Archives for posts with tag: the church

there’s been a theory floated for a few years now that there was a sort of apartheid system in early anglo-saxon england in which the angles and saxons and jutes didn’t really mix with the native britons. or vice versa. from thomas, stumpf, and härke:

“Reproductive isolation and differential social status along ethnic lines is a frequent, temporary consequence of conquest and settlement, the best-known modern case being the Apartheid system in South Africa. In the post-Roman period, intermarriage between dominant immigrants and subject natives was banned in Visigothic France and Spain in the late fifth and early sixth century (King 1972). The Normans in eleventh- and twelfth-century England operated a conquest society in which the native English and Welsh had a lower legal status than Normans (Garnett 1985), and intermarriage, where it happened, was predominantly unidirectional, i.e. Norman men marrying English women. In Anglo-Saxon England, elements of an apartheid-like society can also be perceived in a Wessex law code of the seventh century which distinguishes clearly between Saxons and ‘Welsh’ (Britons) and gives the former a significantly higher legal status, some two centuries after the initial immigration (Whitelock 1979). Archaeological and skeletal data (Härke 1990, 1992), as well as textual evidence (Woolf, 2004), have been used to suggest a situation of limited intermarriage between immigrant Anglo-Saxons and native Britons until the seventh century when this distinction began to break down.”

for more on this theory, see: Anglo-Saxon immigration and ethnogenesis.

now it seems as though the recently published genetic study by leslie et al. may back up this idea. from the Supplementary Information [pdf – pg. 18]:

The Cent./S England inferred admixture date is older, at around 1200 years ago. This is moderately, but significantly, more recent than the historically accepted time of approximately 1400 years ago (around 600) for the Anglo-Saxon migration into England. This discrepancy is unlikely to be explained by errors in our human generation time (we used 28 years) because an unlikely generation time of 33 years or higher would be required to account for this difference. Instead, an important point is that the date of admixture cannot be earlier than the arrival of a group, but can be later if mixing did not occur for some period (e.g. if the Anglo-Saxon community remained distinct for some period after arrival), or if mixing took place gradually, and initially at a relatively slow rate.”

so, they’re saying that intermarriages between the anglo-saxons and the native britons didn’t really get going until the 800s.

both the anglo-saxons and probably the native britons (presuming they were rather like the native irish and scots), like every other pre-christian northern european group, married their cousins to some degree or another. we know for certain that the anglo-saxons did, because augustine of canterbury wrote several frantic letters to pope gregory the great about the problem (he viewed this as a problem since already by this point in the 600s the church had banned marriages to close cousins).

across the channel in the frankish kingdoms, cousin marriage didn’t became socially unacceptable until the 800s, even though there were local bans issued by bishops in the frankish kingdoms as early as the 500s. as i wrote in a previous post:

from “An Unsolved Riddle: Early Medieval Incest Legislation” in Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: An Ethnographic Perspective (1998), a collection of papers from an “historical archaeoethnological” conference [pgs. 109-110]:

“In the course of the eighth century the Frankish campaign against incest gained momentum, aided by papal decrees and letters which began to circulate in the North (De Jong 1989:38-41). When it came to blood relations papal guidelines were more radical than Frankish episcopal and royal decrees, but in other respects — such as spiritual kinship — Rome and the Frankish leadership saw eye to eye right from the beginning. Letters sent from Rome to Boniface reveal an increasingly rigid papal position. Gregory II forbade all unions between blood relations and affinal kin (‘*quamdiu se agnoscunt affinitate propinquos*’), but permitted the recently converted a marriage ‘*post quartam generationem*’; his successor Gregory III withdrew any such privilege, assuring Boniface that marriage within the seventh *generatio* was out of the question….

“In practice…it did not make any difference whether one forbade marriage ‘until the seventh *generatio*’ (Gregory III), or proclaimed an unspecified ban on all kinswomen and affines (Gregory II). Both meant the same: marriage and kindred did not go together. Pope Zachary expressed this clearly in 743, stating that no Christians were permitted to marry if they were in any way related to each other (Werminghoff 1904:19-21). Avoidance of kin-marriage had become one of the defining criteria of Christianity….”

by the 800s [pg. 120]:

By the ninth century, a marriage in the third *generatio* [i.e. second cousins – h.chick] had become scandalous, but the fourth generation remained a viable option, along with a whole range of more distant kin (Le Jan 1995:316-17). This pattern persisted well into the tenth and eleventh centuries.”

i’m not one hundred percent certain, but i think that this shift to the regular avoidance of cousin marriage by the franks probably had something to do with the establishment of parish churches in the 700 and 800s by pepin the short and charlemagne. once there was “a church in every village,” the message that cousin marriage was not permitted would’ve been more readily heard, and, perhaps, more easily enforced (by the local priest).

i don’t know anything about the establishment of parishes in england (yet), but perhaps the english — the anglo-saxons and britons — were on a similar trajectory as the franks with regard to cousin marriage. perhaps they, too, didn’t really start to take the bans seriously until sometime in the 800s, despite there having been some very early laws forbidding cousin marriage in some of the anglo-saxon kingdoms (like in the late 600s in kent). if there was such a delay in avoiding cousin marriage in england in the seventh and eighth centuries, then there wouldn’t have been much intermarriage between the anglo-saxons and britons during those centuries simply because they all would’ve been still mostly marrying their own cousins or other close kin (i.e. fellow clan or kindred members). if so, then genetic exchange between the groups would’ve become much more likely once cousin marriage began to be consistently avoided. maybe it took the church and its bans on cousin marriage to end anglo-saxon apartheid.

just a thought. Further Research is RequiredTM. (^_^)

previously: free cornwall now! and anglo-saxon mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. anglo-saxon rings.)


remember when i wondered whether or not the regulations (canon laws) promulgated by regional or “national” church councils in the early medieval period would’ve been binding throughout christendom? well, i was right to wonder. and the answer is: no, they were not.

from Women in Medieval Western European Culture [pgs. 143-144 – link added by me]:

“In the Byzantine Empire, canon law was more or less combined with Roman law, since the church was a wing of the government. In contrast, canon law in western Europe developed amid the great diversity of legal systems which characterized the medieval European experience. From the early fourth century, prominent members of the church met in council to discuss the changing needs of the Christian community as it moved from a position of powerlessness to one of domination in the later Roman empire. The rules devised by these church councils, as well as regular pronouncements by the pope and rulings in various papal and diocesan courts, formed the basis for medieval canon law. However, this was a legal system with no uniformity. Each bishop, each kingdom, each region within each kingdom all had their own particular sets of rules and regulations under which the church was governed. This meant that there was a wide disparity in canon law precepts during the early Middle Ages….

“The period between the late tenth and early twelfth centuries — that is, the great age of clerical reform in the West — was also a period of centralization of the authority of the church in the hands of the papacy. Along with the triumph of Benedictine monasticism over regional forms and the (partial) triumph of the papacy over the governing of the clergy came the triumph of a centralized system of canon law over regional variation. This development culminated in the work of an Italian legalist from Bologna named Gratian who, around the year 1140, compiled, collated, and organized the welter of canon law enactments into his ‘Concordance of Discordant Canons.’ After Gratian, all subsequent compilations of canon law (all integrated roughly into the system called the *corpus iuris canonici* — the body of canon law) began with his text and moved on from there. By the end of the thirteenth century, the canon law of the western church was a complex but relatively coherent body of law complete with extensive annotation and analysis.”

so, no, there was no — or little — rhyme or reason to all of the canon laws regarding impediments to marriage in the early medieval period. the first ban on cousin marriage in western europe of which i am aware came in 506 a.d., but that ban was issued by a regional church council in southern france (provence), and it very much didn’t apply elsewhere. a bishop in a diocese in italy or north africa could’ve ignored this regulation — in fact, perhaps they wouldn’t have heard about its issuance at all.

however, this idea to ban cousin marriage does seem to have crept northward from provence into the germanic kingdoms during the 500s. the council of epaone was held in the burgundian kingdom eleven years later in 517. from “To the limits of kinship: anti-incest legislation in the early medieval west (500-900)” [pg. 38 – pdf]:

“In 517 a gathering of bishops in Epaon decreed that sexual intercourse was forbidden with a brother’s widow, a wife’s sister, a stepmother, a first or second cousin, the widow of a paternal or maternal uncle, or stepdaughter….”

another council, the third national council of orleans held another twenty-one years later in 538, also dealt with impediments to marriage, but i haven’t been able to find out if cousin marriage was banned by that council.

however, de jong in “To the limits of kinship” says [pg. 39 – pdf]:

“[T]he real growth of the Frankish campaign against incest dates from the eighth century, when relations with Rome were strengthened by the Carolingian rulers. Papal decrees and letters began to circulate in the north; these also influenced legislation about incest.”

this would fit with what i blogged earlier this year about mating patterns among the early medieval franks:

“it sounds as though the franks may still have, in actuality, been regularly marrying close cousins into the early 700s….”


“‘By the ninth century, a marriage in the third *generatio* [i.e. second cousins – h.chick] had become scandalous….'”

so, there seems to have been some delay in the adoption by the franks of the cousin marriage bans that had originated in neighboring kingdoms (which were eventually incorpated into francia) further to the south. how well the bans were ever enforced in provence or burgundy in the 500s, i have no idea.

to conclude, afaict, the earliest church ban on cousin marriage in western europe happened in southern france in 506 with bishop caesarius and his crew, but the ban would only have applied locally. we can trace a direct line between caesarius and st. augustine who had had strong ideas about the importance of encouraging the populace to marry out in order to create a good, christian society here on earth. and st. augustine seems to have gotten his ideas from st. ambrose — who was originally a gallo-roman. meanwhile, ambrose may have picked up the idea of avoiding cousin marriage from the romans. more on that another day.

all of this reminds me of the bunnies. yes, the bunnies. remember this?:

“Genetic changes transformed wild rabbits into tame bunnies, DNA study reveals”

“When humans domesticated wild rabbits and turned them into pet store favorites, they also changed their genome, a study has found…. The domestication of rabbits happened much more recently than that of cattle, sheep, pigs and dogs, which happened between about 15,000 and 9,000 years ago. Monks in monasteries in the south of France first domesticated northwestern europeans rabbits around 1,400 years ago….

so…religious dudes in the south of france were occupied with creating a better human society by tweaking people’s mating patterns right around the same time that some other religious dudes in the south of france were busy tweaking the nature of bunnies? presumably via artificial selection? is this a coincidence? did these monks and bishops hang out with each other and discuss…breeding practices? bunny eugenics perhaps? what did these guys know or think about domestication processes? i have no idea. maybe they didn’t know a thing. but i’d sure like to find out!

previously: happy council of agde day! and mating patterns of the medieval franks

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september 10, 506 — 1,508 years ago today — was the final day of the council of agde, a meeting of bishops from all over what was then the visigothic kingdom in southern france (and spain, too, obviously). the council was headed by caesarius of arles and held at the basilica of st. andrew. (don’t know on which day the council was convened — sometime in late august.) the church is still there, btw!:


an interesting little sidenote is that the visigoths at the time were still arians, so this meeting of bishops really related to, and would’ve affected only, the gallo-roman population of the region. in fact, the bishops were all very much gallo-romans themselves!

anyway, the council issued numerous canons, one of which forbade marriage to first and second cousins. this is the earliest official cousin marriage ban by the church that i know of, although st. augustine of hippo (d.430) certainly discussed at length in his The City of God (early fifth century) how it would be a good thing if christians were to marry out, a theme that st. aquinas would later pick up on.

people often ask me: “so why did the church get it into its head to ban cousin marriage, hbd chick?”

i. don’t. know. (*^_^*)

as i said above, this is the earliest official ban against cousin marriage from church authorities that we know of. what possessed the gallo-roman bishops at agde to do so, i have no idea. bishop caesarius was certainly an interesting fellow though. for instance, he thought that all priests and bishops (and nuns) ought to live austere lives like monks, and he actually instituted that policy in his own disocese, so i suspect that he was one of these guys who really did want to recreate god’s kingdom here on earth as much as possible, and he seems to have practiced what he preached.

caesarius’ teacher was one julianus pomerius, and his teacher was st. augustine, so here we have a direct line from augustine — who thought that christians ought to marry out — to caesarius and his council issuing this marriage canon. the funny thing is, though, augustine’s teacher was st. ambrose (d.397) who also had some things to say about cousin marriage — in fact, it was apparently he who recommended to theodosius i (d.395) to issue a secular ban against cousin marriage in the empire (theodosius did, but it didn’t stick — theodosius ii rescinded the ban). funnily enough, ambrose, like caesarius, was also from gaul (trier), so we come nearly full circle with these connections.

i suspect that the idea of avoiding cousin marriage was somehow a roman idea which was familiar to these early, urbanized, roman (or romanized) church leaders, one which they began to utilize when they encountered all these clannish barbarians (in gaul and in north africa, for example) and, as christopher burd put it on twitter, uncivilized, inbreeding country “hicks” in general. my guess is that they were trying to come up with a way to get rid of all the clannish infighting — and their plan just happened to work MUCH better than they ever imagined.

what i don’t understand — and what i need to find out more about — is how the early medieval church functioned. how the hierarchy worked and how the issuing of rules and regulations happened.

i’ve read a little about this council of agde now, and the historians i’ve read describe it as a “national” council — their scare quotes, not mine — since, unlike one of the huge church councils such as nicaea, the bishops who attended agde were only local — just from the areas in southern france held by the visigoths. what i want to know is, were the canons issued at agde binding everywhere then, or just in southern france there? could bishops in southern italy or ireland or constantinople just say, oh h*ck, we’re not going to follow those silly canons, or were they obliged to? or did canons issued by “national” councils need to be approved by rome first? i have no idea. Further Research is RequiredTM.

if canons issued by local councils only applied locally, that might explain why cousin marriage appears to have continued for some time after 506, like among the franks, for instance, who were just a stone’s throw away in northern france (until they took over the visigothic kingdom!), but who don’t seem to have taken these cousin marriage bans seriously until something like the 700s.

we do know, though, that rome was definitely behind the cousin marriage bans by the late sixth-early seventh centuries. augustine of canterbury (d.604) was sent in 595 to convert the anglo-saxons in england by pope gregory the great. he wrote to pope gregory in a panic asking what he should do about all the cousin marriage among the anglo-saxons, to which gregory replied that the newly converted should be allowed to remain married to their cousins, but going forward, NO cousin marriage.

how and when hq back in rome began backing this idea remains to be discovered.

anyway…happy council of agde day to you all! (^_^)

(note: comments do not require an email. 12th-century reliquary of caesarius of arles.)

THIS is the best article i’ve read all week! possibly all month. in fact, it’s soooo interesting, i’m going to read it over and over again! (pretty sure i’ve got it memorized already actually…. (*^_^*) )

by ed west, The Church v the Family appeared in The Catholic Herald a couple of weeks ago:

“So why is Europe different? The answer is the Catholic Church. Christianity in our minds is linked to ‘family values’, as Right-wing politicians used to say before an imminent sex scandal, but from the beginning it was almost anti-family, and Jesus told his disciples to leave theirs. Whereas Judaism had been heavily kinship-based, Christ voiced the view that the noblest thing was to lay down one’s life for a friend – a gigantic moral leap. This universal ideal was spread by St Paul who famously stated that there would be neither Jew nor Greek, ‘for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’.

“Although both large Abrahamic faiths are universalist, western Christianity was far more jealous of rival loyalties, such as could be found in the clan, and wanted to weaken them. St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas both encouraged marrying out as a way of widening social ties, and in Summa Theologica Aquinas objected to cousin marriages on the grounds that they ‘prevent people widening their circle of friends’. He wrote: ‘When a man takes a wife from another family he is joined in special friendship with her relations; they are to him as his own.’

“The influence of the Church caused Europeans to be less clannish and therefore made it easier for large territorial magnates to forge nation-states.

“Another consequence was the nuclear family, which developed in the North Sea region around the turn of the millennium. It was influenced by the western European manor system of agriculture, under which peasants managed their own farms let out to them by the lord of the manor, owing him obligations of work. This encouraged adult children to move out of the family home, whereas in most cultures three generations lived together under a paterfamilias.

“With the nuclear family came a move away from group identity and towards the western concept of individual rights and liberalism. It was a revolutionary idea and in parts of the world where the clan still rules it is still an alien one.”

(^_^) read the whole thing on west’s blog!

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas and big summary post on the hajnal line

(note: comments do not require an email. manorialism.)

in addition to being concerned about too much inbreeding and how that might hinder the building a christian society here on earth, thomas aquinas also worried about the effects of too much outbreeding.

from his Summa Theologica [pg. 2749]:

“The degrees within which consanguinity has been an impediment to marriage have varied according to various times…. [T]he Old Law permitted other degrees of consanguinity, in fact to a certain extent it commanded them, to wit that each man should take a wife from his kindred, in order to avoid confusion of inheritances: because at that time the Divine worship was handed down as the inheritance of the race. But afterwards more degrees were forbidden by the New Law which is the law of the spirit and of love, because the worship of God is no longer handed down and spread abroad by a carnal birth but by a spiritual grace: wherefore it was necessary that men should be yet more withdrawn from carnal things by devoting themselves to things spiritual, and that love should have a yet wider play. Hence in olden time marriage was forbidden even within the more remote degrees of consanguinity, in order that consanguinity and affinity might be the sources of a wider friendship; and this was reasonably extended to the seventh degree, both because beyond this it was difficult to have any recollection of the common stock, and because this was in keeping with the sevenfold grace of the Holy Ghost. Afterwards, however, towards these latter times the prohibition of the Church has been restricted to the fourth degree, because it became useless and dangerous to extend the prohibition to more remote degrees of consanguinity. Useless, because charity waxed cold in many hearts so that they had scarcely a greater bond of friendship with their more remote kindred than with strangers: and it was dangerous because through the prevalence of concupiscence and neglect men took no account of so numerous a kindred, and thus the prohibition of the more remote degrees became for many a snare leading to damnation.”


previously: st. augustine and st. thomas aquinas

(note: comments do not require an email. summa theologica)

after describing how the catholic church put an end (for the most part) to clans and tribes in western europe via its regulations on marriage, a topic which has been discussed at length here on the ol’ blog (see the Inbreeding in Europe series down below in the left-hand column), economist avner greif explains in “Family Structure, Institutions, and Growth: The Origins and Implications of Western Corporations” how the new, individualistic europeans developed a corporate society, one which eventually lead to democratic nations in europe [pgs. 309-10]:

“The decline of large kinship groups in Europe transpired during a period in which the state was also disintegrating and the church’s secular authority was diminishing…. A new solution was needed to solve problems of conflict and cooperation, and people got together to form corporations.

“These corporations were voluntary, interest-based based, self-governed, and intentionally created permanent associations. In many cases, they were self-organized and not established by the state. Participation was voluntary in the sense that one had to be attracted to be a member and, therefore, corporations had to cater to their members’ interests….

“By the late medieval period, economic and political corporations dominated Europe….

“Monasteries, fraternities, and mutual-insurance guilds provided social safety nets against famine, unemployment, and disability. The majority of the population belonged to such fraternities and guilds, at least in England. Because corporations provided social safety nets that were alternatives to those provided by kinship groups, they enabled individuals to take risks and make other economic decisions without interference by members of such groups. Relative to a society dominated by kinship groups, the nuclear family structure increased capital per worker by encouraging later marriages and fewer children, and it led to a more efficient distribution of labor and knowledge by facilitating migration.

“Craft guilds regulated production, training, and the protection of brand names. Universities, monastic orders, and guilds developed and distributed scientific and technological knowledge. Merchant guilds and communes protected property rights at home and abroad, secured brand names, and provided contract enforcement in exchange. Corporations, such as the Italian citystates and military orders, mustered armies to expand the European resource base.

“Many late medieval corporations were political; they had their own legal systems, administrations, and military forces. The Italian city-republics were literally independent, but most European cities west of the Baltic Sea in the north and the Adriatic Sea in the south were also political corporations (communes). Political corporations also prevailed among Western European peasants. Because such corporations preceded the pre-modern European states, they often provided these states with indispensable services, such as tax collection, law and order, and an army. Self-interested rulers were constrained in adopting policies that hindered these corporations’ economic interests or abusing their property rights (Greif, 2005). Indeed, by the thirteenth century, most European principalities had representative bodies to approve taxation and communes were represented in all of them. Economic corporations, therefore, had the ability to impact policies and, in the long run, they were influential in transforming the European state into a corporation in the form of a democracy.

that is all. (^_^)

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and “hard-won democracy” and democracy and endogamous mating practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

edit: boilerplate and boilerplate 2.0

previously: more on inbreeding in germanic tribes

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