This is a particularly rich and coherent collection of papers prepared for a conference that a few of the authors vaguely referred to but no one specified (date, place, etc.). The papers are of uniformly high quality and the volume is expertly and helpfully introduced by Karl Ubl and concluded by Constance Brittain Bouchard. The papers make many individual historical contributions but I suspect that their chief strength lies in a series of methodological reflections on how to study kinship in all its myriad diversity.
Karl Ubl, "Zur Einführung: Verwandtschaft als Ressource sozialer Integration im früheren Mittelalter" (1-27) leads off with a fine survey of German scholarship reaching back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Kinship was always there but historians privileged the state and subordinated all social organizations to it. Over the course of the twentieth century the purported significance of the Sippe, the clan, diminished as did the idea that families were patriarchal and agnatic. Nuclear families gained significance as work progressed and vertical relationships gave way to horizontal ones. Families were cognatic. Kinship in the strict sense of blood relationships gradually yielded pride of place to amicitia, pacta, God-parenthood, and a variety of other relationships that expanded and complicated what has been understood by kin and kinship. Ubl's illuminating treatment of a whole gallery of famous historians makes this essay a must read.
Wolfgang Haubrichs, "Typen der anthroponymischen Indikation von Verwandtschaft bei den 'germanischen' Gentes: Traditionen--Innovationen--Differenzen" (29-71), takes up the theme that names and name-giving are institutions and cultural events. In the world of single names, names might signal an expectation of imitation or else a particular meaning, say "Great Warrior." Christianity and the Bible entered the system, initially in the abstract (Donatus, Desiderius) and then directly with the names of biblical figures or saints. The Christian and German systems could fuse, as in Godescalc (Servant of God). Names can signify kinship by repeating individual elements. Late antiquity already knew this: Constantine, Constantius, Constans, Constantia. Names in the Hildebrandslied display the same thing: Hildebrand, Heribrand, Hadubrand. Composite names took elements from various family members or ancestors. Names could be taken from paternal or maternal relatives. The Roman/Latin element declined over time and Haubrichs offers some interesting tabulations. When Roman/Latin names do crop up, their use is instrumental and strategic.
Mischa Meier, "Flavios Hypatios: Der Mann, der Kaiser sein wollte" (73-96), asks what role kinship played in succession in East Rome in 518 when Anastasius died childless and his well known nephew Hypatios did not rise to the throne. Anastasius promoted his nephews but did not name one as his heir. Initially Hypatios got along well with Justin and Justinian but the Constantinopolitan mob declared him Augustus in the Nike riot and Justinian later executed him. It appears that the populace placed greater emphasis on family than had been warranted by the political situation in 518 and the aristocratic factionalism of the late fifth century. Of all the papers in the book, this one makes the smallest contribution.
Hartwin Brandt, "Familie und Verwandtschaft in der weströmischen Aristokratie der Spätantike (4. und 5. Jahrhundert nach Chr.)" (97-107), says that although scholarship since and based on John Matthews has agreed on a widespread continuity of aristocratic rule in the late Roman West, Matthews did not look specifically at families, as Stroheker and Heinzelmann did. Demandt said late Roman senatorial families were "somehow" related, but what does that actually mean? Brandt uses a number of illustrative examples from Gaul to demonstrate continuity from the fourth to the sixth centuries. Sometimes dozens of relatives can be identified who shared land-owning, culture, and office.
Conrad Walter and Steffen Patzold, "Der Episkopat im Frankenreich der Merowingerzeit: eine sich durch Verwandtschaft reproduzierende Ellte?" (109-139), tackles a serious problem: it has long been assumed that bishops in Gaul were senatorial aristocrats. Prinz thought they usurped power, Heinzelmann thought power was delegated to them, and Jussen thought they used a new kind of civic power to compensate for a vanishing imperial regime. But all assumed aristocrats. Yet years ago Wieruszowski and Stroheker found 70 demonstrably senatorial bishops out of around 2,020. Scholars have worked carelessly from the evidence and have gone on repeating flimsy generalizations. Part of the problem arises from words: there was no set system for referring to aristocrats or relatives. The authors offer some interesting cases from Tours. Take Gregory: was he "related" to so many predecessors because they were all bishops of Tours or because they were blood kin? Probably the former, and this means we should be cautious about claiming that all these bishops were aristocrats.
Stefan Esders, "Wergeld und soziale Netzwerke im Frankenreich" (141-159), takes off from the debunking of the clan and the discovery of many other kinds of relationships. He notes that law sometimes envisioned clear structures of kinship, say in marriage or inheritance, but otherwise presents many conflicts where the resolution did not depend on kin at all, turning instead to networks and alliances. Who, then, was obliged to pay wergild? Who actually did pay? Who could help the person obliged to pay? How were amounts set? Wergild represented an attempt to keep violence from escalating and, to that end, opened up all kinds of social relations. What is more, wergild marked an attempt to arrive at unitary standards for the quantification of justice. This introduction of ratio constituted an advance over Roman practice (iudex non calculat). This paper is very smart and rich in implications.
Thomas Kohl, "Groß- und Kleinfamilien im frühmittelalterlichen Bayern" (161-175), argues that while one can find both large and small families operating in varying degrees of collaboration, small families really mattered more. Saying this, however, begs the question of who was related to whom, and how. In the early tenth century one notes that the witness lists in charters grew shorter, the number of names grew smaller, and a degree of "Prototerritorialization" emerged. This kind of evidence points to a smaller scale of activity and "kin," but Kohl also shows people building relations with the bishops of Freising which suggests wider horizons.
Roman Deutinger, "Wer waren the Agilolfinger?" (177-194), appears to ask a foolish question. Everyone knows that the Agilolfinger were the dukes of Bavaria and that the Bavarian laws state unequivocally that this was always the case. In fact, one can identify at least three different groups who served as dukes from the sixth to the eighth century and at most they belonged to a loose cognate group. No source shows that the Bavarian dukes called or thought of themselves as Agilolfinger. The family is a construct, in some ways early medieval and in some ways modern.
Daniela Fruscione, "Zur Familie im 7. Jahrhundert im Spannungsfeld von verfassungsgeschichtlicher Konstruktion und kentischen Quellen" (195-221), begins by asserting that the Textus Roffensis is a reliable version of early English law. Largely without Roman influences, this set of laws does reveal the fairly early impact of Christianity in the areas of family and marriage. She then observes some of the many ways in which relatives, friends, and neighbors participated in legal actions. In general, blood was not more relevant than proximity and trust. The Sippe as an agnatic patrilinear group is not present but society did evince agnatic features: relative insignificance of the conjugal pair; frequent endogamy; virilocal residence; guardianship on the paternal side. Like so many other authors in the volume, she speaks of the numerous ways in which people can be "related." As far as social groups are concerned, the close family and the war-band mattered most. The final point merits a bit more elaboration.
Catherine Cubitt, "Personal Names, Identity and Family in Benedictine Reform England" (223-242), begins with a nice review of earlier work on personal names going back to Frank Stenton. The evidence is scanty and often hard to interpret. Similar names, absent corroborating evidence, cannot be taken as signs of kinship. The individual components of composite names may or may not mean much. Poets played with these possibilities but the wider world may not have. A key eleventh-century development was the repetition of names. Secular families used older royal names and from 1003 to 1095 the see of Worcester was controlled by one family. Other families dominated churches too and naming patterns might well signal worthiness to succeed to a church or even a claim to do so. Cubitt gets good value out of her sparse and refractory evidence.
Gerhard Lubich, "Verwandte, Freunde und Verschwägerte--ottonische Neuanfänge?" (243-59), one of the most powerful papers in the volume, denies that marriage policy represented a "new beginning" in the tenth century. He demonstrates that the Carolingian aristocracy practiced crafty marriage strategies which mean that continuity, not novelty, marks the Ottonian period. He points out that historians and genealogists take very different views on what constitutes kinship. Those differences can, on the part of historians, lead to excessive skepticism about the importance of kinship. Lubich's most significant methodological contribution lies in his assessment of the terminology of kinship. He traces the meanings of affinitas, propinquitas, consanguinitas (or cognatio), and agnatio in both documentary and narrative sources. I cannot here reproduce his fascinating and helpful demonstrations. The meaning of the terms changed a good deal over time. Consanguinitas remained pretty stable for descendants. Affinitas and propinquitas referred increasingly to relatives by marriage. Changes in terminology were not the result of learned correctio but of changes in marriage patterns and, as noted, the key changes were Carolingian, not Ottonian. Marriage, moreover, increasingly took the form of an alliance and appears alongside other terms such as amicitia, pacta, foedera, socii and fideles. The group of those to whom one was "related" was remarkably flexible.
Laurence Leleu, "Per omnia patris ingressus vestigia, nomine, moribus et vita: Parenté, homonymie et ressemblances dans les sources narratives ottoniennes vers l'an mille" (263-288), offers a few methodological reflections and then turns to the lives of Mathilda and to Thietmar's discussion of Boleslav of Bohemia and Boleslav Chrobry. Names, he says, were family strategy that signaled relationship, family continuity, prestige, and a sense of belonging. Fair enough, but he does say that we cannot discern firm rules for name-giving. But we can draw inferences. From the sixth century to the eighth there was a virtual taboo against using the name of a living relative. As this ban relaxed the name-stock grew a bit greater and names might symbolize prestige or resemblance--at least aspirationally. Name material, moreover, can come from either side of the family.
Hans-Werner Goetz, "Verwandtschaft um 1000: ein solidarisches Netzwerk?" (289-302), asks how contemporaries perceived social networks. Like Lubich, he believes that kinship is tricky so he coins the word "Verwandtsein" ("relatedness," I suppose). He then lays out five hypotheses. In part these seem to be reflections on the papers in this book and in part these seem to be a program for future research. They are: 1. Relatives expected, as norm or ideal, help, support, and promotion; 2. Help pertained potentially to all relatives and especially to the spouses' family; 3. The norm of assistance often failed in practice; 4. Authors routinely condemned strife among relatives; 5. Kinship did not decline in significance in the early Middle Ages because it was replaced by other social formations. It declined because of conflicting legal claims, especially over inheritance. Decline is, however, a relative matter and kinship remained important.
Constance Brittain Bouchard, "Conclusion: The Future of Medieval Kinship Studies" (303-313), sums up the key findings of the papers in the volume often in light of her own voluminous contributions. Kinship did not substitute for the state and law codes have probably received too much emphasis. Where inheritance and family were concerned, close relatives could be one's worst enemies. The Schmid thesis about the "Agnatisierung" of the aristocracy ca. 1000 has been thoroughly discredited. Nuclear families, including sisters and younger brothers remained important down to the thirteenth century. What we do not yet know enough about is how people thought about relations and relatives. Names are vexing, dynasties are hard to identify, and "family" is a construct.
An admirable volume.