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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Brother-Sister and Father-Daughter Marriage in Ancient Egypt


I recently read an article by Russell Middleton titled "Brother-Sister and Father-Daughter Marriage in Ancient Egypt". Upon studying the inner workings of Egypt and the Mesopotamian kings, I stumbled upon this piece and thought I would share the main points.

Brother-Sister and Father-Daughter Marriage in Ancient Egypt Overview

Anthropologists recognize that marrying one’s sister, brother, father, or mother was quite common in Ancient Egypt. Marriage of kin functioned "to preserve the purity of the royal blood line," to keep privilege and rank rigidly within the group .

The greatest instance of Pharaoh-sister marriage occurred during the Pharonic period. De Rouge called attention to evidence that Ramses II married two of his sisters and at least two of his daughters. This evidence was refuted by Erman, stating the title of "Royal Wife," bestowed upon daughters, was of mere ceremonial significance. There were no documented cases of brother-sister marriage during this period.

The Ptolemaic kings adopted the royal custom of sister-brother marriage, even though the union wasn’t actually permitted. Middleton mentions, of the thirteen Ptolemaic kings, seven contracted such marriages. Of those unions the most famous being between Ptolemy XIII, married to their sister, and the famous Cleopatra VI. Brother-sister marriage during the Greek period in Egypt seems to have been restricted to the royalty.

Commoners were practicing brother-sister marriage during the Roman period. Documents of a technical character have an "indisputable precision”, to attest to this fact. Most of the marriages were between full sisters.

Ultimately, this act of near kin marriages was a result of cross cultural influence, or rather the “diffusion hypothesis”. Middleton (1962) noted, this hypothesis does not answer the question of why the custom developed in the original host culture or why it was later adopted in a secondary culture.

Your thoughts?

Middleton, Russell. 1962 Brother-Sister and Father-Daughter Marriage in Ancient Egypt. American Sociological Review, Vol. 27, No. 5:603-611.

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3 Comments:

stewarth99 said...

I think I'm right in saying that recent DNA analasys has shown that many people are not the sons and daughters of the people they call their mother and/or father. The incidence of older sisters actually being their mothers has been astonishing. (Well, not really, given the lack of sex education and the social mores of the day against unmarried mothers).
Can we be sure that all the children of a father/daughter marriage or brother/sister marriage are actually incest as we understand it, or are such marriages a legality to preserve power and money?
Stewarth99

Lauren Axelrod said...

@stewarth99

In Sex and Gender, a class I have at the moment, the subject of incest comes up quite frequently. Although incest is a cultural universal, the acceptance of the actual act is difficult for other cultures to understand. Depending on whether the family's goal was to preserve the blood line or keep the money within the family, there certainly is no definitive answer as to why and the context of the practice.

So to answer your question:

"Can we be sure that all the children of a father/daughter marriage or brother/sister marriage are actually incest as we understand it, or are such marriages a legality to preserve power and money?"

We can't be sure unless we know the context of the arrangement. In the case of the Pharonic marriages, it was for ceremonial significance. Still we can't be sure.

ponnalayadaiah said...

In those days father daughter and brother sister marriage are acceptable but in these days these relations will not be accepted because the generation will improve knowledge and sense of relatiions that's why these kind of relations not marrying now a days

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