trees and frisians

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

St. Boniface cuts down Thor’s Oak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bonus – (in)famous frisian:

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what else happened during the middle ages?

so we’ve seen that, starting in the early medieval period, european populations went through some pretty big changes (some more than others) including: changes in mating and family patterns largely thanks to the christian church, a big agrarian revolution, and a new socio-economic structure (manorialism). but things we’re a-changin’ in other parts of the world, too, right around the same time — namely in what became the muslim world (arabia, middle east, maghreb, mashriq, and all the way over to pakistan) AND in china.

islam burst out of the arabian peninsula and most likely introduced a new mating practice to the populations living beyond the middle east/arab world — father’s brother’s daughter marriage (and some of the probable knock-on effects from that are here and here). there may or may not have been an agrarian revolution in the islamic world at this time — that’s not clear to me. the fundamental socio-economic forms of the regions don’t seem to have shifted much — there were tribes before islam, and there were tribes after — there wasn’t a shift from tribes to more open societies like there was in europe.

meanwhile in china — rice production was wildly improved during the song dynasty. i don’t know specifically about changes to socio-economic structures, but there were definitely changes to the mating patterns and family structures — or, rather, a change of direction — a u-turn — that reinforced more ancient family structures — i’m talking about neo-confucianism (i know! who knew?). here from my friend mitterauer [pgs. 82-83]:

“China is an ancient, advanced civilization shaped by ancestor worship in a special way: the practice has been called the ‘key to Chinese culture.’ This is certainly true of its family and kinship relationships…. [I]n the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) Confucianism rose to become the state orthodoxy. But strong competition was to follow, first from Taoism, then especially from Buddhism. At the same time that Christianity was being established as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the West, Buddhism became the dominant religion in China in the East. Both religions are remarkably similar in their attitude toward family matters. Both are strongly oriented toward asceticism; they call for a person to leave the family — the Chinese phrase for ‘to become a monk’ is chu-chia, ‘to leave the family’ or ‘to leave home.’ Leading a communal life with other monks is valued more highly than living with the family. Both are religions of salvation that strive for the perfection of the individual. Both give preference to moral behavior over descent…. It follows that both reject any thought of sacrificing to one’s ancestors. Buddhism in China inevitably had to come into conflict with Confucianism…. The monk would renounce his family name and take on a new one placing him within a continuum with his teachers or the Buddha. He would be celibate, thereby refusing to carry on the male line of the family….

“Buddhism was preeminent in the early Tang dynasty (618-906). Then Neoconfucianism began its ascent, bringing an anti-Buddhist reaction along with it. All Buddhist monasteries were disbanded between 842-845, and any monks and nuns in them were forced to join the laity…. Neoconfucianism brought about the complete triumph of ancestor worship; its rites were now clarified, standardized, and canonized. For its part, Buddhism continued to be an important factor in Chinese life and made some compromises with traditional views of the family.

“And so two developments in the history of religion — in western Europe and the Far East — that at first ran parallel ultimately went in diametrically opposite directions during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. In the West, a Christianity inimical to the rights of genealogical descent maintained supremacy. In the East, a Neoconfucianism supportive of genealogical descent won out. These divergent developments are significant not merely for the history of the family and kinship; taken together, they provde a key to our understanding of how two cultures and societies can develop so differently.

not to mention the evolutionary histories of both these populations!

and marriage practices in china during this time period (and since then)? [pgs. 84-85]:

“The traditional rules of marriage in China display the same basic outlines of a strict patrilineal ordering of kinship that is found in the terminology of kinship. From the Tang dynasty on, legal codes prohibited marriage to a woman from four classes of relatives: first and foremost, marriage to women with the same surname, then to widows of members of the same household, to women of another generation of fairly close kinship on the mother’s side or by marriage, and finally to sisters from the same mother by a different father (half-sisters). In China identical surnames meant in principle descent from the same patriline. The ban on marriage was valid even if the common ancestor was a long way back in the male line. The Chinese family held to these basic principles of exogamy, which can be found in many other cultures in Eurasia with an analogous kinship structure. In early medieval Europe, far-reaching rules concerning exogamy were also established, but they were confined to certain degrees of relatedness. They mainly concerned the paternal and maternal lines completely symmetrically. In China, on the other hand, the emphasis on the father’s line led to crass inequalities when it came to enlarging the list of banned female marriage partners. The fact that marriage to one’s sister from the same mother but by another father had to be expressly forbidden clearly shows that greater importance was granted to the father in determining kinship…. Marrying relatives from the mother’s side was not forbidden in principle. In earlier times, marriage in China even between cross-cousins not only used to be permitted but was common practice. Among China’s neighbors it can be found up to this day as a preferred form of marriage.”

it’s my understanding that, while cousin marriage on the father’s side was prohibited in china, marriage to a maternal cousin was not and was often even preferred (see here and here and here [opens pdf]). (not anymore — cousin marriage is now [technically] illegal in china and has been since 1980.) mother’s brother’s daughter marriage — the most common form of cousin marriage in the world — seems to have been the preferred form in china. if done continuously amongst several lineages, you can create broad ties between rather large clans — but they’re still clans.

finally, family structures in china — or extended-family structures — really extended-families (i.e. clans) — are very different from those in (core) europe in the middle ages or since then [pgs. 86-88]:

“[D]uring Neoconfucian times … [there was an] … increased impact of patrilineal descent groups, corporate lineages, and clans. On the one hand, Neoconfucian texts propagated a mindset that thought in terms of lineages; on the other hand, colonization in the new rice-growing regions in the Southeast during the Song dynasty provided an opportunity to institutionalize lineage groups. Southeast China is where clans are most firmly anchored to this day. Patrilineal lineage groups held land in common there, principally to serve the needs of a common ancestor worship…. The lineage group’s common land served other, nonreligious purposes as well; for example, a common granary could be built there. The land was frequently used for clan schools that were intended to open the door to a career in the civil service. Any member taking this route would then beneift the entire clan. Land lying next to the undivided common land of a descent group was split among different branches and houses. Land division within the family was the organizing principle for new peasant farms in rural areas; divisions of this kind always occurred between agnates, brothers, or cousins in the same male line…. In this way villages were created that belonged entirely to a single lineage group. In this way, too, surnames turned into village names. Given these conditions, neighbors in a village were also related as agnates….

The situation in western Europe stood in strong contrast to the circumstances in China. In the European hide system, it was not at all the norm for a neighbor to be a relative. To be sure, there were parallels with the Chinese patterns in the eastern and southeastern parts of the continent, where equal male inheritance of land was operative. Villages, or districts within them, were founded according to the division of land among agnates. In the western Balkans, we can find organized lineage groups founding settlement units. But there is no evidence in Europe, with few exceptions, of common religious institutions within lineage groups that were similar to the ancestral shrines of Chinese clans. Ancestor worship simply did not become the dominant form of worship anywhere in Europe. Its fiercest opponent among world religions won out instead: Christianity.”

why should anyone interested in hbd care about any of this? four things. (at least!)

previously: behind the hajnal line and the middle ages and four things and china today…

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behind the hajnal line

**update below**

here’s a map created by jayman of average european iqs (taken from here), and on top of it i’ve added the hajnal line:

the populations behind the hajnal line (i.e. the core of europe) are characterized by:

late marriages (present since at least the early medieval period)
small family sizes (nuclear or stem families versus extended families; also present since at least the early medieval period)
– higher average iqs, in general, than populations in the periphery of europe (see map)
strong future time orientation, strong societal collectivism, strong preference for rules and order (Ordnung!), strong drive to succeed
– being more civic than populations in the periphery of europe

why?

well, maybe it’s just ’cause these populations are mostly germanic, or at least had a strong-ish germanic presence in their territory at some time in the past. maybe this is just an example of ice peoples who evolved high iqs and a lot of other neat traits ’cause they survived for a long time in adverse conditions.

but’s it’s hard to ignore how the Type A Personality areas of europe coincide with the hajnal line. at least, i find it hard to ignore. what happened behind the hajnal line?

at the risk of repeating myself (is there an echo in here?), what happened behind the hajnal line starting in the early medieval period was:

– changes in mating patterns (thanks to the church) from close relative marriage to more distant marriages, thus breaking down clans and tribes
– changes in the economic structure from whatever the h*ll went before (i have no idea) to manorialism
– changes in family structures (thanks to both the increased outbreeding and manorialism) from extended families to smaller nuclear or stem families

all of these would’ve changed the selection pressures on the populations in the areas where these practices were adopted.

inbreeding and outbreeding probably select differently for genes related to altruism, so all of the outbreeding behind the hajnal line likely selected for different sorts of altruistic behaviors than those seen in other populations — strong societial collectivistic feelings, for instance. (perhaps it looks something like this.) the changes in family structures likely also selected for different traits — for one thing, different family types have different family dynamics and some personality types likely do better in some types of families than in others.

but what’s manorialism got to do with it? like i said here

“you have this manor system in which the lord (or monks) of the manor let out land to farmers to run (they then owed the manor service or rent). the lord of the manor specifically let out land to married couples, ’cause it took two to run a small farm properly, i.e. to carry out all the necessary duties…. so who is a young and upcoming, hard-working, driven farmer going to seek out to marry? well, maybe he just marries the prettiest girl he can find — but maybe, if he’s smart, he marries someone like himself who is also hard-working and driven and wants to run a successful manor holding. they might even be attracted to one another. maybe it was exactly those sorts of couples — the smart, hard-working, industrious couples — who were the most successful and left the most descendants behind.

…so maybe manorialism contributed to higher average iqs and traits like “strong drive to succeed.”

where did manorialism occur? it started with the franks as early as the seventh century in their territory between the seine and the rhine. it was a characteristic feature of the carolingian empire and was pretty much present throughout carolingian territories.

it was introduced to northern, but not southern, italy by the carolingians. southern italy was part of the byzantine empire so manorialism wasn’t introduced there in the early medieval period, nor was it adpoted there later in the middle ages. manorialsm never took hold in greece or the balkans.

manorialism was present in england by the eighth century, but not scotland or ireland or wales. the normans brought it to ireland in the eleventh century, but its adoption was patchy at best. southern spain did not experience manorialism due to moorish rule, but parts of northern spain did.

manorialism spread eastwards during the ostsiedlung and was really the fundamental economic structure of the german settlements to the east. the system was also introduced, as late as the sixteenth century, to eastern regions of europe like poland and belarus. the eastern edge of the hajnal line — where the western and eastern churches meet — represents the limits of the manor system in europe.

the populations behind the hajnal line have a unique history (well, all populations do!) and, i think, were very much shaped in a human biodiversity sort-of way during the medieval period. there were strong selection pressures precisely in areas related to mating and reproduction that really profoundly changed northwestern/central europeans and laid the foundations for all sorts of interesting things that happened in europe. it may have also laid the foundations for our demise, but hey — you can’t have everything.

none of the populations in the periphery in europe experienced this collection of changes. they may have experienced some of the changes — like the ban on cousin marriage out to second cousins in greece and eastern europe — but because they didn’t have the manor system, they did not develop nuclear families or highly mobile individuals like the core of europe. and some populations, like the southern italians and the irish, in addition to not adopting the manor system, also just kept right on inbreeding up until very recently.

here are some excerpts from michael mitterauer’s “Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path” from which i learned everything i know about manorialism [pgs. 53-57]:

“These cross-cultural examples of analogous, and markedly contrasting, agricultural systems illustrate the uniqueness of the manorial and the hide systems as they developed as components of the early medieval agrarian revolution in the Frankish heartland. The diffusion of innovations from the agrarian economy and the agrarian system very often took place in concert — as, for instance, during the great process of the colonization of the East. This was not true in every case, of course. The manorial system expanded southward, following the Frankish Empire’s specific forms of lordship and penetrating into regions where typical features of the Frankish agrarian revolution did not exist. A large, relatively homogenous area was created by these expansionist movements, which were characterized on the whole by identical or similar structures of the agrarian system and the social order it generated. Over against this ‘core Europe’ was a ‘peripheral Europe’ that did not acquire these structures until a relatively later date — or not at all. Here we can list Ireland, Wales, and Scotland in the West; the area of eastern Europe beyond the Trieste-St. Petersburg line that was unaffected by the colonization of the East; the entire Balkan region; southern Italy, which was formerly Byzantine, along with the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula that was under Moorish rule for so long a time. The political, economic, and social evolution of many regions in ‘peripheral Europe’ took a different turn because of their clinging to other, traditional agrarian systems.

“As Frankish models of the manorial system advanced through various parts of Europe, they met with quite diverse forms of social organization. In the North and East it was mainly tribal societies that were transformed by the new structures of the agrarian reovlution. They could be organized in very different ways, as was evident in medieval Europe. When Germanic tribes settled on Roman imperial land — the Franks, Burgundii, Alemanni, and Bavarii among them — categories of descent as a basis for social order played a role, a role very different from the one it played in the thinking of Celtic tribes in Ireland or of Finnish and Baltic tribes around the Baltic Sea. Consequently, the resistance of the various tribes to manorial structures was highly differentiated from region to region. In many places these structures rapidly superseded more ancient types of tribal organization; in many others, not at all. We can say that the manorial system and the tribal system were basically incompatible at the social level of the peasantry. The economic rationale for an agriculture based on manorialism cannot be harmonized with dominant organizing principles based on kinship. That proved to be the case throughout Europe wherever the social organization of the manorial and hide system supplanted tribal structures. In many non-European empires, the lack of such organizations might well have contributed to the local preservation of social forms based on descent in spite of strong influence of a central state — for instance, in China and the Islamic world….

“The manorial system of the Carolingian Empire was premised on the personal relationship of the lord with his familia [all of the people who lived and worked on the manor, most of whom were not related to one another]. This principle continued to have a more or less potent effect on every form of the manorial system that grew out of it. Any and all lordship in this tradition was lordship over a group of people organized ‘as a family….’

“Manorialism and the hide system were just as significant for European social history on the macro level of organized lordship as they were on the micro level of household organization. Claude Levi-Strauss has coined the term societe a maison, which fits these developments in European society like a glove. Households seem to have been a central ordering principle in this case. In a peasant society, at any rate, the primary social orientation was to one’s house, not to one’s relatives. This was an essential distinguishing feature vis-a-vis societies oriented toward descent; these kinship patterns were located around the periphery of Europe, but in the main they lay beyond Europe’s borders. Belonging to a household was clearly a basic building block of the bipartite estate in the Frankish Empire. On the one hand, there was the villa, the lord’s manor, or the steward’s manor, with its resident labor force, the members of which were not tied to one another by kinship; on the other hand, there were the farms of the servi casati, that is, of the unfree laborers and their dwellings, as well as the coloni who were boind to the soil and therefore to a house. Together they formed the familia, an overarching household embracing several households…. Affiliation with a farmstead of this kind was socially determinative, not the affiliation to a group through kinship.

update: see also jayman’s IQ Ceilings?

previously: medieval manoralism and genetic relatedness and family types and the evolution of behavioral traits and assortative mating and the selection for high iq in (some) medieval european populations?

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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.

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

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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solving the “polygamy problem”?

it’s been pointed out — right here in the hbd-o-sphere! — that polygamy isn’t necessarily all that great for guys — specifically the ones that don’t manage to obtain a wife (’cause some other guys have married them all).

but i think that, at least in the muslim world in the middle ages, they may have gotten around that problem through divorce. divorce was, apparently, waaaay more common in the middle east during the medieval period than it is today. i’m thinking that such a system of, basically, continual wife (or husband depending on your pov) swapping might solve the “polygamy problem.”

here, from “Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society” [pgs. 2 & 5]:

“The pre-modern Middle East was another traditional society that had consistently high rates of divorce over long periods of time. Despite some current misgivings over the imminent disintegration of the Muslim family as a result of frequent divorces, the fact is that divorce rates were higher in Ottoman or medieval Muslim societies than they are today….

“The incidence of divorce in Mamluk society was remarkably high. The diary of the notary Shihab al-Din Ibn Tawq gives ample testimony to the pervasiveness of divorce in late fifteenth-centry Damascus, and the work of the contemporary Egyptian scholar Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sakhawi (d. 902/1497) does the same for Cairo. In his mammoth centennial biographical dictionary, containing 12,000 entries for notable men and women, al-Sakhawi recorded information on the marital history of about 500 women. This sample, the largest we have for any period of medieval Islam … shows a pattern of repeated divorces and remarriages by Mamluk women. At least a third of all the women mentioned by al-Sakhawi married more than once, with many marrying three times or more. The reason for the high rates of remarriage was mainly the frequency of divorce; according to al-Sakhawi’s records, three out of ten marriages in fifteenth-century Cairo ended in divorce.”

and on polygamous marriages [pg. 86]:

“Among the many unstable marriages in fifteenth-century Cairo, polygamous marriages stand out as particularly so. A married man would often choose to conceal a second marriage from the public eye in order to avoid trouble with his first wife. [heh. (~_^)] But when his first wife did find out, the man would often have to choose between the two. ‘Aziza bt. ‘Ali al-Zayyadi (d. 879/1475), the daughter of a Cairene scholar, married the Meccan scholar ‘Afif al-Din al-Iji when he visited Cairo. This marriage was kept secret from his first wife and paternal cousin, Habibat Allah bt. ‘Abd al-Rahman, who remained in Mecca. But when the Cairene wife accompanied her husband to Mecca, ‘Afif al-Din was forced to divorce her after pressure from the first wife. In other cases it was the second wife who gained the upper hand. Najm al-Din Ibn Hijji preferred not to consummate his marriage with his young bride and relative, Fatima bt. ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn al-Baizi (d. 899/1494), because he had married a second and more mature woman. Al-Sakhawi tells us that his second wife ‘took hold of his heart,’ and convinced him to divorce his cousin.”

maybe, if you keep enough women circulating in the “women-you-can-marry-pool,” you can get around the problem in polygamy that some men are cheated out of getting wives. you might get stuck with a second-hand wife (or two) — and maybe you don’t get her for keeps — but maybe you do get a chance to reproduce.

or, maybe, the alpha males just kept swapping all the wives between themselves. dunno.

as an aside, here’s some info from the same book on divorce rates in other, traditional societies [pg. 2]:

“[H]istorical examples of past societies in which divorce rates have been consistently high[:] Two major examples are pre-modern Japan and Islamic Southeast Asia. In nineteenth-century Japan at least one in eight marriages ended in divorce. In West Java and the Malay Peninsula divorce rates were even higer reaching 70 percent in some villages, as late as the middle of the twentieth century…. In direct opposition to developments in the West, modernity brought with it greater stability in marriage and a sharp decline in divorce rates.”

update 06/22: see also more on solving the “polygamy problem” and side-effects of polygamy in three african societies

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