how few marriages show a linking relative although the small number may be due to lacunae in the genealogical database. The second surprise is that among those who are linked, no dominant pattern emerges. Significantly, given Heritier’s hypothesis, where linking relatives exist there are no cases where that relative is either the MMBDD or the FMBSD. The set of linking relatives are a very mixed (genealogical) bag.

“Following the conventions established by French studies of consanguine marriages where the numbers refer to ascending links to the common ancestor (the groom being given first), the most common link is between grandchildren of first cousins (4-4, with 27 instances). The next is 3-4 with 19 instances followed by 5-4 and 4-5 (with 9 and 8 instances, respectively). These, in turn, are followed by 3-5, 4-3, 5-5-, and so on. Since couple are linked in more than one way, the number of links is greater than the number of couples. But this material does not show any evidence of intermediate marriage systems in Ragusa such as those suggested by Delille for the Kingdom of Naples.

so, to translate, some of the members of the medieval ragusan ruling families were marrying distant cousins, but generally ones beyond the degree of second cousin. unlike in the kingdom of naples, many other ragusans did not marry even distant relatives, altho the researcher is not 100% certain about that. so, some ragusan ruling families were keeping it in their own family — but in their distant family.

i wonder what the mating patterns of the medieval brusseleer(?) ruling families and galway “tribes” were?

finally, luke mentioned the other day the “cousinocracy” of virginia. -!- i hadn’t heard about that before, so after i did a little googling, i found out that virginia’s cousinocracy pretty much consisted of the first families of virginia:

“First Families of Virginia (FFV) were those families in Colonial Virginia who were socially prominent and wealthy, but not necessarily the earliest settlers. They originated with colonists from England who primarily settled at Jamestown, Williamsburg, and along the James River and other navigable waters in Virginia during the 17th century. As there was a propensity to marry within their narrow social scope for many generations, many descendants bear surnames which became common in the growing colony….

The reins of power were held by a thin network of increasingly interrelated families. ‘As early as 1660 every seat on the ruling Council of Virginia was held by members of five interrelated families,’ writes British historian John Keegan, ‘and as late as 1775 every council member was descended from one of the 1660 councillors….’

“The intermarriages between these families meant that many shared the same names, sometimes just in different order — as in the case of Lt. Col. Powhatan Bolling Whittle of the 38th Virginia Infantry, Confederate States of America, the uncle of Matoaka Whittle Sims.”

interesting! keeping it in the family even in these united states. a couple of the cousinocracy familes are, btw, carter and lee.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

(note: comments do not require an email. you don’t have to be adorably cute, either.)



  1. @hbd chick, a very general question (no Robt. E. Lee pun intended:): how does our steadily increasing world population (&/or the increasing population of any given country) fit into all this? as more & more people become less & less related — does that bode well for increasing the # of civilized democracies? or does it make war easier (both outside &/or inside the country) as people’s “relative-ness” becomes more diluted? is relative-ness becoming more diluted (or am i more deluded?:) how does adding more & more people into the equation affect things/upset the applecart? hmm, perhaps we need an odd “control” country, where people are the least related possible:) i’m just wondering – if there’s really no answer, please don’t feel you have to respond (i learn enough from you as it is!:) thanks!


  2. @panjoomby – good questions! i haven’t got a clue. (^_^)

    if we had infinite resources — and we don’t — the actual numbers shouldn’t matter, i think. i mean, in a perfectly hypothetical scenario in which there were infinite resources, it shouldn’t matter if a population consisted of 100 or 1000 outbred individuals, or 100 or 1000 inbred, clannish individuals.

    but, throw limited resources into the mix, and then you have problems.

    i would imagine that a population of outbred individuals with “broad but shallow regional blood ties” (as steve sailer phrased it) with plenty of resources would be a pretty nice place to live. on the other hand, if these individuals had to fight each other (or some invading people) over resources — well, they would fight over resources, presumably forming alliances based on a whole range of factors, one of the weakest being familial relatedness.

    on the other hand, in a clannish or tribal population of inbred individuals with plenty of resources — well, i don’t think they’d fight too much, either, given they had plenty to go around! they’d start fighting, of course, if they had to struggle for resources — but then they’d align themselves more along familial lines, i do believe.

    as more and more people become less related around the world — i.e. as many societies quit inbreeding so much (which isn’t actually the case for many muslim societies, btw — some of them have actually started inbreeding more over the last few decades), i would think that would produce societies more like our own with more individualistic tendancies, etc., etc. (other societies won’t be exactly like ours, tho, since there’s still all the genetic differences, not to mention cultural traditions.)

    as more societies outbreed, you would think we’d get more societies with “broad but shallow regional blood ties.” as westerners became more and more outbred, we hit a point at one stage in our evolutionary history (i think) where nationalism started to make sense to a lot of people. that whole period was a time of revolutions and wars between european nations, so as other populations in the world go through the same “growing pains,” maybe it would be logical to suppose that they’ll also go all nationalistic and want to war with other nations? i dunno.

    of course, when haven’t different populations of humans fought each other? we don’t need much of an excuse to do so, really. nationalistic sentiments do sorta change the scale and color of war movements, tho.


  3. thank you, excellent food for thought — & a new lens from which to view history through (& to view the future through, too!)


  4. The term “Tribes” was used as a derogatory comment by the Cromwellian s after the Great Siege of 1651 to describe the local merchant families.

    Travellers aren’t Gypsies, interesting enough there was a show on TV there where they did some DNA testing, fairly weak on the details but the men showed up with standard Irish haplogroups (L21, M222 etc.) the MtDNA haplogroups were also fairly standard for Ireland. From an autosomnal point of view they said that travellers clustered together in seperate cluster from wider Irish population. However the closest related “cluster” was the “Irish cluster”

    As I said it was fairly weak on details. The implication though is they are basically an endogamous grouping that seperated from rest of Irish population within the last 400-700 years. Of course 400 years ago Irish society had collapsed due to the destruction of the 17th century.


  5. @paul – thnx for the info!

    do you know what, if any, the relationship is between the irish travellers and the travellers in england — like these ones in the news these days? are travellers in the uk the same bunch of people as irish travellers, or are they another group of people all on their own? (or are the travellers in england gypsies?)


  6. I’d presume there are some travellers of English origin who follow the same lifestyle as the Irish travellers- the same sort of thing is present in Scotland too. There’s a interesting overview of a bit of the history with the Gypsies and Irish Travellers here, though the BBC has the blinkers on about the practice of “knock[ing] on front doors and ask people if they need any construction work”. I’ve read somewhere that the I.T’s are a bit more aggressive and will tend to drive Gypsies out of established traveller sites. The hippie types wouldn’t have a chance- but they never get into any trouble unless they’ve been inspired to perform their midlife crirituals at a popular tourist site like Stonehenge.


  7. @paul rain x 2 – I’d presume there are some travellers of English origin who follow the same lifestyle as the Irish travellers – the same sort of thing is present in Scotland too.

    interesting! i had no idea about the scottish travellers. thnx for the bbc link, too!

    strange groups these small break-away populations. curious, i mean.


  8. “do you know what, if any, the relationship is between the irish travellers and the travellers in england — like these ones in the news these days? are travellers in the uk the same bunch of people as irish travellers, or are they another group of people all on their own? (or are the travellers in england gypsies?)”

    there are separate groups in each country. the reason specifically Irish travellers (tinkers i think they call them in Ireland) are mentioned a lot in the UK is a lot of them moved to England in the last 10-15 years iirc because the Irish government changed some law or other.

    the word “tinker” is probably a clue to their mixed origins as a hybrid between small numbers of actual Roma and indigenous tinkers or other travelling workers e.g. fairground workers.

    culturally they’re Roma – some of their words are very similar to Pakistani words – but genetically many of them are ultra-indigenous through generations of inter-marriage with the least urban parts of the population.


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