early medieval germans … again!

meanwhile, back with our friends the late-antiquity/early medieval germans…

i just got through reading mayke de jong’s “An Unsolved Riddle: Early Medieval Incest Legislation”, which is in “Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian period: an ethnographic perspective”, with my never-ending quest to answer these questions in mind: how inbred (or not) were the pre-christian germanic tribes, and what brought about the incest-avoidance obsession of the germans in the medieval period.

on the first question, de jong thinks that the pre-christian germanic tribes were probably not that inbred. they likely married distant cousins, but not so much closer relatives. i don’t really buy her argument. de jong describes how she thinks (from looking at some of the germanic laws) that the germanic tribes viewed kinship out to the fourth- and fifth-cousin as sort-of the limits of kinship (see quotes below). that’s interesting. that maybe would give an indication of the extent of germanic tribes as the germans, themselves, saw it. fifth-cousins — part of the tribe; beyond that — not part of the tribe. but this kinship limitation doesn’t, to my mind, give any indication as to which cousins the germans had been marrying before they converted to christianity.

i think ausenda and goody both make very sound arguments that the earliest of the early medieval laws specifically banned close-cousin marriage precisely because the germanic tribes had been, to some extent or another, marrying their close cousins. so, i still think close-cousin marriage amongst the pre-christian germanic tribes was quite likely.

with regard to the second question, de jong doesn’t put much stock in goody’s argument that the church tried to limit cousin-marriage (and other things related to mating) because it wanted to limit the number of heirs people could produce so that the church would benefit by receiving more legacies. she thinks that the church had more ideological notions in mind regarding the ‘pollution’ of the body and the soul — and even the community (see her chapter for details). (although st. thomas aquinas offered some more practical reasons to ban close-relative marriage.)

in addition, she thinks a lot of the push for control of cousin marriage came from the germanics, themselves — or at least that it was influenced by germanic society. she points out that most of the early medieval laws on cousin marriage — especially the earliest ones again — came from germanic regions, not from back in rome. de jong feels that the germans were really enthusiastic about following and implementing — and getting right — the new church’s rules because they were new converts and, therefore, really eager. sounds possible. whatever the germans’ reason(s), i think she is right that it was not only the church, but also tptb in germanic society that pushed for these bans.

but, only so far. de jong points out something interesting and that is that after a few centuries of bickering back-and-forth, the limit on cousin-marriage was finally set in the 1200s at fourth cousins — in other words, right at the pre-christian germanic limit on kinship.

here are some quotes from de jong:

pg. 108

“The first far-reaching decrees against incest stem from early sixth-century Gaul and Spain, and were as much a matter of kings as of clerics. In other words, the chronology and geography of incest legislation puts us firmly within the domain of the Germanic sucessor-kingdoms….”

pgs. 118-20

“Anti-incest legislation undoubtedly was an ecclesiastical priority. To a large extent, Christianization in the Frankish kingdoms can be measured by the expansion of marital impediments. But this is not the same as saying that extreme exogamy was exclusively the concern of churchmen, be they self-interested, confused or otherwise. After all, legislation against incest developed within Germanic kingdoms; unlike their Roman predecessors, Frankish rulers were in the vanguard of the battle. Moreover, the pollution-ridden type of Christianity receptive to extreme incest prohibitions was very different from its Roman counterpart. However much Augustine wrote about the inherent dangers of sexuality, the conviction that kin-marriage had to be destroyed root and branch was alien to late antiquity Christianity. It belonged to the more literal-minded religion of the post-Roman world, in which rulers increasingly presented themselves as the guardians of the New Israel….

“This much is certain: ‘the Church’ cannot be credited with the sole responsibility for change. Extensive incest prohibitions can only originate and exist in societies in which kinship networks were both extensive and vitally important. This was not the case in Roman society; by the time Christianity entered Roman society, the traditional Roman familia — which had not been determined by biological criteria anyway — had dwindled into non-existence. The basic unit of society was the married couple and their children, so often depicted together on funerary monuments. The role of the family within the successor-kingdoms was of a different nature, however. Without necessarily returning to antiquated notions of the extended family operating at all times as a unified group, one cannot deny that large groups of cognate kin surface in Germanic legislation. This happened only in specific contexts: to wash their hands of responsibility for their kinsman’s crimes, as in the chrenechruda of the Pactus legis Salicae (58.3), or to claim allodial succession, as in the equally famous de allodibus of Ripuarian law (Lex Ribvaria 57.3) [sixth century laws – hbdchick]. In such cases, the limits of kinship hovered between the third and the fifth generatio/geniculum. This coincides with the limits of forbidden kindred as defined by eighth-century capitularies; it was also the border zone in which battles over incest were fought…. There seems no reason, therfore, to credit early medieval ‘Germanic’ societies with endogamous leanings, as Goody and others have done. Noisy quarrels over the limits of kin-marriage have obscured the fact that they stretched quite far to all concerned, in spite of differences of opinion….”

just a note — when de jong uses the word “endogamy” here, she’s referring to really close-cousin marriage, like first- or second-cousin marriage — and when she uses “exogamy,” she’s referring to more distant cousin-marriages. confused me for a while.

“As we have seen, Goody postulated a connection between Germanic endogamy and the wish to keep property ‘within the family’; such strategies supposedly clashed head-on with ecclesiastical designs on lay property. But what if in fact a great number of paternal and maternal kinsmen had a right to inherit, as was the case in Frankish inheritance law? This would seem to render endogamy superfluous, certainly as a strategy to preserve familial property. Inheritance rules allowing allodia to be handed on to the fifth ‘geniculum’ provided plenty of opportunity to inherit ‘within the family’, without any need to resort to close kin-marriage. On the contrary, the inheritance strategies of the Germanic leges reveal a broad conception of kindred, encompassing close and distant kin. From some one could inherit, from others not; if they were too close, one could not marry them, but if they were sufficiently distant, marriage might be both possible and profitable (although not necessarily from an economic point of view)….

Recent research concerning aristocratic marriages in tenth and eleventh-century France reveals an interesting pattern: while prohibitions up to the third or fourth generation tended to be obeyed, alliances between families were nonetheless cemented by kin-marriages, albeit distant ones, repeating themselves in long-term cycles. Regine Le Jan has observed similar strategies of ‘exogamous’ kin-marriages within the Frankish aristocracy. Early medieval kinship was bilateral and based on ‘generalized exchange’, which implied an exogamy which allows for a rapid integration of different elites…. The ecclesiastical offensive against ‘incest’ was not so much directed against close-kin marriages, as against tendencies to strengthen fluid cognate kin groups by marrying affines or distant kin. Hence, Merovingian councils concentrated on affinal and spiritual kinship, while Carolingian churchmen cast their net even wider…. By the ninth century, a marriage in the third generation had become scandalous, but the fourth generation remained a viable option, along with a whole range of more distant kin. This pattern persisted well into the tenth and eleventh centuries.

“Early medieval legistlation was therefore not a matter of the Church pitting its outrageous demands against ‘Germanic’ endogamy. The clergy was part of a society in which the elite practiced exogamy, while alliances within fluid kinship groups were cemented by marriages to distant kin. Ecclesiastical legislation went ‘to the limits of kinship’ precisely because it originated in this context of exogamy…. Marriage in the fourth generation and onwards remained a bone of contention, however, with the clergy holding on to the demand that the seventh generation be observed, and the aristocracy clinging to their exogamous kin-marriages. The struggle continued until the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), when a stalemate was finally reached: from then on, forbidden kindred only included the fourth generation.”

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

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medieval manoralism and genetic relatedness

been reading michael mitterauer’s “Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path” — really interesting stuff! i quoted mitterauer at length here on the shifts in kinship terms across medieval europe and how they mirrored the loosening of genetic ties brought about by the church and tptb’s new regulations on marriage.

anyway, so i’ve been learning all about manoralism, at least carolingian style. mitterauer explains (nice and clearly for those of us who don’t know nothin’ about the medieval period) all about the medieval agricultural revolution — how rye and oats were the latest, trendy crops (in northern europe); the importance of the new three-field system; how crucial the heavy moldboard plow was; and how nobody could do without the new-fangled grist mills — which were mostly owned by rich people or monks.

in case you don’t already know, manoralism was your basic economic unit in feudalistic europe (prolly inherited kinda-sorta from the romans) wherein dependant people (like peasants or even serfs) were tied to, you guessed it, a manor (owned by a lord or attached to a monastery) and owed a certain amount of labor to the manor in return for protection and some farmland of their own and the use of those mills, amongst other things.

from how mitterauer describes it, the system sounded fairly flexible — at least in different places at different points in time. i mean, it sounds like peasants weren’t 100% stuck on whatever farm they grew up on. in fact, rather the opposite — in looking at some manorial censuses, mitterauer works out that most households did not consist of large, extended families but, rather, parents and children — and while the eldest son might “inherit” his father’s farm (or the right to work it), other children would move on elsewhere.

mitterauer makes the argument that the development of the manor system started with the franks. here he quotes another researcher in the field:

“This type of agricultural reform [manorial village, field, and technical agrarian structures associated with this concept] was first put in motion in Austrasia around the middle of the seventh century, or somewhat earlier, under the Pippins, the majordomos of the Merovingians.”

from austrasia (<< sounds like a name orwell made up), the manor system and feudalism first spread throughout the northern germanic populations and later, starting in the 12th century, the germanic peoples brought the system with them as they migrated eastwards.

the key to making the manor system possible at all, though, according to mitterauer, was the breaking down of extended families and clans and tribes. his third chapter is entitled: “The Conjugal Family and Bilateral Kinship: Social Flexibility through Looser Ties of Descent.” looser ties of descent. exactly!

it simply would not have been possible to run a medieval manorial system over a large area (like the carolingian empire) with a bunch of quarreling, inbred tribes. along with all the revolutionary agrarian structures, a new social structure was needed — and that was put into place, i think, kind-of accidentally at first by the church (i.e. not with a planned manorial system in mind), but then it was expanded upon further when it proved to work in ways that benefitted tptb (including the church).

a ban on second-cousin marriage was instituted by the church in the sixth century. by the end of that century, the regulations were firmly enforced amongst the franks. the franks got going with manoralism in the mid-seventh cenutry. if we take the start of the cousin-marriage ban as, say, 550 a.d. to the start of manoralism as, say, 650 a.d. that gives us 100 years. counting a generation as being 16 years in length — that gives us 6.25 generations of mating patterns designed to loosen the ties between extended family members. i’m not sure if this is enough generations or not, but it sounds like a pretty good start to me.

as the system proved successful for the lords and the church (and, prolly, a lot of the peasants, too), the bans on cousin marriage were extended to third cousins and, eventually, in the eleventh century to sixth cousins. by the twelfth century, the franks were hittin’ the road for central europe.

and they would’ve kept going all the way to siberia except they bumped up against a wall. it wasn’t just that they ran up against some slavs, because they managed to push some of them aside. according to mitterauer, what they ran up against were slavs living in vast, forested areas who were still using the old slash-and-burn farming methods (i.e. the russians and the finns had yet to adopt the new agricultural techniques) and still living in the old social systems [pgs. 46-7]:

“The more ancient agrarian economic structures of the East and the newer structures of the West stood in especially strong contrast to each other in the areas annexed by the colonization of the East. To take one example, in the early thirteenth century Duke Henry the Bearded of Silesia made a change in his schedule of dues and services. Grain was to be rendered after a certain point instead of the squirrel skins demanded until then. This changeover was symptomatic of the structural transformations wrought by the colonization of the East; the age-old tribute of pelts that had been widespread in eastern Europe was replaced by rents in grain….

“The squirrel skins [originally] demanded by Duke Henry the Bearded point toward a particularly ancient model. Tributes in pelts were originally demanded collectively from tribal societies as a whole or in part. The inner structure of the societies ruled in this manner were completely unaffected by this system of duties. The expeditions Finnish lords made across Lapland, first on their own, then later, on a commission from the king of Sweden, represented an extreme and long-lived example of this type of tribute. Tributes in furs were so important in northern and eastern Europe that a specific ‘fur geld’ (Pelzgeld) based on them was created between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries. Tributary systems based on tribes were a long way from the arrangements established by the manorial system.

the manorial system required, amongst other things, a breaking of the tribal system. that hadn’t fully happened, yet, in eastern europe in the middle ages.

previously: more on inbreeding in germanic tribes and loosening of genetic ties in europe started before christianity? and what about the franks?

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loosening of genetic ties in europe started before christianity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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what about the franks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

previously: more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

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more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

just one example [pg. 190]:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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demokratia

how did the ancient athenians manage? to have a functioning democracy, that is — for as long as they did?

having a real, working democratic society seems to be at direct odds with being a clannish or tribalistic society. but the ancient greeks, including the athenians, were clannish|tribal — they had phylai (clans or tribes) and phratries (kin-groups or, maybe, sub-clans). and they definitely practiced inbreeding, frequently marrying cousins. in fact, fbd marriage was obligatory in the case of a female heiress — she had to marry one of her paternal cousins so that the estate would not go out of the extended family.

so how the h*ck did they manage to come up with a working demokratia?

cleisthenes’ reforms in 508/7 b.c.

in order to put a stop to the tyrannies that were continually popping up in athens (or, more likely, to quash the powers of clans other than his own — some of his family members had been tyrants, after all), cleisthenes devised a new system whereby athenian society would be organized.

the countryside surrounding athens, attica, had been politically arranged into demes, or regions or neighborhoods. to be a citizen, though, you had to be a member of a long-standing athenian phratry (kin-group). the demes were probably dominated by the phratries that happened to live in them.

cleisthenes rearranged all the demes in a brilliant sort-of reverse-gerrymandering scheme. the new political regions (trittyes) each consisted of three different, non-contiguous areas: from the coast, from the city, and from a rural area. everyone eligible to vote would now cast their vote as a member of a trittys, not (so much anymore) as a member of a phratry.

heh. brilliant!:

“After this victory Cleisthenes began to reform the government of Athens. In order to forestall strife between the traditional clans, which had led to the tyranny in the first place, he changed the political organization from the four traditional tribes, which were based on family relations, into ten tribes according to their area of residence (their deme). Most modern historians suppose there were 139 demes (this is still a matter of debate), organized into thirty groups called trittyes (‘thirds’), with ten demes divided among three regions in each trittys (a city region, asty; a coastal region, paralia; and an inland region, mesogeia). Cleisthenes also abolished patronymics in favour of demonymics (a name given according to the deme to which one belongs), thus increasing Athenians’ sense of belonging to a deme.” [wikip]

this system worked, with a few short interruptions and some changes, for more than a couple hundred years. cool.

cheryl anne cox goes into a lot of detail about athenian marriage patterns. i’ve read some of her book, but not all, so i still don’t have a good overview of how it all worked and what sort of changes in how athenians mated, if any, might have happened over time. she does mention that cousin marriage occurred not infrequently, but that arranged marriages (most of the marriages of vips in athens|attica were arranged) also happened between neighbors in a deme — you know, to create alliances between important families, join up big farms, etc., etc. she also notes that marriage in the city was more heterogamous.

the phratries (kin-groups) did, apprarently, loose their significance during the classical period in athens. did this have to do with increasing marriages across the artifically created trittyes (i.e. outbreeding) with a concomitant decrease in marriages within the phratry (i.e. inbreeding)? dunno, but i’d put money on it.

also, had the phratries, which had been powerful during the greek dark ages, already been weakened by the time of cleisthenes’ reforms by the outbreeding in the demes that cox describes? i think it likely.

maybe athenian society was already primed for demokratia by the time cleisthenes got there.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

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st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas

smart guys!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

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

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inbreeding amongst germanic tribes

in “Kinship and marriage among the Visigoths“, giorgio ausenda tries to elucidate the … well … kinship and marriage patterns amongst the visigoths!

there’s not a lot of direct evidence to work from, so ausenda looks at the law codes from various germanic tribes (visigoths, lombards, alamanni, bavarians) from different time periods as well as at the gothic bible (kinship terms, etc.) for any indirect evidence.

he finds that the patrilineal side of the family was of primary importance in germanic tribes and that the father’s brothers were significant members of the germanic family. related to this, he finds some hints — but only indirect ones — that parallel cousin may have been a common form of marriage in germanic tribes early on, possibly even the preferred one. in any event, he does think that endogamous marriage was probably the norm in earlier periods, but then a shift occurred (due to pressure from the church and the state) towards more exogamous marriage practices.

below are some key passages from ausenda. first, here’s some info on the sources he used:

Lex Visigothorum – ca. 480 (Code of Euric) / 654
Pactus Alamannorum / Lex Alamannorum – ca. 620 / 730
– Lombardian laws – Edictum Rothari – 643 A.D.
Lex Baiwariorum [Bavaria] – ca. 745
Liutprand’s Law – King of the Lombards – 8th century
Gothic Bible or Wulfila’s Bible – 6th-8th centuries

pg. 142:

We know from the laws that the paternal uncle was the most important next of kin after the father. In the Leges Alamannorum XL [early 7th century or 8th century] De patricidiis et fratricidiis, the patruus [paternal uncle] comes right after the father and before the brother. In Rothari’s [643 A.D.] edict the paternal uncle is called barbas or barbanus in its latinized form. The term is mentioned in Ro. 163 as referring to one of the closest relatives against whom someone might plot death. The closest relatives mentioned in that law, with the paternal uncles, were brothers and parallel cousins, i.e., the closest male agnates beyond the father….

This is in tune with kinship relationships among social groups with patrilineal descent where, in general, the father’s brother is the most important kin next to the father.

pg. 143-44:

“One of the main characteristics of agro-pastoral populations to this day is their high degree of endogamy, i.e. marriage with close relatives within the lineage or corporate group. In fact the great majority of present-day agro-pastoralists are characterized by unilinear descent and in most cases the paternal line is the priviliged one. At the time of the invasion [of Rome], the Langobards [Lombards] had a patrilineal descent system. This is shown beyond reasonable doubt by the genealogies written in the prologues to their laws and in their histories. That they had a segmentary lineage system [e.g. clans & sub-clans] cannot be established beyond doubt, but is highly probable….

“As far as the Langobards [Lombards] are concerned, practically no direct clue is available in their laws as to whether they had preferential marriage and whether this was with a parallel cousin [e.g. fbd]. The adoption of Christianity must have caused considerable changes to occur with respect to pre-existing marriage customs about which practically nothing is known directly.”

pg. 145:

The early exsitence of preferential marriage among close kin can be inferred from later laws forbidding those marriages considered ‘illicit’ and ‘incestuous.’

“In Rothari’s edict [643 A.D.] the only prohibition, mentioned in Ro. 185, is against marriage with a (widowed) step-mother or (widowed) sister-in-law — for the widower — with a step-daughter; however, there is no specific law against close kin marriage, i.e. close cousins. Perhaps this is an indication that, until three generations after Langobardic [Lombardian] settlement in Italy, endogamous marriages were still practiced….

A law among the Leges Alamannorum [early 7th century or 8th century] has almost the same wording [as a law in the Leges Baiwariorum] and the same penalty, but stresses also prohibition against parallel cousin marriage, ‘filii fratrum, filii sororum inter se nulla praesumptione iungantur.’

“In the later Leges Visigothorum Chindaswinth [642/643 A.D.] substituted the law of the previous Eurician code [c. 480] with a wider prohibition which excluded from marriage persons ‘from the father’s or mother’s descent, and from the grandfather or grandmother or the wife’s parents, also the father’s wife or widow or left by his relatives…thus no one shall be permitted to pollute in a libidinous way, or desire in marriage close blood [relations] until the sixth degree of descent.’ The law exempts those persons who, ‘with the order and consent of the princes, before the law [was enacted] should have adopted this [form of] marriage.’ Again more than a hint that close-kin marriages were practiced in the early days and gradually prohibited by increasingly strict laws.

pg. 147-48:

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

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

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

previously: whatever happened to european tribes?

update 06/29: see also more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

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