Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Chapter VI
Sequence of Institutions Connected with the Family

It remains to place in their relations the customs and institutions which have contributed to the growth of the family through successive forms. Their articulation in a sequence is in part hypothetical; but there is an intimate and undoubted connection between them.

This sequence embodies the principal social and domestic institutions which have influenced the growth of the family from the consanguine to the monogamian.[1] They are to be understood as originating in the several branches of the human family substantially in the order named, and as existing generally in these branches while in the corresponding status.

First Stage of Sequence.

I. Promiscuous Intercourse.

II. Intermarriage of Brothers and Sisters, own and collateral, in a Group: Giving,-

III. The Consanguine Family. (First Stage of the Family): Giving,-

IV. The Malayan System of Consanguinity and Affinity.

Second Stage of Sequence.

V. The Organisation upon the basis of Sex, and the Punaluan Custom tending to check the intermarriage of brothers and sisters: Giving,-

VI. The Punaluan Family. (Second Stage of the Family)” Giving,- VII. The Organization into Gentes, which excluded brothers and sisters from the marriage relations: Giving,-

VIII. The Turanian and Ganowanian System of Con sanguinity and Affinity.

Third Stage of Sequence.

IX. Increasing Influence of Gentile Organization and improvement in the arts of life, advancing a portion of mankind into the Lower Statęs of barbarism: Giving,-

X. Marriage between Single Pairs, but without an exclusive cohabitation: Giving,-

XI. The Syndyasmian Family. (Third Stage of the Family.)

Fourth Stage of Sequence.

XII. Pastoral life on the plains in limited areas: Giving,-

XIII. The Patriarchal Family (Forth, but exceptional Stage of the Family.)

Fifth Stage of Sequence.

XIV. Rise of Property, and settlement of lineal succession to estates: Giving,-

XV. The Monogamian Family. (Fifth Stage of the Family): Giving,-

XVI. The Aryan, Semitic and Uralian system of Consanguinity and Affinity; and causing the overthrow of the Turanian.

A few observations upon the foregoing sequence of customs and institutions, for the purpose of tracing their connection and relations, will close this discussion of the growth of the family.

Like the successive geological foundations, the tribes of mankind may be arranged, according to their relative conditions, into successive strata. When thus arranged, they reveal with some degree of certainty the entire range of human progress from savagery to civilization. A thorough study of each successive stratum will develop whatever is special in its culture and characteristics, and yield a definite conception of the whole, in their differences and in their relations. When, this has been accomplished, the successive stages of human progress will be definitely understood. Time has been an important factor in the formation of these strata; and it must be measured out to each ethnical period in no stinted measure. Each period anterior to civilization necessarily represents many thousands of years.

Promiscuous Intercourse.- This expresses the lowest conceivable stage of savagery — it represents the bottom of the scale. Man in this condition could scarcely be distinguished from the mute animals by whom he was surrounded. Ignorant of marriage, and living probably in a horde, he was not only a savage, but possessed a feeble intellect and a feebler moral sense. His hope of elevation rested in the vigour of his passions, for he seems always to have been courageous; in the possession of hands physically liberated, and in the improvable character of his nascent mental and moral powers. In corroboration of this view, the lessening volume of the skull and its increasing animal characteristics, as we recede from civilized to savage man, deliver some testimony concerning the necessary inferiority of primitive man. Were it possible to reach this earliest representative of the species, we must descend very far below the lowest savage now living upon the earth. The ruder flint implements found over parts of the earth’s surface, and not used by existing savages, attest the extreme rudeness of his condition after he had emerged from his primitive habitat, and commenced, as a fisherman, his spread over continental areas. It is with respect to this primitive savage, and with respect to him alone, that promiscuity may be inferred.

It will be asked whether any evidence exists of this antecedent condition. As an answer, it may be remarked that the consanguine family and the Malayan system of consanguinity presuppose antecedent promiscuity. It was limited, not unlikely, to the period when mankind were frugivorous d within their primitive habitat, since its continuance would have been improbable after they became fishermen and commenced their spread over the earth in dependence upon food artificially acquired. Consanguine groups would then form, with intermarriage in the group as a necessity, resulting in the formation of consanguine families. At all events, the oldest form of society which meets us in the past through deduction from systems of consanguinity is this family. It would be in the nature of a compact on the part of several males for the joint subsistence of the group, and for the defence of their common wives against the violence of society. In the second place, the consanguine family is stamped with the marks of this supposed antecedent state. It recognized promiscuity within defined limits, and those not the narrowest, and it points through its organism to a worse condition against which it interposed a shield. Between the consanguine family and the horde living in promiscuity, the step, though a long one, does not require an intermediate condition. If such existed, no known trace of it remains. The solution of this question, however, is not material. It is sufficient, for the present at least, to have gained the definite starting-point far down in savagery marked out by the consanguine family, which carries back our knowledge of the early condition of mankind well toward the primitive period.

There were tribes of savages and even of barbarians known to the Greeks and Romans who are represented as living in promiscuity. Among them were the Auseans of North Africa, mentioned by Herodotus,[2] the Garamantes of Aethiopia, mentioned by Pliny,[3] and the Celts of Ireland, mentioned by Strabo.[4] The latter repeats a similar statement concerning the Arabs. It is not, probable that any people within the time of recorded human observation have lived in a state of promiscuous intercourse like the gregarious animals. The perpetuation of such a people from the infancy of mankind would evidently have been impossible. The cases cited, and many others that might be added, are better explained as arising under the punaluan family, which to the foreign observer, with limited means of observation, would afford the external indications named by these authors. Promiscuity may be deduced theoretically as a necessary condition antecedent to the consanguine family; but it lies concealed in the misty antiquity of mankind beyond the reach of positive knowledge.

II. Intermarriage of Brothers and Sisters, own and collateral, in a Group.- In this form of marriage the family had its birth. It is the root of the institution, The Malayan system of consanguinity affords conclusive evidence of its ancient prevalence. With the ancient existence of the con- sanguine family established, the remaining forms can be explained as successive derivations from each other. This form of marriage gives (III.) the consanguine family and (IV.) the Malayan system of consanguinity, which disposes of the third and fourth members of the sequence. This family belongs to the Lower Status of savagery,

V. The Punaluan Custom.- In the Australian male and female classes united in marriage, punaluan groups are found. Among the Hawaiians, the same group is also found, with the marriage custom it expresses. It has prevailed among the remote ancestors of all the tribes of mankind who now possess or have possessed the Turanian system of consanguinity, because they must have derived it from punaluan ancestors. There is seemingly no other explanation of the origin of this system. Attention has been called to the fact that the punaluan family included the same persons found in the previous consanguine, with the exception of own brothers and sisters, who were theoretically if not in every’ case excluded. It is a fair inference that the punaluan custom worked its wav into general adoption through a discovery of its beneficial influence. Out of punaluan marriage came (VI.) the punaluan family, which disposes of the sixth number of the sequence. This family originated, probably, in the Middle Status of savagery.

VII.: The Organization into Gentes.- The position of this institution in the sequence is the only question here to be considered. Among the Australian classes, the punaluan group is found on a broad and systematic scale. The people are also organized in gentes. Here the punaluan family is older than the gens, because it rested upon the classes which preceded the gentes. The Australians also have the Turanian system of consanguinity, for which the classes laid the foundation by excluding own brothers and sisters from the punaluan group united in marriage. They were born members of classes who could not intermarry. Among the Hawaiians, the punaluan family was unable to create the Turanian system of consanguinity. Own brothers and sisters were frequently involved in the punaluan group, which t-he custom did not prevent, although it tended to do so. This system requires both the punaluan family and the gentile organization to bring it into existence. It follows that the latter came in after and upon the former. In its relative order it belongs to the Middle Status of savagery.

VIII. and IX. These have been sufficiently considered.

X. and XI. Marriage between Single Pairs, and the Syndyasmian Family.- After mankind had advanced out of savagery and entered the Lower Status of barbarism, their condition was immensely improved. More than half the battle for civilization was won. A tendency to reduce the groups of married persons to smaller proportions must have begun to manifest itself before the close of savagery, because the syndyasmian family became a constant phenomenon in the Lower Status of barbarism. The custom which led the more advanced savage to recognize one among a number of wives as his principal wife, ripened in time into the practice of pairing, and in making this wife a companion and associate in the maintenance of a family. With the growth of the propensity to pair came an increased certainty of the paternity of children. But the husband could put away his wife, and the wife could leave her husband, and each seek a new mate at pleasure. Moreover, the man did not recognize, on his part, the obligations of the marriage tie, and therefore had no right to expect its recognition by his wife. The old conjugal system, now reduced to narrower limits by the: gradual disappearance of the punaluan groups, still environed the advancing family, which is was to follow to the verge of civilization, Its reduction to zero was a condition precedent to the introduction of monogamy. It finally disappeared in the new form of hetaerism, which still follows mankind in civilization as a dark shadow upon the family. The contrast between the punaluan and syndyasmian families was greater than between the latter and the monogamian. It was subsequent in time to the gens which was largely instrumental in its production. That it was a transitional stage of the family between the two is made evident by its inability to change materially the Turanian system of consanguinity, which monogamy alone was able to overthrow. From the Columbia River to the Paraguay, the Indian family was syndyasmian in general, punaluan in exceptional areas, and monogamian perhaps in none.

XII. and XIII. Pastoral Life and the Patriarchal Family. — It has been remarked elsewhere that polygamy was not the essential feature of this family, which represented a movement of society to assert the individuality of persons, Among the Semitic tribes, it was an organization of servants and slaves under a patriarch for the care of flocks and herds, for the cultivation of lands, and for mutual protection and subsistence. Polygamy was incidental. With a single male head and an exclusive cohabitation, this family was an advance upon the syndyasmian, and therefore not a retrograde movement. Its influence upon the human race was limited; but it carries with it a confession of a state of society in the previous period against which it was designed to form a barrier.

XIV. Rise of Property and the establishment of lineal succession to Estates.- Independently of the movement which culminated in the patriarchal family of the Hebrew and Latin types, property, as it increased in variety and amount, exercised a steady and constantly augmenting influence in the direction of monogamy. It is impossible to overestimate the influence of property in the civilization of mankind. It was the power that brought the Aryan and Semitic nations out of barbarism into civilization. The growth of the idea of property in the human mind commenced in feebleness and ended in becoming its master passion. Governments and laws are instituted with primary reference to its creation, protection and enjoyment. It introduced human slavery as an instrument in its production; and, after the experience of several thousand years, it caused the abolition of slavery upon the discovery that a freeman was a better property-making machine. The cruelty inherent in the heart of man, which civilization and Christianity have softened without eradicating, still betrays the savage origin of mankind, and in no way more pointedly than in the practice of human slavery, through all the centuries of recorded history. With the establishment of the inheritance of property in the children of its owner, came the first possibility of a strict monogamian family. Gradually, though slowly, this form of marriage, with an exclusive cohabitation, became the rule rather than the exception; but it was not until civilization had commenced that it became permanently established.

XV. The Monogamian Family.- As finally constituted, this family assured the paternity of children, substituted the individual ownership of real as well as personal property for joint ownership, and an exclusive inheritance by children in the place of agnatic inheritance. Modern society reposes upon the monogamian family. The whole previous experience and progress of mankind culminated and crystallized in this pre-eminent institution. It was a slow growth, planting its roots far back in the period of savagery — a final result toward which the experience of the ages steadily tended. Although essentially modern, it was the product of a vast and varied experience.

XVI. The Aryan, Semitic and Uralian system of consanguinity, which are essentially identical, were created by the monogamian family. Its relationships are those which actually existed under this form of marriage and of the family. A system of consanguinity is not an arbitrary enactment, but a natural growth. It expresses, and must of necessity express, the actual facts of consanguinity as they appeared to the common mind when the system was formed. As the Aryan system establishes the antecedent existence of a monogamian family, so the Turanian establishes the antecedent existence of a punaluan family, and the Malayan the antecedent existence of a consanguine family. The evidence they contain must be regarded as conclusive, because of its convincing character in each case. With the existence established of three kinds of marriage, of three forms of the family, and of three systems of consanguinity, nine of the sixteen members of the sequence are sustained. The existence and relations of the remainder are warranted by sufficient proof.

The views herein presented contravene, as I am aware, an assumption which has for centuries been generally accepted. It is the hypothesis of human degradation to explain the existence of barbarians and of savages, who were found physically and mentally, too far below the conceived standard of a supposed original man. It was never a scientific proposition supported by facts. It is refuted by the connect ed series of inventions and discoveries, by the progressive development of the social system, and by the successive forms of the family. The Aryan and Semitic peoples descended from barbarous ancestors. The question then meets us, how could these barbarians have attained to the Upper Status of barbarism, in which they first appear, without previously passing through the experience and acquiring the arts and development of the Middle Status; and, further than this, how could they have attained to the Middle Status without first passing through the experience of the Lower. Back of these is the further question, how a barbarian could exist without a previous savage. This hypothesis of degradation leads to another necessity, namely; that of regarding all the races of mankind without the Aryan and Semitic connections as abnormal races — races fallen away by degeneracy from their normal state. The Aryan and Semitic nations, it is true, represent the main streams of human progress, because they have carried it to the highest point yet attained; but there are good reasons for supposing: that-:before they became differentiated into Aryan and Semitic tribes, they formed a part of the indistinguishable mass of barbarians. As these tribes themselves sprang remotely from barbarous, and still more remotely from savage ancestors, the distinction of normal and abnormal races falls to the ground.

This sequence, moreover, contravenes some of the conclusions of that body of eminent scholars who, in their speculations upon the origin of society, have adopted the patriarchal family of the Hebrew and Latin types as the oldest form of the family, and as producing the earliest organized society. The human race is thus invested from its infancy with a knowledge of the family under paternal power. Among the latest, and holding foremost rank among them, is Sir Henry Maine, whose brilliant researches in the sources of ancient law, and in the early history of institutions, have advanced so largely our knowledge of them. The patriarchal family, it is true, is the oldest made known to us by ascending along the lines of classical and Semitic authorities; but an investigation along these lines is unable to penetrate beyond the Upper Status of barbarism, leaving at least four entire ethnical periods untouched, and their connection unrecognized. It must be admitted, however, that the facts with respect to the early condition of mankind have been but recently produced, and that judicious investigators are justly careful about surrendering old doctrines for new.

Unfortunately for the hypothesis of degradation, inventions and discoveries would come one by one; the knowledge of a cord must precede the bow and arrow, as the knowledge of gunpowder preceded the musket, and that of the steam- engine preceded the railway and the steamship; so the arts of subsistence followed each other at long intervals of time, and human tools passed through forms of flint and stone before they were formed of iron. In like manner institutions of government are a growth from primitive germs of thought. Growth, development and transmission, must explain their existence among civilized nations. Not less clearly was the monogamian family derived, by experience, through the syndyasmian from the punaluan, and the still more ancient consanguine family. If, finally, we are obliged to surrender the antiquity of the monogamian family, we gain a knowledge of its derivation, which is of more importance, because it reveals the price at which it was obtained. The antiquity of mankind upon the earth is now established by a body of evidence sufficient to convince unprejudiced mind. The existence of the race goes back definitely to the glacial period in Europe, and even back of it into the anterior period. We are now compelled to recognize the prolonged and unmeasured ages of man’s existence. The human mind is naturally and justly curious to know some- thing of the life of man during the last hundred thousand or more years, now that we are assured his days have been so long upon the earth. All this time could not have been spent in vain, His great and marvellous achievements prove the contrary, as well as imply the expenditure of long protracted ethnical periods. The fact that civilization was so recent suggests the difficulties in the way of human progress, and affords some intimation of the lowness of the level from which mankind started on their career. The foregoing sequence may require modification, arid perhaps essential change in some of its members; but it affords both a rational and a satisfactory explanation of the facts of human experience, so far as they are known, and of the course of human progress, in developing the ideas of the family and of government in the tribes of mankind.


1. It is a revision of the sequence presented in “Systems of Consanguinity,” etc., p. 480.

2. Lib, iv, c. 180.

3. Garamantes matrimonium exsortes passim cum femines degunt.- “Nat. Hist.,” Iib. v. c. 8.

4. Lib. iv, c. 5, par. 4.

5. Lib. xvi, c. 4, par. 25.