there and back again: shame and guilt in ancient greece

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.)


medieval manorialism’s selection pressures

“every society selects for something.” — greg cochran

every society selects for something. it does take some time for selection pressures to make a difference when it comes to the frequencies of “genes for” various behavioral traits, of course (unless the culling is extreme): twenty generations, maybe. forty is probably better. a few hundred? yeah, that’ll definitely do it. the point is, it doesn’t necessarily take millions of years for evolution by natural selection to work. not even tens of thousands. we don’t have to cast the net back to the paleolithic or even the mesolithic in our search for the origins of behavioral traits in human populations (although the roots for many of them are probably there…or even farther back to our common origin with other apes and even other social mammals, lizards, fruit flies, tomatoes etc., etc.) — we can and should look for selection pressures in more recent eras, too. and “the environment” that exerts these pressures on human populations is not just the natural world — it’s our social worlds, too.

this will be the first in a series of posts on manorialism in medieval europe, because i think that it’s incumbent upon every blogger to bore their readers to tears medieval society in northern europe (ca. 400-1500 a.d.) produced some quite unique selection pressures which very much shaped the characteristics and personalities of “core” europeans, i.e. the dutch (minus the frisians), the belgians, the french (especially the northeastern french), the english (especially the southeastern english), to some degree the lowland scots, the germans (especially those to the west), the scandinavians (especially those further south), the northern italians (especially those from the north italian plain), the northern spanish (especially catalonians), and to some degree the swiss. one of those selection pressures was, of course, europe’s Outbreeding Project, which i never shut up about. (sorry!) the other big one, i think, was manorialism — a communal agricultural system that was really an almost all-encompassing socio-religious-political system which, although its features and importance did vary at different times and in different locales, pretty much regulated nearly all aspects of medieval europeans’ lives. where it existed — a key point which i’ll come back to later.

the working theory around here is that the Outbreeding Project set up the selection pressures for getting rid of much of what we could call “nepotistic altruism” in core europe, allowing for greater cooperation and trust between unrelated individuals and, therefore, a more open and “corporate” sort of society. a second working theory is that manorialism set up selection pressures for a whole suite of traits including perhaps: slow life histories; future time orientation; delayed gratification; the good ol’ protestant work ethic; a general compliant nature and even rather strong tendencies toward conformity; perhaps even a high degree of gullibility; perhaps a few extra iq points; and even more cooperation and trust between unrelated individuals. or not. please keep in mind that i’m just thinking out loud in these posts. oh — the manor system also probably contributed to the selection for the reduction in impulsive violence. (i’ll be exploring more fully the various aspects of manorialism that i think may have created the selection pressures for these various traits in the coming posts — promise! just giving you a rough outline now.) the Outbreeding Project and manorialism very much went hand-in-hand as well — the medieval european manor system could not have happened without all of the outbreeding, and the Outbreeding Project was reinforced by the manor system (since marriage was often regulated within the manor system).

manorialism — “classic,” bipartite manorialism (more on that below) — started with the franks in austrasia by at least the 600s or perhaps earlier and spread gradually southwards with the frankish conquest of, well, france and eastwards during the ostsiedlung. we find it just across the channel in southern england very early as well — there are references to what sounds like features of a manor system in the laws of king ine of wessex (688-726) [see mitterauer, pg. 43]. the medieval european manor system originated, then, roughly in the area outlined in green below (yes — this is the very same area where the Outbreeding Project began. which is convenient, really, ’cause i like not having to make multiple maps! in case you’re new here, the other lines on the map indicate the hajnal line.):

hajnal line - core europe

interestingly, the frisians, although quite centrally located on the coast of the netherlands in this core region, never experienced manorialism. mitterauer ties manorialism to cereal agriculture and the new agricultural techniques developed in the early medieval period (with the introduction of the heavy plow, etc.), so areas unsuitable for such farming — like mountainous regions or swampy areas — typically simply did not see the introduction of the classic manor system.

classic manorialism was introduced to southern france (but bypassed some more remote areas like the massif central) as those regions were conquered by the merovingians and carolingians between the fifth and eighth centuries and to northern spain around the eighth and ninth centuries. the bipartite manor system never reached the southern regions of spain that were controlled by the moors. there was a rudimentary form of manorialism in northern italy even before the area was made a part of the carolingian empire, but the region was heavily manorialized (especially by ecclesiastical monasteries) after charlemagne conquered the lombard kingdom in the 770s. classic, bipartite manorialism was never adopted in central or southern italy or sicily — nowhere in the byzantine world, in fact.

the franks also pushed eastwards, introducing the manor system to central europe, beginning in the eighth century. the border of this eastward movement was, for a couple hundred years or so, the eastern boundary of the carolingian empire (look familiar?). a renewed push eastwards began in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and a slightly revised form of classic manorialism (a system based upon rents rather than work exchange) was introduced to areas/populations further to the east in central-/eastern-europe including the baltics, large parts of poland, bohemia, moravia, parts of slovakia, western hungary, and slovenia. quite obviously, these populations experienced manorialism for a shorter time than those to the west.

the “classic” form of manorialism never reached the farthest parts of eastern europe. eventually, a form of manorialism was adopted in russia and areas of eastern europe bordering russia, but it was quite different than the version western europe had had. this serfdom-heavy manor system in eastern europe also arrived very late compared to manorialism in western europe — in the fifteenth century (iirc) or in some areas even much later. classic manorialism had practically disappeared in western europe by this point.

in scandinavia, denmark was heavily manorialized relatively early i believe (probably around the time of the first wave of the ostsiedlung, although i must check the dates), and manorialism was also very much present southern sweden (scania). the more northerly parts of scandinavia — norway, northern sweden (or sweden north of scania), the swedish-settled areas of finland — didn’t have manors per se, but were covered by a unique version of “manorialism” in which much of the population was under the thumb of the church (and sometimes petty aristocratic landowners). i know my nordic readers are going to object to me saying that, but please wait for the post on manorialism in scandinavia before bombarding me with your counterarguments. thanks! (^_^) this unique form of “manorialism” arrived in northern scandinavia rather late — probably in something like the 1200s (i need to check on that date) — and departed late (the 1800s and even the 1900s in some areas). not sure what happened in the areas of finland not settled by swedes. and i’m pretty sure no form of manorialism ever took hold in iceland, although i reserve the right to be wrong about that. (~_^)

classic manorialism arrived late in ireland — in the late 1200s — and was introduced by the anglo-normans. there was never really much manorialism in wales or the highlands of scotland, although kind david did introduce it to the lowlands of scotland in the 1100s. not sure how well it took hold there, though. i’ll let you know as soon as i do. proper classic manorialism wasn’t really found in cornwall, either, and manors were not very prevalent in east anglia, although there were some.

there was never any manorialism in the balkans.

nor was there ever any classic, bipartite, european-style manorialism in the arabized, islamic world or in china, although there were plenty of large estates in china throughout its history. (don’t know about japan or the korean peninsula.) the difference between medieval european manors and the manors of china has been characterized as a difference between manorialism — which was a sort-of communal agricultural system in which everyone who worked on the manor was a part of a familia — and landlordism, which is what you had in china [pgs. 11-12]:

“In two major works in particular (Hu Rulei 1979; Fu Zhufu 1980), we find sustained analyses of the differences between the socioeconomic structure of imperial China and that of the precapitalist West…. For Hu Rulei, the key lies in the differences between Chinese ‘feudal landlordism’ (*fengjian dizhuzhi*) and European ‘feudal manorialism’ (*fengjian lingzhuzhi*). In the European feudal manor, landownership or economic power was merged with military, administrative, and judicial powers; each manorial lord exercised the entire range of those powers. The state system of manorialism was thus one in which sovereignty was parceled out. In Chinese landlordism, by contrast, political authority came to be separated from economic power through private land-ownership and the frequent buying and selling of land. This made possible the centralized imperial state system. Landlordism and the centralized imperial state thus made up an interdependent politicoeconomic system that must be distinguished from European manorialism. Hu’s is an analytical model that can help explain the differences and hence also their different paths of sociopolitical change in the modern era.

“Fu Zhufu has pointed to another difference between manorialism and landlordism. In the serf-based manorial system, the lord had to look to the subsistence and reproduction of his workers, lest the very basis of the manorial economy be undermined. But the Chinese landlord was under no such constraints. He could seek the highest possible returns that the land-rental market would support (Fu 1980: 9-10, 201-2). Though Fu skirts the issue here, it is obvious that such principles became harshest when the pressures of social stratification were joined by the pressures of population; under those conditions, a tenant who failed to survive could always be replaced by another. Landlordism could become an institutional system in which the poor tenants were pressed below the margins of subsistence.”

which brings me, now, to some of the various characteristics of classic manorialism and the selection pressures that i think they may have exerted.

– the bipartite estate. the bipartite estate was a key aspect of classical (north)western european manorialism. basically, the manor was divided into two parts: the lord’s part — his farm or demesne — and the peasants’ or serfs’ parts — all their individual farms. the serfs or villeins or whatever you want to call them (there were multiple categories of these peasant farmers and a range of names for them) each had farms to work which were granted to them by the lords (keep in mind that sometimes those “lords” were bishops or monks who ran the monasteries). in the earlier part of the medieval period, the serfs owed labor to the lord of the manor as payment — they were obliged to help work the lord’s demesne — but they also independently worked the farms which they were granted, both to sustain themselves and perhaps make a little profit by selling any extra produce to the neighbors or in a market. there were other obligations, too, but the above was the fundamental gist of the whole system. later in the medieval period, the duty to provide labor switched over to a more simple and direct rent system.

also early on in the period, serfs were given (or assigned) farms to work by the lord of the manor. as a young man, you might not be given the same farm that you grew up on — that your parents had worked — especially not if your father/parents were still productive workers. the lord of the manor, or his steward, would just grant you another farm on the manor to work…if there was one available…and if he chose to do so (presumably based on your merit or your familiy’s record). this system eventually changed as well into one in which a son (typically the eldest son) would “inherit” the farm that his father/parents had worked. not sure when this happened. must find out.

not everyone who was a member of a manor operation would be granted a farm to run. some individuals were just laborers on the manor (“cottagers” in england, for example), and there were plenty of domestic servants serving in the manor house, too.

i think that there are potentially selection pressures here for several different traits or qualities. if we ask ourselves, what sort of individual would’ve done best living in this bipartite estate system, i.e. which individuals with which sorts of traits would’ve managed to reproduce the most, i think it might’ve been people with qualities including: being hard-working or industrious — those that made the most of the farm grant and produced the most food to support the most number of kids and even to sell extra produce for a profit; perhaps smarter than some of the neighbors (like the cottagers) — for the same reasons as hard-working; future time oriented — you had to be patient and wait for a farm to become available, or later in the period wait for your father to hand over the farm or die, and not start philandering about the manor before you could afford to raise kids (you also might not be granted a farm, or acquire yourself a husband, if your reputation was ruined beforehand); slow life histories — those individuals who could hold off on reproducing too early would’ve been rewarded with farms, those that did not would’ve been shunned and would lose the opportunity to reproduce further; and compliancy — you didn’t rail (too much) against the man in the manor, and anyone that did wouldn’t have gotten a farm and may have, if they caused too much trouble, been shipped off to a monastery for life (more on that in a later post).

– villikation and familia. villikation is the term that german researchers use when referring to the fact that the manor and all its inhabitants/workers were managed by someone, either by the lord of the manor himself or by a steward who the lord had put in charge of running the place. you would think that, as a serf or tenant farmer on a manor, you wouldn’t want to run afoul of whoever was in charge, and very often those that did were shipped off the manor (to monasteries), so it seems to me that there might’ve been further pressures here to select for compliant and cooperative individuals.

familia was the word used for everyone who was a member of a particular manor! it was a term used especially earlier in the medieval period, but i think it was in usage throughout the entire era (need to double-check that). from mitterauer [pg. 57]:

“On the one hand, there was the villa, the lord’s manor, or the stewards’ 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 bound to the soil and therefore to a house. Together they formed the *familia*, an overarching household embracing several households.”

a classic (north)western european manor, then, almost sounds like a 1960s hippie kibbutz, at least when it came to the relatedness of the individuals on the estate. (unlike a hippie kibbutz, though, The Man was clearly in charge.) the people living and working on a medieval manor in (north)western europe were not all members of one extended family or clan (which you do see elsewhere, like in eastern europe, especially russia, or southern china). this system, along with the Outbreeding Project, might’ve encouraged the selection for individuals who were willing to cooperate with other (comparatively speaking) unrelated persons. it might even have helped, along with the Outbreeding Project which got rid of much nepotistic altruism imho, to select for highly trusting — and quite highly trustworthy — individuals.

– open-field system. another key feature of (north)western european manorialism was the open-field system in which shares of large “fields” were apportioned out to each family on the manor — each household would get a long strip or strips within one of these huge fields in which to grow their crops. open-field systems were used by the pre-christian germans and slavic populations (iirc), but in those contexts, extended family/kindred/clan members typically shared the fields. again, in the classic manor system, we have more unrelated individuals/families sharing these fields. residents of the manor regularly policed one another, bringing each other to the manorial court if they thought someone was cheating in the open-field system (and also in the usage of the commons), so, again, here we might have the selection for cooperative and trustworthy individuals.

– ecclesiastical manors. i think the presence (or absence) of ecclesiastical manors in any given area might be very important. apparently, ecclesiastical manors exercised more control on their residents, and until later in the period, than those headed by lay lords (more on this in a later post). so, i’d expect all of the behavioral traits associated with manorialism to be even more pronounced in areas/populations that had more than their fair share of ecclesiastical manors: south-central england, france, germany, and northern italy (and northern scandinavia?).

again, these are all just some ideas. Further Research is RequiredTM! would be cool if someone looked through some manor records to see if they could find out which, if any, class of peasants/serfs managed to reproduce more successfully. maybe someone already has?

if/when the “genes for” any or all of the behavioral traits i’ve mentioned here in this post are discovered, my prediction is that the frequencies for them in european populations will be highest in those in the core area and, thanks to the historical origins and spread of manorialism (and the Outbreeding Project), that these frequencies will reduce with distance from that core. again, i reserve the right to be completely and utterly wrong about that. (~_^)

that’s it for now. stay tuned for a bunch of posts on medieval manorialism in the coming weeks! but first, some other business….

previously: big summary post on the hajnal line and medieval manoralism and the hajnal line and behind the hajnal line and medieval manorialism and selection…again und die ostsiedlung

(note: comments do not require an email. a french manor: chateau de montargis)

die ostsiedlung

und now is ze time on the hbd chick blog vhen ve dance über die Wichtigkeit der Ostsiedlung sprechen! (i switched to deutsch there, ’cause i wanted to end my sentence with a verb. just so you know.)

i’ve mentioned the ostsiedlung in passing before (see here and here for example), and i’ve even gone so far as to say that it’s:

“from a sociobiological point-of-view, probably the most underappreciated event in recent western european history. that and the reconquest of spain.”

that’s right! never mind your barbarian migrations of late antiquity! forget about them. expunge the barbarian migrations from your mind! the ostsiedlung (and outbreeding and manorialism and all the subsequent natural selection) is (largely) what created the intelligent, efficient, hard-working, gratification-delaying, ordnung-loving, not-so-violent (on a daily basis), consensus-democracy-preferring, slow life history, behind-the-hajnal-line tchermans that we know and love today (luv ya, germans!).

so, what the h*ll was the ostsiedlung?

the ostsiedlung, or “east settling,” was (from what i understand) the latter part of a broader ostkolonisation of central and parts of eastern europe by the medieval ancestors of the people we now refer to as The Germans. during late antiquity, germanic tribes had of course migrated out of southern scandinavia and central and eastern europe into western and southern europe. then, beginning in something like the 800 or 900s, they went and reversed that flow, and some of them began to migrate back into central/eastern europe. migration is one of the major forces in evolution, along with things like mutation and genetic drift, so from a sociobiological/human diversity perspective the ostsiedlung should definitely not be ignored.

it should really not be ignored because what you have to keep in mind is that the tchermans who were migrating back into central/eastern europe in the post-800s were quite different from the the barbarian tchermans who had migrated into western europe four hundred or so years earlier. the barbarian germans had been a bunch of inbreeding, tribal, feuding, kindred-based peoples. the germans who migrated eastwards later in the medieval period were already a population of (comparatively speaking) outbreeders hailing from a population based upon nuclear families (see here). that’s because (imho) these new-and-improved germans, who were coming out of the frankish heartland, had already been pressed for many generations through the outbreeding/manorialism meat grinder. different sorts of individuals had been selected for in this new social environment than had been successful in the old clannish society. and, crucially, these new germans brought that new environment with them when they settled the east.

the ostsiedlung was a huge self-sorting event in medieval europe. jayman and i like to babble about self-sorting a lot, but that’s just because it really is very important. large scale self-sorting of individuals is akin to assortative mating writ large. in fact, it must enable a whole lot of assortative mating. one enormous self-sorting event was the settling of the united states by hackett fischer’s four “folkways” (read: subpopulations) from britain. (others populations came, too.) the fact that various groups having unique characteristics established themselves in different regions of what would become the united states still affects the workings of our country today. on top of that, don’t forget that people in the u.s. have been continually self-sorting along those original settlement lines pretty much ever since the first settlers arrived from europe, so our regional differences are not going away any time soon.

anyway, the medieval ostkonlonisation and ostsiedlung were self-sorting events on a similar scale (the ostsiedlung being just the latter half of the ostkonlonisation really). the earliest part of the ostkolonisation was driven by kings (the carolingians mostly i think) conquering other germanic groups to the east (like the bavarians) in the 800s and 900s. apparently the establishment of ecclesiastical monasteries in the newly conquered territories was pretty heavy at this time. that’s an important little detail that i’ll come back to at a later date, so commit it to memory if you would. the latter part of the ostkolonisation, the ostsiedlung of the eleventh/twelfth to roughly the fourteenth centuries, was quite different in character. from The Germans and the East [pgs. 9 and 28-29]:

“[O]ne could say that ‘Germany’ grew out of the Carlingian East Frankish Kingdom between the Rhine and the Elbe by producing its eastern half on colonized Slavic and to some extent Baltic land. Thus the genesis of the German Empire took place within the perimeters of Europe’s ‘eastward expansion’ (*Osterweiterung*). It consisted, on the one hand, of Christian state-building in the Slavic-Hungarian East in the ninth and tenth centuries, and on the other — beginning in the twelfth century — of the migration and resettlement of the population from the older colonized areas west of the Elbe, the Bohemian Forest and the Enns…. [C]ontinuous new waves of German miners, peasants, craftsmen and merchants, as well as knights and clergymen, emigrated and permanently settled in countries neighboring Germany in the East and Southeast. Jewish emigrants from the West also took part in this migration process….

“Medievalists tend to distinguish two main colonization waves in the history of medieval Europe. The first embraced Carolingian Europe and occurred in the eighth and ninth centuries. The second, which covered almost the entire continent, began in the eleventh century and gained momentum in the following two or three centuries. Without ruling out the matter of a possible relationship between these two waves it is worth noting that the first had a military character, though not exclusively so, as it usually took the form of *Landnahme*, that is, the gain and occupation of conquered territories. The second wave was rather based — though again not exclusively — on economic causes….

“[P]eople went east in search of bread, freedom and adventure — in a word, a better life, as the Flemish settlers sang. These few were still the most industrious and mobile, the most dissatisfied with their social and economic status so far and, in a word, a sort of elite of the elite (indeed not only in the positive sense).”

here’s a really big map of the phases of the ostsiedlung [source – click on the map for a LARGER view]:


so the early part of this migration of the medieval germans eastwards was military in nature — maybe a lot of soldiers from the west settled in the newly taken areas? — and, like i said, many monasteries/ ecclesiastical manors were established at this time. the latter part of the migration eastwards involved the settling of farmers, merchants, and artisans who wanted a better life in newly established manors and towns. the important thing here is not to think of these farmers, merchants, and artisans as comparable to the homesteaders of the wild west in america. they were not. the settling of the east did not at all involve independent migrants setting out on their own to strike it rich. the ostsiedlung was really more plantation-like in nature with the migrants signing up to be a part of some organized settlement project — a manor or a town or whatever. entire “new towns” were organized in this way and sprang up literally (used here in its colloquial sense) overnight in medieval eastern germany. while there were typically enticements for the new settlers to sweeten the deal (e.g. not having to pay taxes for the first five to seven years), they were still signing up to be a subordinate in a project. so, yes, these were people looking to better their lives — willing to work hard probably — but also apparently willing to be…a bit subservient. happy to follow the lead of the manor owner or whomever. (maybe this was less the case for merchants. dunno.)

whatever their average personal characteristics were like — and i could have them wrong here — they should at least be considered wrt the ostsiedlung as a self-sorting event.

btw, the new settlers were usually recruited not by the lords of the manors but by middlemen called “lokators”. here’s one organizing the work teams on a new settlement:


the reason that the hajnal line is where it is in eastern europe — and if you don’t know what i’m talking about, please see this post — is that that is simply the eastern limit of the ostsiedlung. from mitterauer [pgs. 45-46]:

“The most significant expansion of the model agricultural system [manorialism] in the Frankish heartland between the Seine and the Rhine took place toward the east. Its diffusion embraced almost the whole of central Europe and large parts of eastern Europe…. This great colonizing process, which transmitted Frankish agricultural structures and their accompanying forms of lordship, took off at the latest around the middle of the eighth century. Frankish majordomos or kings from the Carolingian house introduced manorial estates (*Villikation*) and the hide system (*Hufenverfassung*) throughout the royal estates east of the Rhine as well…. The eastern limit of the Carolingian Empire was for a long time an important dividing line between the expanding Frankish agricultural system and eastern European agricultural structures. When the push toward colonization continued with more force in the High Middle Ages, newer models of *Rentengrundherrschaft* predominated — but they were still founded on the hide system. This pattern was consequently established over a wide area: in the Baltic, in large parts of Poland, in Bohemia, Moravia and parts of Slovakia, in western Hungary, and in Slovenia.

Colonization established a line streching roughly from St. Petersburg to Trieste. We will come across this line again when studying European family systems and their diffusion. The sixteenth century witnessed the last great attempt to establish the hide system throughout an eastern European region when King Sigismund II of Poland tried it in the Lithuanian part of his empire in what is modern-day Belarus. The eastward expansion of Frankish agrarian reform therefore spanned at least eight centuries….

“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 agricultural systems.”

and here it is — the hajnal line. with the core area of where manorialism and outbreeding began in the early medieval period roughly outlined in green:

hajnal line - core europe

btw, wikipedia has this to say about the ostsiedlung (so it must be true!):

“The settlers migrated in nearly straight West-to-East lines. As a result, the Southeast was settled by South Germans (Bavarians, Swabians), the Northeast by Saxons (in particular those from Westphalia, Flanders, Holland, and Frisia), while central regions were settled by Franks. As a result, the different German dialect groups expanded eastward along with their bearers, the ‘new’ Eastern forms only slightly differing from their Western counterparts.”

if that was indeed the case, there might be further implications wrt to the self-sorting of medieval german populations, i.e. something to do with subpopulations of germans moving eastwards. so, stay tuned!

previously: big summary post on the hajnal line and behind the hajnal line

(note: comments do not require an email. another planned “new town” of the ostsiedlung.)