Archives for posts with tag: medieval europe

What Your DNA Says About Medieval History“A new study uses genetic data from living people to trace millennia-old migration patterns…. [M]uch of what Capelli and his colleagues discovered meshed with what historians already knew. For example, among northern Europeans, highest rate of admixing took place ‘around the late first millennium C.E., a time known to have involved significant upheaval in Europe,’ while admixture between north African and southern European populations was dated to a time span ‘consistent with migrations associated with the Arabic Conquest of the Iberian peninsula.’ But there were surprises, too. Most notably, Capelli and his colleagues discovered evidence for an influx of Mongolians into Europe that predated the reign of Ghengis Khan.” – orig. research article: The Role of Recent Admixture in Forming the Contemporary West Eurasian Genomic Landscape.

Inuit Study Adds Twist to Omega-3 Fatty Acids’ Health Story“A study published on Thursday in the journal Science reported that the ancestors of the Inuit evolved unique genetic adaptations for metabolizing omega-3s and other fatty acids. Those gene variants had drastic effects on Inuit’s bodies, reducing their heights and weights. Rasmus Nielsen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of the new study, said that the discovery raised questions about whether omega-3 fats really were protective for everyone, despite decades of health advice. ‘The same diet may have different effects on different people,’ he said…. The researchers found several genetic variants at different locations in the genome that were unusually common in the Inuit, compared with people in Europe or China. Several of these variations occurred within a cluster of genes that direct construction of enzymes called fatty acid desaturases. (The genes are called FADS, for short….) Even more intriguing was the fact that one of these gene variants was present in almost every Inuit in the study. It is much less common in other populations: About a quarter of Chinese people have it, compared with just 2 percent of Europeans. Natural selection is the only known way this gene variant could have become so common in the Inuit. Dr. Nielsen said this adaptation might have arisen as long ago as 20,000 years, when the ancestors of the Inuit were living in the Beringia region, which straddles Alaska and Siberia…. The adaptation did more than just change blood levels of fatty acids, the scientists found. Inuit who carried two copies of the variant gene were on average an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter than those without a copy.” – orig. research article: Greenlandic Inuit show genetic signatures of diet and climate adaptation. see also Your Genes Are What You Eat from razib.

Height-reducing variants and selection for short stature in Sardinia“[K]nown height-decreasing alleles are at systematically higher frequencies in Sardinians than would be expected by genetic drift. The findings are consistent with selection for shorter stature in Sardinia and a suggestive human example of the proposed ‘island effect’ reducing the size of large mammals.” – h/t andrew sabisky!

Are humans still evolving? Yes, both globally and locally. – from jerry coyne.

5 key facts about the nuclear DNA from Sima de los Huesos“If confirmed, the results will push back the H. sapiens-H. neanderthalensis ancestor beyond 400 KYA. Meyer suggested that the ancestors of H. sapiens could have diverged from the branch leading to neandertals and denisovans 550 K to 765 K years ago. It may be possible that H. sapiens evolved in western Eurasia and later migrated back into Africa. The fossils from Europe, Asia and Africa in the 400 Ka. period are physically very diverse and may represent multiple species, only one of which could be the ancestor of today’s humans. For example, Chris Stringer thinks it may be needed to look at Homo antecessor and not Homo heidelbergensis as our last common ancestor with neandertals.”

New DNA tests on ancient Denisovan people ‘shows them occupying Altai cave 170,000 years ago’“Prehistoric Siberians lived in Denisova Cave earlier than scientists realised – new claim based on state-of-the-art technology.” – h/t paleoanthropology!

Origins, admixture and founder lineages in European Roma“We found a set of founder lineages, present in the Roma and virtually absent in the non-Roma, for the maternal (H7, J1b3, J1c1, M18, M35b, M5a1, U3, and X2d) and paternal (I-P259, J-M92, and J-M67) genomes. This lineage classification allows us to identify extensive gene flow from non-Roma to Roma groups, whereas the opposite pattern, although not negligible, is substantially lower (up to 6.3%). Finally, the exact haplotype matching analysis of both uniparental lineages consistently points to a Northwestern origin of the proto-Roma population within the Indian subcontinent.”

Why I’m sceptical about the idea of genetically inherited trauma“A recent scientific paper claiming that the children of Holocaust survivors showed evidence of inherited stress was deeply flawed – here’s why.”

Population genetic differentiation of height and body mass index across Europe“Here we find that many independent loci contribute to population genetic differences in height and body mass index (BMI) in 9,416 individuals across 14 European countries.”

North-South divide, Japanese style – from dr. james thompson.

Genetics of IQ and lifespan and Genius? Avoid rare functional genes and Heritability of Specific Cognitive Abilities and Schizophrenia and cognitive decline and g for Latinos and White matter efficiency predicts women’s IQ, but not men’s – all also from dr. james thompson!

SNP hits on cognitive ability from 300k individuals – from steve hsu. h/t holtz!

Do smart girls postpone first sex? and Do women find bright men sexy? – and even MORE from dr. james thompson!! whew!

Green Arabia’s key role in human evolution“Scientists have been illuminating the vital role played by the Arabian Peninsula in humankind’s exodus from Africa. Far from being a desert, the region was once covered by lush vegetation and criss-crossed by rivers, providing rich hunting grounds for our ancestors.”

The UK10K project identifies rare variants in health and disease – h/t kevin mitchell!

Genetics of aggressive behavior: An overview – h/t brian boutwell!

Sons of the Soil, Migrants, and Civil War“In nearly a third of ethnic civil wars since 1945, the conflict develops between members of a regional ethnic group that considers itself to be the indigenous “sons of the soil” and recent migrants from other parts of the country.” – h/t whyvert!

It’s finally out: The big review paper on the lack of political diversity in social psychology“Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity – particularly diversity of viewpoints – for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity.” – from jonathan haidt.

The genetics of alcohol dependence: Twin and SNP-based heritability, and genome-wide association study based on AUDIT scores – h/t amir sariaslan!

Chronotype Associations with Depression and Anxiety Disorders in a Large Cohort Study – h/t emily deans! who tweeted: “‘Morning people’ less likely to be depressed in this large and relatively thorough observational study.” – (morning people depress me. (~_^) )

The Hormone That Bonds Humans to Dogs – h/t old whig! who tweeted: “Evolutionary change is faster than we think? Case study: oxytocin.”

Does the Gender of Offspring Affect Parental Political Orientation? – h/t ben southwood! who tweeted: “Studies on offspring gender & political orientation plagued by publication bias; actually there’s no relationship.”

Do Angry Birds Make for Angry Children? A Meta-Analysis of Video Game Influences on Children’s and Adolescents’ Aggression, Mental Health, Prosocial Behavior, and Academic Performance“Overall, results from 101 studies suggest that video game influences on increased aggression (r = .06), reduced prosocial behavior (r = .04), reduced academic performance (r = −.01), depressive symptoms (r = .04), and attention deficit symptoms (r = .03) are minimal.” – h/t joseph schwartz!

Ancient campfires show early population numbers [in australia]“ANU archaeologist Alan Williams used radio carbon dating technology to examine charcoal dates from more than 1000 prehistoric campfires and based on this he says populations appear to have increased steadily until 25,000 years ago…. After this initial increase, he says, population levels remained steady or even declined from 25,000 years ago, during the more arid Last Glacial Maximum (25,000 to 13,000 years ago) when temperatures were about ten degrees cooler…. Campfire numbers began to grow again 13,000 years ago when the northern wet season re-emerged.”

Aboriginal ‘memories’ of Australia’s coastline go back more than 7,000 years

History became legend, legend became myth: Crater Lake – h/t razib! who tweeted: “8,000 year old explosion preserved in folk memory of klamath indians?”

Ancient Script Spurs Rethinking of Historic ‘Backwater’“At a temple site in the Republic of Georgia, letters carved in stone could change the way we see the development of writing.”

bonus: Microbiologists Keep Finding Giant Viruses in Melting Permafrost

bonus bonus: Ancient Cats Drove Ancient Dogs to Extinction – woof? (O.O)

bonus bonus bonus: this year’s ig nobel mathematics prize went to the authors of The Case of Moulay Ismael – Fact or Fancy?“Textbooks on evolutionary psychology and biology cite the case of the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty (1672–1727) who was supposed to have sired 888 children. This example for male reproduction has been challenged and led to a still unresolved discussion. The scientific debate is shaped by assumptions about reproductive constraints which cannot be tested directly — and the figures used are sometimes arbitrary. Therefore we developed a computer simulation which tests how many copulations per day were necessary to reach the reported reproductive outcome…. The results indicate that Moulay Ismael could have achieved this high reproductive success. A comparison of the three conception models highlights the necessity to consider female sexual habits when assessing fertility across the cycle. We also show that the harem size needed is far smaller than the reported numbers.” (~_^)

and the tweet of the week!:


(note: comments do not require an email. moulay ismael the bloodthirsty!)

i’ve been trying to think through polygamy and if there’s any potential there for the selection for clannishness like i think there is with long-term cousin marriage. (i think i might have sprained a parietal lobe while doing so. (*^_^*) ) i very much have subsaharan african societies in mind here, but, of course, polygamy occurs elsewhere, too.

on the surface it seems obvious that long-term polygamy ought to set the stage for the possible selection for clannish behaviors like cousin marriage (imho) does. like repeated cousin marriage, strict polygamy ought to narrow the relatedness within a population — the result of strict polygamy should be a greater number of half-siblings in a population than in a randomly-mating population, and, of course, half-siblings are more closely related to one another than non-siblings, so a society full of half-siblings could potentially lead to an accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism in a way similar to cousin marrying societies.

however, one big difference is that in polygamous societies generally — even in subsaharan african societies (where there’s a lot of polygamy) — people do not marry/mate with their half-siblings. (it does occasionally happen in some subsaharan societies, but only occasionally.) so, unlike in cousin-marriage societies, “genes for nepostistic altruism” (whatever they might be) might *not* become concentrated in family lineages. yes, there are a lot of half-siblings in polygamous societies, but any particular nepostistic altruism (“clannishness”) genes they might have (gotten from their fathers) will get diluted as they move out into the general population and marry non-relatives. if polygamy isn’t a driver of accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism (and i’ve rather persuaded myself that it isn’t), that could explain why subsaharan africans are generally pretty civic-minded, comparatively speaking. (the poor outcomes seen in african nations are perhaps more the result of other factors like low iq, high disease rates, etc., rather than clannishness. dunno. Further Research is RequiredTM.)

i should note here that polygamy in subsaharan africa is extremely variegated — in some societies, it’s typical for the first wife to actually be a cousin, and then the rest not. so there can be a layer of cousin marriage in amongst the polygamy. in other societies, cousin marriage is completely avoided. in yet other societies, the series of wives might be sisters (sororal polygyny), which makes all the offspring not only half-siblings (because they have the same father) but also cousins (because their mothers are sisters). here you would think that any selection for nepotistic altruism should very much be amplified. of course, in many subsaharan african societies — especially the polygamous ones — there’s often a lot of hanky-panky going on, so not all of the siblings will truly be half-siblings, etc. that’ll dilute your genes for nepotistic altruism right there.

another thing i also thought of regarding subsaharan and/or polygamous societies is the fact that all of the half-siblings don’t always grow up together. in patrifocal polygamous societies, yes — there you’ll have one man living with all of his wives (poor fellow!) and all of his kids, so all the half-siblings will be raised in the same place and interact with one another — and, presumably, continue to do so as adults. in matrifocal societies, a mother and her children reside with the mother’s family, not her husband and his family. this occurs in some polygamous societies, too.

it seems to me that, even if polygamy was a driver of accelerated selection for nepotistic altruism, such selection couldn’t possibly happen if the carriers of the clannishness genes don’t interact. if the half-siblings from polygamous unions don’t grow up together, or don’t interact much as adults, but rather with their (ordinary, i.e. not inbred) cousins, how would clannishness be selected for? it wouldn’t, i don’t think. or it wouldn’t be selected for in an amplified, accelerated way (which is what i think happens in the long-term cousin marriage scenario).

and that’s as far as i got with thinking through polygamy (i shall return to this topic, i’m sure). but thinking about the patrifocal vs. matrifocal family types got me to thinking about something else.

thought experiment: let’s say you eliminate cousin marriage from a population, but don’t eliminate the extended family. say you get rid of the inbreeding, but individuals continue to interact mostly with their close (extended) family members — more so than with the other members of society who are unrelated to them. you would think that it would take longer for clannishness to disappear — for “genes for nepostistic altruism” to get diluted in the population — than in a society where both cousin marriage AND the extended family were simultaneously eliminated.

i am, of course, talking about medieval western versus eastern europe here. the extended family was eliminated quite early in the middle ages in western europe via manorialism along with cousin marriage (serious changes to both were well underway in western europe by the 800s). in eastern europe, the cousin marriage bans appeared later simply because christianity had arrived later. and, especially the further east one goes (like into russia), the fewer pressures there were to eliminate the extended family. quite the opposite, really. for example, this was the situation in the baltic regions, including belorussia, in ca. the fifteenth century [pg. 440]:

a “…’kinship holding’, was collectively held by the extended family. Rural settlements often contained more than one kinship holding, and each holding was in turn subdivided among smaller households within the extended family….”

and in russia as late as the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries [pg. 444]:

“Russian manorialism was distinctive in several important ways…. In Russia…it was the peasant commune that allocated these taxes and obligations among the households. The village commune in Russia had emerged in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries in response to increasing demands from the state and the landowning elite; peasant communes not only allocated obligations, but also chose their officials, held court, selected recruits for conscription levies, and kept written records of their activities. The communal clerk was sometimes the only member of his commune who could read and write….

“[O]n Russian manors, where hired labour was often not available, the peasant family had to personally perform labour obligations at the same time that it worked its own farm. This required large, often multi-generational, households with enough labour capacity to serve the simultaneous needs of both the manorial economy and the family farm…. As Steven Hoch has shown, however, life in the large household was hardly a rural idyll; household patriarchs formed a communal elite that ruled with despotic brutality, ruthlessly exploiting their families and denying any autonomy to the adults under them. At the same time, however, the large household also protected the peasant family from ruin.”

(hmmm. ever wonder where the russian love for [left-wing] authoritarianism comes from?)

even if eastern europeans/russians began to avoid cousin marriage around, say, 1000 (conversion to christianity), they didn’t quit residing in extended families and mostly interacting with their extended family members until, like, yesterday. (again, this pattern appears to be more pronounced the further east one travels.) so the dilution of nepotistic altruism genes in eastern european populations — via nepotistic behaviors being misapplied to individuals not sharing the same altruism genes (i.e. unrelated individuals) — didn’t happen as quickly as it did in western europe where people began regularly interacting with non-kin much earlier in the middle ages.

family types matter.

that’s all i’ve got for you for now. more soon! (^_^)

previously: start here and cousin marriage in sub-saharan africa and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. russian peasants.)

in a brief article on the church’s role in the development of things like political liberty (belated happy magna carta day, btw!) and prosperity in medieval england, ed west says:

“Last week I was writing about Magna Carta and how the Catholic Church’s role has been written out, in particular the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.

“But the same could also be said about much of English history from 600AD to 1600; from the very first law code written in English, which begins with a clause protecting Church property, to the intellectual flourishing of the 13th century, led by churchmen such as Roger Bacon, the Franciscan friar who foresaw air travel.

“However, the whitewashing of English Catholic history is mainly seen in three areas: political liberty, economic prosperity and literacy, all of which are seen as being linked to Protestantism.

“Yet not only was Magna Carta overseen by churchmen, but Parliament was created by religious Catholics, including its de facto founder, Simon de Montfort….

“Likewise literacy, which hugely increased in the 16th century and is often attributed to the Protestant attachment to the word, was already increasing in the 15th and the rate of growth did not change after Henry VIII made the break with Rome….”

here’s the graph from max roser on literacy rates in western europe from the fifteenth century onwards [click on chart for LARGER view]:


and more from ed west:

“As for the economy and the ‘Protestant work ethic’, well the English economy was already ‘Protestant’ long before the Reformation.

As one study puts it:

“‘By 1200 Western Europe has a GDP per capita higher than most parts of the world, but (with two exceptions) by 1500 this number stops increasing. In both data sets the two exceptions are Netherlands and Great Britain. These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the “West” begins its more famous split from “the rest”. [W]e can pin point the beginning of this “little divergence” with greater detail. In 1348 Holland’s GDP per capita was $876. England’s was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland’s jumps to $1,245 and England’s to 1090. The North Sea’s revolutionary divergence started at this time.’

“In fact GDP per capita in England actually decreased under the Tudors, and would not match its pre-Reformation levels until the late 17th century.”

so there are three big things — political liberty, prosperity, and literacy — all of which improved significantly, or began on a trajectory to do so, already by the high middle ages in northwestern or “core” europe (england, netherlands, nw france, ne germany, scandinavia, etc.).

there are additionally some other large and profound societal changes that occurred in core europe which also started earlier than most people think:

– a marked reduction in homicide rates, which has been studied extensively by historians of crime like manuel eisner, was written about at great length by steven pinker in his Better Angels, and most recently was suggested by peter frost and henry harpending to be the result of genetic pacification via the execution of criminals in the middle ages (i think they’re partly/mostly right!).

here’s the example of england (from eisner 2001):

eisner - homicide rates in england

“In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the mean of almost 40 different estimates lies around 24 homicides per 100,000. The average homicide rates are higher for the late fourteenth century than for the thirteenth century, but it seems impossible to say whether this is due to the difference of the sources used or reflects a real increase related to the social and economic crises in the late Middle Ages. When estimate start again after a gap of some 150 years, the average calculated homicide rates are considerably lower with typical values of between 3-9 per 100,000. From then onwards, the data for Kent line up with surprising precision along a straight line that implies a long-term declining trend for more than 350 years.” [pg. 622]

while it is likely that the state’s persistent execution of violent felons over the course of a couple of hundred years in the late medieval/early modern period resulted in the genetic pacification of the english (and other core europeans — this is the frost & harpending proposal), it is also apparent that the frequency of homicides began to drop before the time when the english state became consistent and efficient about its enforcement of the laws (basically the tudor period) — and even before there were many felony offences listed on the books at all. homicide rates went from something like 24 per 100,000 to 3-9 per 100,000 between the 1200s and 1500s, before the state was really effective at law enforcement [pg. 90]:

“As part of their nation-state building the Tudors increased the severity of the law. In the 150 years from the accession of Edward III to the death of Henry VII only six capital statutes were enacted whilst during the next century and a half a further 30 were passed.”

the marked decline in homicides beginning in the high middle ages — well before the early modern period — needs also to be explained. you know what i think: core europeans were at least partly pacified early on by the selection pressures created by two major social factors present in the medieval period — outbreeding and manorialism.

– the rise of the individual, which began in northwest europe at the earliest probably around 1050. yes, there was a rather strong sense of the individual in ancient greece (esp. athens), but that probably came and went along with the guilt culture (pretty sure these things are connected: individualism-guilt culture and collectivism-shame culture). and, yes, individualism was also strong in roman society, but it seems to have waned in modern italy (probably more in the south than in the north, and possibly after the italian renaissance in the north?). siendentorp rightly (imho) claims that it was the church that fostered the individualism we find in modern europe, but not, i think, in the way that he believes. individualism can come and go depending, again i think, on mating patterns, and the mating patterns in northwest europe did not shift in the right direction (toward outbreeding) until ca. the 700-800s (or thereabouts) thanks to the church, so individualism didn’t begin to appear in that part of the world until after a few hundred years (a dozen-ish generations?) or so of outbreeding.

in any case, the earliest appearances of individualistic thinking pop up in nw europe ca. 1050, which is quite a bit earlier than a lot of people imagine, i suspect.

– the disappearance of and dependence upon the extended family — the best evidence of this of which i am aware comes from medieval england. the early anglo-saxons (and, indeed, the britons) had a society based upon extended families — specifically kindreds. this shifted beginning in the early 900s and was pretty complete by the 1100s as evidenced by the fact that members of the kindred (i.e. relatives) were replaced by friends and colleagues (i.e. the gegilden) when it came to settling feuds. (see this previous post for details: the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society.)

the usual explanation offered up for why the societies in places like iraq or syria are based upon the extended family is that these places lack a strong state, and so the people “fall back” on their families. this is not what happened in core europe — at least not in england. the importance of the extended family began to fall away before the appearance of a strong, centralized state (in the 900s). in any case, the argument is nonsensical. the chinese have had strong, centralized states for millennia, and yet the extended family remains of paramount importance in that society.

even in the description of siedentorp’s Inventing the Individual we read: “Inventing the Individual tells how a new, equal social role, the individual, arose and gradually displaced the claims of family, tribe, and caste as the basis of social organization.” no! this is more upside-down-and-backwardness. it’s putting the cart before the horse. individualism didn’t arise and displace the extended family — the extended family receded (beginning in the 900s) and then the importance of the individual came to the fore (ca. 1050).

there are a lot of carts before horses out there, which makes it difficult to get anywhere: the protestant work ethic didn’t result in economic prosperity — a work ethic was selected for in the population first and, for various reasons, this population then moved toward even more protestant ideas and ways of thinking (and, voila! — the reformation. and the radical reformation as a reaction to that.) a strong state did not get the ball rolling in the reduction in violence in nw europe or lead to the abandonment of the extended family — levels of violence began to decline before the state got heavily involved in meting out justice AND the extended family disappeared (in northern europe) before the strong state was in place. and so on and so forth.

it’s very hard for people to truly understand one another. (this goes for me, too. i’m no exception in this case.) and, for some reason, it seems to be especially hard for people to understand how humans and their societies change. i suppose because most people don’t consider evolution or human biodiversity to be important, when in fact they are ALL important! in coming up with explanations for why such-and-such a change took place, the tendency is to look at the resultant situation in our own society — eg. now the state is important rather than the extended family, which is what used to be important — and to then assume that the thing characteristic of the present (the state in this example) must’ve been the cause of the change. i don’t know what sort of logical fallacy that is, but if it doesn’t have a name, i say we call it the cart-horse fallacy! (alternative proposal: the upside-down-and-backwards fallacy.) explaining how changes happened in the past based on the present state of affairs is just…wrong.

so, a lot of major changes happened in core european societies much earlier than most people suppose and in the opposite order (or for the opposite reason) that many presume.

also, and these are just a couple of random thoughts, the protestant reformation happened in the “core” of core europe; the radical reformation (a set of reactionary movements to the main reformation) and the counter reformation (the more obvious reactionary movement to the reformation) happened in peripheral europe. the enlightenment happened in the “core” of core europe; the romantic movement, in reaction to the enlightenment, happened in peripheral europe (or peripheral areas of core countries, like the lake district in england, etc.). just some thoughts i’ve been mulling over in my sick bed. =/

see also: The whitewashing of England’s Catholic history and The Church’s central role in Magna Carta has been airbrushed out of history from ed west. oh! and buy his latest kindle single: 1215 and All That: A very, very short history of Magna Carta and King John! (^_^)

previously: going dutch and outbreeding, self-control and lethal violence and medieval manorialism’s selection pressures and the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society and the radical reformation.

(note: comments do not require an email. back to my sickbed!)

if you haven’t been following along (or even if you have), you may not know that one of the little mysteries here on the blog has been why did the franks abandon cousin marriage in the 800s? in the 700s, they’d still been marrying cousins, but [from here]:

“By the ninth century, a marriage in the third *generatio* [i.e. second cousins – h.chick] had become scandalous…. [T]here was no lack of ‘honest and God-fearing people’ willing to report on their neighbours, being quite able to identify illegitimate marriages when it suited them. Apparently the public scandal of incest could shake whole communities — which suggests that abhorrence of this crime was not merely a matter of the clergy and some pious aristocrats.”

well, i think i’ve discovered what happened — the establishment and promotion of parishes and parish churches in every town and village, thanks to pepin the short and charlemagne. from The Development of the Parochial System: From Charlamagne (768-814) to Urban II (1088-1099) [pgs. 3-4]:

“A modern French historian has pointed out that every ecclesiastical institution in the end seems to lead back to Charlemagne. This is particularly true of the parish church in the modern sense of the phrase. The reign of Charlemagne (768-814) saw the beginnings of a movement for the establishment of a church and priest in every village. Such a church…very soon became the church to which the inhabitants of the village looked for all the day to day administrations of the Christian religion. It was their parish church. The movement continued for the next three hundred years. By the reign of Uban II (1088-1099), the pope who first began to apply the reforming principles of Gregory VII (1073-1085) to parish churches, each diocese north of the Alps was well on the way to being organised on the basis of the parochial system in the generally accepted sense of the term, that is a system of pastoral care exercised through numerous small urban and rural units, each with its church, its endowment and its priest. In the northern half of Italy however the country areas of dioceses continued down to comparatively modern times to be organised round the country churches of the older type (such a church being called a *plebs* or *pieve*), each with a number of dependent chapels. The division into smaller units came later in the cities than in the country. Only in the eleventh century did city area begin to be broken into parises, one of the first being Worms, which in 1016 was divided up into four parishes by the great bishop and canonist, Burchard of Worms. Up till then cities were still organised as one unit as in Roman and Merovingian times; the pastoral work being carried on from the cathedral, assisted by other churches, usually collegiate, none of them responsible for a particular area in the city. With the movement for the establishment of the parochial system in the years between Charlemagne and Urban II, first on the continent, then in England, this paper is concerned….

At the time of the Council of Mainz (847) it has been caculated that in what now very roughly corresponds to the Federal Republic of Western Germany there were some three thousand five hundred churches.

This spectacular increase in the number of country churches witnessed to the christianisation of barbarian society. But it was encouraged by those sections of Charlemagne’s legislation, which emphasised the importance of every Christian having frequent opportunities for worship and for instruction in Christian conduct. A church and priest in every village was a necessity if the emperor’s ideal was to be realised….

“The building of churches was assisted by a new form of property which the church acquired in the eighth century, namely tithe. The idea of tithe was not new. Previous to the eighth century the faithful had frequently been exhorted to give a tenth of their income to the Church. But it was a voluntary gift and could be made to any church they chose. In a circular letter to the bishops in 765, Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne, made the payment of tithe obligatory throughout his dominions…. Every person had to pay a tenth of the produce of his land or of his profits in trade or commerce, at first it would seem to the bishop of the diocese. But very soon the payment was transferred to the church where the person heard mass and his children were baptised.”

with “frequent opportunities for worship and for instruction in Christian conduct,” the franks (carolingians) of the 800s could’ve been — were probably — very well-informed on the church’s policies on incest. enforcement by the church authorities may also have increased, although a church wedding was still not mandatory at this point in time (not until the 1200s, in fact).

btw, i can’t actually take any credit for discovering this info. it was more that i stumbled upon it. =P here i need to thank the derb for indirectly helping me out — he’s always recommending The Great Courses audio lecture series, and, following his recommendations, the d.h. and i have been listening to some of them. it was in the Early Middle Ages series that i learned about the establishment of parishes by pepin. so, thanks john! (^_^) (they ARE really good series, btw!)

previously: mating patterns of the medieval franks

(note: comments do not require an email. pepin le bref.)

oooooooohhhhhhhh! from Reimagining Europe: Kievan Rus’ in the Medieval World, 988-1146 [pgs. 58-60]:

“The medieval period pre-1215 was an especially interesting time in the history of consanguinity legislation because during this era the church stretched consanguinity to seven degrees, an increase from the four that was common in the late Roman world, and the degrees were calculated in a new manner. Instead of siblings being related in two degrees, as was held previously, the new method of calculation made siblings related in the first degree. This may at first appear to be a small change, but in fact it was enormous. The original method, and the one returned to after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, was to count connections between people; thus, for siblings, one degree up to the shared parent, and one degree down to the sibling, for a total of two degrees. For first cousins, a more likely target for marriage than siblngs, it was one degree up to your parent, another degree up to your grandparent, a degree down to your uncle/aunt, and a degree down to your cousins, resulting in a relationship of four degrees.

“The new method of calculating consanguinity was based on degrees to a common ancestor, which resulted in a one-degree relationship for siblings (a common ancestor is one generation back) and two degrees for a cousin (a common ancestor is two generations back). When this concept was applied to seven generations of ancestors, it expanded the pool of consanguineous relations to anyone with whom one shared a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent….

“The Orthodox Church, like the church in Rome, also maintained a policy against consanguineous marriages. Marriages were also forbidden in the seventh degree, but the Orthodox Church never changed its method of calculating degrees, which created a much smaller pool of consanguineous relations.”

oooooooohhhhhhhh! why didn’t they say so in the first place?! =P

so, what this means is, all those cousin marriage regulations out to the “seventh degree” which we hear about from eastern europe (re. orthodox populations)…they’re just referring to SECOND cousins, not SIXTH the way that western european experienced it for a couple hundred years in the medieval period (from about 1000 to 1215). that’s not to say that most medieval western europeans somehow managed to obey the bans out to sixth cousins, but just that there’s apparently never been the same extreme push against close kin marriage in eastern europe. interesting.

from “Marriage Causes in Late Medieval Sweden: The Evidence of Bishop Hans Brask’s Register (1522-27)” in Regional Variations in Matrimonial Law and Custom in Europe, 1150-1600 [pg. 240], on consanguineous marriage in sweden in the sixteenth century:

“Considering the number and type of cases, the Swedish may have been somewhere in between the ‘incestuous’ late-medieval Netherlands, discussed by Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek, the carefree Poles described by Brozyna and the English and Parisians who, according to the of Helmholz and Donaghue, had internalized the rules of incest better and did avoid matrimony with relatives. Perhaps ordinary Swedish peasants in the see of Linköping had easier access to dispensations. Possibly the control of the impediment of consanguinity before the voluntary ecclesiastical solemnization also managed to unearth the ties of kinship between fiances. Moreover, the children’s later loss of inheritance rights may have been a risk some couples were unwilling to take if they were discovered to have known about the impediement prior to their marriage. Swedish synodal statues stressed that children born to couples whose marriage was later discovered to be incestuous would only be considered legitimate if their parents had solemnized *in facie ecclesiae* and the banns had been read without opposition.”

most of this picture fits what i’ve been saying: that (some of) the french and english were the earliest adopters of outbreeding in europe (i posted about donahue’s studies here), the scandinavians came to the party a bit later, and eastern europeans (the example in the excerpt above, the poles) much later. i don’t know who these “‘incestuous’ late-medieval” netherlanders were — i’ve been under the impression that the dutch (minus the frisians) are some of the long-term outbreeders along with the french and english. the source for this is: “Incestuous Marriages: Formal Rules and Social Practice in the Southern Burgundian Netherlands” by monique vleeschouwers-van melkebeek in Love, Marriage, and Family Ties in the Later Middle Ages, which is not available on google books at the moment. (dr*t!) what’s not clear to me is whether vleeschouwers-van melkebeek looked at netherlanders in general or just the aristocracy (which these studies often do). i shall have to find out!

from The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881 [pg. 48]:

The spread of Hasidim stopped only when it reached the invisible border that separated German Jewry from Eastern European Jewry — the boundary between the western central part of the Ashkenazi diaspora and its eastern part. With the exception of one quasi-Hasidic community established in Frankfurt, the Hasidic *tzaddikim* did not succeed in gaining a foothold in Germany as the movement spread.”

previously: historic mating patterns of ashkenazi jews

from Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 [pg. 23]:

“Antagonism between the established, well-to-do German Jews and the new, working-class East European immigrants was unavoidable. To the East Europeans, the German Jews, whom they called *Yahudim*, were not authentic Jews; their Reform Judaism was a sham. They seemed to lack a feeling of closeness to fellow Jews. The native German Jews, on the other hand, frightened by the ‘Russian invasion,’ tended to regard the new immigrants as primitive, ‘medieval,’ clannish, Asiatic, unrefined, and radical. German Jews even coined the word *kikes* for the Eastern Europeans.”

from The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb [pgs. 95-96]:

“The German Jews…embarked on an extensive program of financing and running a number of educational, health, and social-service institutions, mostly in the Maxwell Street areas. These proved very helpful to the poorer Eastern European immigrants. Socially, the German Jews kept apart from the newer immigrants, living separately and maintaining their own clubs, synagogues, fraternal organizations, and community centers, at which the Eastern European Jews were not welcomed. Later, as the Eastern European Jews progressed, they built a parallel set of their own institutions, such as a hospital, old peoples’ homes, charities, and orphanages. Although the distinction between the two groups was gradually blurred, for decades the social distance between the groups remained great. The German Jews, for example,

“‘did not wish to have these Jews to close to them. These Russians were all right — of that they were quite certain — but, like the southern Negro, they had to keep their place. All sorts of philanthropic enterprises were undertaken in their behalf, but in the management of these enterprises the beneficiaries were given no voice. Charity balls by the debutantes of the German-Jewish elite in behalf of the wretched West Side Jews were held at the splendid clubs of the German Jews, which by this time had increased to four, and charitably inclined young Jewish men and ladies-bountiful spent their leisure hours in alleviating the hardships of the Jewish slum dwellers.

‘But the Russians did not take altogether willingly to the American ways of dispensing *zdoko* (charity). They were accustomed to assisting one another in the Old Country in much more informal style. The Jewish communities they had known in Russia were self-sufficient large families. These German Jews of the ‘societies’ asked all sorts of embarassing questions before they dispensed their financial and other aid. They made investigations and kept records. Most of all, they did not understand — they did not know — their own people; in fact, they were only halfway Jews; they did not even understand *mama loshon* (the mother-tongue), or Yiddish.'”

(note: comments do not require an email. judische auswanderer.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

northern europeans began to think of — or at least write about — themselves as individuals beginning in the eleventh century a.d. [pgs. 158, 160, and 64-67 – bolding and links inserted by me]:

The discovery of the individual was one of the most important cultural [*ahem*] developments in the years between 1050 and 1200. It was not confined to any one group of thinkers. Its central features may be found in different circles: a concern with self-discovery; an interest in the relations between people, and in the role of the individual within society; an assessment of people by their inner intentions rather than by their external acts. These concerns were, moreover, conscious and deliberate. ‘Know yourself’ was one of the most frequently quoted injunctions. The phenomenon which we have been studying was found in some measure in every part of urbane and intelligent society.

“It remains to ask how much this movement contributed to the emergence of the distinctively Western view of the individual…. The continuous history of several art-forms and fields of study, which are particularly concerned with the individual, began at this time: auto-biography, psychology, the personal portrait, and satire were among them….

“The years between 1050 and 1200 must be seen…as a turning-point in the history of Christian devotion. There developed a new pattern of interior piety, with a growing sensitivity, marked by personal love for the crucified Lord and an easy and free-flowing meditation on the life and passion of Christ….

“The word ‘individual’ did not, in the twelfth century, have the same meaning as it does today. The nearest equivalents were *individuum*, *individualis*, and *singularis*, but these terms belonged to logic rather than to human relations….

“The age had, however, other words to express its interest in personality. We hear a great deal of ‘the self’, not expressed indeed in that abstract way, but in such terms as ‘knowing oneself’, ‘descending into oneself’, or ‘considering oneself’. Another common term was *anima*, which was used, ambiguously in our eyes, for both the spiritual identity (‘soul’) of a man and his directing intelligence (‘mind’). Yet another was ‘the inner man’, a phrase found in Otloh of Saint Emmeram and Guibert of Nogent, who spoke also of the ‘inner mystery’. Their vocabulary, while it was not the same as ours, was therefore rich in terms suited to express the ideas of self-discovery and self-exploration.

“Know Yourself

“Self-knowledge was one of the dominant themes of the age…. These writers all insisted on self-knowledge as fundamental. Thus Bernard wrote to Pope Eugenius, a fellow-Cistercian, about 1150: ‘Begin by considering yourself — no, rather, end by that….For you, you are the first; you are also the last.’ So did Aelred of Rievaulx: ‘How much does a man know, if he does not know himself?’ The Cistercian school was not the only one to attach such a value to self-knowledge. About 1108 Guibert of Nogent began his history of the Crusade with a modern-sounding reflection about the difficulty of determining motive:

“‘It is hardly surprising if we make mistakes in narrating the actions of other people, when we cannot express in words even our own thoughts and deeds; in fact, we can hardly sort them out in our own minds. It is useless to talk about intentions, which, as we know, are often so concealed as scarcely to be discernible to the understanding of the inner man.’

“Self-knowledge, then, was a generally popular ideal.”

there seem to be two broad sociobiological/genocultural packages when it comes to average nepotistic vs. not-so-nepotistic altruistic behaviors in human populations — these are not binary opposites, but rather the ends of some sort of continuum of behavioral traits [click on table for LARGER view]:

nepotistic vs. not-so-nepotistic

the common thread running through the not-so-nepotistic groups of today (primarily northwest europeans) is a long history of outbreeding (i.e. avoiding close matings, like cousin marriage). (and a long history of manorialism. yes, i WILL start my series on medieval manorialism soon!) while individualism and guilt cultures may have been present in northern europe in paleolithic or even mesolithic populations, these behavioral traits and mindsets were definitely not present in the pre-christian germanic, british, or irish populations of late antiquity. those populations were very much all about clans and kindreds, feuding and honor, shame, and group consensus. guilt/individualistic cultures (i.e. not-so-nepostic societies) can come and go depending at least partly on long-term mating patterns. human evolution can be recent as well as aeons old.

the individualistic guilt-culture of northwest (“core”) europeans today came into existence thanks to their extensive outbreeding during the medieval period (…and the manorialism). the outbreeding started in earnest in the 800s (at least in northern france) and, as we saw above, by 1050-1100 thoughts on individualis began to stir. around the same time, communes appeared in northern italy and parts of france — civic societies. violence rates begin to fall in the 1200s, especially in more outbred populations, i would argue (guess!) because the impulsive violence related to clan feuding was no longer being selected for.

by the 1300-1400s, after an additional couple hundred years of outbreeding, the renaissance was in full swing due to the “wikification” of northern european society — i.e. that nw europeans now possessed a set of behavioral traits that drove them to work cooperatively with non-relatives — to share openly knowledge and ideas and labor in reciprocally altruistic ways. the enlightenment? well, that was just the full flowering of The Outbreeding Project — an explosion of these not-so-nepotistic behavioral traits that had been selected for over the preceding 800 to 900 years. individualism? universalism? liberal democracy? tolerance? reason? skepticism? coffeehouses? the age of enlightenment IS what core europeans are all about! hurray! (^_^) the Project and its effects are ongoing today.

it could be argued that the fact that certain mating patterns seem to go together with certain societal types is just a coincidence — or that it’s the societal type that affects or dictates the mating patterns. for example, i said in my recent post on shame and guilt in ancient greece that:

“shame cultures are all tied up with honor — especially family honor. japan — with its meiwaku and seppuku — is the classic example of a shame culture, but china with its confucian filial piety is not far behind. the arabized populations are definitely shame cultures with their honor killings and all their talk of respect. even european mediterranean societies are arguably more honor-shame cultures than guilt cultures [pdf].

“if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll recognize all of those shame cultures as having had long histories of inbreeding: maternal cousin marriage was traditionally very common in east asia (here’re japan and china); paternal cousin marriage is still going strong in the arabized world; and cousin marriage was prevelant in the mediterranean up until very recently (here’s italy, for example).”

perhaps, you say, the causal direction is that nepotistic, clannish shame-cultures somehow promote close matings (cousin marriage or whatever). well, undoubtedly there are reinforcing feedback loops here, but the upshot is that both ancient greece and medieval-modern europe clearly illustrate that the mating patterns come first. (possibly ancient rome, too, but i’ll come back to that another day.) the pre-christian northern european societies were clannish shame-cultures until after the populations switched to outbreeding (avoiding cousin marriage) in the early medieval period. late archaic-early classical greek society was rather (a bit borderline) universalistic, individualistic [pg. 160+] and guilt-based until after they began to marry their cousins with greater frequency (at least in classical athens). the not-so-nepotistic guilt-culture we see now in northwest european populations is particularly resilient, i think, because the outbreeding has been carried out for a particularly long time (since at least the 800s) and thanks to the complementary selection pressures of the medieval manor system (which ancient greece lacked), but it did not exist before the early medieval period.

so, the direction of causation seems to be: (long-term) mating patterns –> societal type (nepotistic vs. not-so-nepotistic).

i think.

previously: there and back again: shame and guilt in ancient greece and big summary post on the hajnal line and individualism-collectivism

(note: comments do not require an email. earliest formal self-portrait, jean fouquet, 1450.)

william hamilton wondered if renaissances/enlightenments happened in places roughly 800 years after some hardy altruism genes were introduced by barbarians into panmictic (really outbred) populations. i wonder instead if what happens is that renaissances/enlightenments occur after ca. 500 years or so of outbreeding which results in nepotistic altruism (or clannishness) being reduced or even mostly eliminated which, in turn, leads to greater cooperation and reciprocal altruism within the populations — conditions i think you might need to have a renaissance at all (see also here).

where intensive outbreeding (and manorialism) happened in medieval europe — and there is a lot of good, strong evidence for it — certainly seems to match well with where the european renaissance occurred. after some fits and starts in the 500s to 700s, the practice of avoiding close cousin marriages really took hold in exactly the areas where the renaissance/reformation/scientific revolution/enlightenment later happened — i.e. core europe — in short: england, france, the netherlands, germany, and northern italy. scandinavia a bit, too. oh…and the lowlands of scotland.

the evidence for outbreeding in ancient greece is much more tenuous. it appears fairly certain that the upper classes outbred during the archaic period in greece (800-480 b.c.). whether they outbred during the entire time period or began the practice sometime before or after 800 b.c., i don’t know. it may also be, judging by something hesiod said, that the lower classes followed suit, but it’s impossible to know for certain going by just one comment from one ancient writer.

some circumstantial evidence that might offer further support to the outbreeding-in-archaic-greece theory is that, in the 400s to 200s b.c., there was a shift in kinship terminology in ancient greece. the distinctions in the greek language between the paternal and maternal sides of the family began to disappear — for example, uncles on both sides came to be called just “uncle,” rather than there being specific words for paternal vs. maternal uncle, and so on and so forth. the same sort of linguistic shift happened in medieval europe. in germany, for instance, that shift happened between the 1100s and 1400s. at the end of the day, all cousins came to be called simply “cousin” rather than “father’s brother’s cousin” or “mother’s brother’s cousin.” the lesson seems to be: change the kinship structures and the long-term mating patterns in a society, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the kinship terminology will also change. no need to specify different sorts of cousins if all of them are off-limits as marriage partners.

michael mitterauer points out that there was a time lag in the linguistic shifts in medieval europe — the terminology changed ca. 300 to 600 years after the mating patterns began to change. perhaps something similar happened in archaic greece — the linguistic shift happened in ca. the 400s to 200s b.c. so perhaps we can infer that the mating patterns had changed to a more outbred form a few hundred years earlier. maybe right around the end of the greek dark ages and the beginning of the archaic period. dunno. complete speculation.

now i’ve come across another piece of circumstantial evidence that outbreeding may have been happening in archaic greece and that is that there was a(n incomplete) shift in the society during the time period from being a shame culture to being a guilt culture. i’m getting this from The Greeks and the Irrational, a book originally published in 1951 and written by classical scholar e.r. dodds (who was kicked out of oxford for supporting the easter rising — troublemaker! (~_^) ). presumably there have been works criticizing dodd’s thesis written since the 1950s, but i’m afraid i haven’t read any of them yet. i’m just going to run with dodd’s idea for now, but, please, consider this a sort-of thought experiment. more speculation.

first of all, in shame cultures, bad behavior is checked by the fear of being caught — of being shamed and embarassed. in guilt cultures, bad behavior is checked by one’s inner voice — feelings of guilt occurring before any action is taken. these are behavioral traits that must have been variously selected for in different human populations. secondly, shame cultures are all tied up with honor — especially family honor. japan — with its meiwaku and seppuku — is the classic example of a shame culture, but china with its confucian filial piety is not far behind. the arabized populations are definitely shame cultures with their honor killings and all their talk of respect. even european mediterranean societies are arguably more honor-shame cultures than guilt cultures [pdf].

if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll recognize all of those shame cultures as having had long histories of inbreeding: maternal cousin marriage was traditionally very common in east asia (here’re japan and china); paternal cousin marriage is still going strong in the arabized world; and cousin marriage was prevelant in the mediterranean up until very recently (here’s italy, for example). it’s really, once again, the outbred northwest “core” europeans who are unique here with their guilt culture (although perhaps there are other guilt cultures out there as well). my guess is that long-term inbreeding tends to result in shame-honor cultures, while long-term outbreeding leads to guilt cultures. i’ve said so before.

back to dodd, his thesis is that ancient greece went through something of a transition from a shame to a guilt culture, but that shift was incomplete. the trend may even have reversed in classical athens. dodd points to several thematic shifts in greek literature from the iliad to the writings of plato including: a move away from blaming human failings on atē or the direct, external influences of the gods to more personal “demons,” often seen only by the individual person; the gradual adoption of the idea that individual humans have “souls” or independent “personalities”; a move away from the idea that people’s failings are due to a lack of knowledge (again coming from outside the person) as opposed to, perhaps, their own culpability; that zeus over time becomes more and more a dispenser of justice rather than just a being who capriciously interferes in human affairs (justice being important in guilt cultures as opposed to revenge in shame-honor cultures); and that philosophers and thinkers increasingly complained that the inheritance of guilt down through a family line was unjust. here from dodd on that last point [kindle locations 669-671]:

“Solon speaks of the hereditary victims of nemesis as άυαίτιοι, ‘not responsible’; Theognis complains of the unfairness of a system by which ‘the criminal gets away with it, while someone else takes the punishment later’; Aeschylus, if I understand him rightly, would mitigate the unfairness by recognising that an inherited curse may be broken.”

the idea that only the transgressor should be punished (as in guilt cultures) as opposed to additional or all of his family members (as in shame-honor cultures) doesn’t actually occur to these writers, so they haven’t quite arrived fully into a guilt culture, but they do seem to have been on the way there. much more so than earlier writers anyway. again, dodd emphasizes that [kindle locations 587-588]:

“[M]any modes of behaviour characteristic of shame-cultures persisted throughout the archaic and classical periods. There is a transition, but it is gradual and incomplete.”

the transition may have been incomplete — in fact, may have even gone into reverse — because inbreeding (cousin marriage) became increasingly common in classical athens (see here). from “Agnatio, Cognation, Consanguinitas: Kinship and Blood in Ancient Rome” in Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present [pgs. 24-26], we saw in a previous post that while “aristocrats in early [archaic] Greece…married beyond the limits of their *patris*”, in classical athens “members of the *anchisteia*, the legally defined kinship group including first cousins once removed, were the preferred marriage partners.” the ancient greeks might’ve gone from being a (presumably) inbred/shame culture in the dark ages, to an outbred/quasi-guilt culture in the archaic period, and back to an inbred/shame culture over the course of the classical period. maybe. Further Research is RequiredTM.

(yes, i know. it’s all very tenuous. i told you it was speculative!)

in any case, evolution is not progressive. (heh! i’ve just been dying to say that. (~_^) ) there’s nothing to say that evolution cannot go in reverse, although perhaps it wouldn’t go back down the exact same pathway it came up. there’s no reason why we — or, rather, our descendants — couldn’t wind up, as greg cochran says, back in the trees*.

i think the way to think of the evolution of behavioral traits like nepotistic and reciprocal altruism in humans — especially perhaps in recent human evolution — is like a big simmering cauldron of stew where bubbles of certain behaviors rise up in some places only to sometimes pop and deflate and almost disppear again. outbreeding appears to have occurred many places, although whether or not over the long-term is not always clear: archaic greece (maybe), ancient rome, the bamileke of cameroon, the igbo of west africa, the turkana of east africa, the semai of malaysia, the bushmen of southern africa (aka The Harmless People), and europeans since the early medieval period — especially northwest europeans. the ancient greek experiment seems to have run out of momentum and collapsed on its own; the roman example probably popped thanks to the barbarian invasions; and the northwest european one is…currently ongoing. for now.

previously: renaissances and the transition from shame to guilt in anglo-saxon england (and “core” europe) and archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms and ελλάδα

*“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”

(note: comments do not require an email. archaic greek dude.)


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