archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms

i’ve got this idea that the more specific a group’s mating patterns, the more specific their kinship terms — and vice versa.

so, if you’re the arabs, and you prefer father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage, you’ll have some rather specific kinship terms for all of your different aunts and uncles and cousins, because you want to be able to identify who your bint ‘amm is. if you’re the chinese, and you have an historic preference for mother’s brother’s daughter (mbd) marriage, you’ll also have specific kinship terms for all of your relatives. in fact, both of these societies have the most complicated of kinship terminology systems: the sudanese kinship system.

on the other hand, if you’re not picky about which cousin you can marry OR if all of your cousins are off-limits (like in christian europe), then you might not bother to designate any differences between your cousins (or other relatives). in the hawaiian kinship system, for instance, the only differentiation between relatives is sex and age, so all your brothers and male cousins are just “brother” and all your sisters and female cousins are just “sister.” and in traditional hawaiian society, marriage was very flexible.

meanwhile, in pre-christian europe, most all european populations had different terms for male and female, paternal and maternal cousins — like the arabs or chinese. after converting to christianity and adopting the church’s cousin marriage bans, the kinship terminology shifted to one in which cousins were no longer individually identified (see, for example, German Kinship Terms, 750-1500: Documentation and Analysis and this previous post). as michael mitterauer describes, this process took a few hundred years to happen [pgs. 68-69]:

“Fundamental trends in the changing kinship systems in Europe can best be deduced from the modified kinship terms in various European languages. Initially, terminological analyses will only yield very general clues that other indicators can differentiate and refine. Above all, these analyses cannot allow us to conclude anything about how some of the concepts used mirror a certain contemporaneous social order. Kinship terminology often outlasted by hundreds of years the conditions that gave rise to it. We frequently come upon phenomena of cultural lag when tapping this linguistic source in the attempt to learn about historical kinship systems, but that a change in a social situation must have preceded a change in vocabulary lies beyond a shadow of doubt.

so what does any of this have to do with archaic greece (800 BC – 480 BC)? (or classical greece and athens for that matter?)

well, from mitterauer again we have [pg. 69]:

“Greek was the first European language to eliminate the terminological distinction between the father’s and mother’s side, a transition that began as early as between the fifth and third century BC.35

so that’s just at the transition point between archaic greece and classical greece. but starting at least in the early part of the archaic period and lasting throughout to the classical period the archaic greeks were outbreeding! at least the upper class ones were — difficult/impossible to know about the lower classes. from Women in Ancient Greece [pg. 67]:

“Marriages were arranged by the prospective groom and the prospective bride’s guardian, and the wife usually (although not always) went to live with her husband’s family. In the early Archaic Age [800 BC – 480 BC], to judge from the evidence of Homer’s poems (e.g. ‘Odyssey’ 4.5), male members of the upper classes generally married women who were not related to them, and who came from different areas. This upper-class habit of exogamy — marrying outside the community — was related to the political importance which marriage possessed in these circles. Marriage exchanges were one of the means by which noble families created political alliances with groups living in other areas, and in this way they made a considerable contribution to the aristocracy’s stranglehold on power. This practice survived to the end of the Archaic Age. However, with the emergence of the *polis*, exogamy began to give way in some places to endogamy — to marriage within the community. For the upper classes, this meant marriage within a tight circle of aristocratic families living in the same *polis*.”

so there was outbreeding in archaic greece for a few hundred years (at least amongst the upper classes), and, then, eventually — after about 400 years or so — there was a linguistic shift to more general kinship terms which reflected that outbreeding. in other words, there was a lag time between the “social situation” (or mating patterns) and the linguistic shift in the kinship terms. in medieval german, the shift to more general terms for cousins began in the 1100s, about 300-600 years after the cousin marriage bans arrived in northern europe (depending on what region you look at).

that’s all for now. more anon!

previously: loosening of genetic ties in europe started before christianity? and demokratia

(note: comments do not require an email. archaic greek chicks.)

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15 Comments

  1. As you’ve noted before outbreeding was common in Florence in medieval times from which Renaissance originated, as was it in England that produced the Enlightenment.

    Although we should be experiencing such a glorious period now if outbreeding is the main factor. Perhaps it is a necessary but not sufficient condition?

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  2. I take it that Mitteraur is your key text for understanding manoralism. I just read as much as I can for free on Google books preview (way too expensive to buy and even a 24 hour Google rental ($4.95) means you’ve got to read the whole thing in one go. Oh well. I did notice that while he said manoralism and the nuclear family arose together he does not (that I saw anyway) offer a causal explanation for this coincidence — unless it was somehow in the interests of the lords, nobility, and church to divide and conquer the clan and extended family as foci of opposition. I think he may have mentioned that.

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  3. BTW, Mitteraur also mentioned higher age of marriage and more singles under manoralism. More singles in particular would have evolutionary consequences. Have you explored that already?

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  4. Staffan

    “Perhaps it is a necessary but not sufficient condition?”

    I think a minimum average IQ must also be a factor but again a necessary but not sufficient condition.

    Personally I think there are definitely two necessary traits, probably three and maybe others also.

    1) Minimum average IQ
    2) Thinking-outside-the-boxness (related to hubchik’s proposition imo)
    3) Aggression and/or psychoticness? (via more recently barbarian?)

    .

    “Although we should be experiencing such a glorious period now”

    PC academia is actively preventing it. If the Chinese break the PC logjam we might see an explosion or we might find there are other necessary components. Personally I think we’ll see a mini-explosion as it will be within the context of an ongoing collapse in the supporting infrastructure.

    California might turn out to be a good example of a place which had an abundance of all the necessary traits but had the infrastructure rug pulled out from underneath it – partly perhaps because of the downside to the thinking-outside-the-box trait.

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  5. @ Greying Wanderer –
    “Personally I think there are definitely two necessary traits, probably three and maybe others also.

    1) Minimum average IQ
    2) Thinking-outside-the-boxness (related to hubchik’s proposition imo)
    3) Aggression and/or psychoticness? (via more recently barbarian?)”

    By ‘aggression’ I assume you mean ‘drive’ or something to that effect? Or the opposite of passivity? I think that populations or groups where the men on average have very high levels of testosterone can be inclined to use their ‘drive’ more in the direction of, say, sex and/or violence (rather than activities which might contribute towards building a great civilisation); and populations or groups where the men on average have very low levels of testosterone lack the ‘drive’ to achieve great things or produce amazing inventions, etc. There seems to be some kind of optimal level of ‘drive’ (or testosterone) in a population which enables civilisation-building to occur; too low and you get mediocrity or stagnation; too high and you get anarchy and instability. Or something like that.

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  6. @luke – “I did notice that while he said manoralism and the nuclear family arose together he does not (that I saw anyway) offer a causal explanation for this coincidence — unless it was somehow in the interests of the lords, nobility, and church to divide and conquer the clan and extended family as foci of opposition. I think he may have mentioned that.”

    yeah, mitterauer admits that, while the rise of the nuclear family in northern/central europe is connected to manorialism, it’s not the whole story [pg. 58]:

    “Nor is it any easier to interpret villa and hide systems as the sole determinants of new structures in family and kinship systems. Religion appears to have greatly influenced the organization of traditional family and kinship patterns the whole world over….”

    i.e. christianity in europe, islam in the middle east/north africa/etc., confucianism in china. and in europe, the influence of christianity is clearly the cousin marriage bans.

    so, it’s a combination of various things — the new agricultural techniques (heavy plow, for example) and the rise of the manor system PLUS the new religion that weakened the old family structures — that pushes for the nuclear family.

    as far as i can tell, the manor system really pushes for nuclear families (and some historical sources that mitterauer quotes in the book show us that nuclear families — or, at least, not very “deep” families — are found on manors as early as the 800s) [pgs. 62-63]:

    “In his survey ‘Characteristics of the Western Family Considered over Time,’ Peter Laslett grouped specific characteristics of the European family into four areas. His first point is that family membership ‘in the West’ was confined for the most part to parents and children, the so-called nuclear family or the simple family household. Carolingian sources show that with regard to generational depth this form of the household was clearly dominant at the time. The prevalence of the two-generation family over the three-generation one is so apparent that we may suppose that two were desirable and three were in general deliberately avoided. Manorial labor policy within the *villicatio* system included the possibility of just that, especially where *servi casati* were concerned, that is, serfs/*servi* (*Unfreie*) who had settled in their own homes. Individuals, divided families, or even whole ones could be moved around within the *villicatio*; once the sons and daughters of *mansus* farmers were grown up they could be required to serve in the manor itself or on the farms of other *mansus* farmers. Most important of all, the lord of the manor could influence the time when his subjects could marry. This seems to have been the key to the way *mansi* were settled, and it guaranteed the dominance of the nuclear family. Sons had to marry as soon as they took over their father’s farm or any holding that was available. On the other hand, they were not allowed to marry as long as they did not run a farm independently. We know this from a way of handing down the farm (*Hoffolgepraxis*) practiced in later times, for instance, in central Europe. This was an effective way to avoid having three-generation families, which would have been a particular burden on the peasant and would have imparied his ability to fulfill his duties to his lord. This restriction probably would have already been the practice in Carolingian times.”

    i think that, in my own head, i’ve put together all of this from mitterauer with giorgio ausenda’s ideas that both the church and tptb pushed christianity down the peoples’ throats at least in part because of the cousin marriage bans since they wanted (for various reasons) to weaked the clans/kindreds (mostly because clans are a pain in the b*tt!) [pg. 147-48]:

    “Langobardic [Lombardian] laws concerning forbidden marriages also became stricter over time. Liutprand 33 [8th century] forbade marriage with the widow of a cousin, but no further prohibitions were reflected in the laws. We know, however, that more extended prohibitions were made compulsory by the Church….

    “This shows that both Church and State were interested in forbidding close kin marriages. Their common concern becomes clear when one bears in mind the recognized difficulty the Church had, from the fourth century onwards, in expanding into the countryside….

    “In conclusion, the strenuous effort [by the Church] to penetrate the countryside entailed a long-drawn battle against traditional religion, whose vehicle was the kin group, and substituting the authority of the elders of the kin group with that of a religious elder, the presbyteros. At the same time the king’s rule was undermined by revolts on the part of the most powerful kin groups, clans or sections, whose conspiracies and murders menaced the power of the state. Thus Church and State became allies in trying to do aways with the political power of extended kin groups utilizing all manners of impositions. One of the most effective among them was to destroy their cohesiveness by prohibition of close kin marriage.“

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  7. @luke – “BTW, Mitteraur also mentioned higher age of marriage and more singles under manoralism. More singles in particular would have evolutionary consequences. Have you explored that already?”

    no, not really, although there must obviously be some evolutionary consequences if something like 10-20% of your population doesn’t reproduce. and then there’s the age thing and mutation rates for men a la cochran & harpending.

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  8. @luke – “I just read as much as I can for free on Google books preview (way too expensive to buy and even a 24 hour Google rental ($4.95) means you’ve got to read the whole thing in one go.”

    don’t forget to clear your cookies a few times and then load the book again! (~_^) and go back to the book in two or three days — often different sets of pages will load then (for whatever reason — DON’T ask g**gle!). using a different browser sometimes does the trick, too.

    i actually splashed out on the book. i thought i paid $45 for it, but looking at the price tag now, i see that i paid $49! what was i thinking?! (i’m really glad that i did. it is one of my top 10 all-time favorite books … at least at the moment. (^_^) )

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  9. @staffan – “Perhaps it is a necessary but not sufficient condition?”

    yeah, absolutely. i think that what it is that the (long term) mating patterns do is to set up certain conditions — certain social structures — on which selection can then act.

    i think that, for instance, the arabs will have a very hard time building a trusting, (relatively) corruption-free, liberally democratic society because of all their inbreeding — i think that you have to have the outbreeding to get anywhere near any of that.

    but, i can imagine other sets of circumstances in which golden ages like the renaissance don’t happen even though outbreeding is happening. i believe, for instance, although i still need to check this out, that the bushmen in southern africa don’t marry very closely. but they might not have the iq points and/or economic pressures to lead them to develop things like scientific thought or ideas about universal equality.

    mating patterns are important, but they aren’t everything. (see! i said it AGAIN!! (~_^) )

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  10. @grey & chris – “By ‘aggression’ I assume you mean ‘drive’ or something to that effect? Or the opposite of passivity?”

    yes. i keep thinking of it in terms of contrarianism or just plain ol’ stubbornness — feeling that there must be a better way of doing … whatever … and i’m just going to figure it out, d*mnit!

    and i can’t help but associate all the scientific developments/inventions of the lowland scots with that sort-of attitude (see: greg cochran (~_^) ). some of my in-betweeners … maybe.

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  11. “1) Minimum average IQ
    2) Thinking-outside-the-boxness (related to hubchik’s proposition imo)
    3) Aggression and/or psychoticness? (via more recently barbarian?)”

    I would replace 3 with Eysenck’s persistence under negative reinforcement, which incidentally Eysenck associated with aggression and anti-social traits. But clearly, some people with this trait are friendly and easy-going. Like Richard Dawkins – the “militant”.

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  12. @staffan – “Eysenck’s persistence under negative reinforcement, which incidentally Eysenck associated with aggression and anti-social traits. But clearly, some people with this trait are friendly and easy-going.”

    ah ha! is that my “contrarianism”? (and by “my” i mean both what i refer to as contrarianism and my own behavioral tendencies. (~_^) )

    Reply

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