Archives for posts with tag: cousin marriage

i’ve hinted around a few times now that i think — going by some things that i’ve read — that the historic mating patterns of ashkenazi jews (i.e. whether or not they married close cousins and/or practiced uncle-niece marriage) were quite different between western vs. eastern ashkenazis. quoting myself:

“wrt ashkenazi jews: i *strongly* suspect (but Further Research is RequiredTM) that there are two mating pattern histories here — western vs. eastern ashkenazi jews. western ashkenazi jews have, i think, avoided close cousin marriage since the medieval period almost to the same degree as the rest of western europeans. eastern ashkenazi jews — the ones in poland/russia — did not. again, i’m not at all sure about this — this is just what i’ve gleaned from my readings so far. (i will be posting on this one of these days.)

“where western ashkenazi jews differ from the rest of the western european populace is that they were not squeezed through the manorialism meat grinder. in that regard, they must’ve experienced some different selection pressures during the medieval period.”

i first came across this idea — quite a while ago now — in my favorite book, Why Europe?, by medieval and family historian michael mitterauer. he says on pg. 72:

“We find it difficult to comprehend today just how preoccupied the era [the middle ages] was with the fear of incest — and not only in the various Christian churches but in Jewish circles as well.”

he references himself on that — “Christentum und Endogamie” in Historisch-anthropologische Familienforschung — but i haven’t read it yet. one of these days, i just might order it from amazon…and dig out my german-english dictionary.

mitterauer is supported in this by one kenneth r. stow in “The Jewish Family in the Rhineland in the High Middle Ages: Form and Function” [pgs. 1095-96]:

“Unlike Christians, Jews were free to marry cousins and nieces; in the Islamic East, first-cousin marriage among Jews was the norm.[38] In the Rhineland, however, such marriages were somewhat of an exception. This difference may be deduced from the universally accepted Communal Ordinance (*Taqqanah*) proposed by Jacob Tam, the most imposing Jewish authority of his day (d. 1171), on the return of the dowry should the bride die without issue during the first year of marriage. Fathers, the ordinance propounds, should not lose both their daughters and their wealth in one blow.[39] If most marriages had been between first cousins, the respective in-laws, who would also have been siblings, would normally have found ways of resolving issues of money among themselves without the need for legal sanctions. The Responsa (*consilia*) literature, too, legal questions and answers pertaining to actual litigations, supports this conclusion. Responsa may represent exceptions, but they are useful in terms of their specifics or when their decisions reflect precendent or common practices. Thus, in one case, an executor, who was (it should be stressed for its own importance) not a relative of the deceased, married his ward to *his* brother.[40] The brothers of the bride protested, not because she had been married to a non-relative but because they were concerned with the suitability of the match. Had marriage between cousins been the rule, it is doubtful that an executor, especially one who was not a relative, would have dared to violate it.[41]”

so, stow doesn’t have hard-and-fast data on marriage types here — he’s making a deduction — but i think it’s a good one. what i find particularly persuasive is the fact that the family type of these medieval rhineland jews was primarily nuclear (or stem). in other words, according to stow, just like the broader western european population, medieval rhineland jews did *not* have clans. and that seems to be the general pattern: the more outbreeding, the smaller the family size.

fast forward to the nineteenth century (yes, that is an unacceptably large gap), in alsace-lorraine, the consanguinity rate amongst jews was 2.3% (whether that was first and second cousins or just first cousins, i don’t know) [see this post]. that is a very low rate by any standards. in comparison, though, the consanguinity rates for protestants in the region was 0.2% and for catholics it was roughly 1%, so the jewish cousin marriage rate was higher.*

if we move slightly to the east to what i infer must’ve been (at the time) the province of hohenzollern, we have these figures from steven m. lowenstein [“Decline and Survival of Rural Jewish Communities” in In Search of Jewish Community: Jewish Identities in Germany and Austria 1918-1933, footnote 44 on pg. 241]:

“In Hohenzollern, there was an 11 percent rate of marriage to relatives (5 percent to first cousins) among Jewish couples who died before 1922; of those still alive in 1922, the rate had increased to 22 percent (16 percent to first cousins). These rates were several times as high as the rates for Christian marriages. See Wilhelm Reutlinger, ‘Uber die Haufligkeit der Verwandtenehen bei Juden in Hohenzollern und uber Untersuchungen bei Deszendenten aus judischen Verwandtenehene,’ Archiv fur Rassen- un Gesellschaftsbiologie 14 (1922): 301-303, quoted by Marion Kaplan The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany (New York, 1991), p. 273 note 206.”

so, higher cousin marriage rates in this region amongst the cohort closest to the alsace-lorraine group above — 5-11% versus 2.3% (remembering that that latter figure might be just first cousins). and much higher rates post-1922, the author argues because jews were leaving the german countryside during this time period, so potential marriage partners were becoming scarce. still, while a 16% first cousin marriage rate is high for northern europe, it’s not even close to the 30%+ first cousin marriage rates in sicily in the 1960s! and the earlier 5-11% rate may have been more “normal” — hard to tell — Further Research is RequiredTM.

if you thought all that was vague, the info for jews in eastern europe is even less clear. (>.<) it's basically just anecdotal evidence — a lot of people saying that cousin marriage was very common in eastern european ashkenazi communities. i wrote a whole post about it: jewish mating patterns in nineteenth century russia. this quote is from Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia [pgs. 25-27]:

Although data on consanguineous marriages in Russia are lacking, contemporaries claimed that they were ‘very common,’ largely because of the narrow circle of eligible partners for any given class of Jews. This geographic endogamy impelled one Jewish observer to write that ‘the expression “Kol Yisrael ahim” or “all Jews are brothers” is true in this sense, that Jews [who] belong to one strata of society and reside in one area, always find out that they are related when discussing their family backgrounds.’ The strategy of marrying relatives was particularly pronounced in small towns. It was due to concerns about family lineage, as well as to restrictions on geographic mobility (i.e., legal restrictions on residency, poor communications and transportation, and the high costs for travel).

“That observation indeed finds confirmation in the metrical records. These archival materials are unusually complete for Korostyshev, a small town in Kiev province with 2,657 Jewish residents in 1847. Unlike many Ukrainian towns where the metrical records were destroyed during World War II, Korostyshev preserved metrical books from the mid-nineteenth century to 1915, thus representing some of the most complete runs of Jewish metrical books in the entire Ukraine. Significantly, they reveal that most residents married locally — that is, to people from Korostyshev or, at most, from nearby villages and towns (Zhitomir, Berdichev, and Radomysl’). Still more striking were the marital bonds between small family networks — for example, the countless marriages among the Fuksmans, Gershengorens, Trakhtenbergs, and Ratners (all of whom lived in Korostyshev or nearby Zhitomir). Another network included the Vinikurs, Tsiponiuks, and Abrumovichs; this cluster overlapped with a group that included the Kagans, Umerskiis, and Peigers. And so on until, several decades later, many Korostyshev residents were distant or even close relatives. Devorah Baron’s description of small shtetl families was indeed perspicacious: ‘In our little town, families joined together by marriage ties often resembled well-fitted but separate sections of garment; all that was needed was the skillful hand that would join the seams.’”

in the late nineteenth century, russian-jewish leaders tried to do something about all this cousin marriage (these reformers were inspired by all the talk about the dangers of inbreeding generated by the darwins and galton, just as the japanese were) [pgs. 27-29]:

“In the late nineteenth century, Jewish reformers castigated this consanguinity as detrimental to family health. The developments in contemporary medicine (especially eugenics and clinical psychiatry) had a profound impace on public discourse; as physicians joined in, the debate on Jewish marriage became increasingly medicalized. ‘Owing to heredity,’ warned the ‘Evreiskii meditsinskii golos’ (The Jewish medical voice), ‘all physical defects appear in the offspring with particular force, since the definciencies of both parents are aggregated. Invoking Western science, Jewish physicians ascribed the increased rate of ‘nervous disorders,’ such as hysteria, epileptic seizures, imbecility, and insanity, among the Jewish in Russia to their pernicious inbreeding.

“Samuel Gruzenberg (1854-1909), who held a degree from the Medical-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg, publicized a series of essays in an influential Jewish journal. Representing the views of the medical establishment, he warned parents that ‘nervous illness’ and hereditary diseases, such as blindness, deafness, and muteness, posed a threat not only to the immediate offspring but also to subsequent generations. Endogamous unions, he declared, also produced a large population with unhealthy ‘national physical features’ — namely, ‘a short [body], weak muscles, and especially … a high level of nervousness.’ Citing a study on army conscripts, he noted that nearly half of the Jewish recruits failed to meet the physical requirements and exhibited ‘extreme forms of the Jewish physical type.’

“It was no accident that Gruzenberg cited the Jewish recruit to demonstrate the evil of consanguineous marriages: the physiognomy of male offspring greatly concerned reformers. In contrast to the modern ideal of man, who displayed ‘virility, proportion, and self control,’ the asthenic Jewish conscript embodied all the traits of the effeminate Jew so despised in European society. Whereas Jewish society had long associated a pale, slender Jewish body with Torah scholarship and edelkayt (nobility), reformers now scorned this model as passive, cowardly, and feminine, a clear indication that the reforemers had embraced the new European construction of masculinity. The inbreeding affected not only the body but the mind: ‘Moral sickness and physical sickness were thought to be identical — the latter leaving an imprint on the body and face….’


“[T]his public debate did not reduce the frequency of consanguineous marriages….”

so, from all of this medical hysteria, i am guessing that the historic cousin marriage rates among jews in eastern europe were much higher than those in the west — at least in the nineteenth century.

sephardic jews have historically had much higher rates of consanguineous marriages than ashkenazi jews — up to 20% in some places according to joseph spitzer [pg. 160]. see also this post: jewish endogamy on mallorca. same with mizrahi jews — for example, the rate of consanguineous marriages among iranian jews in 1991 (first and second cousin plus uncle-niece marriages) was 25.4%.

it seems to me that jews — wherever they have lived (outside of judea/israel, i mean) — have generally copied the broader population’s mating patterns. in medieval western europe, they avoided close cousin marriage and, according to mitterauer, were very worried about incest in the same way that the rest of western europe was at the time. in eastern europe, though, they appear to have married their cousins with greater frequency, probably down through the centuries not unlike the rest of eastern europeans. in the nineteenth century, however, some eastern european jews began to be influenced by ideas on outbreeding coming from western europe. sephardic jews had high cousin marriage rates, just like southern europeans. and jews in north africa and the middle east have extremely high cousin marriage rates — same as the rest of the populations in those places. (for more on the histories of mating patterns in each of these regions, please see links to posts below ↓ in left-hand column under the “mating patterns in” series.)

long-term outbreeding (since the middle ages) of western ashkenazi jews would fit with the genetic evidence which indicates that ashkenazi jews are not inbred (see razib’s posts here and here). all the apparent historic cousin marriage of eastern ashkenazi jews would not fit with that. i’d like to see the genetic data (runs of homozygosity) for ashkenazis parsed out between eastern and western europe to see if any differences can be detected. my guess is that they should be there (there should be more roh in russian jews than in german jews), but i could be wrong.

so, the reasons i think that western european jews must’ve avoided close cousin marriage over the long-term, whereas in contrast eastern european jews did not, are:

– the scanty historic data (i will dig around for more of that);
– the somewhat supportive genetic data;
– the circumstantial evidence suggesting that jews have tended to copy the mating practices of their host populations;
– and that, by the high middle ages, western european jews did not have clans but, rather, had nuclear (or stem) families.

as i mentioned in my self-quote at the start of this post, though, european jews did not experience whatever selection pressures were connected to the bipartite manorialism of medieval europe. one of the things that i think was selected for via the manor system was the late marriage practices (i.e. delayed gratification) of northwest “core” europeans. western ashkenazi jews, on the other hand, continued to marry very young right into the early modern period, perhaps because they were never manorialized.

(yes, this is me gearing up to respond to professor kevin macdonald’s recent post On the HBD Chick Interview. i’ve got a couple of other “prep” posts i’d like to do first, though, before i get to my response. stay tuned! (^_^) )

previously: inbreeding in nineteenth century alsace-lorraine (including jews) and jewish mating patterns in nineteenth century russia

*i also have some data for jewish cousin marriage rates in nineteenth century england, but shortly after writing that post, i decided that those data need to be disregarded. see this post for my reasons why.

(note: comments do not require an email. medieval german jews. and a duck!)

on the recommendation of just about everybody that i know online (thanks, almost everybody!), i am reading graham robb’s The Discovery of France.

this, below, is by far the funniest story so far! and there are a LOT of funny stories like this in the book…and i’m only about a quarter of the way through! great stuff. hbd chick is amused! =P [pgs. 27-28 – link added by me]:

“An expedition into tribal France could begin almost anywhere and at almost any time. A hilltop in the Aveyron, for instance, where the limestone plateaux of the Causses turn into a crumpled map of rocks and gorges. The year is 1884. The priest of Montclar has found an exciting diversion from the monotony of life in a small town. His telescope is trained on a battlefield in the valley below. An army of men, women and children, wielding cudgels and lugging baskets of stones, is advancing on the village of Roqueceziere. But scouts have been posted. Another army has already emerged from the village and is preparing to defend its territory.

“On the bare rock that towers above the village, turning its back to the battle, is a colossal cast-iron statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue has been funded by public subscription — something of a miracle in this impoverished region — and has recently been placed on the rock to commemorate a successful mission.

“Incensed to see the sacred effigy pointing its bottom at their village, the invaders have come to turn it around. The battle rages for hours. Several people are seriously injured. At last, the Roquecezierain lines are breached and the statue is worked around to face the other village. To prevent a full-scale war, the Church authorities find a compromise. The Virgin is rotated ninety degree, supposedly so that each village can see half of her face. However, she now looks east-north-east, towards Saint-Crepin, which contributed more than half the cost of the statue, and still had her back turned to the little clutch of houses at her foot.”

heh! =P i think this must be the statue here:


it should be noted that roquecezière (indicated by red dot) is down in midi-pyrénées in a region having, for france, pretty high cousin marriage rates historically…

roquecezière - cousin marriage

…and it’s also fairly far away from the “core” of core europe (green circle here).

previously: the auvergnat pashtuns

(note: comments do not require an email. roquecezière.)

emil kirkegaard published an interesting paper recently — well, actually, he’s published a whole slew of interesting papers recently! — but i want to look at something in this one that he coauthored with john fuerst: Educational attainment, income, use of social benefits, crime rate and the general socioeconomic factor among 71 immigrant groups in Denmark.

it’s this chart right here which appears on page 10:

emil's outlier

the curious point on this chart is the flying outlier of lebanon. oftentimes exceptions prove the rule, but occasionally they’re indicators that something might be up. why do lebanese immigrants in denmark (many of whom, i take it from googling around, are actually palestinian refugees) do soooo poorly socio-economically when they don’t score so high on the islamic scale (presumably because about one-third of them are christians, if the joshua project is to be believed)?

emil is skeptical of the inbreeding-can-lead-to-social-and-economic-dysfunction theory, and that’s ok! skepticism is a good thing. but i think that he and john should take it into consideration in this instance. a study from the 1980s found that 16.5% of lebanese christians were in consanguineous marriages (and nearly 30% of lebanese muslims were). sixteen and a half percent is in the neighborhood of the cousin marriage rates in south-central italy, another population not especially known for its great ses achievements, so it’s maybe not surprising to find that the lebanese in denmark are socio-economically quite dysfunctional even though a large portion of them aren’t muslims. we see this pattern over and over again across the world: too much inbreeding (eg. cousin marriage) especially over time in a population and you wind up with social and economic dysfunction, corruption, rampant nepotism, etc., etc.

while it is true that all of the pops in the upper right-hand corner of the chart are majority muslims pops, what they also have in common is a long history of cousin marriage including very close (father’s brother’s daughter/fbd) cousin marriage. the lebanese — including lebanese christians — also fall into this group (although lebanese christians don’t marry their fbds much).

in fact, if you were to draw a horizontal line at .0 across the chart there, no long-term outbreeding population would fall above it. they all actually cluster in the lower left-hand corner of the chart (in other words, the most successful ses-wise): usa, canada, belgium, germany, finland, etc. and as you move upwards on the chart (i.e. away from ses success), you increasingly encounter pops that having been inbreeding for longer: russia, greece, india, china, bosnia, macedonia.

islam might correlate with poor ses in immigrant groups in denmark (and elsewhere), but i suspect that the extent of their history of inbreeding is a more direct cause of the dysfunctionality of these groups.

what the world needs is a good index of inbrededness (rates+history). am workin’ on it! (^_^)

btw, if you’re not regularly checking out the openpsych journals, you should be! “open access, free to publish, open peer review.” good stuff! (dunno why i don’t have them in my blogroll yet. need to do some updating to the ol’ blog here!)

previously: inbreeding amongst christian arabs

(note: comments do not require an email. not emil’s relation.)

apart from bequeathing the world a handful of languages, some philosophical ideas and legal traditions, a bunch of fr*cking awesome ruins, a few really straight roads, and the wine, what did the romans ever do for us?

well, i think we (northern europeans) may have gotten the idea to avoid cousin marriage from them!

here from “Agnatio, Cognation, Consanguinitas: Kinship and Blood in Ancient Rome” in Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present [pgs. 24-26]:

The early republican system of structuring marriage…essentially prevented agnatic *familiae* from remaining exclusive family units…. Neither agnates, nor cognates, were allowed to enter marriage within the sixth degree, i.e. the fourth degree by modern reckoning [third cousins or closer-h.chick]. Such alliances were considered *incestus* and *nefas*, defiled and contrary to divine law, and were forbidden.[29] Marriages to stepchildren, children-in-law, and parents-in-law were also prohibited, even after the spouse who had brought *adfinitas* had died.[30] In contrast, in classical Athens, members of the *anchisteia*, the legally defined kinship group including first cousins once removed, were the preferred marriage partners. In order to protect the continuity of the household (*oikos*), even marriage between half-siblings was allowed. The Greek practice of endogamy has been interpreted as an attempt to strengthen the *oikos* and to guarantee that its property was transmitted intact. This family strategy is most notorious in the case of the daughter as heiress, the *epikleros*. Usually women were not able to inherit or hold property, but when an Athenian died without male issue, his property was attached to his daughter, who then had to marry the closest agnate, often an uncle or first cousin. In this way the *oikos* remained linked to the agnatic lineage.[31]

Roman society, in a strategy unique in antiquity, proscribed familial endogamy, opting instead for exogamy and the building of large kinship groups, even if this meant that property was diffused and the agnatic lineage thus weakened. Prescriptive marriage regulations were never developed, but Romans still knew perfectly well the boundaries distinguishing acceptable marriages alliances from misalliances. Familial exogamy was combined with social endogamy. Though it was forbidden legally to choose marriage partners from among agnatic or cognatic kin, it was nevertheless expected that spouses would be selected from a specific social group: matrimonial matches were judged on these grounds as *dignus* (worthy), *splendissimus* (most spendid), *par* (of equals) or *impar* (of unequals), or even *sordidus* (sordid).[32] Unlike aristocrats in early Greece, who married beyond the limits of their *patris*, Roman aristocrats concentrated on Rome. Given the limited number of appropriate families and the strict marriage regulations, the options of a Roman aristocrat seeking a marriage alliance were rather few. This ‘merry-go-round’ within the peer group led to the building up of a complext network of intertwined familial relations and ultimately to the creation of one overwhelmingly aristocratic family….

“Strains on aristocratic cohesion, however, as well as the beginning of the disintegration of the Roman elite during the third and second centuries BCE, coincided with changes in Roman marriage regulations. There is not enough source material to reconstruct precisely the relationship between changes in the building of kinship groups and in socio-political structures during the Roman Republic, but it is known that during the third century BCE, marriage restrictions were relaxed up to the fourth degree, thereby allowing first cousins to marry. Kinship groups could thus become more exclusive and refuse intermarriage with other families…. The most famous examples of this practice can be found within Rome’s most illustrious family, the Cornelii Scipiones, where the daughter of Scipio Africanus, the conqueror of Hannibal, married her first cousin once removed; and Scipio’s adoptive grandson, Aemilianus, married his first cousin, Sempronia, herself a granddaughter of the famous general. Despite such examples, however, marriage between cousins never became frequent within the Roman aristocracy.

“[29.] Cf. Gaius ‘Institutiones’ l.59-64; Paul ‘Digest’ See also Tacitus ‘Annales’ 12.6. During the second half of the third century, marriage between cousins became possible; see Livy, fragment 12, in Livy, ‘History of Rome, vol. 14, Summaries. Fragments. Julius Obsequens. General Index’, trans. A.C. Schlesinger (London and Cambridge, MA, 1959). On Livy, see Maurizio Bettini, ‘Familie und Verwandschaft im antiken Rom’ (Frankfurt am Main and New York, 1992), 164-54; Philippe Moreau, ‘Incestus et prohibitae nuptiae. L’inceste a Rome’ (Paris, 2002), 181-86; Carla Fayer, ‘La familia Romana, vol. 2, Aspetti giuridici ed antiquari, sponsalia, matrimonio, dote’ (Rome, 2005), 393n216; Harders, ‘Soror’, 23-25.

“[30.] Gaius, ‘Institutiones’ l.63; Gaius ‘Digest’ 38.4.3-7. During the fourth century CE, marriage prohibitions were extended to collateral affinal kin of the first degree, i.e., the brother’s wife or the wife’s sister; family exogamy was thus enforced (‘Codex Theodosianus 3.12.2′).

“[31.] Though endogamy was practiced, there is no evidence of prescriptive marriage regulations concerning cousin marriage in Athens. On the *epikleros*, see Cheryl A. Cox, ‘Household Interests: Property, Marriage Strategies, and Family Dynamics in Ancient Athens (Princeton, NJ, 1998), 95-99; on marriage between cousins, see Wesley E. Thompson, ‘The Marriage of First Cousins in Athenian Society,’ Phoenix 21 (1967): 273-82.”

so the romans avoided close cousin marriage, established a republic based on democratic principles, had a legal system founded upon universalistic principles, expanded their polity into a vast and one of the world’s most impressive empires (iow, invaded the world), eventually extended roman citizenship to non-romans and allowed barbarians to come live inside the empire (iow, invited the world), and, then, well…oops! *ahem*

why the romans ever decided to avoid cousin marriage in the first place is another question altogether, though. one for another day. perhaps. if it’s even answerable at all.

anyway, there is a direct link between ancient rome’s and medieval/modern northern europe’s cousin marriage avoidance. that link is quite obviously the catholic church which adopted all sorts of roman institutional structures and practices; but more specifically i’m referring to several of the church fathers, the earliest of whom lived in the roman empire itself and who, no doubt, were very aware of the roman avoidance of cousin marriage and very likely, having been raised “in rome,” had even internalized the idea as a natural and good one.

here, in sequence, are the guys that i think passed the romans’ notion of avoiding close marriage down to us (by introducing the idea into canon law):

st. ambrose (d.397) – while it’s not clear whether or not ambrose disapproved of cousin marriage, he did frown upon other forms of close marriage as illustrated in this letter of his [pg. 351] from 393. ambrose was, of course, the mentor of…

st. augustine (d.430) – as shown in the previous post, augustine was very much opposed to cousin marriage. one of augustine’s students, or at least someone who was heavily influenced by augustine, was…

julianus pomerius – pomerius was a priest in fifth century gaul, and one of his students was…

caesarius of arles (d.542) – who was a BIG fan of st. augustine — in fact, many of his sermons (he was renowned as a preacher, apparently — here’s volume 1 in a collection of his surviving sermons) were based directly on augustine’s writings. it was the then bishop caesarius who presided over the council of agde in 506 which issued the earliest (known) church ban on cousin marriage. this was very much a local ban that only applied to roman catholics in the very south of france (at the time controlled by the arian visigoths), but this idea to ban cousin marriages would be picked up soon afterwards by other church councils further to the north in “france” by merovingian bishops (in fact, i think caesarius may have been in attendance at one or two of those councils). i’ll be posting more on this history soon.

the notion of banning cousin marriage eventually spread across the channel into kent first (pretty sure) and then to the rest of england and later across central europe during the ostsiedlung, etc., etc. at some point, the idea was picked up by the popes in rome, too. not sure exactly when that occurred. i’ll work on finding that out. gregory the great (d.604) was one of the major proponents of the cousin marriage bans, so it was definitely well established in hq back in rome by the late 500s.

so, if you’re one of those westerners who goes ewwww! at the thought of cousins marrying, you can thank the romans!

p.s. – here from caesarius of arles’ “Sermon 19 – Preaching of St. Augustine to the People” [pg. 101]:

“…No one should dare to marry his aunt or cousin or his wife’s sister, for it would be wrong for us to perish through evil dissipation arising from diabolical pleasure….”

previously: st. augustine on outbreeding and happy council of agde day!

(note: comments do not require an email. what have the romans ever done for us?)

here is st. augustine from his The City of God Against the Pagans on outbreeding (and a bit on inbreeding). it’s a little “I’m My Own Grandpa” in places, but augustine’s basic point is that it’s good that people marry out (eg. avoid marrying their close cousins) because in doing so, they increase the number of connections which they have with other individuals — and if everyone in a society does this, there will be larger and broader networks of individuals with common goals and interests, etc., etc., all of which will “bind social life more effectively” and, hopefully, help create the city of god here on earth as much as possible. never mind the possible evolutionary effects.

st. thomas aquinas refers to these passages in his Summa Theologica in his discussion on the merits of outbreeding (but maybe not too much outbreeding!).

source: Augustine: The City of God Against the Pagans, Books 1-13 [pgs. 665-667]:

“16 – That the present law pertaining to marriage between blood-relations could not apply to the men of the earliest times

“After the first marriage of the man made from the dust and his wife, created from the man’s side, the human race had need of the union of males and females in order to multiply itself by begetting offspring. But there were then no other human beings apart from those who had been born of the first two. Therefore, men took their sisters as wives. In ancient times, this was acceptable, because done under the compulsion of necessity; now, however, it is damnable because forbidden by religion. For affection is now given its proper place, so that men, for whom it is beneficial to live together in honourable concord, may be joined to one another by the bonds of diverse relationships: not that one man should combine many relationships in his sole person, but that those relationships should be distributed among individuals, and should thereby bind social life more effectively by involving a greater number of persons in them. Thus, ‘father’ and ‘father-in-law’ are the names of two different relationships; and so the ties of affection extend to a greater number of persons when each has one man as his father and another as his father-in-law. When brothers and sisters were joined together in marriage, however, the one man Adam was compelled to be both father and father-in-law to his sons and daughters. So too, his wife Eve was both mother-in-law and mother to her children of both sexes; whereas if there had been two women, one as mother and the other as mother-in-law, the bond of social affection would have operated more widely. Again, a sister also, because she had become a wife as well, united two relationships in herself, whereas if these had been distributed between two people, one a sister and the other a wife, the number of persons bound together in the closeness of fellowship would have been increased. But this state of affairs could not exist when the only human beings were brothers and sisters, the children of the first human couple. It could exist only when there was a plentiful suppoly of women who could be wives without also being sisters. Then, not only was there no longer any need for brothers and sisters to marry; it also became unlawful for them to do so. For if the grandchildren of the first human beings, who by that time could have taken their cousins as wives, were joined in marriage to their sisters, there would then not have been two relationships united in one person, but three; which relationships should be distributed among different individuals, in order to unite a greater number in the closness of affection. For the marriage of brothers with sister would then have made one man the father, father-in-law and uncle of his own children. By the same token, his wife would be the mother, aunt and mother-in-law of their shared children. And the children themselves would be not only brothers and sisters and spouses to one another, but also cousins, as being the offspring of brothers and sister. If, however, each of these relationships were assigned to a different individual, they would then connect nine people instead of three to each of them. For one man would have one person as his sister, another as his wife, another as his cousin, another as his father, another as his uncle, another as his father-in-law, another as his mother, another as his aunt, and another as his mother-in-law; and so the social bond would extend not merely to a small group, but ever more widely, to connect a large number more closely together.

“We notice also that, as the human race has increased and multiplied, this rule has come to be observed even among the impious worshippers of many false gods. For although their perverse laws may permit brothers and sisters to marry, their actual custom is better, and they prefer to shun the freedom to do this. In the first ages of the human race, it was generally permitted to take a sister in marriage; but this practice is now so much deplored that it is as though it could never have been lawful. For what achieves most in influencing or offending human sensibilities is custom; and, in this case, custom restrains us from immoderate lust, so that men are right when they judge it wicked to disregard or transgress custom. For if it is wicked to pass beyond the boundary of one’s own property out of greed for possession, how much more wicked is it to subvert a moral boundar out of lust for sexual intercourse! We have also found that, for moral reasons, marriages between cousins are rare even in our own times, because, even though such marriages are permitted by law, the degree of kinship involved in them is only one step away from that of brother and sister. Such marriages were not prohibited by divine Law, and they have not yet been forbidden by human law either;[82] but abhorrence was felt for an act which, though lawful, bordered on the unlawful because marriage with a cousin seemed to be almost the same as marriage with a sister. For cousins are called brothers and sisters even among themselves, because of the closeness of their blood relationship, which is almost that of full brothers and sisters.

“To the patriarchs of antiquity, it was a matter of religious duty to ensure that the bonds of kinship should not gradually become so weakened by the succession of the generations that they ceased to be bonds of kinship at all. And so they sought to reinforce such bonds by means of the marriage tie before kinship became too remote, thereby calling kinship back, so to speak, as it fled. Thus, when the world was now full of people, although they did not like to marry sisters with whom they had either a father or a mother or both parents in common, they nonetheless liked to take wives from within their own family. Who would doubt, however, that the state of things at the present time is more virtuous, now that marriage between cousins is prohibited?[83] And this is not only because of the multiplication of kinship bonds just discussed: it is not merely because, if one person cannot stand in a dual relationship when this can be divided between two persons, the number of family ties is thereby increased. In addition, there is present in man a certain sense of honour, which is both natural and laudable, which prompts him not to direct towards a woman whom he is bound to respect and honour as a kinswoman that lust — and lust it is, even though necessary for procreation — which, as we see, occasions shame even within the chastity of marriage.

“[82] Marriage between cousins was, in fact, prohibited by the Emperor Theodosius I (see Ps. – Aurelius Victor, ‘Epitome de caesaribus’, 48; Ambrose, ‘Epist.’ 60,5. This is a fact that Augustine seems to remember in the next paragraph. See also Plutarch, ‘Quaest. Rom.’, 108.

“[83] See n. 82.”

previously: st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas and thomas aquinas on too much outbreeding

(note: comments do not require an email. st. augustine.)

just sayin’. (^_^)


map via max roser.


previously: mating patterns in france and topography (and history)









september 10, 506 — 1,508 years ago today — was the final day of the council of agde, a meeting of bishops from all over what was then the visigothic kingdom in southern france (and spain, too, obviously). the council was headed by caesarius of arles and held at the basilica of st. andrew. (don’t know on which day the council was convened — sometime in late august.) the church is still there, btw!:


an interesting little sidenote is that the visigoths at the time were still arians, so this meeting of bishops really related to, and would’ve affected only, the gallo-roman population of the region. in fact, the bishops were all very much gallo-romans themselves!

anyway, the council issued numerous canons, one of which forbade marriage to first and second cousins. this is the earliest official cousin marriage ban by the church that i know of, although st. augustine of hippo (d.430) certainly discussed at length in his The City of God (early fifth century) how it would be a good thing if christians were to marry out, a theme that st. aquinas would later pick up on.

people often ask me: “so why did the church get it into its head to ban cousin marriage, hbd chick?”

i. don’t. know. (*^_^*)

as i said above, this is the earliest official ban against cousin marriage from church authorities that we know of. what possessed the gallo-roman bishops at agde to do so, i have no idea. bishop caesarius was certainly an interesting fellow though. for instance, he thought that all priests and bishops (and nuns) ought to live austere lives like monks, and he actually instituted that policy in his own disocese, so i suspect that he was one of these guys who really did want to recreate god’s kingdom here on earth as much as possible, and he seems to have practiced what he preached.

caesarius’ teacher was one julianus pomerius, and his teacher was st. augustine, so here we have a direct line from augustine — who thought that christians ought to marry out — to caesarius and his council issuing this marriage canon. the funny thing is, though, augustine’s teacher was st. ambrose (d.397) who also had some things to say about cousin marriage — in fact, it was apparently he who recommended to theodosius i (d.395) to issue a secular ban against cousin marriage in the empire (theodosius did, but it didn’t stick — theodosius ii rescinded the ban). funnily enough, ambrose, like caesarius, was also from gaul (trier), so we come nearly full circle with these connections.

i suspect that the idea of avoiding cousin marriage was somehow a roman idea which was familiar to these early, urbanized, roman (or romanized) church leaders, one which they began to utilize when they encountered all these clannish barbarians (in gaul and in north africa, for example) and, as christopher burd put it on twitter, uncivilized, inbreeding country “hicks” in general. my guess is that they were trying to come up with a way to get rid of all the clannish infighting — and their plan just happened to work MUCH better than they ever imagined.

what i don’t understand — and what i need to find out more about — is how the early medieval church functioned. how the hierarchy worked and how the issuing of rules and regulations happened.

i’ve read a little about this council of agde now, and the historians i’ve read describe it as a “national” council — their scare quotes, not mine — since, unlike one of the huge church councils such as nicaea, the bishops who attended agde were only local — just from the areas in southern france held by the visigoths. what i want to know is, were the canons issued at agde binding everywhere then, or just in southern france there? could bishops in southern italy or ireland or constantinople just say, oh h*ck, we’re not going to follow those silly canons, or were they obliged to? or did canons issued by “national” councils need to be approved by rome first? i have no idea. Further Research is RequiredTM.

if canons issued by local councils only applied locally, that might explain why cousin marriage appears to have continued for some time after 506, like among the franks, for instance, who were just a stone’s throw away in northern france (until they took over the visigothic kingdom!), but who don’t seem to have taken these cousin marriage bans seriously until something like the 700s.

we do know, though, that rome was definitely behind the cousin marriage bans by the late sixth-early seventh centuries. augustine of canterbury (d.604) was sent in 595 to convert the anglo-saxons in england by pope gregory the great. he wrote to pope gregory in a panic asking what he should do about all the cousin marriage among the anglo-saxons, to which gregory replied that the newly converted should be allowed to remain married to their cousins, but going forward, NO cousin marriage.

how and when hq back in rome began backing this idea remains to be discovered.

anyway…happy council of agde day to you all! (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. 12th-century reliquary of caesarius of arles.)


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