the zadruga

at the beginning of the year, i wrote a post about mating patterns in eastern europe in which i mentioned the zadruga as being a general slavic family form. szopeno took exception to that — and he was right!

i’ve done some more reading about eastern european — in particular balkan — family types, and, as far as i can tell, the only consensus amongst historians and social scientists wrt the extreme extended family form known as the zadruga is that there is noooo consensus about the zadruga. it is (or was) a family form amongst southern slavs — i.e. not all slavs — but also amongst other balkan peoples like the vlachs as well. the zadruga apparently wasn’t found everywhere in the balkans or at all times — but here’s something interesting from Entangled Paths Toward Modernity: Contextualizing Socialism and Nationalism in the Balkans (2009) [pg. 149]:

“Zadruga is the popular term used to describe the complex (exteded and multiple) family. The term itself is quite recent, its institutionalized usage dating from the nineteenth century. There is a long-standing historiographical discussion on almost all aspects of the zadruga, its status, origins and function. For a long time a ‘nativist’ historical approach, cogently supported by ethnographic and folklore studies, treated the zadruga as a perennial phenomenon (dating from the Middle Ages) and pertaining specifically to Slavic and Balkan civilization. Most recent scholarship has heavily contested not only the ‘from time immemorial thesis,’ but also the ‘all Balkan’ and the ‘specifically Slavic’ thesis. Zadruga zones in the nineteenth-century Balkans were unevenly distributed, showing a concentration in the mountainous stockbreeding area between the valleys of the Sava and Morava, the northwestern part of the Balkan range, that is, the mountainous territories between Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the Rhodope, the tribal regions of Montenegro and Northern Albania, while valley belts were present in the military frontier of Croatia, Slavonia and Vojvodina, some valley of Serbia, Western and Central Albania, Southern Macedonia and Southern Albania. The presence of the zadruga thus can be evidenced only for some Balkan territories, and not all exclusively Slavic (ex. Albania or Southern Hungary). In Bulgaria it was concentrated in the most western part of the country, it was almost completely absent from Romania and Greece.”

ah ha! so we’re back to (possibly/probably inbreeding) uplanders being clannish or tribalistic.

here’s an extended excerpt from Household and Family in the Balkans: Two Decades of Historical Family Research at University of Graz (2012) [pgs. 50-51 — links inserted by me]:

Both the Balkan joint family [i.e. the zadruga] and the patrilineage emerged first as results of pastoral economies and the patriarchal influence of Illyrian cultural legacy. (In part, the comparable culture of the Central Balkans is an autonomous development.) After the Roman conquest of the Illyrian lands these features were preserved by Albanian and Vlach nomads. They were later joined by Slavic groups who followed them into the uplands. What we have here is a phenomenon within limits of an adaptive strategy based on both ecological factors and predatroy expansion.

“The idea of a relationship between pastoralism and the existence of both the joint family household and the patrilineage is not new. [no, it is not. – h.chick] Todorova describes the highest concentration of joint family households in Western Bulgaria in regions with a large area of meadows and a developed pastoral economy (Todorova 1990: 18-19). Earlier, Mosely stated that, in general, the joint family had shown a greater viability in the mountainous regions of the Balkans than in the plains (Mosely 1976a: 31). Filipovic notes, the ‘appearance and persistence of the zadruga as an institution originated in connection with livestock herding’ (Filipovic 1976: 273). While Mitterauer states that the distribution of the joint family households is basically confined to mountainous, remote regions where a money economy and forms of wage work played a lesser role, he also suggests that a pastoral economy might have promoted the emergence of complex family structures (Mitterauer 1980: 67-69).

“The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans from the 14th to the 16th centuries was generally accompanied by massive migrations of the Balkan people in a variety of directions. Reconstruction of the migration movements is difficult, but the main direction was from south to north following the pattern of conquest. Pastoralists or semi-pastoralists, recently settled, rediscovered their former survival strategies. The mountain regions became repopulated (Cvijic 1922: 127-181). Generally, the Ottoman administration did not absorb the mountain dwellers…”

so, no state to put a damper on violent behaviors.

“…and so they independently developed appropriate social structures and concomitant survival strategies based on the patrilineage and patriarchal joint family.

“The joint family, like the lineage of which it was a part, was never static but underwent fissioning following the dynamics of the life course and family cycles. The tribal lineages constructed of these joint families were reinforced by their focus on shared sentiment and ritual. Thus the Balkan joint family became the basic unit for patrilineal tribal lineages that developed from the 14th centrury onward….”

the opposite process, really, of what happened in medieval nw europe.

“…This system was flexible enough to adapt to the bilaterally based kindred of Vlachs and Sarakatsans. [remember that the pre-christian germans — including the anglo-saxons — reckoned their kinship bilaterally as well. — h.chick] At the same time, this plasticity enabled the individual household to create cyclical alternations of nuclear and joint family households depending on fertility, fission and fusion (Halpern & Anderson 1970: 83-97). In this way these units also functioned for settled agriculturalists….”

this reminds me of the settled farmers of pakistan and afghanistan who adopted the arab mating pattern of father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage — a practice which grew out of the arab (or levantine) pastoralist traditions, but which was exported — along with (i think) all the related tribalistic sentiments which (i also think) develop, in part, because of the inbreeding — by the arabs to south asia when they invaded the region. i’m also reminded of the upland “auvergnat pashtuns” of france.

“…What characterized patriarchal Balkan social structure, as the pioneering works of Cvijic illustrated, was the constant interrelationship between becoming settled farmers and/or pastoralists. Until the 19th century this was a reversible process. This ended with the spread of industrialization, urbanization, and the modern states. It is thus much more logical to assign the origin of the Balkan joint family to the goat- and sheep-keeping families of the mountains that to see it as a result of conditions in the plains. But the fact is that many joint families resided in the valleys and plains.

How then did patriarchal joint family and patrilineage emerge in the plains? For centuries pastoral families of the mountainous regions migrated into the plains where they settled. In the generally chaotic situation caused by the Ottoman conquest not only did Slavic families flee to the mountains, but others, especially those of the Vlachs, left their mountainous homelands and settled in Ottoman-occupied territories. The valleys of Serbia, Bosnia, and, especially along the borders between the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires, were favoured sites.

hmmmm. time to google for a good map….

previously: mating patterns in medieval eastern europe and balkan endogamy and more on albanians and the flatlanders vs. the mountain people

(note: comments do not require an email. a zadruga.)



  1. Your really are becoming quite the authority on these matters. I wonder if Goody would approve? (Did you know, he got his start in a very amateurish way?)



  2. Swiss and Austrian mountain people are different from other mountain folks. But why?
    They have lived in the highest mountains in Europe.


  3. @luke – “Did you know, he got his start in a very amateurish way?”

    huh! no, i didn’t know that!

    wikipedia says he did orginally start studying literature @cambridge before the war (those studies were interrupted by the war), so i guess he was no slouch. (~_^) but then he returned to read anthropology in the ’50s. neat!


  4. @angela s. – “Swiss and Austrian mountain people are different from other mountain folks. But why?”

    don’t know (yet). haven’t read much of anything about those populations (yet). will let ya’ll know when i do!

    i suspect that the alpine populations are a tad clannish in a way, actually — the swiss sticking to all those regional cantons, for example, rather than building a nice nation-state — but don’t quote me on that. dunno (yet).


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