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Celtic families: who's your daddy?

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Alisha Marie Klapheke
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Celtic families: who's your daddy?

Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Fri May 11th, 2012, 3:15 am

Okay so I know that generally speaking, Celtic (I know it isn't a great term--we're not going off about that right now) children were "farmed out" to their mother's brother, right?

So did they have any interaction with their real fathers?

Would their uncles act like our own version of what it means to be a dad?

Which male would make a decision affecting the child's life?

Annis, I'm wiggling my eyebrows at you. You know everything! Bring it on!

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Post by annis » Fri May 11th, 2012, 7:56 pm

Eek! I’m no expert on Celtic history, I’m afraid, Alisha - you probably know as much as I do! To be honest, I'm not sure that all that much is definitively known about the structure of the family in Celtic society- it appears to have been subsumed into the importance of the clan/tribe in various ways. Much of what we know comes from the Irish experience through legends /histories/genealogies.

Here's a general article about the society and culture of the Celts focusing on Ireland:
http://www.greyhawkes.com/text/celts.txt

Class, kinship and fosterage appear to have been the building blocks of Celtic society in Ireland but the Celts were widely spread and though we can maybe assume some similarities in social structure to the Irish situation, particularly in the British Isles, there could well have been significant differences. Here's another article which examines Celtic fosterage in a wider North-West European context:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/24839950/Celt ... est-Europe

Celtic avuncular fosterage is predicated on Celtic society being matrilineal in nature and I think this premise comes mostly from Irish and Welsh mythology, though the uncle/nephew relationship is mentioned here and there in writings by Romans like Tacitus and Livy. What other evidence there is I’m unclear about.

There is an interesting piece by Jan Bremmer on Avunculate and Fosterage in the Indo-European tradition here:
http://keur.eldoc.ub.rug.nl/FILES/weten ... 3/5293.pdf

It’s a fascinating subject- sorry I can’t help you more :) It might be worth trying someone like HF member Sarah Woodbury, who is much more knowledgeable than me in this area.
Last edited by annis on Sat May 12th, 2012, 3:49 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Alisha Marie Klapheke
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Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Fri May 11th, 2012, 8:46 pm

Thanks, Annis! I'll go through these links. I'm studying Celts in the British Isles--particularly in southern England--and I know there isn't really anything definitive. My WIP is not hist fic; I'm merely using history to inspire my flights of fancy, if you will.

Great idea to ask Sarah. I haven't chatted with her in a while.

Thanks again!

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Post by SGM » Fri May 11th, 2012, 9:55 pm

[quote=""Alisha Marie Klapheke""]Thanks, Annis! I'll go through these links. I'm studying Celts in the British Isles--particularly in southern England--and I know there isn't really anything definitive. My WIP is not hist fic; I'm merely using history to inspire my flights of fancy, if you will.

Great idea to ask Sarah. I haven't chatted with her in a while.

Thanks again![/quote]

What period are you thinking about? I assume you are asking about the ancient Celts, in which case you could try books by Barry Cunliffe and/or Nora Chadwick. A long long time ago, I also read M I Finley but I seem to remember that took the Celts more back to their early European origins (not sure I remember that well).

Although, we Celts still exist in the UK today and none of my brothers were farmed out to relatives. I don't think they would have had them -- too much sense.
Last edited by SGM on Fri May 11th, 2012, 9:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Fosterage

Post by AnnaP » Sun May 13th, 2012, 10:42 am

If the Britons' system of fosterage was similar to the Old Irish you might find Fergus Kelly's book informative A Guide to early Irish Law He has a chapter on Law of Persons and fosterage is covered in some detail. Apparently the intimate forms of mother and father were transferred to the foster-parents as muimme and aite. Less common Old Irish words for foster-father and foster-mother were datán and datnat, the 'dat' being pronounced as dad. So children calling their foster-parents 'mummy' and 'dad' indicates that their intimate relationships were with the foster-parents, rather than their actual parents.
Kelly's book gives all sorts of details about the responsibilities and obligations of all parties to the fosterage arrangement as set out in the Cáin Íarraith, 'the law of fosterage-fee'

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Post by Margaret » Tue May 15th, 2012, 5:52 am

The ancient Celts lived in fairly small communities, so it's not like the children wouldn't be in touch with their fathers. The origin of the custom might have matriarchal connections - people could be more certain that the mother's brother was related to her children (and would genuinely care about them) than that her husband was. The mother and her brother at the very least shared the same mother (the children's grandmother), whereas the nominal father might not actually be a blood relation at all. The ancient Celts were unusual among early cultures because of their relatively relaxed attitude to unfaithfulness among women.

Another ancient Celtic fosterage custom involved the royal families sending the boys to be raised by foster parents who might or might not be relations; the purpose of this was similar to the purpose of marriage alliances.
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Post by erechwydd » Tue May 15th, 2012, 1:28 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]The ancient Celts were unusual among early cultures because of their relatively relaxed attitude to unfaithfulness among women.[/quote]

Slightly OT, but I've come across this idea before and I'm curious as to its origins. Do we actually have any textual evidence for this? I admit to being slightly sceptical, because what I've seen so far of the Classical reports of Celts, and the Irish and Welsh laws (though I realise they're likely to have been influenced by Christianity), seem to me to suggest that female unfaithfulness was not necessarily an acceptable behaviour, compared to faithfulness. But, of course, if there is evidence to the contrary, I would love to know. :)
Last edited by erechwydd on Tue May 15th, 2012, 3:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Thu May 17th, 2012, 2:56 am

Thanks Margaret, AnnaP, and SGM. I am talking right before the Atrebates' big cheese made a deal with the Romans. Iron Age.

I've read all that Cunliffe has to offer so perhaps I just missed it. I've read excerpts from Chadwick's work but not all. I'll look into that.

I'm probably overthinking it. I'm not writing straight hist fic so I can bend as much as I choose. It's for a YA Paranormal I'm working on involving a boy spiritually tied to an ancient oak. He was born in the abovementioned time period. I do like to include "real" history though bc it's always interesting.

erechwydd, I've never seen textual evidence but I did read some expert's theory that sounds like what Margaret said. Can't remember who...

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Post by Margaret » Thu May 17th, 2012, 5:06 am

female unfaithfulness was not necessarily an acceptable behaviour, compared to faithfulness
It wasn't approved of, but the attitude was relatively relaxed. In other cultures around the same time, unfaithful women might be put to death in gory ways. Celtic husbands were allowed to beat or divorce their wives for unfaithfulness, but there was no required statutory punishment (until the Romans imposed their own laws in Britain), and any children resulting from an extramarital affair were accepted without stigma. At least, this is what I recall from my past reading in various secondary sources. Primary sources would include things like the Welsh law codes of Hywel Dda (not sure I'm spelling this correctly), Irish law codes, the Welsh triads, myths and legends that would reflect pagan Celtic attitudes, etc.
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Post by erechwydd » Thu May 17th, 2012, 12:09 pm

Alisha and Margaret, thanks for your replies. :)

The Germans (according to Tacitus) didn't put unfaithful wives to death either. Stripped, shorn, flogged, but apparently not killed. (Although obviously ostracised.) Certainly we don't see anything this drastic reported as occurring amongst the Celts or Britons. But I'd still be interested to know the origin of the theory, if you do remember who the expert was, Alisha!
I think really I misunderstood your use of the word 'relaxed', Margaret - sorry - thinking that it meant that although female infidelity wasn't approved, there wasn't much comeback at all. I take your point about the Celtic (I'd guess mostly Irish) myths; I know there's a good deal of bed-hopping - although I do think that what goes for the goddesses and heroines doesn't always go for your average girl. (And Echaid in 'The Kin-Slaying of Ronan' certainly doesn't get away with attempted infidelity, although...er...possibly that's because she solicits her own stepson.) Interestingly the Laws of Hywel Dda seem to talk about the defences an accused woman can use, but I can't immediately see anything about what the punishment might have been if she was found guilty. Maybe ultimately it was a personal choice thing. Anyway, it's nice to know that you could quite acceptably leave your husband if he had bad breath. But that really is OT! :p

ETA: Also interesting that the Welsh Triads mention the Three Faithless Wives of the Island of Britain. But no-one ever says what became of them. I don't know if that's evidence for a more relaxed attitude, or just plain unhelpful! ;) In a more 'Iron Age' context, just remembered Argentocoxus' wife who supposedly talked positively about consorting openly with men (compared to the secret debauchery of the Romans), so maybe that has some bearing on the issue.
Last edited by erechwydd on Thu May 17th, 2012, 1:15 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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