Archives for posts with tag: ancient germans

on christ’s arrest in the garden of gethsemane from the gospel of luke 22:39-51 (the revised standard version):

“Jesus went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed…. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his [right] ear. But Jesus said: ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.”

and the same (sorta!) story from the heliand, an old saxon poem from the early 800s commissioned to aid in the conversion of the saxons on the continent to christianity (“Song 57: Christ’s Deep Fear Before Battle, His Last Salute in the Garden” and “Song 58: Christ the Cheiftain is Captured, Peter the Mighty Swordsman Defends Him Boldly”):

“Christ’s warrior companions saw warriors coming up the mountain making a great din, angry armed men. Judas the hate-filled man was showing them the way. The enemy clan, the Jews, were marching behind. The warriors marched forward, the grim Jewish army, until they had come to Christ. There he stood, the famous chieftain. Christ’s followers, wisemen deeply distressed by this hostile action, held their position in front. They spoke to their chieftain: ‘My lord chieftain’ they said, ‘if it should now be your will that we be impaled here on their spearpoints, wounded by their weapons, then nothing would be so good to us as to die here, pale from mortal wounds, for our chieftain.’ Then Simon Peter, the mighty, the noble swordman, flew into a rage. His mind was in such turmoil that he could not speak a single word. His heart became intensely bitter because they wanted to tie up his lord there. So he strode over angrily, that very daring thegn, to stand in front of his commander, right in front of his lord. No doubting in his mind, no fearful hesitation in his chest, he drew his blade and struck straight ahead at the first man of the enemy with all the strength in his hands, so that Malcous was cut and wounded on the right side by the sword. His ear was chopped off. He was so badly wounded in the head that his cheek and ear burst open with the mortal wound. Blood gushed out, pouring from the wound. The men stood back. They were afraid of the slash of the sword.”


pre-christian germanics were clannish. very clannish!

presumably, this is the sort of thing discussed by james russell in his The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity, another book which i haven’t read.

here’s jesus the warrior for you, from the stuttgart psalter, also from the early 800s:


btw, i transcribed those passages from lecture 15 of the Early Middle Ages audio course from The Great Courses. excellent course!

(note: comments do not require an email. jedi jesus.)

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.)

back to America 3.0 for a sec.

if i understand their argument correctly, bennett and lotus are proposing that the anglo-saxon absolute nuclear family — and the sort-of individual-based society that goes along with it — has distant roots stretching back to the pre-christian germans on the continent. they do say that there were obviously some changes to the anglo-saxon family type after the germanics arrived in (what would become) england — basically that the anglo-saxon nuclear family became even more nuclear over the course of the medieval period. but, by and large, they believe that there is a very long cultural continuity of family types and societal structures going all the way back to the early germans and that these cultural traditions are what made the anglo world pretty d*rn great.

based upon my readings over the last couple of years (feel free to flip through the “english” section in the “mating patterns in europe series” below ↓ in left-hand column), i think that bennett and lotus have got it pretty right. the anglo-saxon world IS exceptional (and, no, no one in my extended family can take ANY credit for that) — this exceptionalism has got to do with the structures of anglo-saxon society, very much so the fundamental family structures — and the development of these structures does go back to the pre-christian continental germans. HOWEVER, i think that bennett and lotus have missed some details — details which throw off the timing of their argument somewhat. for instance, as i pointed out in my last post on the book, they missed out entirely on the importance of the kindred in early germanic society, thus over-estimating the importance of the nuclear family at that point in time. early germanic society wasn’t composed of very tightly knit clans, but neither was it made up of truly independent nuclear families. the early germans were very much tied to their kindreds — including the anglo-saxons in early medieval england up to at least 1000 a.d. (see previous post).

whatever made the anglo-saxons finally give up on their extended families (the kindreds) happened after they got to england (although they may already have been primed for it). the kindred seems to be truly gone in england (at least in the south/southeast) by about 1200 a.d., the evidence suggesting that it was on its way out by at least ca. 1000 a.d. so, sometime between their arrival in the 400s-600s and 1200, something happened which resulted in the disappearance of the anglo-saxon kindred (and germanic kindreds on the continent, too, btw — but not all the germanic kindreds).

in this post, i want to nit-pick about another point that bennett and lotus made about the pre-christian germans on the continent [pg. 75]:

“They owned property individually, not communally, and not as families. Adult children and parents had separate and individual rights, not collective rights as a family.”

nope. as greying wanderer mentioned in the comments on the other post, this is incorrect.

here from “Jural Relations Among the Saxons Before and After Christianization” in The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (2003) is giorgio ausenda on early saxon society on the continent. he’s drawing this information from the earliest written saxon laws. i’m quoting an extended bit here, since the first part includes an interesting description of how the early german kindred structure, including blood feuds, worked [pgs. 113-114]:

“There was no overarching structure with executive power in that society [pre-carolingian continental saxon society], even when stratified as in the case of the Saxons. There were no permanent ‘tribal chiefs’, but only heads of clans with little if any restraining power; the containment of violence was a private matter based on fear of retaliation between like corporate groups, i.e. ‘do not do onto others what you don’t want to be done to you’. The only restraining power the senior ‘elder’ of the group, which is also the etymological meaning of many terms for ‘chief’ all over the world, had was that of acting as an arbiter in an effort to reach consensus on compensations for murder or lesser injuries between contending parties belonging to different corporate groups under his jurisdiction; hence the Latin term *iudex* for such chiefs which were seen as acting mostly in legal palavers.

Property did not concern land, as this belonged to the corporate group as a whole and was the object of raids and counterraids to keep neighbouring groups away, or even wars rather than legal transfers. Tools and weapons were considered individual property and, in many cases … when the owners died, buried with them…. The only transmissible property was livestock and, in general, its apportionment was fixed by custom: women obtained their customary marriage endowment and men started owning livestock after they were wedded. They inherited their part in proportion to the number of sons of their deceased father, as sons were the only manual labor available in simple societies and were engaged in herding and minding their extended family’s herds and flocks.”

the early saxons, then, did NOT have property — not transferrable real estate anyway. (we saw something similar in early medieval ireland, although in that case, it was clearly the patrilineal clan that held common ownership of land.) in the case of the early saxons, land was held in common by — well, i’m not sure by whom (ausenda doesn’t say) — a set of related kindreds possibly? in any case, there is that group membership again — kindreds and wergeld in the case of murder/injury and now some sort of corporate group wrt land ownership. the continental saxons were not entirely independent, nuclear-family based individuals. they were a bit … clannish. clannish-lite.

whatever happened to make the anglo-saxons independent, property owning, absolute nuclear family individualists happened after they arrived on albion’s shores (but, i agree, their germanic background probably made a difference). and judging by what i’ve read (again, see the “mating patterns series” below), whatever happened doesn’t appear to have gained traction until about 1000 a.d. by 1200 it’s well underway, and by 1400 — well, i think you could probably drop a modern day englishman back into 1400s england, and he wouldn’t feel that disoriented. bennett and lotus are missing this timeline, because they are projecting too much anglo-saxonism too far back in time.

otherwise, they are very correct about the origins of anglo-saxon exceptionalism! (^_^)

(except for the fact that they believe it ALL to be about culture. that’s impossible, of course. at least in this universe. maybe in some alternate reality things are different. (~_^) )

edit: interesting. here is a quote from “The Kentish Laws” found in The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (1997) regarding the beginnings of a shift from communal to private property (land) in kent in a law from the seventh century [pg. 217]:

“The Kentish laws portray a society where the change from movable to landed wealth was under way so much so that even the oldest laws contemplate fines for the breach of enclosures (Aebt. 27-9). It is clear here that land is no longer handled in tribal terms but as belonging to individuals.”

bonus content!: here are a couple of things i came across tonight re. the anglo-saxons and other early germanics that i found interesting, so i just thought i’d share….

1) in early medieval kent, arranged marriages were all the rage. from “The Kentish Laws” in The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective (1997) [pgs. 211, 216 – links added by me]:

“We have four English law-codes which all originated in the seventh century; the first three sets of laws were issued by the kings of Kent Æthelberht I, Hlothhere and Eadric, and Wihtred….

“The three laws contain a series of decrees about matrimony and have been made the object of considerable research into the (legal) position of women and its evolution…. This is one of the fields where the control of the kindred remained stable: the kinsmen arranged marriage and, after the wedding, continued to watch over the woman.

there’s the importance of the kindred again — in early medieval anglo-saxon (and jutish) england even.

interestingly, this is pretty much what happens in some parts the arab world today — arranged marriages, but the woman’s kin keeps an eye on her to make sure she’s ok. i just read recently, in fact, that in the hejaz, it’s very common for hejazi women to be set up with their own bank accounts by their family so that they have a set of financial resources independent from their husbands (but then they share a common household budget). who knew?

2) several readers have wondered out loud here — and so have i — why on EARTH did the northern europeans/the germanics (or any europeans for that matter) adopt christianity at all? why wouldn’t you just do what the frisians did when st. boniface or his ilk showed up and (presumably) tried to chop down the locals’ sacred trees — hang him from the nearest one?!

well, the saxons were forced to convert. by tptb (in this case the invading franks). huh. imagine that — so-called leaders forcing policies down the people’s throats. hard to imagine!

again from “Jural Relations Among the Saxons Before and After Christianization” [pg. 117 – links added by me]:

“The first ones [written saxon laws] were issued directly by or under the supervision of Frankish authorities. The first group, know as *Capitula de partibus Saxoniae*, issued in 777 at the end of centuries-long conflict with the Saxons, is none other than a martial law enforcing both public order and wholesale christianization. Of the total number of 31 articles, the first five list the penalties for crimes against churches and priests; the next four establish stiff penalties for acts of ‘paganism’ including the death penalty for whomever should refuse to be baptized. Among them a lone ray of light: law number 6 which prohibits witchcraft accusations *’secundum more paganorum’*…. Law 14 is for repentants who, having committed a crime, might confess to a priest, hence would be exempt from the death penalty *’testimonio sacerdote’*.

“The next group of laws from 15 to 19 lays down the duties towards the Church, consisting of a certain number of inhabitants in each hamlet donating to the church *’servum et ancillam’*, and that the tenth part *’decimam’* of the value of penalties incurred, or of one’s subsistence labour must be given to the church. The remaining articles list the prohibitions and duties following on religious festivities and ceremonies.

“This brief set of laws ends with … a final prohibition of unauthorized assemblies….”

so there!

previously: the anglo-saxons and america 3.0

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below are a few quotes from Unjust Seizure: Conflict, Interest, and Authority in an Early Medieval Society regarding some historic evidence for blood feuds and honor killings in early medieval bavaria, the historic evidence being in the form of ecclesiastical charters (recording property donations to the church) and tales from a saint’s life. the time period is the mid-700s.

first of all, the “bavarians” of the day were a mix of peoples — mostly germanics (including alamanni, lombards, thuringians, and goths) but also some romans (or romanized locals) and slavs. the local rulers were a bunch of franks (iow, also germanics) who had taken over the place on behalf of the merovingians (no, not this guythese guys) — and introduced the manor system (uh oh!).

the conversion of the natives of bavaria (i.e. not their frankish rulers) to christianity was completed by st. boniface (boo!) sometime in the early 700s, so these people probably had had no barriers to marrying their cousins right up until the time period under discussion below (unless some of the local romans/romanized locals had been christians?). the agilolfings, too — the frankish rulers of bavaria — probably hadn’t been christians for much longer either, most of the franks converting in the 500-600s. so the population of bavaria in the 700s was probably not very outbred at that point (these things take time).

however, the church already had its cousin marriage bans in place by this time, so there probably would’ve been pressure from the priests and bishops and monks in the 700s to stop any close matings that were going on. there is some documentary evidence that shows that marriages in the 700s on ecclesiastical manors in bavaria occurred between such manors [pgs. 217-48], so that might suggest that the church at this time was, indeed, discouraging close marriages. i couldn’t find an online copy of the lex baiuvariorum (in english), which was written in the mid-700s, so i don’t know if there were any secular laws against cousin marriage in bavaria at this time.

the interesting points in the following are that: 1) feuds between clans, and even between branches of clans, were happening in eighth century bavaria just like you might’ve found in scotland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (thanks, mel!) or in parts of the philippines … like … just the other day — iow, early medieval bavarians were clannish peoples; and 2) family honor was extremely important to the point where honor killings happened just like — or almost like — in the arab world/middle east today.

ok. here are those excerpts [pgs. 30-39 – links added by me]:

“To begin with, we have the charters from the cathedral church at Freising. Five of the approximately one hundred twenty Freising charters surviving from this period [pre-carolingian] mention conflict…. The five Freising records tell a variety of stories. Nevertheless, they have one important feature in common: all mention conflicts tangentially, that is, as incidents that did not involve the church directly but rather prompted someone to make or confirm a property gift to the church….

“Instead of showing the church as a party to conflict, the Freising charters from this period reveal members of landholding kindreds in conflict with one another. Some of this conflict was violent. We learn of it because two men who were attacked and seriously wounded, as well as a third man whose son was killed, gave property to the church to benefit their souls and to support members of their families. The charters recording these gifts do not say what the violence was all about. The stories they tell, however, suggest that the attacks resulted from feuds between kindreds, and possibly even within an extended kin group. This impression is strengthened by Bishop Arbeo of Freising’s ‘Life of Saint Emmeram’. Arbeo’s biography of Regensburg’s patron saint is built around a story of outraged honor and violent revenge. The story indicates that Bavarian aristocrats in this period regarded violence as a legitimate response to insult or injury….

“The conflicts appear in the charters because the parties ended them by giving the disputed property to the church or by rearranging or restating disputed property rights that involved the church….


“At the beginning of the Freising charter collection, between his table of contents and his prologue, the priest Cozroh place a copy of a charter that he titled in red ink, ‘The Gift of Haholt and His Son Arn’. The charter was produced at the monastery of Saint Zeno at Isen, some thirty-two kilometers southeast of Freising, on May 25, 758. It most likely earned its prominent position in the collection, and certainly the attention of modern scholars, because it records among other things the dedication of Arn, the future archbishop of Salzburg and confidant of Charlemagne, to an ecclesiastical career.

“This record tells of a property gift that Arn’s father, Haholt, made to the cathedral church at Freising. At some time in the past, we read, an unnamed person attacked Haholt and seriously wounded him, to the point that he feared for his life. On what he thought was his deathbed, Haholt gathered his relatives together and asked them how best to provide for his soul and for his son’s future. Haholt’s kinsmen advised him to summon Bishop Joseph of Freising. The bishop hurried to Haholt’s bedside. On Joseph’s advice, Haholt ordered a church built on property he owned near Isen, which the bishop consecrated. Then, with the consent and participation of his wife, son, and relatives, Haholt gave the church and the property to Freising. He did so under the condition that his son Arn have the use of the property, that is, hold it from Freising as a benefice, for the rest of his life. After a space of time, however, Haholt recovered from his wound. In gratitude for God’s mercy and for their souls’ salvation, Haholt and his wife personally confirmed the gift. In addition, they formally devoted Arn to a clerical life at the Freising cathedral church.

“This record tells us that an unknown person attacked Haholt. The attack, however, is not the charter’s main concern, and we learn nothing about Haholt’s assailant or the reason for his assault. We learn only that the attack prompted Haholt and his wife to give property to Freising for the benefit of their souls and to support their son in his new career.

We can nevertheless hazard a guess about why Haholt was wounded. Two other charters suggest that he was involved in a feud. In the year 763, a kindred headed by a man named Reginperht and his brother Irminfrid turned a church they had built at Scharnitz, in modern-day Tyrol, into a monastery. Members of the kindred endowed the new foundation with generous gifts of property. One man, named Cros, had a special reason for his gift. ‘Compelled by the admonition of God and struck down by Count Keparoh with an incurable wound,’ Cros gave all his property to the monastery and entered it himself as a monk.

“Here, as in the Haholt charter, an act of violence prompted its victim to make a property gift. This time we have a name for the attacker: Count Keparoh. The name Keparoh also appears in another charter, this time on the receiving end of a violent attack. In this record, from the year 774, a man named Onulf makes the statement that his favorite son, Keparoh, had been insidiously murdered. Onulf responded to his son’s death by giving the property his own father had left him, as well as that left his wife by her father, Keparoh, to the Freising cathedral church. The property was to support his wife and surviving son for their lifetimes.

Onulf’s gift charter and the Scharnitz foundation charter together provide evidence for a feud stretching over generations. In 763, Count Keparoh struck down Cros. Eleven years later, in 774, a Keparoh fell victim to an assault. This younger Keparoh had a grandfather who was also named Keparoh. It is entirely possible that the person who attacked the younger Keparoh was a partisan of Cros and that the younger Keparoh’s grandfather was related to the count who attacked Cros or was even the count himself. In each case, the attacks prompted property gifts to a kindred monastery or to the cathedral church at Freising.

It turns out that Cros and the Kepharohs were most likely related to each other.

so this feud lasting for generations was likely a feud between sub-clans.

“To give a brief example of what the evidence behind such a statement looks like: Cros was the kinsman of the principal Scharnitz founders Reginperht and his brother Irminfrid. Reginperht and Irminfrid had another brother named David, who witnessed the foundation at Scharnitz. David also appears with Irminfrid making another property gift sometime between 758 and 763. In this latter gift, the name Keparoh stands third among the witnesses, immediately following David and Irminfrid. Given his prominent position on the witness list, it is extremely likely that this Keparoh was related to David and Irminfrid and therefore also to Reginperht and Cros. Keparoh’s apparent kindred relationship to the Scharnitz founders, therefore, suggests that the feud was a violent conflict within an extended kin group.

“The Cros-Keparoh feud helps explain the Haholt charter. Since the Cros and Keparoh stories are very similar to Haholt’s, it makes sense to conclude that Haholt too was wounded in the course of a dispute with another aristocrat. Seens as a group, then, the three charters indicate that Bavarian landowners processed disputes at least in part through violent feud. They do not, however, give any details about the feuds or the disputes that prompted them. To add depth to our picture of feud in Agilolfing Bavaria, we must briefly leave the charters and turn to the life of a saint.

“As noted previously, we have at our disposal two saints’ lives written by Bishop Arbeo of Freising, who succeeded Bishop Joseph in 764. One of them, the ‘Life of Saint Emmeram’, has violent conflict as its centerpiece. Arbeo wrote his biography of Emmeram, the patron saint of the cathedral church and monastery at Regensburg, sometime around the year 772. He evidently had little direct information about Emmeram to go on; he paints his subject for the most part in broad strokes that rely heavily on older hagiographic models. According to Arbeo, Emmeram was a wealthy Gallo-Frankish nobleman who was born in the Aquitanian city of Poitiers sometime in the seventh century. By virtue of his sanctity and his generosity to rich and poor alike, he quickly rose to become bishop of that city….

“After missionizing in Bavaria for three years, Emmeram asked permission to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Before he could leave, however, Ota, daughter of Duke Theodo, enters the story. Driven by lust and the urging of the devil, Ota had allowed herself to be seduced by the son of one of the duke’s judges. When the young woman could no longer hide the resulting pregnancy, the despairing couple threw themselves at Bishop Emmeram’s feet, admitted their sin, and implored him for aid. Moved by pity, the bishop ordered the pair to do penance for the salvation of their souls. He also instructed them under oath of secrecy to place the fault publicly for Ota’s pregnancy on him so that they might more easily escape earthly death. The bishop took the blame because he knew that when the sin became known, ‘he would certainly be unable to obtain forgiveness for the pair from the girl’s father.’ Emmeram then set out for Rome in the company of a group of clerics….

“Meanwhile, Duke Theodo had discovered his daughter’s condition. Enraged, he would have drawn his sword to kill the baby in the womb had not his men restrained him. No such restraint hindered Ota’s brother Lantperht from avenging his sister’s dishonor. Filled with wild fury, he assembled his own following and set off after Emmeram’s party. On reaching Helfendorf, Lantperht had the bishop brought before him and showered him with angry accusations. The bishop calmly denied the charge of seduction and asked that he, along with whatever companion Lantperht might choose, be allowed to proceed to Rome to seek a judgment from the pope according to church law. Lantperht refused; instead, he had the bishop stripped and tied to a ladder. Lantperht’s men then began to cut off Emmeram’s extremities and limbs piece by piece while the bishop praised God and prayed for their salvation. They finished by ripping off Emmeram’s genitals and tearing out his tongue; leaving the mutilated torso to die, Lantperht and his men departed….”

here’s emmeram having a foot, and who knows what else, chopped off:


As suggested before, Arbeo had to construct a martyrdom story that made sense to his audience out of bits and pieces of tradition, topoi, the cultural language of his society, and his own imagination. He responded by translating the Christ story into one of martyrdom by the ethic of feud. Lantperht viewed the bishop’s alleged seduction of his sister as an assault on his family’s honor. He responded with an act of revenge that he and at least a majority of his followers clearly perceived as justified: he exploded with rage, assembled a war band, and hunted down his sister’s ravisher. Lantperht then had the bishop mutilated and tortured to death. The grisly process ended with a symbolic gesture directly related to the alleged crime, namely, Emmeram’s castration.

This narrative suggests what may have lain in the silences left by the Freising feud charters: an insult, rage, and a violent, symbolic response….

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if you haven’t been following along, i’ve been trying to find out as much as possible about medieval germanic kinship and kindreds with the idea that there might be something there to help explain why the germanic populations seem to have went along with the church’s/kings’/princes’ medieval outbreeding project with the most enthusiasm.

most of the populations of peripheral europe — the scots & the irish, the iberians & maybe even the southern french, the southern italians, eastern europeans to differing degrees, and especially the balkan populations (see Why Europe? and the mating patterns in europe series in left-hand column below ↓ for more details) — took up the outbreeding project much later than nw europeans, with the result (i think) that most of them remained “clannish” to some degree or another, or even tribal like the albanians and montenegrins, up until comparatively recently. was there something different about the germanic societies that predisposed them to adopting the cousin marriage bans of the various medieval religious and secular authorities? were they already kinda outbred, perhaps, pre-the arrival of christianity…?

i said in my previous post on medieval germanic kindreds that i wasn’t having much luck finding any recently published info about them, so i was reading a book on germanic kindreds published in 1913(!) (reprinted in 2010, mind you). well, now i’ve come across a whole gaggle of more recent sources (yay!) — in william jervis jones’ German Kinship Terms, 750-1500: Documentation and Analysis (mentioned previously in this post, btw).

jones thoughtfully summarized the current (as of 1990 when his book was published) thinking on medieval germanic kindreds. here’s what he had to say [pgs. 80-82]:

“Social and legal historians have long debated the size, nature and function of early Germanic and medieval German kin groups. The traditional, though by no means unquestioned, assumption has been that early Germanic society was dominated by the clan or lineage, and by unilinealism, a fabric which was then alleged to have dissolved in the age of the barbarian kingdoms.[5] Fleckenstein (1978: 2ff.) distinguishes here the agnatic and the cognatic clan, and argues in favour of assuming the early existence of the clan as a ‘rather flexible institution’, which was later circumscribed by royal power, overshadowed by more powerful social groupings, and transformed into the lineage and the family. Murray (1983), on the other hand, finds no compelling reason to think that the (for him) mainly cognatic medieval systems were born of a unilineal system in transition: ‘Probably Germanic society always displayed a variety of kinship forms, and various peoples developed systems to meet specific needs.’ For Germanic times, Murray emphasises ‘the notion of the bilateral kindred as the basic kin group of society’, and alongside this ‘the antiquity and vitality of cognation’ (223). He further observes that, in earliest times, kin groupings had effectively no legal limit ‘since the form and dimension of the kin groupings often varied in particular circumstances’ (21).

The size and function of kin groups, as reflected in Germanic laws from the 5th to the 9th century A.D., have been examined by Katherine Fischer Drew (1988). Though traces of a prehistoric Germanic extended family can still be detected (for example in the blood feud, compurgation, and inheritance practices), the basic unit by the time of the barbarian kingdoms is seen by Drew as the small family, supplemented where necessary by recourse to a larger kindred. This was not a fixed association, but was defined by reference to Ego, and thus differed for every group of individuals who had parents in common. On the evidence of Visigothic, Lombard and Frankish laws, the limit of kinship seems to have lain for certain purposes at the sixth or seventh remove, the distance being counted upwards to (and downwards from) the common ancestor….

so, my first cousin would be removed from me to the fourth degree (e.g. me -> my father -> my grandfather -> down again to my uncle -> my cousin. count the arrows — there are four). my second cousin would be removed from me to the sixth degree — so drew concluded that early medieval germanic kindreds were reckoned out to second cousins. this is pretty standard for most clannish groups, actually — understandable ’cause it can get hard to keep track of relatives farther out — and one is not very related to them beyond that point anyway.

more from jones:

“For the early medieval period, the traditional view (reported, for example, by Leyser 1968: 32ff.) was that the aristocracies of Carolingian Europe consisted of very large family-groups, in which maternal kin mattered at least as much as paternal. The shifting, cognatic *Großfamilien* were seen as giving way in the 11th and 12th centuries to smaller and more closely-knit agnatic dynasties with a continuous history.[6] Questioning the sharpness of this discontinuity, Leyser warns against excessive reliance on the early testimony of the ‘Libri memoriales’, and adds: ‘The circumstance that nobles entered their kindred and affinity, living and dead, does not prove that they failed to distinguish between nearer and more distant ties of kinship or rule out close agnatic feeling and thinking’ (36).[7] Bullough, equally, argues for a differentiated view: ‘The likelihood is that the circle of kinsmen […] was differently conceived not only among different Germanic peoples but locally according to custom and differently when the issue was one of inheritance of land or a monastery, vendetta and composition or who should be present at a wedding feast. The only consistent feature […] is the bilateral nature of the kin-set and the fact, therefore, that such a set can have no structural persistence through several generations’ (1969: 15).

“For the High Middle Ages, the verdicts again differ. Genicot states with some firmness the view that after the end of the first millennium the looser cognatic kin-groupings fell into decline, as society proceeded to organise itself into individual and well-structured agnatic families (Reuter ed. 1970: 27).[8] According to Duby (1973: 283), the years between 900 and 1050 saw the gradual transformation of European kinship structure, from an imprecisely limited, horizontal perception to a more strongly vertical, agnatic view. Against or alongside this agnatic consolidation, it may be salutary to recall Marc Bloch’s opinion (1939: 201) that the victory of the agnatic principle did not eclipse the cognatic one. Due weight must be given, also, to Leyser’s more differentiated observations, that ‘the development of a more restricted, “dynastic” kind of family in the *Reich* was not as whole-hearted as in the West’ (1970: 133), and that the degree of agnatic perception depended on the importance of the lineages (1968: 31).[9] In Reuter’s view, also, consciousness of distant kinship must have varied with context, both before and after the 11th century: ‘it might be useful or it might not’ (1979: 7).

“Whatever its nature and scope, the recognition and reckoning of kinship pervaded many aspects of medieval life, and assumed particular importance in the pursuit of feuds and vendettas,[10] in impediments to marriage,[11] and in the laws of inheritance.[12]”

so, it’s hard to say what the structure of early (pre-5th century) germanic societies was — clans? kindreds? who knows? there does seem to be something of a consensus, though, that from ca. the 5th century onwards (until…?), germanic societies were featured by bilateral kinship and kindreds. lorraine lancaster concluded this about the anglo-saxons, phillpotts about the germanics across europe, and now nancy drew and others referred to in the above quote from jones.

the fact that germanic populations were probably kindred- and not clan- or tribal-based at the time that they converted to christianity leads me to think that, while they probably did practice cousin marriage (as suggested by the fact that the church/authorities DID have to ban it starting in the early medieval period), it probably wasn’t practiced extremely frequently, and probably a very close cousin form of cousin marriage (like father’s brother’s daughter [fbd] marriage) wasn’t preferred.

what do i mean by “wasn’t practiced *extemely* frequently”? i’m not sure. just that cousin marriage couldn’t have been as regularly occuring as it was in, say, medieval scotland (or ireland) or else (i think) that germanic society would’ve been structured in clear-cut extended families or clans rather than these more floating kindreds. similarly, i don’t think early medieval germanic couin marriage could’ve been very close (e.g. fbd marriage) or else, again, they would’ve had more tightly structured clans/tribes. the pattern seems to be — and i could be wrong about this — the closer the long-term marriage practices, the tighter and more structured the extended family structures within a society. kindreds are neither very tight nor structured — they vary with every individual (or every set of siblings, rather). they’re floating. kindreds are clannishness-lite.

there was close — including probably cousin — marriage in pre-christian germanic societies, otherwise the church/secular authorities wouldn’t have had to go through all the trouble of banning it. but i think that most early medieval germanic populations (looking away from funny little groups like the frisians and ditmarsians) must’ve been already comparatively loosely structured, and, therefore, were predisposed to accepting — or at any rate being more receptive to — the medieval cousin marriage bans. they were already not that clannish compared to most other european populations at the time, so it didn’t take much, i think, to push them out of clannishness altogether.

need to get my hands on drew’s Law and society in early Medieval Europe: studies in legal history. unfortunately there isn’t a preview available on google books. dr*t!

i also need to check to see if other populations based on kindreds (especially bilateral kindreds) have relatively low levels of close marriage. somebody remind me if i forget! (^_^)

previously: medieval germanic kindreds … and the ditmarsians and kinship in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society ii

(note: comments do not require an email. nancy drew.)

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