By John Fowler
PhD Dissertation, Rice University, 1981
Abstract: This study examines late Roman and early medieval sources for evidence concerning changes in the legal restrictions on marriage choice and choice of sexual partners. The data so derived serve as a base for examining theories in the social sciences concerning the etiology and function of the incest ban in human societies. A thorough examination of such theories, along with historical data, provides a possible synthesis of various social science views. A causal connection between the level of incest awareness in a society or in individuals and the levels of intrasocietal or individual aggression is shown.
The synthesis so developed is dependent on a careful examination of nurturant relationships between fathers and daughters and between mothers and sons. The ramifications of the nurturant and oedipal elements in social behavior are therefore examined closely. Societies obsessed with maternal goddesses and female saints, for example, will be societies characterized both by lowered ranges of incest bans and by individual aggression towards dominance. An evolutionary rationale is provided, which the author finds reflected in a historical dynamic.
Cognitive and functional uses of the incest ban are also explored. The ban against incestuous relations with affines is seen as a conscious tool to mute intrafamilial rivalries and thus to ensure a familial stability which would function to add some stability to the patterns of early medieval kingship. Godparentage networks and the incest bans between members of those networks are also explored, it being concluded that the incest ban was essential to maintaining the integrity of spiritual kinship networks.
Early Germanic marriage patterns are also examined. It is shown that there was a persistent pattern among the Germanic peoples of patrilateral cross cousin marriage. This pattern fits well with the level of aggressive competition in the society, and the church was never able to break it completely.
The whole study has implications about the nature of the church’s growing antifeminity and antisexuality during the period of the early middle ages. And the evolutionary and historical dynamic proposed can possibly be applied to a wide variety of societies, including our own.