medieval germanic kindreds … and the ditmarsians

i’m going to figure out the english(/dutch) if it’s the last thing i do…. (~_^)

it’s been asked a few times around here: was there something special about the pre-christian germanics? something special that perhaps made them more open to the roman catholic church’s/kings’ & princes’ demands to outbreed (i.e. quit marrying their cousins — and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they were marrying their cousins before the arrival of christianity — see here and here and here)?

one possible thing i have come across (and there could of course be others) is that kinship was reckoned bilaterally in pre-christian germanic populations — in other words, down through both the father’s and mother’s side of the family. related to this (i think — ah! and wikipedia backs me up on this) is that the form that “clannishness” took in germanic society was that of kindreds rather than actual clans (like you found in places like scotland or even today in parts of the balkans). as we saw in this previous post, a kindred is a set of relatives based around a core individual — so your kindred might include your parents, your siblings and their kids, your uncles and aunts on both sides and their kids (i.e. your cousins), your second cousins, all of your cousins’ kids, and so on (however far out your particular society happens to reckon kindreds). this is different from a clan which is based upon a specific ancestor in the past. a clan can continue to live on when any individual member dies, while a kindred is more ephemeral — when an individual dies, his kindred sorta … dissipates. as we’ve seen, anglo-saxon society was based around kindreds; so, too, were all of the germanic groups in pre-christian (and post-christian for differing lengths of time as we’ll see below) europe. these kindreds were called sippe.

now, i have been searching and searching … and searching! (even in german) … for more info on germanic kindreds. all i ever find are general statements by historians that the medieval germanic groups were based upon the sippe/kindred, blah, blah, blah, but no specifics on when or how this changed — germanic populations are not centered around the sippe today — or if there were any differences between the different germanic groups when it came to kindreds. pretty much of all the historians i have read generally refer back to just a handful of sources which usually include lorraine lancaster’s work on anglo-saxon kinship from 1958 (which i covered in these two posts here and here) and dame bertha phillpotts’ work on kindreds and clans which was published in 1913. in 2010, cambridge university press republished phillpotts’ classic, Kindred and Clan in the Middle Ages and After: A Study in the Sociology of the Teutonic Races, so — taken along with the fact that this is one of the sources everyone refers back to — i’m going to assume that phillpotts is the definitive work on germanic kindreds (unless someone out there can direct me to another source!).

so, i’ve been reading phillpotts.

dame phillpotts looked at the laws and wills and literature from seven medieval germanic societies — iceland, norway, sweden, denmark, north germany & holland, belgium & northern france, and england — to find out what role the kindreds played in these societies (especially wrt wergild payments/feuds) and when the kindreds faded out. i’ll probably talk about the former in some later post(s), but let’s see now what she had to say about the latter: what was the timing of when the importance of kindreds disappeared in each of these populations [pgs. 245-46]?:

“In Denmark, signs of the partial survival of the kindred are not wanting even at the dawn of the 17th century, in spite of the hostility of powerful kings (from 1200 onwards), and of the Protestant Church. In Schleswig the old customs defy legislation levelled at them by king, duke or *Landtag* for another century still. In Holstein, though it is probably that the participation of the kindreds in wergild disappeared sooner than in Schleswig, they yet left their mark on other institutions, and certain of their functions continue to be exercised until near the end of the 18th, and indeed even into the 19th century. This is especially, but not solely, true of Ditmarschen, within whose territory alone we find the fixed agnatic kindred which can be loosely termed clan. In Friesland the kindreds survive throughout the 15th century. In Hadeln and Bremen, and in the neighbourhood of Hamburg, they seem to have held out against adverse legislation until about the same date.

“In the more northerly parts of Central Germany we find occasional traces of their existence throughout the earlier Middle Ages. In southern Teutonic lands the last trace of a real solidarity so far discovered dates from the 13th century. In Holland and Belgium the kindreds remain active throughout the 15th century, and indeed into the 16th, and hardly less long in Picardy. In Neustria, too, there are traces of organized feuds and treaties between kindreds until far into the 14th century, and so also in Champagne. Normandy, on the other hand, yields no evidence. In England the activity of the kindreds seems reduced to a minimum already in the 7th and 8th centuries, when we first catch a glimpse of Anglo-Saxon institutions…. In Iceland we have seen good reason to believe that the solidarity of the kindred was a thing of the past by the time the emigrants landed on the shores of the new country. In Norway we have caught a glimpse of a gradual disintegration of the kindred, beginning perhaps as early as the 9th, and consummated by the end of the 13th century. In Sweden, on the other hand, everything points to the survival of kinship-solidarity throughout the 14th century [footnote: except in Gotland], and possibly for very much longer.”

i’ve mapped phillpotts’ outline indicating which century saw the end of kindreds in any given area. the purple square in northern germany is dithmarschen, which looks to be the medieval epicenter of the germanic kindred — it’s the place where, according to phillpotts, the kindred was the strongest — was really a patrilineal clan, in fact (kinda like in scotland — click on map for LARGER version):

kindreds map 02

phillpotts’ theory for why the kindred was so weak so early on in england, and not really present at all in iceland or normandy, was that this was due to the fact that these populations had migrated by sea to new lands. this could make sense. in migrating by sea in the early medieval period, you might not load up scores of boats and move with all of your extended kindred. you might just load up a couple of boats with you and your immediate family and maybe your brother and his immediate family. then, when you arrive in your new world, you don’t have a very extended kindred, so the kindred is not very important in your society (england, iceland, normandy).

so what about those ditmarsians, eh? they’re kinda cool! they are right around the corner from the frisians who were also pretty clan-like, especially with lots of feuding. what they had in common, of course, was that the two groups resided in marshy areas which could not be manorialized (er, well, there was no point to manorialize those regions since you couldn’t really conduct agriculture there — not with medieval technology anyway). about the ditmarsians [pgs. 199-200]:

“The marshes of Friesland (in the Netherlands), as well as the northeastern corner of Germany and southern Denmark, formed another region of peasant liberty against seigneurial power. As already noted, in 1240 Bartholomaeus Anglicus remarked on the exceptional freedom of the inhabitants of Frisia, who appeared to live without lords. Just east of Frisia and slightly north along the North Sea coast, at Stedingen, peasants revolted against the archibishop of Bremen and the count of Oldenburg beginning in 1200. They refused to pay oppressive dues (tributa) and, according to the ‘Rasted Chronicle,’ sought to defend their ‘liberty’ against all claims of lordship. They were eventually subjugated but only with great difficulty. It required the proclamation of a crusade against these ‘heretics’ by Gregory IX to bring an end to their decades of successful resistance. The Stedingen peasants were decisively defeated at the Battle of Altenesch in 1234.

“Among the indirect beneficiaries of this war was a federation of independent peasant communities in another small marshy territory, Dithmarschen in Holstein. Lying slightly north of Stedingen, Dithmarschen was protected by the Danes against the ambitions of the counts of Holstein and others who had expanded in the wake of the Wendish Crusade of 1147. The Dithmarschen peasants abandoned the alliance with the Danes and so profited from the military setback suffered by Denmark’s King Waldemar in 1227 at the hands of the city of Lubeck, the counts of Holstein and Schwerin, and the archbishop of Bremen. Their autonomy under the lordship of the archbishop of Bremen was acknowledged in the aftermath of the Danish War. Dithmarschen supported the crusade against the Stedinger and found its nominal subordination to the archbisops convenient during the thirteenth century. The power of family clans grew at the expense of the lesser nobility, and the Dithmarschen peasants formed capable military forces that could defeat mounted knights on the swampy terrain of their homeland.

The extended families of Dithmarschen established a confederation that would be defended against the claims of the counts of Schleswig and Holstein beginning in the early fourteenth century and the kings of Denmark in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In 1559 the Danes at last successfully invaded Dithmarschen, defeating the peasants and massacring the inhabitants of the capital, Meldorp, whereupon Dithmarschen was annexed to Denmark.

“Dithmarschen was, therefore, a free peasant community from the late thirteenth century until 1559, aware of itself as an anomaly and with a strong political cohesion born of military necessity. Dithmarschen litigated, signed treaties, and concluded agreements with Denmark, Holstein, and other neighboring powers. It also successfully defended itself in battle.”

three cheers for the ditmarsians! (^_^)

so it seems as though the germanics had a comparatively “weak” kinship system before they ever encountered christianity. one historian, giorgio ausenda, has suggested that the pre-christian germanics practiced father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage like the arabs today. i think this must be completely wrong. with fbd marriage you get strong, patrilineal (unilineal) clans/tribes, not kindreds based on bilateral descent. the germanics probably married maternal cousins of some sort, and maybe even relatively infrequently compared to a population like, say, the chinese. dunno. impossible to say at this point in time (who knows in the future, though … with thousands of samples of skeletal remains from the medieval and earlier periods in europe and elsewhere genetically analyzed for relatedness … an hbd chick can dream, can’t she?).

it may not have taken that much, then, either to persuade the germanics to adopt the cousin marriage bans and/or for the practice to really loosen the genetic ties in those societies. they might have been comparatively loose already. except in places like dithmarschen and that whole area of northern germany/southern denmark. what i, of course, want to know then is did those populations continue to marry cousins for longer than those where kindreds disappeared sooner? i shall endeavor to find out!

(p.s. – i totally have to get this book!)

previously: kinship in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society ii

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when in rome?

i left this in the comments here not that long ago, from Rome and its Frontiers: The Dynamics of Empire [pgs. 205-212 – links and empahses added by me]:

[I]n the later Roman Empire frontiers became softer and immigration control more lax at the same time as citizenship and ethnic distinctions within the Empire were becoming blurred. The universal grant of citizenship by the Constitutio Antoniniana of 212 AD was only a formal recognition by the state of a long process that had diminished the concept of citizenship and eroded the distinction between cives and peregrini in the provinces. By the fourth century status and wealth counted for more socially and legally than citizenship….

“To sum up, far from the homogenization of what the Constitutio Antoniniana called the patria communis, that is, the population of the Roman community, internal, social divisions became stronger. Ironically, however, the refinements of status distinctions and social divisions served as a more effective vehicle than any legal measure to allow immigrants to integrate at all levels. What mattered was not whether you were a citizen but whether you could attain equal social or economic status. In this respect, the Roman Empire of the fourth century was the reverse image of the nation-state in the nineteenth century. The juridical personality of the citizen was almost eliminated as frontier controls relaxed and as immigrants were accomodated in ever greater numbers….

“Immigrants provided substitutes for rural recruits, thus leaving agricultural workers on the land to increase state revenue, since they increased the capitation tax and added extra income through the system of adaeratio, which bought them exemption from the military levy. There clearly were concerns in the imperial chancellery for the tax regime and for the rents from imperial estates, which was reflected in contemporary legislation….

“These fiscal and economic benefits to rural production coincide with the concern expressed by the Gallic panegyricists about agri deserti and high taxes, and hence their praise for ‘so many farmers in the Roman countryside’, both as immigrants and as returning prisoners… The essential point, however, is that … immigrants were officially perceived as good for the economy by bringing down the price of food and by servicing local markets through increased production.

“Whether the peasants of the Gallic countryside felt the same pleasure at the fall in market prices is another matter, and it may have provoked resentment. If modern experience is any guide, there is a sharp difference between economists, who calculate that immigrants are essential to economic growth, and popular opinion, which always believes that immigrants are undesirable because they depress the labor market. But there is no evidence to show that there was institutional, social discrimination against foreign-born workers, once settled inside the Roman Empire….

the author also refers to [pg. 212]:

“The long history, since Augustus [r. 27b.c.-19a.d.], of frontiers open to foreign migrants, and the even longer history of liberal access to citizenship and Romanization…”

gee. all sounds awfully familiar (presumably the roman senators even claimed they were worried about crops rotting in the fields…).

now last night i came across this in Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages [pg. 30]:

“[I]mpelled from their homes by cataclysms still shrouded in mystery, they [the germans] began pressing westward and southward in a series of waves climaxing in the fifth and sixth centuries. In addition to feeling pressures from behind — famine, drought, Huns — they were drawn into the Roman Empire by the magnet of an economically and technically advanced region, with its cities and villas, granaries and warehouses, shops, tools, coins, and ornaments, in a species of ‘gold rush’ (in the phrase of a modern historian). Columns of thousands or tens of thousands of Goths, Gepids, Alemanni, and other peoples from the north and east, men, women, children, and animals, filtered or flooded through the Roman frontier defenses, sometimes peacefully and by permission, sometimes violently or by taking advantage of the moments when the legions were absent contesting the Imprerial succession on behalf of their generals….

“In the later stage of the Migrations, large numbers of several major groupings — Burgundians, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Franks — entered Gaul and Italy as foederati, or allies, by a negotiated arrangement that settled barbarian families on arable land in much the same fashion that Roman veterans had been settled in the earlier period. This episode in the Great Migrations apparently took place with little friction between newcomers and old inhabitants.**

“**Walter Goffart (Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584: The Techniques of Accomodation) postulates that instead of being given lands expropriated from Roman and Gallo-Roman proprietors, many of the Germans were assigned revenues from normal taxation in the provinces in which they were settled, in return for which they garrisoned the frontiers against later arrivals.”

little friction? why? how?

i’m sure that a big part of the reason why westerners today don’t seem to be very concerned about mass immigration to their countries is ’cause times are good (or they were up until very recently). maybe something like that was also the case for roman empire days? i dunno.

but here’s something interesting that might’ve possibly affected roman attitudes (might’ve) [pg. 22]:

Even stronger than the bar to interclass marriage was the proscription against incest or marrying ‘in.’ Early Rome forbade marriage between second cousins, but over time the rule was relaxed, and even first cousins were allowed to marry. When the Emperor Claudius (reigned A.D. 41-54) chose for his fourth wife his niece Agrippina, the public was shocked, but the Senate obligingly revised the legal definition of incest, and (according to Suetonius) at least two other uncle-niece marriages were recorded. This was an exceptional case, but in revealing the flexible nature of exogamy rules it foreshadowed much medieval controversy.”

so in early rome — in the days of the republic — you couldn’t marry anyone closer than second cousins. hmmm…. i’ll have to check the dates on when the changes started to happen, and also how strong enforcement was and all that. but, interesting. very interesting!

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the transition to manorialism

luke asked a while back: “I’m a little hazy on the transition to manorialism. Was it imposed by military force? Did it begin amidst the political anarchy at the end of the Roman empire?”

good questions. i’m (more than) a little hazy on the transition, too. and you know what? we’re not alone! so are the historians. (^_^)

i found what seems like a good summary of what is known about the shift from slave or kinship-based agricultural systems to manorialism in the early medieval period in “A Millennium of Family Change: Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe.” i’m just gonna cut and paste some relevant sections from the book because it’s complicated … and really interesting. here goes! [pgs. 44-46, 50-53, 58-62]:

“The transition from Antiquity to feudalism remains an obscure chapter in European history, despite considerable advances in historical knowledge secured in the past three decades, primarily by means of the rapid expansion and technical refinement of archaeological fieldwork….

“Developments in the Late Roman Empire

“In its prime, the Roman Empire had been based on a combination of agricultural modes of production, with a slave labour force at its heart working the great estates of central and southern Italy and Sicily. This force had been built up in the Republican era by means of the massive importation of bondmen, acquired by taking prisoners in the course of military conquest and selectively enslaving peoples on the Empire’s expanding periphery. The encouragement of childbearing among the salves of rural Italy was by no means rare, but the population in bondage failed to reproduce itself. High mortality rates were a major cause of this dearth, but Roman slaves also manifested extraordinarily low fertility. Marriage between slaves was illegal, and so long as replacements were plentiful, masters had no strong incentive to foster enduring conjugal relations among common field slaves.

greg cochran was just talking about this over @west hunter.

“Since many more males than females were enslaved, there was a persistent shortage of the latter. The sex ratio of urban slaves has been estimated in one study as three males to every two females, and in another, as two males to every female. While this is a staggering imbalance, it is probable that the rural ratio was more severely skewed. Family formation among agricultural slaves was not unknown, but the sex ratio in itself meant that a majority of bondmen would not have had the opportunity to form enduring unions and create families. Through the widespread manumission of older slaves as their labour-power declined, masters sought to keep the dependency ratio low, evading the costs of keeping the elderly alive. Continuous restocking from abroad was necessary to maintain the labour force at strength. Italian slavery in the Republican era was an import-replacement regime by default, if not as a matter of conscious Senatorial policy. This does not imply that slave-breeding was rare, merely that it was insufficient, given very high death rates, to replace the servile labour force indigenously over time.

“After the territorial expansion of the Empire ceased (with Trajan’s conquest of Dacia in AD 106), the Roman legions were thrown increasingly on to the defensive…. As the supply of enslaved youth from the hinterlands ebbed, slave prices rose. In the face of persistent shortages, with no prospects of obtaining alternative sources, the aristocracy made a belated attempt to convert to a self-sustaining regime of indigenous reproduction. Successive emperors decreed subsidies and tax breaks for the owners of slave progeny: ‘Slave owners and jurists began, in the second century if not earlier, to respect … family relationship[s] and to see slave families as entities which should be left undisturbed insofar as possible.’ Owners were inititially exhorted to avoid breaking up families through sale or inheritance; by the late fourth century, it became illegal to do so. The overall demographic effect of this effort is unclear, but it was probably modest….

“[T]he traditional mode of production on the latifunda — ganged labour under intensive supervision, subsisting on rations and domiciled in barracks — proved increasingly unprofitable. Gradually, it was abandoned and estates were sectored in two. While the home farm continued to be worked by domestic slaves, field slaves were granted small plots from which they were expected to subsist while surrendering a portion of the crop. Accompanying the elevation in status which occurred with the ceding of direct access to the means of subsistence was the dissolution of slave barracks — the notorious ergastula. Servi casati (literally, hutted slaves) were able to form families, put their children to work on their own land and transfer allotments to them upon decease…. Yet the familial autonomy of the servi casati was extremely limited:

“‘Slaves fortunate enough to be given plots of their own were obliged to spend one out of every two or three days inside the dominial court doing whatever they were ordered to do; on those days they took their meals in the refectory and were thus reincorporated into the master’s family. Their women were obliged to perform communal labor with the other women of the estate. The master took children from their huts as needed to replenish the ranks of his full-time servants.’

“While never being recognized in Roman law, the domicile and familial rights of slaves gradually began to be conceded de facto on large estates, under the burgeoning influence of the Christian Church. When this bundle of rights became customary, the servi casati had achieved the status of serfs.

“Outside Italy and Spain, peasant cultivators possessing hereditary land were the mainstays of agriculture throughout the Roman Empire, while slaves were primarily employed as domestics in aristocratic households. Peasant families were engaged in a broad range of class relations, from freehold ownership to servile dependency. Across the full breadth of this spectrum, their position gradually deteriorated from the second century AD on; an increasing proportion of them were enserfed. In the last two centuries of the Western Empire, ex-slaves and tenant farmers gradually converged. ‘What difference can be understood between slave and adscripticii’ (peasants bound to the land), Justinian asked rhetorically in the sixth century, ‘when both are placed in their master’s power and he can manumit a slave and alienate an adscripticius with the land?’ In this blending, ‘the major question was that of domiciling: once genuine independence of the hut had been acquired [by ex-slaves], fusion with free coloni or tenants followed….’

“The Germanic Peoples in Transition

“By Caesar’s time, the Germanic federations had left their nomadic, pastoral roots far behind. Since their social formations were extremely varied, generalization is difficult, but archaeological evidence indicates that most had become lightly settled agriculturalists by the pre-Roman Iron Age (1200-700 BC). They lived in widely scattered farmsteads, hamlet clusters and small villages, ‘islands of light soils … in a green sea of woods and waste’ where they combined the raising of cattle, sheep and goats with the cultivation of barley, oats, corn and wheat. In pre-Roman times, theirs was an extensive agriculture organized around stock-raising; a form of semi-sedentary pastoralism wherein cereal crops appear to have played a secondary but indispensable role. They practised slash-and-burn agriculture using scratch ploughs on impermanent fields, lacking regular layouts, crop rotation and systematic soil restoration. But in the first four centuries AD, there was a major expansion of settlements beyond loess soils, field layouts became more regular, wood ploughs more substantial and sophisticated, capable of cutting deeper furrows on light clays and intermediate loams, and there are even indications at one site of primitive forms of soil restoration…. Soil restoration could not have been widespread, since archaeological evidence indicates shifting cultivation, long fallow, two-course cropping, and repeated rearrangement of huts and field boundaries, the mark of semi-permanent villages….

“What, then, of the kinship forms of the Germanic peoples? By the time the Sippe (the Germanic kindred network) appears in historical texts, it is already a structure in decline. In the barbarian successor states, the political functions of the kindred — providing for territorial defense, domestic security and dispute settlement — were beginning to be replaced by the dependency of peasants upon local landlords and the extension of the latter’s authority….

“In those barbarian successor states where manorialization succeeded in establishing the permanence of land in cultivation, family groups held land, not the Sippe….

“Before widespread manorialization and the emergence of a standardized family holding in the ninth and tenth centuries, partible traditions prevailed across most of Northwestern Europe: all sons were entitled to marry in, raise families and subsist from the land of their fathers. In Anglo-Saxon England, where the primogeniture privilege was already emerging, the first son acquired the parental home; continental traditions appear more even-handed. The fissiparous potential of partible customs was held in check by the larger kin group, whose elder leaders enforced a strong tradition of joint management of farmsteads between brothers. Co-parceny inheritance may well have involved the establishment of separate residences (as Thomas Charles-Edwards argues was the norm in Anglo-Saxon England), but it was unlikely to have entailed the division of the parental holding.

“The kindred group, whose membership was in a constant state of flux, probably did not exceed fifty households. Yet whenever they were densely settled in a district, the group had a definite presence there. This took the form of a domain (a villa or fundus), an extensive ensemble of ‘arable, vine and orchard, undivided pasture, forest and waste, of demense and dependent tenancies.’ With the intensifications of plough agriculture, the domain was internally subdivided and conjugal families became more sharply distinguished from the larger kindred; but the group none the less maintained its external boundaries and genealogical identity. Alienation of the kindred’s land to outsiders was generally prohibited, strangers migrating to new lands were expected to declare their kindred, and settlements bore the name of their reputed ancestral owners….

The structure of landholding in the Roman West was deeply shaken by the barbarian takeovers, yet great estates persisted in England, Gaul and Germania. While many were comprised of dispersed small-scale holdings, most were at least partly concentrated and centrally administered….

“As the kindred ceased to be a sufficient basis of collective settlement, agricultural co-ordination and land management [because of, according to the author, ‘the transition from scratch plough agriculture and impermanent settlement to heavier iron plough cultivation and fixed site development’ – hbd chick], the resulting vacuum encouraged the mass commendation of communities of free cultivators into the thrall of the emergent seigneurial class. Within the landholding elite, a parallel shift from a ramified, ancestrally based kin ensemble to a more streamlined estate lineage may also have paved the way for the rise of the military retinue, cutting across ancient kin ties.

“Conventional wisdom tends to foster an exaggerated image of the kindred in terminal decline, of a dying institution overwhelmed by the inexorable and deeply antagonistic forces of lordship. In reality, ‘kinship remained immensely strong in daily life.’ Certainly, kin extension was truncated and realigned within the field of seigneurial jurisdiction; in the event of conflict between the two systems of loyalty, kinship was subordinated. But we should not overestimate their antagonism. Kin solidarity persisted throughout the feudal epoch as a profound and necessary complement to the class of bonds of loyalty and service…. If we envision a complete atrophy of kin bonds extending between domestic groups, ‘the conjugal family’ emerges from the early medieval mists standing on its own. Alan Macfarlane has painted such a picture for medieval England, but his argument has been widely criticized by historians. If the solitary nuclear family thesis is somewhat misleading for England, it is sharply at odds with evidence from the continent, where extended kin bonds were common in long-standing village communities.

“With the expansion and consolidation of manorial authority, a more intensive common-field agriculture was established in larger village settlements, with short strip furlongs in open fields, communally regulated crop rotation, seasonal grazing on the stubble, and deeper plough cultivation extending on to heavier soils. By the tenth century these general features had appeared along the Rhine, in Franconia, Hesse, Dijonnais, Artois and the Paris basin: ‘Seignorial lordship prevailed in all the common-field regions of Europe.’ Ancient settlements were reorganized and newly established ones were laid out in regular forms from their inception….”

previously: medieval manorialism and selection … again and medieval manoralism and the hajnal line and behind the hajnal line and english individualism ii

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pre-christian germanic eugenics

from Children and Material Culture [pg. 184]:

“Citing documentary evidence, Molleson notes that Germanic tribes in continental Europe subjected newborn infants to rigorous ‘fitness’ tests by immersion in running water. If the infant survived it was kept, if not the body was simply left in the river. Because of the lack of infant burials on British Anglo-Saxon sites, Molleson suggests that Germanic tribes may have brought this custom with them to England.”

that’s pretty harsh. =/ wonder whose job it was to take the baby to the river?

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trees and frisians

speaking of trees, i always found this to be quite shocking:

St. Boniface cuts down Thor’s Oak

i mean, wtf dude?! i’m surprised some of the chatti — who he was trying to convert via this display of strength — didn’t string him up from the next best nearest tree. but apparently he had charles martel covering his *ss (yeah, that charles martel), so i guess the chatti maybe felt that they were … you know … in no position to argue. some frisians “took care” of boniface later, tho.

the frisians are an interesting crew. did you know that they never had any feudalism or serfdom in frisia? or manorialism? [pgs. 41-41 & 76]:

“The area settled by the Frisians along the North Seas coast is an interesting case from within the Frankish Empire itself. Manorial estates had not been established there — not by the king, the church, or the nobility — although the imperial heartland lay very close by. The reason for this may well be the ecological conditions that determined the economy. The region was admirably suited for grazing, so that agriculture faded into the background…. Natural conditions were lacking for the cerealization that had been implemented by Frankish neighbors. That a region in the Frankish Empire specializing in animal husbandry did not even begin to come close to establishing the bipartite estate confirms, e contrario, the belief in a connection between increased grain production and the rise of the manorial system. Nor was the agricultural system in Frisian settlements shaped later on by manorial structures. Very strong rural communal groups were established instead, placing the local nobles dispensing high justice in a percarious position….

“Ecological conditions might well have blocked the [hide] system’s progress in Friesland and the North Sea coastal marshes. It is striking that those are precisely the areas where we find features — such as the clan system and most notably blood revenge — that typify societies strongly oriented toward lineage. Blood revenge is rooted in a concept of kinship in which all men of a group are treated almost like a single person. The agnates together are considered to be the bearers of honor — and guilt. That is why the guilt of one relative can be avenged on someone else who had utterly no part in the deed. The idea of blood revenge is completely incompatible with Christian views of guilt and innocence. Nevertheless, the institution of blood revenge was still alive in several European societies even after they were Christianized, those in the North Sea marshes among them.”

for a good part of the medieval period, then, frisian society continued to be based on clans rather than nuclear families. the frisians had been christianized, which is important in breaking down tribes and clans, but they weren’t manorialized, which seems to be another key in getting to an “atomized” society based on the individual and the nuclear family.

the hide system meant that the lord of the manor would lease out (on a long-term lease — like lasting a life-time) farms to married couples. not to extended families. not to clans. just to a married couple (and their kids). manorialism and the hide system, therefore, also broke down the clan connections, along with the loosening of the genetic ties via all the outbreeding. so in places where people converted to christianity (and, therefore, stopped inbreeding), but DIDN’T have manorialism, extended family systems and even clans could — and did — survive for longer, since the clan system wasn’t also broken down by the hide system.

at some point, tho, the frisian clans did break down. not sure exactly when or how or why, but never fear! i’ll be lookin’ in to it. maybe the outbreeding alone was enough to eventually turn frisian society from a clannish one to one based on nuclear families? dunno. here’s a bit from wikipedia:

“The basic land-holding unit, for assessment of taxes and military contributions, was the ploegg (cf. ‘plow’) or teen (cf. ‘hundred’), though it passed under other local names…. The ploegg or East Frisian rott was a compact holding that originated with a single lineage or kinship, whose men in early times went to war under their chief, and devolved in medieval times into a union of neighbors rather than kith and kin.

in more modern times, the frisians have been characterized as having “absolute nuclear families” (as defined by emmanuel todd) just like the english [image adapted from here — thnx, m.g.!]:

bonus – (in)famous frisian:

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italian genetics

no, i don’t know much about them, but via the italianthro blog, here’s a couple of charts from tian, et. al.’s European Population Genetic Substructure: Further Definition of Ancestry Informative Markers for Distinguishing among Diverse European Ethnic Groups (*whew*). northern italians are the little white triangles outlined in black — italians from the u.s., mostly southern italians, are the little yellow triangles outlined in black — and people from tuscany are the green diamonds with the dark green outline:

notice that there’s not much overlap between the northern italians, tuscans and southern italians. in other words, they’re different populations. they’re not wildly different populations — it’s not as if there were eskimos living in northern italy and australian aborigines living in southern italy — but they are different.

dienekes has found that there is a greater north african component (K=6) in southern italy/sicily than in northern italy:

and also that there is a greater northwest european component (K=10) in northern italy than in southern italy/sicily:

italianthro has objected to me having said about italy that there are: “different populations — broadly speaking, more germanic in the north, more greeks and arabs and others in the south.”

in one way he is correct — the genetic differences between northern and southern (and maybe central) italians is not due to just an influx of germanic, greek and arab genes into italy/sicily. i will readily admit to having been incorrect to put it like that. but there are genetic differences in italy’s population — the people living in italy/sicily are not entirely one people. the differences, tho, probably go back further than the arrival of the greeks and goths, so it was not right of me to just point to the german, greek and arab migrants, although they also contributed to the genetic differences that are found in italy today (for example).

that the genes of italians living in different regions of italy look somewhat distinct is the nature of genetics. if you compare my genome to my first-cousin’s, they’ll look rather different. but if you compare my genome and my first-cousin’s to an eskimo’s genome, then me and my first-cousin are going to look awfully alike.

tian, et. al., mentioned this about their italian samples:

“It also is worth noting that the inclusion of the Arab population groups results in larger separation between northern Italian and southern Italian (and/or Greek) subjects and suggests that inclusion of the Arab population genotypes may be useful in analyses of southern European population groups (data not shown).”

in other words, the southern italian samples were pulled farther away from the northern italian ones, towards the arab samples. that’s because there’s some amount north african/arab genes in the southern italy population — or, rather, that southern italians share genes in common with north africans/arabs.

when geneticists drill down further into italian genetics, they’ll no doubt find even greater differentiation; but at the same time, clearly italians are, on average, different from arabs or africans or eskimos.

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early medieval europe and nineteenth century ethiopia

ninth century european (and by european i mean mitterauer’s europe: germanic areas, northern france and england, more-or-less) and nineteenth century amharic society are rather reminiscent of one another. they’re not exactly alike, of course — different peoples, different environments, different histories — but there are some interesting similarities, particularly in family/societal relations. (there are also some interesting differences that i’ll talk about in a follow-up post.)

both societies practiced outbreeding:

– the europeans were not allowed to marry anyone closer than second-cousins — this included in-laws. no polygamy and absolutely no divorce. all of this was pretty strictly enforced by the church since you had to marry in the church, although dispensations were sometimes granted. these marriage laws were introduced to the northern europeans during the fifth and sixth centuries, although it may have taken a couple of generations for everyone to comply. so, by the ninth century, early medieval europeans had been outbreeding for three- to four-hundred years — something like twelve to sixteen generations of outbreeding, counting a generation as twenty-five years.

– the amharans were not allowed to marry anyone closer than sixth cousins, although divorce was common and “serial monogamy” was the norm. (at different points during its history, the shewa kingdom, where the amharans live, was under the control of muslims. i’m guessing that the amharans picked up the quick-and-easy divorce thing from them, unless it was an indigenous practice.) it’s not clear to me how the cousin-marriage prohibition was enforced apart from it simply being tradition — despite being christians, most amharans did not traditionally marry in the church — but the tradition seems to have be pretty well-enforced amongst ethiopian jews, and so may it have amongst the amharans as well. (it’s also not clear to me if every marriage had to be beyond the sixth cousin, or just the first one.) this sixth cousin proscription seems to have been introduced to ethiopia in the 1400s or 1500s, so by the mid-nineteenth century, the amharans would’ve been outbreeding for three-hundred-fifty to four-hundred years — or fourteen to eighteen generations — comparable to the europeans.

so, what was ninth century european society — in particular its family-relations — like? from “Why Europe? The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path” [pgs. 60, 62-5, 67-8, 77]:

It was primarily the parent-child group that lived on the mansi and hides of the Carolingian villicatio, occasionally with servants or people who may or may not have been their relatives. This kind of group indicates a conjugal family structure. From today’s point of view, this type of structure does not seem worth emphasizing at first glance because it has become generally accepted in European societies….

“In his survey ‘Characteristics of the Western Family Considered over Time,’ Peter Laslett grouped specific characteristics of the European family into four areas. His first point is that family membership ‘in the West’ was confined for the most part to parents and children, the so-called nuclear family or the simple family household. Carolingian sources show that with regard to generational depth this form of household was clearly dominant at the time….

“Laslett’s fourth characteristic of the ‘Western family’ is particularly important: the presence of servants who were not kin but were still fully recognized household members. These servants who were not related by bonds of kinship did not serve in one household throughout their lives but only from youth to marriage. This is why Laslett speaks of ‘life-cycle servants.’ Life-cycle servants were people in the household who were different from the domestic slaves found in many cultures, and they were sometimes included among members of the family…. [T]hese domestics were often found in property registers as early as the Carolingian period.

“All four characteristics of the ‘Western family’ that Laslett lists go far back in history. All four indicate the influence of the manorial system. All four can be connected with the hide system. All four point toward different facets of the conjugal family: In the simple family household, the conjugal couple were the nucleus….

The most important feature of the Western family is doubtless the fact that it was not constituted by bloodlines but was a house or household community largely free of kinship ties. English-language family research uses the very apposite concept of the ‘coresident domestic group’ that is based on family contexts in more modern time but also fits medieval ones perfectly. Living in a family that includes non-kin goes back a long way in European history…. The life-cycle servant was the prototype of the non-kin coresident who would be taken into the family to augment the work force temporarily. We already find him listed in the polyptychs of Carolingian monastic estates in the early days of the manorial system. Other kinds of unrelated coresidents were added wherever the manorial system continued to develop in Europe: inmates, lodgers, guests, foster children, and elderly reirees and children left behind by previous owners who shared no bond of kinship.”

so, the basic unit in early medieval (north-western) european society was the nuclear family which was not attached to extensive kinship groups like clans or tribes. households would also typically include non-relatives. this is quite a contrast from many areas of the world where a large, extended family would make up the household and the labor force of that household. also, young people in medieval europe were particularly mobile, often leaving home to work as servants in other households.

mitterauer continues:

“As a rule, manorial and lineage structures are in conflict with each other, but this opposition alone cannot satisfactorily explain the profound changes in European kinship systems. These processes of change go back to well before the rise of the Frankish agrarian system; in spatial terms, they extend beyond that system’s area of dissemination. So we must look for other determining factors that might allow us to understand why Frankish systems of agrarianism, lordship, and family could evolve in which lineage principles play so minor a part….

“The introduction of Christianity always preceded the introduction of the hide system throughout the entire area of colonization in the East — often by only a slight difference in time, but occasionally centuries earlier. The time sequence was never reversed, anywhere. The western agrarian system at all times found a state of affairs where Christian conversion had either relaxed or weakened older patrilineal patterns. This process had already paved the way for the transition to a bilateral system of kinship and the conjugal family.”

in other words, you can’t have a manorial system in your society when you have large kinship groups like clans. you have to get rid of, or at least reduce, the inbreeding (in order to get rid of the kinship groups) if you want to have a manorial system. on the other hand, the manorial system further breaks down kinship connections since people shift and are shifted around throughout the system.

so, what about the mid-nineteenth century amharans? from “Class, State and Power in Africa: a case study of the Kingdom of Shewa” [pgs. 49-50, 52, 54-56]:

The Amhara lived in hamlets and scattered homesteads rather than in nucleated villages [so did the europeans, btw – hbd chick]; the parish grouped together a number of hamlets into a unit of worship and cooperation for religious purposes; the estate of the local lord (gultagna or malkagna) served as the smallest political entity and would often differ from both the former. All three units were cut across by significant ties of kinship, friendship, and allegiance, which high mobility contributed to weakening the loyalty to any particular institution. Communal ties were thus numerous, diffuse, and subject to manipulation….

“The Shewan economy was predominantly agricultural, but there was also a considerable trade….

“A well-developed agriculture laid the basis for a class society by providing a large agricultural surplus. Shewa was set in a rich ecological milieu, the plough was in general use, crop rotation was widely practised; manure, irrigation, and terracing were well-known techniques and practised where feasible. This set the peasantry of Shewa, and northern Ethiopia in general, off from the common African agriculturalists using the hoe….

The household was the unit or production, but was an institution which also had a wider social significance…. The household consisted of two elements, ‘tasks’ and personnel. The tasks formed a fairly stable structure, divided into male and female spheres, each strictly ranked. The personnel changed frequently and was assigned its tasks according to the size of the household and the relative standing of its members.

The central cohesive link was the tie of marriage, but the household was often not identical with the nuclear family; it included non-kin or distantly related members according to its stage within the domestic cycle. Furthermore, marriage did not provide a basis for a stable family. Common marriage (as opposed to religious marriage) was entered into by swearing on the life of the king in the presence of witnesses and taking account of the property brough by each party. The laxity and dissolubility of this form of marriage has often been emphasied; in Menilek’s time one enterprising lady of twenty-seven was known to have had fifteen or sixteen husbands. Religious marriage, which in theory bound husband and wife together for ever, was mostly left to priests and old persons….

“Among the peasants the husband-wife relationship was one of equals, performing complementary tasks, both a man and a woman being necessary to form even a minimal household. Women had a fairly strong position in Shewan society, keeping their own name and property when marrying; the husband managed all the household’s land, but on divorce the wife resumed possession of whatever she had brought into the marriage….

“If there were no servants, the children played their part, also serving as a form of education. From the age of five or six they were given small duties in the fields or made to fetch wood or water. However, children were an unstable labour force; at about twelve many left their parents to take service in other households, only the favourite son remaining on the farm….

“The Amhara household faced two basic problems, reproduction and recruitment. Its holding of land was not a family estate cultivated for generations; the rule of equal inheritance, although not strictly adhered to, greatly reduced continuity from generation to generation. Even a favoured child inherited a share that was significantly smaller than that of his father; each generation had to build its own fortune anew, implying competition and a need for personal achievement, not an equal or inherited starting point.

Recruitment of household members took several forms. The couple’s children, or children of a former marriage, stayed with their parents for a number of years; servants were numerous, even the peasants had at least one; finally the institution of slavery eased recruitment of personnel for the lowly household tasks….

like medieval europe, then, the basic unit of nineteenth century amharan society was the nuclear family plus servants who came and went in the household. young people in amharan society, like their european counterparts, would also leave home to become servants in other households. the amharan nuclear family stood independent from a larger kinship group like the european nuclear family (but there is one difference here related to the inheritance of property which i’ll get to in a follow-up post — or you can just check out ege’s book starting on pg. 59). the main difference here is the fragility of the husband and wife team in amharan society — that could break-up at any moment and, apparently, did. the ethiopians also had slaves in their households.

the commonality here? i think it’s that the outbreeding creates this sort-of centrifugal force that flings kin farther away from one another in terms of social relations. with lots of regular inbreeding you get extended families, clans, tribes, etc. with lots of outbreeding, you get nuclear families and strangers in your household. of course, every society has its own particular historical (evolutionary) course, and so there are unique elements to them all.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

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