Adam Kosto

title.none: Le Jan, Famille et Pouvoir (Kosto)

identifier.other: baj9928.9706.002 97.06.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Adam Kosto, University of Washington,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Le Jan, Regine. Famille et Pouvoir dans le Monde Franc (VIIe-Xe siècle): Essai d'Anthropologie Sociale. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1995. Pp. 571. ISBN: ISBN 2-859-44268-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.06.02

Le Jan, Regine. Famille et Pouvoir dans le Monde Franc (VIIe-Xe siècle): Essai d'Anthropologie Sociale. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1995. Pp. 571. ISBN: ISBN 2-859-44268-5.

Reviewed by:

Adam Kosto
University of Washington

Famille et pouvoir is a complex and difficult book. The author's intention in this revision of her 1993 these d'Etat is to "study the interaction of the structures of kinship and those of power" (p. 15). But there is more here than the title suggests: nobility, anthroponymy, women, prosopography, alliance, fidelity, memory, marriage...Le Jan seems at times to be attempting a synthesis of the research agenda of fifty years of German and French historical study. The author offers the image of paths crossing occasionally without ever merging completely, but her book leaves the reader who reaches the final page with less serene metaphors in mind. Getting there is not easy: long recitations of family relationships make parts of the work as enjoyable to read as Genesis 5. Nevertheless, the journey is rewarding.

After the familiar (and here mercifully brief) survey of limits, chronological and geographical, and of sources (Chapter 1), the book is divided into three parts. Part I ("Memoire et pratiques de la noblesse") examines nobility as a concept and as a group. Le Jan describes a nobility resting on the twin foundations of noble birth and famous ancestors. To these conditions correspond two types of memory, seen in burial practices, patronage, and names: memoria, restricted to the closest relatives, and genealogia, multilineal, cognatic, and tending to crystallize around the most "useful" ancestors (Chapter 2). Nobles were characterized by movable wealth and the possession of widely dispersed estates, which supported large networks of relatives. Within and between such networks, family ties overlapped with ties of fidelity, artificial kinship, local solidarity, alliance, and authority to create a complex social equilibrium. This equilibrium successfully integrated vertical and horizontal relationships, and could respond flexibly to internal conflict through horizontal exchange mechanisms such as the feud (Chapter 3). Noble power, like its royal model, was characterized by an "interpenetration of public and private" and was exercised in a decentralized fashion. The nobility grew increasingly stratified, a process accelerated by the Carolingian mise en ordre, which benefited the most powerful. The breakup of the Carolingian order saw the nobility not taking over royal power, but participating in it. The division between noble and non-noble no longer corresponded to societal realities, and an intermediate group of professional knights emerged by the tenth century (Chapter 4).

Part II ("Anatomie de la famille"), a study of family structures, takes a more anthropological approach. Le Jan examines the constantly evolving vocabulary of kinship in the Frankish world, establishing concentric circles of relationships and disjunctions between legal definitions and practical applications of concepts of family (Chapter 5). She demonstrates how changes in naming practices -- especially from transmission of elements to a transmission of complete names -- correspond to changes in structures of power (Chapter 6), and how various rights and responsibilities were transmitted through these family structures (Chapter 7). The increasing importance of the married pair within the family and the weakening of horizontal structures of kinship threatened the institution of marriage itself and led the church to promote the model of a monogamous, indissoluble marriage (Chapter 8). At the same time, marriage strategies -- designed to cement alliances, increase wealth or power, and maintain the coherence of the larger kinship group -- evolved that tended to privilege the emergent lineages organized around the transmission of family estates. A system in which families limited the marriage of daughters gave way to one in which control of sons was most important; exogamy became essential in securing family patrimonies and ties between lineages (Chapter 9). In each of these chapters, Le Jan paints a picture of an extensive, fundamentally bilateral kin group in which a nucleus of close relatives, and especially the married pair, predominates and in which patrilineal tendencies are increasingly evident, though never exclusive.

In Part III (Les groupements de parente), Le Jan demonstrates how the principal family structures -- the married pair and the kin group -- served together to articulate noble power. The early medieval period saw the development of groupings that combined "the principle of descent that permitted patrimonialization of power with one of alliance that underlay the patrimonialized power" (p. 332). In exploring the makeup of the noble household and the exercise of power within it, Le Jan finds again a core -- the married pair and their children -- surrounded by a periphery of relatives, companions, and servants. While the wife lost some of her independent control over lands and possessions, she gained power as the conduit of nobility. She became more of a partner of her husband, the conduit of power, in the administration of the patrimony, as shown, for example, by the appearance of the title comitissa. Similarly, widows lost independent control of their own possessions, while gaining influence over family lands (Chapter 10). Le Jan closes her study by showing how the married pair operated within the context of larger family structures as they developed from large and strongly cognatic groupings into more hierarchical ones focused on territorial power (Chapter 11).

It is possible to extract out of these quite independent chapters some consistent themes, none of which is particularly surprising: breakdown of horizontal family structures, reinforcement of patrilineal groupings, increasingly rigid social stratification, changes in the role and status of women, etc. Le Jan's five-page conclusion (which should definitely be read first) actually does a good job of synthesis. What only becomes clearer in the conclusion, however, is a sense of chronology of historical development, missing in many of the chapters. This is disappointing, because it is here that the author may have the most to contribute. She sees many changes in the tenth century -- including several implicated in the debate over the "mutation de l'an mil" (conflict resolution mechanisms (p. 95), noble violence and exploitation (p. 144 ff.), laudatio parentum (p. 240), and above all the formation of lineages) as having deep roots in the early middle ages: "de telles mutations s'inscrivent dans un lent processus de transformations amorce des le VIIe siècle, puis accelere au VIIIe siècle par la mise en ordre carolingienne" (p. 433). The appearance and breakdown of Carolingian rule -- fundamentally political changes -- drive a host of transformations in social structure and relations. The principal problem with the notion of a transformation in the eleventh-century is the obscurity of what comes before. Famille et pouvoir sheds some light on that darkness.

The tension between the historical and the anthropological enterprise (signaled in the work's subtitle) is perhaps at the root of the book's problems of structure and clarity. On the other hand, this approach encourages the author to plot a healthy, if occasionally frustrating, middle course through historical debates. Terms -- such as villa -- are allowed to have several different meanings. Tired debates -- between public and private, vertical and horizontal, agnatic and cognatic -- are blurred or bypassed. One of the central ideas of the study is emblematic of this desire for synthesis and integration: the marital pair operating within a lineage, itself nestled within a wider family structure. Le Jan's Frankish world is neither black nor white; it is many different shades of gray. This is a refreshing vision. Also refreshing is the particularly good use to which saints' lives and new archaeological evidence are put, supplementing the usual battery of narrative histories and charters from between the Loire and the Rhine. One serious flaw in the use of evidence concerns the author's "statistical" observations, for which reference to the particular data used is often omitted (e.g., pp. 36, 182, 206). This is not the case, however, with the twenty-four genealogical tables in the appendix. These, along with thirty-six such tables in the text, the contents of which are included in the very full onomastic index, will prove to be a very useful instrument of research. In the end, the reader of Famille et pouvoir learns more about family than about power, perhaps because no explicit attempt is made to address an important question: "What is power?" Still, Le Jan's work has brought us closer to an answer.