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Old February 14th, 2010, 06:58 PM   #1

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Ancient Brother/Sister Marriages


Right now I'm reading a really good biography of Cleopatra. I am aware that she married her brother, but this book also indicates that her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, was also married his sister (whose name was Cleopatra the Seventh ).

The ancient Egyptian custom of royal siblings marrying and raising families, therefore, obviously continued at least up to the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty - I highly doubt that it was continued in Muslim days, though

A friend of mine knows a lot more about ancient Egypt than me, the biased Romanophile that I am, and she told me that brother-sister marriages were considered vulgar amongst Egyptian commoners; she said this was a ritual custom for royalty alone.

So was this indeed solely a royal phenomenon? And if so, what was it's special significance, besides apparently preserving the family's "purity"?

And, on the topic of historical sibling marriages in general, were they widespread, did they exist in other cultures? Or was this just an Egyptian thing? Do you think such marriages were successful on a personal level, in terms of the bond between them as man and wife, their sex lives, childrearing, etc ?
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Old February 14th, 2010, 07:38 PM   #2

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Re: Ancient Brother/Sister Marriages


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Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
Right now I'm reading a really good biography of Cleopatra. I am aware that she married her brother, but this book also indicates that her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, was also married his sister (whose name was Cleopatra the Seventh ).

The ancient Egyptian custom of royal siblings marrying and raising families, therefore, obviously continued at least up to the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty - I highly doubt that it was continued in Muslim days, though

A friend of mine knows a lot more about ancient Egypt than me, the biased Romanophile that I am, and she told me that brother-sister marriages were considered vulgar amongst Egyptian commoners; she said this was a ritual custom for royalty alone.

So was this indeed solely a royal phenomenon? And if so, what was it's special significance, besides apparently preserving the family's "purity"?

And, on the topic of historical sibling marriages in general, were they widespread, did they exist in other cultures? Or was this just an Egyptian thing? Do you think such marriages were successful on a personal level, in terms of the bond between them as man and wife, their sex lives, childrearing, etc ?
I am not good with names, but I think the Greeks did it. I know a lot of civilizations allowed marriages of their cousins.

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Incestuous unions were frowned upon and considered as nefas (against the laws of gods and man) in the Roman Empire. In AD 295 incest was explicitly forbidden by an imperial edict, which divided the concept of incestus into two categories of unequal gravity: the incestus iuris gentium, which was applied to both Romans and non-Romans in the Empire, and the incestus iuris civilis, which concerned only Roman citizens. Therefore, for example, an Egyptian could marry an aunt, but a Roman could not. Despite the act of incest being unacceptable within the Roman Empire, Roman Emperor Caligula is rumored to have had sexual relationships with all three of his sisters (Julia Livilla, Drusilla, and Agrippina the Younger). Emperor Claudius, after executing his previous wife, married his niece Agrippina the Younger, changing the law to allow an otherwise illegal union. The taboo against incest in Ancient Rome is demonstrated by the fact that politicians would use charges of incest (often false charges) as insults and means of political disenfranchisement.


Many European monarchs were related due to political marriages, sometimes resulting in distant cousins (and even first cousins) being married. This was especially true in the Habsburg, Hohenzollern and Bourbon royal houses.
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Old February 15th, 2010, 12:50 AM   #3
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Re: Ancient Brother/Sister Marriages


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Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
A friend of mine knows a lot more about ancient Egypt than me, the biased Romanophile that I am, and she told me that brother-sister marriages were considered vulgar amongst Egyptian commoners; she said this was a ritual custom for royalty alone.
IMO your friend is right regarding Egyptians, however we have little data to base an opinion and even less about what they think. As fas as royalty is concerned I do not see anything ritual in brother-sister marriage and in fact there are few of them; same comment about father-daughter marriages.
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