mating patterns in medieval norway

at the beginning of this year i said that, since there are so many scandinavian readers of the blog (skål!), i would post about the historic mating patterns of scandinavians/nordic folks … aaaaaaand now it’s december and it never happened. (*^_^*) (did i mention that i come from a population that doesn’t have terrific future time orientation? as han solo said: “it’s not my fault!” (~_^) ) sorry!

i did have good intentions! i swear! back in april i picked up this article: “Norwegians and Europe: The Theme of Marriage and Consanguinity in Early Norwegian Law” from Scandinavia and Europe 800-1350: Contact, Conflict, and Coexistence. so now, in order to assuage my guilt, and so that i might sleep well at night once again, i am finally going to take a look at that article! (^_^)

there were four legal areas in medieval norway (indicated on map below) — the borgartingslag (B), the eidsivatingslag (E), the frostatingslag (F), and the gulatingslag (G):

norwayregions

each of these regions had its own set of secular laws up until the 1270s when magnus the law-mender issued a common law for all of norway. they also each had their own set of ecclesiastical laws which, of course, included regulations on marriage. although there are a couple of differences between these law codes wrt marriage, the upshot is that marriage between sixth cousins or closer was banned in all four regions as well as marriage between affinal family members (i.e. in-laws) related to one another within five degrees (e.g. fourth cousins-in-law or closer). the regulations on blood relations are in line with canon law issued from rome at the time (the ones on in-laws are not) and appear to have been included in norwegian canonical legislation sometime after 1152 (when nicholas breakespear, papal legate in scandinavia and later pope adrian iv, introduced the sixth cousin bans to norway/scandinavia). the penalties in these four norwegian law codes ranged from fines and having to do penance to the splitting up of the couple and even to banishment (“outlawry”).

in the 1270s, when magnus was “mending” all the laws in the country, the cousin marriage bans in norway were scaled back to the fourth degree (i.e. third cousins). this was a bit later than the rest of western europe where the cousin marriage bans were changed in 1215. for this reason, the author of the article suggests that the ban out to sixth cousins probably wasn’t ever strongly enforced in norway, since the authorities didn’t bother to update this regulation right away — like it was a sleeping law or something. that certainly might’ve been the case, and i tend to favor this idea actually. the sixth cousin ban was difficult to enforce right across europe — who knew who their sixth cousins were?! — which is why it was dropped after only a couple of hundred years or so (although thomas aquinas offered other theoretical reasons for scaling back the bans as well) — and i can’t imagine why the situation should’ve been any different in rather remote norway/scandinavia. on the other hand, perhaps the norwegian authorities just decided to hang on to these stringent bans for longer for whatever reasons. that certainly happened in neighboring sweden at the time of the reformation — unlike many of the other newly minted protestant/lutheran churches (as in the german lands, for instance) which did away with cousin marriage bans altogether, the swedish authorities made it difficult for most people to marry cousins right up until 1844.

whatever the case, marriages to closer than third cousins were banned in norway after the 1270s. how well these bans were enforced is, of course, another question. in all likelihood, like elsewhere in europe, enforcement probably became more rigorous and consistent over the course of the medieval period as christianity and the church and its norms permeated norwegian society. remember the example of the franks in the early medieval period: cousin marriage was banned by the frankish kings in the mid-700s, but it wasn’t until sometime in the 800s that the people began thinking that marrying a cousin was unseemly — and that someone ought to tell the bishop if the neighbor had! presumably there was a similar delay with cousin marriage bans gaining traction in norway (and everywhere else, for that matter).

all of this is assuming that the pre-christian norwegians married their cousins to some degree or another in the first place. i don’t know for sure or not if that was the case — Further Research is RequiredTM — but it seems likely that the scandis would’ve behaved similarly to other germanic peoples who certainly did marry their cousins before conversion (see “mating patterns in europe series” below, esp. the posts on the germans and the anglo-saxons) — and they all shared similar kindred structures and feuding practices which seem to go along with cousin marriage, so….

there’s some evidence for a few norwegian christians here and there in the 900s, but the real push for conversion came with olaf ii who was king of norway in the early 1000s, so it’s more than likely that cousin marriage was present in norway right up until this point, although who knows what the frequency was.

one of the earliest — if not the earliest — introductions to norway of the crazy idea to ban cousin marriage at all probably happened in 1022 when the moster assembly (which looks to me to be in the gulatingslag) passed some ecclesiastical cousin marriage bans suggested by bishop grimketel (grimkell), english bishop of selsey. these were based on king æthelred‘s laws from the early eleventh century in which marriage to fourth cousins or closer was banned (this is news to me, btw!).

the arrival of christianity and cousin marriage bans, then, obviously occurred quite a bit later in norway than in the populations closer to the center of “core europe” — i.e. the franks (belgians and dutch) and the southeastern english — whose outbreeding projects were well underway by sometime in the 800s. the norwegians probably lagged behind in outbreeing by three or four hundred years, but, again, no idea exactly how much they’d been marrying their cousins beforehand. (similar case with the swedes.)
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a couple of other notes from the article not directly related to norway:

– sometime between 1161 and 1172, pope alexander iii gave dispensation to a certain group of people who were a part of the archbishopric of niðarós and who were having difficulties obeying the canon law banning sixth or closer cousin marriage. these people lived on an island “twelve days’ journey from Norway” and are believed by historians today to have been the residents of greenland! they were granted permission to marry their fourth, fifth, and sixth cousins. whew!

– the author of the article notes that the cousin marriage bans in iceland were probably never higher than the fourth degree (i.e. third cousins). in other words, icelanders never experienced the crazy bans out to the sixth cousins.

previously: inbreeding in sweden and inbreeding in 18th and 19th century sweden

(note: comments do not require an email. erroneous norwegian claim re. the paper clip!)

random notes: 04/16/14

busy reading all about crime and punishment (i.e. the death penalty) in medieval england, so you don’t have to! (^_^) in the meantime, until i post about that, here are some random notes:

the law codes of ine king of wessex (688-726) are some of the earliest anglo-saxon law codes still surviving. they were issued ca. 694. ine took his christianity seriously and demanded that [pg. 27]:

“[A]ll children were to be baptised within 30 days of their birth, failing which their guardians had to pay a fine of 30 shillings. If a child died before baptism its guardian lost all he possessed….”

so there are some strong incentives for the populace to convert to christianity or remain christian once they’d done so.
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æthelstan, king of the anglo-saxons and then the first king of the north english (924-939), also passed a bunch of laws including [pg. 32]:

“[T]he first social legislation in England, providing for the relief of the poor. If a king’s reeve failed to provide, from the rents of the royal demesne, for the poor in the manner prescribed he had to find 30 shillings to be distributed among the poor under the bishop’s supervision.”

nice of him! (^_^)
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some examples of concerns about consanguinity issues in the late anglo-saxon period [pg. 226]:

“General concern about marriage and sexual relations within the kin is expressed throughout our period, for example, in the late ninth century in letters from Pope John VIII to Burgred, king of the Mercians, and to Æthelred, archbishop of Canterbury, and another from Fulk, archbishop of Reims, to King Alfred. In the 950s, according to the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, ‘Archbishop Oda separated King Eadwig and Ælfgifu because they were too closely related’. They may have shared a great-great-grandfather, King Æthelwulf of Wessex….”

so there you go.
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and in anglo-norman england [pgs. 435-437]:

“As in the Anglo-Saxon period, a central issue was consanguinity. In the second half of the eleventh century and particularly under the influence of the reformer Peter Damian, the method of counting the prohibited degrees was established in its most extensive form. Instead of counting to see if there was a common ancestor within four generations, the counting was taken a further three generations back, to the seventh. This had the effect of extending the range of prohibited marriage partners to sixth cousins.[12] In England, the prohibition ‘to the seventh degree’ was decreed at ecclesiastical councils at London in 1074 x 1075, and at Westminster in 1102 and 1125: ‘between those related by blood or relatives by affinity [i.e. by marriage], up to the seventh generation, we prohibit marriages to be contracted. If indeed anyone shall have been thus joined together, let them be separated’. Reformers also emphasised other non-blood relationships, especially spiritual kinship. The potential for conflict with lay practice must have increased significantly, as it has been suggested that whilst the layity did not commonly contract marriages within four degrees, they did within five or six.[15]

“[12] It has been suggested that blood relationships alone might mean that the bride or groom had over 2,500 cousins of their own generation whom they were prohibited to marry; J.-L. Flandrin, Families in Former Times, trans. R. Southern (Cambridge, 1979), 24.

“[15] E.g. Green, Aristocracy, 348-9.”

2,500 cousins that you couldn’t marry. awkward that.
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interestingly (at least to me!), from late anglo-saxon england [pg. 242 – link added by me]:

“A further important tie was that of spiritual kinship, created particularly at baptism, but also at the catechumenate and confirmation. It seems that in England, unlike the Continent, there was only one sponsor, of the same sex as the person undergoing the ceremony. This is one reason for the relatively limited emphasis in England on the need for the group of godparents and their godchild to avoid sexual relations or marriage within the group.[114]

“[114] J.H. Lynch, Christianizing Kinship: Ritual Sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon England. 1998.”

huh! who knew?
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and, finally, just to remind everyone how barbaric the barbarians were [pg. 186]:

“The laws of Æthelstan mention drowning or throwing from a cliff for free women, stoning for male slaves, burning for female slaves:

“‘In the case of a male slave, sixty and twenty slaves shall go and stone him. And if any of them fails three times to hit him, he shall himself be scourged three times. When a slave guilty of theft has been put to death, each of those slaves shall give three pennies to his lord. In the case of a female slave who commits an act of theft anywhere except against her master or mistress, sixty and twenty female slaves shall go and bring three logs each and burn that one slave; and they shall pay as many pennies as males slaves would have to pay, or suffer scourging as has been stated above with references to male slaves.’

“However, the literary and archaeology evidence just cited suggests that hanging and beheading were the most common methods.”

=/

(note: comments do not require an email. æthelstan – earliest surviving portrait of an english king.)

the saxons, the anglo-saxons, and america 3.0

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).
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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.”
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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

(note: comments do not require an email. birds with mustaches!)

thomas aquinas on too much outbreeding

in addition to being concerned about too much inbreeding and how that might hinder the building a christian society here on earth, thomas aquinas also worried about the effects of too much outbreeding.

from his Summa Theologica [pg. 2749]:

“The degrees within which consanguinity has been an impediment to marriage have varied according to various times…. [T]he Old Law permitted other degrees of consanguinity, in fact to a certain extent it commanded them, to wit that each man should take a wife from his kindred, in order to avoid confusion of inheritances: because at that time the Divine worship was handed down as the inheritance of the race. But afterwards more degrees were forbidden by the New Law which is the law of the spirit and of love, because the worship of God is no longer handed down and spread abroad by a carnal birth but by a spiritual grace: wherefore it was necessary that men should be yet more withdrawn from carnal things by devoting themselves to things spiritual, and that love should have a yet wider play. Hence in olden time marriage was forbidden even within the more remote degrees of consanguinity, in order that consanguinity and affinity might be the sources of a wider friendship; and this was reasonably extended to the seventh degree, both because beyond this it was difficult to have any recollection of the common stock, and because this was in keeping with the sevenfold grace of the Holy Ghost. Afterwards, however, towards these latter times the prohibition of the Church has been restricted to the fourth degree, because it became useless and dangerous to extend the prohibition to more remote degrees of consanguinity. Useless, because charity waxed cold in many hearts so that they had scarcely a greater bond of friendship with their more remote kindred than with strangers: and it was dangerous because through the prevalence of concupiscence and neglect men took no account of so numerous a kindred, and thus the prohibition of the more remote degrees became for many a snare leading to damnation.”

(^_^)

previously: st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas

(note: comments do not require an email. summa theologica)

loosening of genetic ties in europe started before christianity?

several of my previous posts discuss how, during the medieval period, the christian church in europe — along with tptb of the dayaltered the mating patterns of europeans by (at least trying to) put a stop to cousin marriage amongst the natives, a practice that would lead to a loosening of the genetic ties between the members of the population(s).

jack goody suggests that this was a new and strange policy without precedent invented by the church fathers, i.e. there was no foundation for banning cousin marriage in the bible or in roman society from whence a lot of the church fathers came.

that seems to be pretty right from what i’ve read, but michael mitterauer says that this move toward greater outbreeding might’ve started earlier in ancient greece (was it related to this?) and that the holy roman catholic church’s policies may have simply been part of a wider trend.

mitterauer, who i’m going to quote at length below because i just found what he had to say so doggone interesting, sums up all the linguistic changes related to kinship that happened across europe after the mating laws changed. i mentioned before that i thought that kinship terms indicate who you can and cannot marry — now it seems, from what mitterauer has to say, that they mostly indicate who you cannot marry. (so, back to hawaii for a sec, since everyone of your age [in your village, presumably] were called either “brother” or “sister,” this must have meant that you couldn’t marry any of them. and this makes sense, because any of them could’ve been your real brother or sister!)

ok. big quote from mitterauer [pgs. 68-74]:

“Fundamental trends in the changing kinship systems in Europe can best be deduced from the modified kinship terms in various European languages…. Three major transformational processes illustrate this statement with regard to European kinship systems.

“We can describe the first fundamental trend in the shifting of European kinship terms as the gradual appearance of the same, or parallel, terms for paternal and maternal relatives, which is best shown in the expressions for a parent’s siblings. All the Indo-European languages of Europe originally distinguished between the father’s brother or sister and the mother’s brother or sister. Take Latin as an example: the father’s siblings were called patruus and amita, and on the mother’s side, avunculus and matertera. In Middle High German the terms were Vetter and Base, Oheim and Muhme. As the history of almost every European language evolved, distinctions between paternal and maternal relatives became neutral. And so French used oncle for both parents’ brother (derived from the Latin word for a maternal uncle, avunculus) and tante for either parent’s sister (following from the Latin word amita, a paternal sister). These bilaterally applied terms spilled over into other languages, for instance, English and German. Similar parallel nomenclatures developed that were based on kinship terms in one’s own language, in Polish, for example. Greek was the first European language to eliminate the terminological distinction between the father’s and the mother’s side, a transition that began as early as between the fifth and third century BC. Vulgar Latin in late antiquity was next. All the Romance languages derived from Vulgar Latin have the same terms for both sides of the family: Italian, Sardic, Rhaeto-Romance, Provencal, French, Catalan, Spanish, Portugese, Sephardic Spanish, Aromunian, and Rumanian. This process was therefore complete by the early Middle Ages throughout the territory of the old Roman Empire. The first Germanic language to undergo this change was English, beginning with the Norman Conquest. Basically the same change occurred in German in early modern times. There were two different developments in the Scandinavian languages. One tended to completely equate the father’s and mother’s siblings by using the same terms; the other did too, but formed compound words to differentiate the sides of the family. This was the case, for example, with farbror and morbror in Swedish, and with analogous forms in Icelandic and Scottish English. These descriptive compounds were fundamentally different from the completely independent terms for each parent’s siblings in the early phases of Indo-European languages. It was not a matter of eliminating the opposition between the paternal and the maternal sides but of essentially equating them, as is apparent from the structure of the terms themselves. And in the majority of the Slavic languages, too, the process of parallelizing outlined above took place, first in Czech and Polish, relatively late in Russian. The Slavic languages in the Balkans, on the other hand, have retained a differentiating terminology for kinship to this day: Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, and Bosnian still have concepts distinguishing between a paternal and a maternal brother. The same holds for Albanian, where even parents’ sisters are differentiated. In this region the great process of transforming European kinship terminology, which emanated from southeastern Europe 2,500 year ago, has not yet reached its end.

A second fundamental trend in the transformation of European kinship terminology is the use of identical terms for blood relatives and in-laws. This paralleling process was also at work in Vulgar Latin during late antiquity. The term cognati at first referred to blood relatives who were not under the authority of the pater familias. Sometime around the fourth century, this concept underwent a substantial expansion: it came to include ‘affined’ relationships (the Latin affinis refers to persons related by marriage). The word affinis therefore fell into disuse in late antiquity and was replaced by cognati. In-law now became, through marriage, like blood relatives. This sense of cognati survives in kinship terms in the Romance languages. The trend of using the same terms is even more pronounced in another terminological complex. French, Dutch, English, and German have a suite of concepts for relatives by marriage that is formed from compounds made from the designations for nuclear family members. Beau-pere corresponds to schoonvader, ‘father-in-law’ to Schwiegervater, belle-mere to ‘mother-in-law.’ The same goes for beau-frer, belle-soeur, beau-fils, and belle-fille. All these related people had no names in Latin or Old High German that were in any way similar to the names for their closest blood relatives. Originally, the terms in all Indo-European languages for relatives by marriage were unmistakably different from those for blood relatives….

“The third basic trend in the transformation of the European kinship terminology is unique by its very nature and therefore especially instructive for understanding the whole process of change: the increasing number of parallels in the nomenclature of blood relatives and so-called spiritual relatives. A spiritual kinship was originally established by sponsorship at baptism. Then, in the wake of this model, other relationships came into existence that were created around other sacraments — relationships that eventually were regarded as kinship. In general, ties that were instituted on a religious basis were conceived of as kinship ties…. Inside Europe, it is found during the Middle Ages only in societies converted to Christianity….

The decisive factor in this great transformation of kinship terminology in Europe was the influence of Christianity. This is more obvious in the parallel terms for blood and spiritual kinship than it is in the two basic trends discussed earlier. From an analytical perspective, we can distinguish three levels of influence: first, direct and intentional influence on kinship systems via canon law; second, indirect structural changes to fundamental elements of Christianity; and finally, the ramifications of traditions from classical antiquity that cannot be considered specifically Christian but that Christianity passed on to medieval societies.

The first type of influence incorporates first and foremost the church bans on marriage between relatives. These began in the fourth century and reached their zenith in the eleventh. The influence of the canonical norms is perfectly evident in the English terms for relatives through marriage such as ‘father-in-law,’ ‘daughter-in-law,’ and so forth. What is meant in these terms by the word ‘law’ is canon law. Even though a ‘law’ is not mentioned by name in similar, parallel terms, canon law is the motivating force behind them. The basic principles guiding the changes in terminology, or the assimilation of terms, were exactly the same as those in Christian churches that prohibited marriage between relatives. The development of unions categorized as incestuous was a highly complicated affair in the various Christian churches and was in no way uniform at all times and in all places. But these unions share some basic tendencies: the equating of the paternal and the maternal lines, of blood kin and kin by marriage, and the inclusion of spiritual kin in the family. It was easily recognized from the relevant bans on marriage who was seen in the early Middle Ages as being related to whom from a Christian standpoint, and the bans were added to, step by step, right up into the High Middle Ages. We find it difficult to comprehend today just how preoccupied the era was with the fear of incest — and not only in the various Christian churches but in Jewish circles as well….

That the great transformational process of European kinship terminology must also have had pre-Christian roots is clear from a sequence of events over a long period of time. The rudimentary beginnings are found in the Greek language from the fifth to the third century BC, and it is very likely that broader considerations further influenced these processes. Traditional ancient Greek kinship terminology was probably transmitted just the way ancient Greek traditions were, by and large within a Christian context. The term ‘brother’ can serve as a concrete example. The expansion of the concept of ‘brother’ beyond blood kinship in several Romance languages led to the emergence of a new term for the biological brother. This can surely be traced back to a Christian influence, but the phenomenon itself is not genuinely Christian. In various Eastern religious communities, strangers became ‘brothers’ by means of initiation ceremonies. The teachings of the Stoics spread the term even further. The use of ‘brother’ in urban contexts for a brother in office or a fraternity brother goes back a long way. Hellenistic urban cultures may be regarded as the social foil for this phenomenon, which, thanks to Christianity, continued to live and have an effect on medieval European societies….”

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what about the franks?

the franks — like the other germanic tribes — had been inbreeding before the arrival of christianity. here’s from “Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900” [pgs. 36-37]:

“Marriages between close blood relations and in-laws were also [along with marriages between freed persons and slaves] dissolved. Children issuing from these unions were marked with infamy and excluded from inheritance. In the beginning of the sixth century, kings were able to disregard incest laws with impunity, but by the end of the century they could no longer do so: the church took a firm stand on the issue. Theudebert of Austrasia, for example, had to perform penance for having married his brother’s widow.”

while st. augustine had struggled with the anglo-saxons in britain, it was st. boniface who struggled with the (practically heathen) franks [pg. 76]:

“The marital customs he observed among the Germanic tribes in general and among the Franks in particular troubled Boniface [ca. 672–754] deeply. He sought advice from popes on the definition of adultery and incest. Gregory II [early 700s] answered him with a series of prescriptions on incest, and Pope Zachary [mid-700s] sent Pepin excerpts from the ‘Dionysiana’ on impediements to marriage. The church’s concept of incest was so broad, extending the prohibitions to the seventh degree of consanguinity [i.e. sixth cousins — that was in the 11th century], as well as to relationships by affinity and spiritual kinship, that it considerably restricted the capacity of aristocratic families to form extended alliances through marriage. Introduced into the Frankish councils by Boniface, the prescriptions were included by Pepin the Younger in the capitularies….

“In an effort to eradicate all forms of incest, Boniface also concerned himself with extramarital fornication between relatives. Sexual intercourse before or after marriage with a relative of the spouse was held to constitute a bond of affinity similar to that arising from bethrothal, marriage, baptism, or confirmation. Disregard for these bonds of affinity or for consanguinity, even in the case of casual intercourse, was considered a serious offense and disqualified the transgressors from marriage for the rest of their lives. Their punishment was lifelong penance, to which Charlemagne added confiscation of their property.

meanwhile, with the bretons (in brittany) [pg. 116]:

“The marital legislation of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious had little effect in Brittany, if we are to believe one of the court poets in Louis the Pious’s entourage. The poet accused the Bretons of being Christians in name only, of practicing incest — brothers sleep with sisters and rape their sisters-in-law. These were ancient customs that Carolingian legislation may have been less successful in eradicating in Brittany than in other parts of Gaul. Frankish influence, however, was not completely absent in Brittany; even after 841 it was exercised in areas where families of Frankish descent had settled, that is, in the dioceses of Rennes and Nantes.”

previously: more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

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more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

(this is turning out to be one weeeird meta-topic for a blog, but … eh … what the hey!)

in “The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe,” jack goody is in agreement with giorgio ausenda that the german tribes had had endogamous marriage practices, including cousin marriage, before the arrival of christianity. (they also had a lot of other good stuff like polygamy and concubinage. oh those wacky germans!)

goody suggests that cross cousin marriage (mother’s brother’s daughter marriage, for instance) was probably a common form amongst the germans since it is the most common form of cousin marriage in general — but, like ausenda, he doesn’t rule out father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage as a possibility.

personally, i’m leaning towards the conclusion that fbd marriage was not so common amongst the germans since they had a bilateral kinship system — in other words, an individual would reckon his extended family on both his father’s and mother’s sides (like most westerners do today). in societies where fbd marriage is common — like arab countries — kinship systems tend to be unilateral, in particular patrilateral, i.e. the father’s lineage is the most important. on the other hand, ausenda showed that the father’s brothers were the most significant family members after one’s immediate family in germanic society, so maybe the germans did tend towards a patrilateral system. perhaps their most common cousin marriage was patrilateral cross cousin marriage, i.e. father’s sister’s daughter, tho and not fbd marriage. dunno.

ausenda looked at the early german law codes to see what he could infer about germanic marriage patterns and kinship systems; goody looked at some law codes (like those of the anglo-saxons in britain) plus some other primary and secondary sources like correspondence between the early church fathers and the venerable bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People” completed in 731 a.d.

here’s what goody had to say [pgs. 34-7]:

“Bede tells of some of the problems involved in converting the pagan English. He explains how after Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, arrived in 597, he sent messengers back to Pope Gregory at Rome seeking advice on certain current questions, including ones relating to marriage….

“[T]he Letter of Gregory provides us with some very valuable evidence….

“Four of the nine questions on which Augustine asked advice from the Pope had to do with sex and marriage…. Augustine’s fifth question was more complicated and more revealing: ‘Within what degree may the faithful marry their kindred; and is it lawful for a man to marry a step-mother or a sister-in-law?’

“Pope Gregory’s reply clearly indicates the change that Christianity had brought to Rome and presumably to the other countries of western Europe. ‘A certain secular law in the Roman State allows that the son and daughter of a brother and sister, or of two brothers or two sisters may be married. But we have learned from experience that the offspring of such marriages cannot thrive. Sacred law forbids a man to uncover the nakedness of his kindred. Hence it is necessary that the faithful should only marry relations three or four times removed, while those twice removed must not marry in any case, as we have said….’

Since a special dispensation had to be given to those who had contracted such unions before conversion, it is clear that the practices of close marriage (presumably to cross-cousins, and possibly, as in Rome, to parallel cousins, at least to the father’s brother’s daughter) and of marriage to the widow of the brother or father (though not one’s own mother) must have been common in English, and indeed German, society. But they are now forbidden, the arguments against them being framed partly in physical terms (the likelihood of infertility) and partly in religious ones (on grounds of incest…).”

further, on how the political powers-that-be were also in on the action (along with the church) — we already saw this in all the law codes that ausenda looked at [pgs. 39-40]:

“Yet marriage to any close kin was forbidden by the Church and its proscriptions were given legal sanction by Christian monarchs. In Anglo-Saxon England the punishment for breaking these rules was very heavy, namely slavery, with the man passing into the ownership of the king and the woman into that of the bishop. Eventually these extensive prohibitions, which varied in extent over time, were relaxed as a result of the Protestant Reformation….”

finally, here’s a summary of how the regulations on cousin- and other close-family marriage became more restrictive throughout the medieval period [pg. 56]:

“In the sixth century the ban [on cousin marriage by the Church] was extended to the third canonical degree, that is, to second cousins, the offspring of a common great-grandparent ‘in imitation of Roman law which limited inheritance to the sixth degree of kinship’ (Oesterle 1949: 233), calculated in the Roman manner, that is, the third degree reckoned by the German or canonical method, which became dominant in the medieval period. Later the prohibition was pushed out still further to the fourth degree and then, in the eleventh century, to the seventh canonical degree, when the later method was used to recalculate the earlier prohibitions. Not only were these enormously extended prohibitions attached to blood or consanguineal ties, but they were assigned to affinal and spiritual kinship as well, producing a vast range of people, often resident in the same locality, that were forbidden to marry.”

william jervis jones shows that a linguistic shift in kinship terminology took place in german starting in the 12th century and continuing through, at least, the 15th century. to give a really broooad summary of his work, he found that, starting in the 12th century, more specific kinship terms shifted in meaning to be more inclusive or have wider definitions [pg. 195+].

just one example [pg. 190]:

“(3) From late in the 13th century, evidence begins to accumulate for a set of ‘downward’ extensions, in which a given Ego employs the same term for Alter and for Alter’s children (or Alter’s sibling’s children) of like sex. Interestingly, the earliest recorded cases have the linkage via the sibling, and are exclusively on the maternal side. Thus about 1300 we have signs of aeheim … being used with reference to the ‘mother’s sister’s son’, though its sense is still predominantly ‘mother’s brother.” A similar extension of muome to ‘mother’s brother’s daughter’ dates from 1336….”

kinship terms generally outline who you can and cannot marry [<< link opens powerpoint file]. in the case of the germans, before the medieval period, they had rather specific terms for people like "mother's sister's son" and "mother's brother's daughter" in order to distinguish these individuals — because some of them were probably more likely to be spouse material than others.

starting in the 1100s and onwards, these terms became increasingly fuzzy and less specific, prolly because you could no longer marry any of them, so what’s the point of distinguishing between them! nowadays all we say (in english) is "cousin" for a broad variety of people, both male and female, from either side of our family. we don't bother to distinguish between them, because most of us don’t consider any of them to be marriable (or, depending on where you live, there are even laws against it).

(presumably the same was true for the hawaiians, on an even broader scale. i'm guessing that they couldn't marry anyone of their own generation in their own village/sub-clan — all referred to as “brother” or “sister” — because any of those individuals might have been a sibling. the arabs, on the other hand, with their strong preference for fbd marriage have very specific kinship terms for all the players.)

german peoples were probably tribal once-upon-a-time because they practiced, not just endogamous marriage, but cousin-marriage. their tribes, however, don’t seem to have had quite the same flavor as arab tribes which practice fbd marriage, so i’m guessing the germans didn’t marry in that way much. tribes are tribes because people inbreed; but there are different sorts of tribes because different peoples inbreed in different ways.

european populations used to be tribal, but because we stopped inbreeding so much (thanks to the holy roman catholic church and other powers-that-be), we’re not so tribal anymore.

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and inbreeding amongst germanic tribes and st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas

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st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas

smart guys!

from jack goody’sThe Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe” [pgs. 56-8]:

“What were the grounds for these extensive prohibitions on consanguineous marriages? The ‘Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique’ (1949) gives three general reasons that have been proposed:

“1. The moral reason, that marriage would threaten the respect and shame due to near ones.
2. The social reason, that distant marriages enlarge the range of social relations. This common ‘anthropological’ notion was put forward by those great theologians, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who recognised that out-marriage multiplied the ties of kinship and thus prevented villages from becoming ‘closed communities’, that is, solidary ones.
“3. The physiological reason, that the fertility of the mother or the health of the children might be endangered.

“The statements of Thomas Aquinas, which appeared in his ‘Summa Theologica‘ and was highly influential during the Middle Ages, raised a number of possible objections to consanguineous marriage…. Third, such unions would ‘prevent people widening their circle of friends’ (2 above)….

“In Thomas Gilby’s translation of the Summa, the passage reads as follows [this is St. Thomas Aquinas]:

‘The third reason is that incest would prevent people widening their circle of friends. When a man takes a wife from another family he is joined in special friendship with her relations; they are to him as his own. And so Augustine writes, “The demands of charity are fulfilled by people coming together in the bonds that the various ties of friendship require, so that they may live together in a profitable and becoming amity; nor should one man have many relationships restricted to one other, but each single should go to many singly.”‘

so, i’ve been writing in previous posts (and reading in various sources) that the church tried to limit consanguineous marriages for financial reasons, i.e. to fiddle with the social structures of european society so that more legacies would be left to the church and not so much to people’s families.

i still think there is something to that, but — whoa! — clearly the church fathers were also just interested in social engineering for social engineering’s sake. and both augustine and thomas a. clearly understood how social relationships operate (altho prolly not the biological underpinnings).

they went for some serious reconstruction of european society — and it worked! consider me impressed.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and inbreeding amongst germanic tribes

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