Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Great Divide (Descent from Antiquity)

History has long been divided up into periods and it is no wonder! Up until the time of Bede in the 700s, there was no standard way of dating historical events. In 525, Dionysius Exiguus devised a proper way of dating Easter based on the birth date of Christ. Before then, dates were based on the consuls of Rome since Diocletian, which was rather strange since that Roman Emperor happened to be the last great persecutor of Christians. Dionysius' system, though, didn't gather popularity until the Venerable Bede used it to date his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the first great chronicle of English history. After that, periods were no longer necessary...

Oh wait, we still use them... huh? That's very odd. Alright, back on topic. Periodization is the inevitable simplification of history into completely nonsensical periods of time. Everyone learns them in high school and no one is really explained why. The most odd thing is that periods are actually two-fold: they are divided into broad periods and more specific periods. Just to cut to the chase, and since at least some of you participated in my question this week, here are the major and important periods of European history using vague but generally accepted dates:

Antiquity – before 500 CE
Classical – 500 BCE to 480 CE
Late Antiquity –300 to 800
Early Middle Ages / "The Dark Ages" –480 to 1066
High Middle Ages – 1066 to1350
Late Middle Ages –1350 to 1500
The Renaissance –1350 to 1650
Early Modern Era – 1500 to 1800
The Enlightenment –1650 to 1800
Modern Era –1800 to Present
Post-Modern Era –1945 to Present

This is a very rough list indeed and it probably doesn't include every period everyone wants, but it works all the same. If you notice, every single period overlaps another period. That is because no period is insular but dependent on its preceding and succeeding periods. The best way to remember the major ones is: Antiquity –Middle Ages –Modern. The periods between them are the "transitions" and usually have less formal titles: Classical –Dark Ages – Renaissance –Enlightenment. The major periods link together at the ends while the transitions do not necessarily touch the previous transition.

Why is this important to dynastology? Because some of these periods have an effect on dynastology. One of them, especially, has an effect that I like to call the "Great Divide". The Great Divide occurs in that annoying dynastic transition called "The Dark Ages". While the historical content of the Dark Ages is slowly being discovered, the genealogical information is still largely absent. You see, during Antiquity, genealogy was important. Sure, a lot of it was made up, but a lot of it was also not. To the Greeks and Romans, even in the later years, establishing your legitimate and legal descent was very important for governmental tasks, just as it was in Medieval times. There is a very dense an complex web of genealogy in Antiquity that, in many cases, goes back in possible lines as far as the Persians and Babylonians and ancient Egyptians and beyond. Then, suddenly and without warning, everything came to a screeching halt around 400 CE.

Historians call it the "Migration Period" of Europe, where millions of people such as the Franks, Saxons, Goths, Magyars, etc., moved into Europe from the Asian Steppe and displaced, married into, and destroyed the Western Roman Empire. Within 200 years from Constantine until the death of Julius Nepos, the organized and orderly society of the Romans came under the rule of barbarians. These barbarians didn't keep great records and it took hundreds of years in many cases before history remembered them. This is the Great Divide of dynastology: these barbarians didn't marry into the Romans, but the other barbarians. So the earliest genealogies of the medieval Europeans start with a so-called barbarian.

The eternal search for connections between the Dark Age barbarian ancestors of today's royal dynasties and the late nobility of the Roman era is called the Descent from Antiquity (DFA) project. It has been ongoing for centuries, but the proper analytical research has been a more recent phenomena. So many problems exist that few can research it for long. A free-lance French genealogist named Christian Settipani is the most renown of the DFA historians, but even he has had little verifiable success.

Just to quench your thirst, there are a couple plausible lines of descent from ancient times to today. The problem is, they have to go through Byzantine space before returning to Western Europe. You see, unlike Western Europe, the Eastern Roman Empire didn't fall until 1453, so it never had a "Dark Ages" like the west had. Unfortunately, they still had a lot of political upheaval ending with the destruction of important documents, the burning of libraries by the Muslims and themselves, and their conquest once or twelve times. In the end, they couldn't maintain the paperwork the genealogists need to document the dynasties. Luckily, the small kingdom of Armenia to the east was more successful. Even today, the Georgian royal family (in exile since the early 1800s) use the name Bagratoni, which is a derivative of Bagratuni, the classical Armenian royal dynasty. Through a few different channels, genealogists have been able to establish possible links to ancient times through Armenian and Georgian genealogies. But those families married into western families only sporadically, so their importance is still only marginal. Other routes including one through Charlemagne's ancestors have also been unproven.

Since dynastology focuses on a family through its entire history, the DFA is very important because it shows continuity from an earlier time. Asia has multiple DFAs that are virtually proven, but the west is still struggling to work its way through the Dark Ages of the Migration Period. Will the quest ever be solved? Probably not. So many factors are involved that it is unlikely that any 100% proven descent will be found through the morass of Late Antiquity. But the search is still important as it shows where exactly dynasties came from and why their founders came to power while other people did not. The reasons why certain dynasties developed in early medieval Europe has never been entirely discovered, so the Descent from Antiquity project will continue to search for those mystical roots of dynasticism.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

They're All Greek to Me (Macedonian Dynasties)

I've decided that, since this is a continuing series, I should put more in my titles than simple numbers. That way, it is easier to back reference. Anyway, moving on...

As you can probably all guess, today we discuss the Greeks. You may wonder why I chose this particular brand of dynasty to focus on when there are so many out there. Quite simply, it is because the Greeks are a great example of dynasties you are probably not descended from, per my previous post. What is the reason for this? you may ask yourself: incest. Dirty, rotten, Appalachian-style incest. And we aren't just talking the typical royal and noble "I married my aunt, you married my cousin, aren't you my niece" type of incest. No, the Greeks knew how to get it on with the closest of kin, including mother-son, father-daughter, and brother-sister action. HOT HOT HOT! This kind of stuff is definitely taboo today.

Before we delve into it, you probably all are asking: why on Earth would people do this sick, perverse inbreeding?! It's simple really. What better way to ensure the purity of royal blood than marrying your sister or brother. If you are 100% royal, there is little doubt that your full sibling is too. Was it wrong, then? No, not actually. It was in fact a fairly regular occurrence throughout Egyptian history and was not uncommon in Greek times. If you really think about it, the Greek gods were all siblings and aunts and uncles yet they married, so there was certainly no perceived sin in the act. The stories of Oedipus that record the mythical king's marriage to his mother were more lessons on fate than morality. There was no real sin in him wedding and bedding his mother; it was the fact that he killed his father and drove his mother to insanity that are the crimes. Incest was quite common in royal circles, then, in Greecian times and it is for that reason that they are the subject of this study.

Virtually everyone in the western world has heard of the great Greecian king Alexander III of Macedon who conquered Egypt, Persia, and the whole of Asia Minor and became known throughout all time as Alexander the Great. Surely, his short reign of conquest and destruction is as well known as Caesar's assassination by the hand of Brutus. Yet, what did Alexander really do for history? How about dynastology?

The Argeads, the dynastic line of Alexander, are rich with roguish-type individuals who slowly conquered Greece. Alexander was the son of the last of those conquers, Philip II, who bequeathed to his son and heir the plans for a great empire. Alexander fulfilled his role as conquerer, but, even more so than Charlemagne, failed his role as a dynast. Alexander died at the age of 32 in Babylon of uncertain causes, but certain problems. For, Alexander had no child, only a pregnant wife. Roxana bore posthumously to Alexander a son whom she named Alexander IV. As is custom still, baby Alexander was installed as de jure king of Macedon while a regency was installed. In addition, Alexander the Great had a brother, Philip III, who was granted the title of co-king. In the end, none of this mattered. Both baby Alexander and Philip III were murdered without ever taking formal control of their empire. Alexander's descent ceased to exist and that is the sole reason that no person to this day can possibly be descended from Alexander the Great.

This begs the question: so, why are we discussing the Greeks if the most important one of all died without leaving progeny? The answer to this question is much more complex. After the Argeads died out, the empire fought a civil war for nearly forty years. It never reunited and part of the reason Rome thrived in the 100s was because the Greeks couldn't reorganize. Dynastologically, the time of the Greeks was also grim. The civil war broke out between numerous satraps (generals) of Alexander who felt that they were owed a portion of the empire. The satraps and their descendants eventually split up the empire intro rival Greek factions. They adopted both local and Greek customs thereby "Hellenizing" (making Greek) the regions of the western Mediterranean.

Dynastologically, they fought continuous wars but often married into their rival's families. When they were not at war, they married into their own families, especially in Egypt. The major empires that formed from Alexander's empire were the Ptolemaic dynasty (in Egypt), the Seleucid dynasty (in Persia), the Attalid dynasty (in Asia Minor [Turkey]) and, the Antigonid dynasty (in Greece). Not one of these dynasties survived more than 300 years with the longest-living dying off with Cleopatra in 30 BCE. The sheer level of inbreeding within and between these four dynasties left very few descendants to survive after them. It is not impossible (in fact it is extremely likely) that some did indeed survive, but as the dynasties got smaller and smaller with the expansion of Rome in the 100s, the four dynasties became increasingly insular and careful in their marriages. One-by-one, Rome conquered and absorbed the dynasties and empires until only the Hellenistic traditions were left. The Antigonids fell in 168 BCE, the Attalids in 129 BCE, the Seleucids in 63 BCE, and the Ptolemaics in 30 BCE. Only the Seleucids really strove to maintain their dynasty by marrying into the Armenian and Parthian dynasties which would succeed them in Persia.

Jumping ahead to the end of the last dynasty, Cleopatra VII of cinematic and Shakespearean fame is one of the most interesting case examples of these incestuous marriage patterns. In Ptolemaic Egypt, women were crowned ruling queens with their husbands if they were siblings. Cleopatra was no exception, not only was she the daughter of an uncle and a niece, she married two of her siblings. Her first brother-husband was Ptolemy XIII. The marriage ended in disaster when Ptolemy rebelled against Cleopatra's authoritarian rule and allied with Julius Caesar. After his untimely death, she married her much younger brother who became Ptolemy XIV, although it is unlikely that they ever consummated the marriage. He was found dead soon after the death of Julius Caesar, probably to prepare the way for their son who became Ptolemy XV and the possible heir of Caesar. It is possible, though never proven, that Cleopatra married her son with Caesar in a titular manner.

Cleopatra did have one exceptional quality about her, at least dynastically: she was able to keep her dynasty alive, even if it lost all of its power. With Mark Antony, the famous triumvir of Rome, she birthed three children. Through her daughter, she was able to keep the blood of the Ptolemy's running for at least a few more generations. It is uncertain what the ultimate fate of her progeny was, but it is likely that all of us still circulate a little of Cleopatra's blood.

Thus, while we are all probably descend from at least one Greek ruler, thereby relating us to all the Greek dynasties, we do so only through luck, illegitimacy, and uncertainty. The descent from the ancient times is not proven in any line, but somewhat conveniently Cleopatra's heirs are one of those often considered. If we descend from Cleopatra, we descend from all of Greece, at least to a degree. But as with the unfortunate dynasts, no one today descends from Alexander the Great as he left no sons or daughters to perpetuate his bloodline. It is a conqueror's job not just to dominate, but to propagate. Without that, you're just a schoolyard bully.

Addendum: Stephanie brought up the point that Cleopatra probably did not leave progeny so I will qualify that with my reasons why I believe she did. Cleopatra left after her three children: two sons who were killed while still in Roman captivity, and a daughter who was spared and married off to the king of Numibia (who later became king of Mauretania). One known son of this marriage exists, but he is only noted in a single source. It is my strong belief that either Cleopatra's daughter or this son left behind daughters, since having a only a single child was not a very common occurrence. I could certainly be wrong on this, and Stephanie may also have a point that any other descent probably stayed within the Greco-Roman aristocracy. But experience has taught me that one random marriage can save a dynastic descent and I bet that Cleopatra's daughter left behind a surviving line. Where it went, what it became, no one will probably ever know, but I strongly believe it survives today in most of us.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A World of Probabilities (Common Ancestry)

Up until this point, we have been discussing specific terms and a case study for descent. But Charlemagne presents us with yet another interesting case that we should assess before we move on. The concept I want to discuss today is the probability of descent. While this isn't necessarily a dynastological topic, it does have some interesting connections to the study.

Every person has a probability of descent from someone. My surname is Whaley. There was once a regicide in England named Edward Whalley. The comparison is obvious which thus presents a probability of descent. How do I determine if there actually is a descent? I research it, of course, to prove it true.

Here's a better example: my great grandmother's maiden name was Bruce. There was a King Robert the Bruce in Scotland around 1300. There's the obvious probability of descent. Now, the problem that needs assessment is what specifically is the probability of descent? I have heard my family members say many times that they are descended from this medieval hero of Scotland, but is there truth to the story? Unfortunately, no, there is not, for one very important reason: Robert the Bruce left no surviving male issue to carry on the Bruce name. Okay, well technically he had a son but his son died without issue. In any case, his claim to the throne passed through his daughter to the Stewart family. I don't know of any Stewart ancestry in my blood so the probability grows slim. Now the probability that I descend from someone with the surname "Bruce" is a certainty, and since it is an old Franco-Scottish name, it is likely that it descends from a common ancestor of Robert the Bruce, but I do not descend from Robert himself, at least not in a male (surname-passing) line.

Now this seems unimportant and distant from dynastology, but in fact is directly connected to it. Historically, royalty regard themselves as relatives - cousins, if you will. This was a fairly valid suggestion by the 1500s as virtually all European royalty from the lowliest sovereign count to the mighty emperors were related, at least distantly. But this concept is older than that. Everyone held Adam to be a common ancestor, and pagan tradition also established the German creator-god Woden as a common ancestor. Even in Roman times virtually all families were descended from gods, which were all, of course, related. This all important idea was based on a primitive conception that everyone is related somehow. We are all cousins on this great earth. Dynastically-speaking, that could be dangerous too.

If someone could claim descent from, say, Charlemagne; they could claim that they have the right to rule somewhere. Honestly, it didn't happen as much as expected; the concept of the Divine Right of Kings was nowhere near universal at the turn of the first millennium. However, during the chaos left behind the fall of the Carolingians, many nobles rose up in Germany and France claiming both an ancestry from Charlemagne or some older king such as Clovis, and the power and desire to assert that claim. The main case I can remember is that of Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, who only claimed the throne from his brother-in-law Edward the Confessor, but claimed a descent from Alfred the Great, a claim that has never been completely proven. Had Harold survived the first year of his reign (William the Conqueror did his thing that same year), his dynasty would have continued the old but based on extremely dubious linkage. If you look across the landscape of Dark Age Europe, this is very common.

Another issue that this brings up is the concept of the Common Ancestor. Is there actually one? If you are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim you probably believe in an Adam and Eve who were the first humans some 6000 years ago or so. Certainly, many other religions also follow a similar vein of thought. It makes sense, all of us people here looking largely the same, being able to procreate and speak, etc. We are a species and we are all similar in many ways, so certainly we have a common ancestor! In fact, we probably all do.

Recent evidence suggests that all people of western European descent have a common ancestor who lived just about 1000 years ago. Wow. That is not that long ago at all. You know who else lives 1000 years ago? A lot of early medieval royalty. And as I just stated, all royalty is related and I'd predict that people descend from at least one royal. The good news: if you descend from one, you descend from many more. That is the power of royal marriages in an ancestral tree. If we are all descended from, say, William the Conqueror, then we have ancient Danish and Swedish royal ancestry as well as Charlemagne in our pedigrees. In fact, pretty much every European royal is descended from Charlemagne eventually, so in all likelihood we all are Charlemagne's progeny.

In case you aren't of European stock, though, you may have to look farther back. Some have speculated that all Europeans and Asians descend from Ghengis Khan in the late 1200s, and the sheer number and geographic expanse of his descendants suggests that this may be roughly true. So we all may be Ghengis' children too. Once you include Africa into the equation, our common ancestor gets pushed back to between 8000 and 2000 years ago. And if you add in America, it actually stays roughly the same since virtually all native groups in America have at least one European or African ancestor (the date gets pushed back up to 20,000 years if some of the Amazon tribes are truly discovered to be pure descent from the ancient Paleolithic hunter-gatherers). In any case, it wasn't that long ago that some couple produced the entire population of the Earth.

My final point is this: Technically everyone has more than one billion ancestors if you just go back 30 generations. That is an amazingly massive amount! But pedigree collapse occurs when cousins, even distant ones, marry each other. Eventually, the family tree becomes not even a hundredth that size. Pedigree collapse is the reason why genealogies can be traced back 30 generations, sometimes with little difficulty. Dynasties are formed out of these claims to ancient common ancestors that may or may not have existed or been their ancestor, but real individuals existed back then that all people today are descended from. In Western Europe, it is almost certain that Charlemagne, Louis the Pious, and many of their relatives are ancestors of all western Europeans. Genghis Khan too may be all our ancestors. The importance of their place in history, therefore, should never be neglected.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

To Be Frank (The Carolingians)

Up until this point, all of these notes have been very term-y without much content other than the dynastic patterns through the millenia. That is all about to change with this post. The most important thing in dynastology is—you guessed it!—dynasties: the individual lines of descent and marriage that create the vast dynastic matrix that is the world even today. Without the actual component dynasties, the entire study of dynastology would make no sense. Thus, I present the first in an ongoing series of case studies:

The Carolingians

Pretty much every person who has taken a college-level World Civilizations class has heard about the infamous Carolingians. They were Franks, as in the Germanic ancestors of modern-day France, and they had the largest European empire of the Middle Ages...well, for a short while. The funny thing with the Carolingians is that they are completely misunderstood dynastically. For example, most western Europeans think of Charlemagne—Charles the Great—as the Founding Father of Europe. I think they are completely wrong by one degree of descent. Let me explain.

The Carolingians were descended from the seventh century (that's 600s) majordomos of the Merovingian Frankish court. The Merovingians were descended from Clovis, the first Christian king of Gaul. They had a pretty large empire that stretched across most of France, all of the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands & Luxembourg), Switzerland, half of Germany, and a little bit of north-west Italy. It was massive, in fact, but almost always divided into three or more parts because of Partible Inheritance Salic Law. Thus it was usually divided into Neutria, Austrasia, with Aquitaine, Burgundy, and other regions sometimes also getting parsed out. This gave the ancestors of the Carolingians, the so-called Mayors of the Palace (majordomos) a chance to grab power. It started rather subtly but picked up speed by the end of the 600s. Then, the last legitimate Mayor was succeeded by his bastard son, Charles Martel, or Charles the Hammer! It is from Martel, not Charlemagne, that the name Carolingian comes from. Carolingian simply is Latin for Descendant of Carolus (karolingi). Martel was responsible for stopping the Muslim invasion of Europe from Spain and was de facto king of the Franks from 737-743. But in the end, Martel declined all titles of nobility and returned control of Gaul to the Merovingians.

Martel had a son, Pippin, who was slightly more bold, however. Like his father, he served as Mayor of the Palace, but in 751 he got fed up with all the incompetency of the rather lackluster kingship. He went to the pope and asked that the current king, Childeric III, be deposed and he be crowned in his place. The pope amazingly consented and Pippin the Short became the first Carolingian king of the Franks. He set out to conquer Italy from the Lombards and the Muslims, to expand his eastern borders, and to secure his northern borders from the Vikings. Then that unfortunate thing that happens to people happened: he died.

Enter Charles the Great, Charles the Magnificent, Charles the Overrated. Sure from a historical perspective he was a great and noble dynast, but in dynastological history, he was a flop. You see Charlemagne did something that later kings learned not to do: he didn't marry off all his daughters. In fact, he left them unwed and available, thereby neglecting one very important aspect of dynastology. When Charles' son, Louis, took the throne, he went one step farther and tossed all his sisters into convents and abbeys to keep them from marrying and rising up against him. Prudent, but short-sighted. Indeed, Charles also failed to produce more than one surviving son despite having married at least four times. In truth he had quite a few sons, but most were illegitimate and so he made them clergy, and of his four legitimate sons, only Louis survived. His co-king, Charles, died in 811; Carloman of Italy died in 810; and his disenherited eldest son Pippin died in 811 as well. Of the three, only Carloman had a son and he was a bastard. That left the entire Frankish realm to Louis the Pious. Thus, Charlemagne almost completely failed at continuing his dynasty.

Louis, therefore, is the true Founding Father of Europe. Sure it was Charlemagne that was crowned the first medieval Roman Emperor on Christmas Day at St. Peter's Basillica, 800, and he certainly did a decent job at expanding and securing the Frankish Empire, but his progeny resided solely in Louis thus leaving him the role of continuing this great empire. Louis was a pious and relatively do-nothing emperor compared to his father, but he succeeded in having not one but three surviving sons, all three of whom would found cadet dynasties of their own. His eldest, Lothair, would ironically end up in the worst position of the three, while Louis II and Charles II ended up with the best bargains. Dynastically speaking, all three sons were the true founders of the major three medieval states. Lothair founded Lotharingia, or Lorraine, and through his male and female descent can be found the early kings of Italy and the dukes of Burgundy. Louis II the German was, in reality, the first true king of Germany and his descendants can safely claim both the kingdom of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire. Charles II the Bald was the youngest of the three children so only inherited peasly Gaul, which was the basis for the kingdom of France.

More importantly for Louis the Pious, though, was the fact that he married his daughters off to important nobles as well. The descent of Gisela, who married Eberhard of Friuli, would produce not just a Holy Roman Emperor but almost the entire royal family of Castile. Another of his daughters, Hildegard or Rotrude, married Gerard of Auvergne, and their descendants become the incredibly wealthy and powerful rulers of Aquitaine, which eventually ended at Eleanor of Aquitaine who married into the English royal family. Even Louis' marriages were important dynastically. His first wife was Ermengard of Hesbaye whose family were the ancestors of the Capetians who ruled France for 900 years, and rule Spain and Luxembourg today. His second wife was Judith of Bavaria, who was descend from a prominent Bavarian family.

Despite the bad rap Louis' received over the centuries, I think it is fair to argue that Louis is just as important in creating the modern states of Western Europe as his glorified father, Charlemagne. While he may not have created the Frankish Empire, he certainly helped break it down into its modern components through the civil warring of his various children.

Dynastically, Louis is the real deal while Charles is a major fail.


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