How should the medieval family be characterized? Who formed the household and what were the ties of kinship, law, and affection that bound the members together? David Herlihy explores these questions from ancient Greece to the households of fifteenth-century Tuscany, to provide a broad new interpretation of family life. In a series of bold hypotheses, he presents his ideas about the emergence of a distinctive medieval household and its transformation over a thousand years.
Ancient societies lacked the concept of the family as a moral unit and displayed an extraordinary variety of living arrangements, from the huge palaces of the rich to the hovels of the slaves. Not until the seventh and eighth centuries did families take on a more standard form as a result of the congruence of material circumstances, ideological pressures, and the force of cultural norms. By the eleventh century, families had acquired a characteristic kinship organization first visible among elites and then spreading to other classes. From an indifferent network of descent through either male or female lines evolved the new concept of patrilineage, or descent and inheritance through the male line. For the first time a clear set of emotional ties linked family members.
It is the author’s singular contribution to show how, as they evolved from their heritages of either barbarian society or classical antiquity, medieval households developed commensurable forms, distinctive ties of kindred, and a tighter moral and emotional unity to produce the family as we know it. Herlihy’s range of sources is prodigious: ancient Roman and Greek authors, Aquinas, Augustine, archives of monasteries, sermons of saints, civil and canon law, inquisitorial records, civil registers, charters, censuses and surveys, wills, marriage certificates, birth records, and more. This well-written book will be the starting point for all future studies of medieval domestic life.