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In a hereditary monarchy, kinship mattered; yet, royal family members are too often relegated to the background in contemporary scholarship on the princely states. This chapter shows that royal family members could muster significant social, political, cultural, and economic capital in support of their various personal and political projects, and often figured prominently in the records as the Resident’s greatest allies, or greatest foes. Residents developed a range of strategies for co-opting or side-lining younger brothers, uncles, and nephews, who, despite being useful informants, were also destabilizing forces in regional politics, and a drain on the Company’s time and resources. Women played an even more important role at court, one that has been obscured in previous accounts of the Residencies. This chapter shows not only how the Resident sought to mobilize royal women for his purposes, but also how royal women themselves laid a claim on the Resident’s services through the idiom of kinship and protection, often with significant consequences for the Resident’s political strategy at court. Rather than simplifying their job, the Residents need to work through royal families in fact introduced significant complications.
Sex offered intimate access to the emperor; imperial sex partners therefore were potentially amongst the most influential members of court, even if they lacked official positions or were of low social status. This chapter begins by discussing and explaining an historical anomaly: the absence at Rome of a ‘harem’ – an institutionalized reserve of women attached to the court as exclusive sexual partners for the emperor. It then examines the access to the emperor that sexual partners like concubines had, and the influence of these partners on court dynamics. Finally, it considers the role of sex, sexuality, and gender expression in the performance of imperial power at court. Underlying the analysis are the often outrageous tales told by the sources about emperors’ sex lives; the chapter argues that these cannot be simply taken at face value but are useful in reconstructing patterns of thinking about how sex intersected with imperial power.
Grandfathers took great pride in their grandchildren and in the continuation of the family line, but they contributed far less to their families than did their wives. As they aged they moved into a pleasant, quiescent stage of life. There were/are many gentle, calming pursuits to pass the time: keeping songbirds, practising taiji, doing calligraphy, writing poetry. Old men spent time in the company of other old men, often in teahouses or parks. Their remaining family responsibilities were agreeable. The literate ones taught their grandchildren calligraphy. They were responsible for the complex practices of choosing the grandchildren’s names. They passed on family history and lore.
Affluent men could practice polygamy. A woman could only marry once, but her husband could take as many concubines as he wanted – and could afford. He might have children who were younger than his oldest grandchildren. Polygamous families were usually full of conflict, far from the men’s ideal. Formal polygamy is now outlawed, though the practice of keeping a ‘little wife’, in a separate establishment, is not.
Stemming from its primeval origins in ancient notions of punitive punishment, by medieval times, Chinese slavery had already long ago become culturally embedded enough to function effectively as an invisible institution, practiced endogenously as well as exogenously. Since earliest times, slave status in medieval China, which was a class-bound, inheritable, and thus only rarely escapable condition, tended to befall either the surviving dependents of executed elites who had contravened authority or else those oftentimes non-Chinese unfortunates—combatants or otherwise—who were captured alive in battle or simply taken by force. Additionally, at any time, exigency could compel the sale of children into slavery. Slaves themselves were divided into two broad categories according to ownership, being either official slaves or private slaves. A crucial development of the medieval age is that both types of slaves came to be accounted for in the dynastic legal codes, which was an especially important occurrence for private slaves because, for the first time, their treatment by their masters became regulated. Finally worth noting in the medieval Chinese case is the prominence of specialized functionaries who, although unfree by any measure, were not typically regarded societally as slaves. Included under this rubric were eunuchs and concubines.
Much evidence – textual, material and documentary – points to slavery in the early and medieval Islamic Middle East (c. 600-1000 CE) as a social fact, persistent and multivalent. This is especially true for the urban landscape: the presence of enslaved and freed persons would have been impossible to miss. More difficult is the reconstruction of Middle Eastern agrarian slavery. This is a survey essay with particular reference to the early Abbasid Caliphate (c. 750-950) and select questions around which debate in modern scholarship has grown. One must comb medieval Arabic texts (literary and documentary) to reconstruct patterns of early Islamic-era enslavement; the organization and dynamics of slave commerce; the demands on slave and freed labor; and the (relative) social integration of the enslaved. The Arabic/Islamic library illuminates all manner of topics, religious and secular alike. Literary references to slavery and/or enslaved persons therein are plentiful and of a great variety. One has references in works of poetry and adab, an elastic term used for a variety of Arabic prose writings. Equally numerous are references in chronicles, biographical dictionaries, and works of geography and political thought. Medieval Arabic legal and religious writings provide a considerable number of references as well.
This chapter asks what light the well-known but little understood story of Augustine’s relationship to the mother of his first child can shed on our understanding of marriage as an asymmetrical institution in the Roman period. Reviewing the evidence that both pagans and Christians in late antiquity expected a ‘double standard’ for men and women where marital fidelity was concerned, we suggest that Augustine’s On the Good of Marriage argued for a new marriage ethics based on sexual symmetry, capturing a new spirit of criticism for the double standard in fourth-century preaching, and that Augustine invoked his own experiences (as recounted in the Confessions) in order to drive home his argument.
This chapter begins with a consideration of concubines, that is, women who had a recognized status as social and sexual partners but were not wives, in the Roman empire and early medieval Europe. As the Church exerted stricter control of lay family arrangements, royal concubinage tended to disappear, to be replaced by purely informal, if often powerful, royal mistresses, mainly drawn from the aristocracy. The kings of Castile were notable for their long-term mistresses, whose children were often of political importance. Bastard sons were usually, but not always, excluded from succession to the throne. Examples of those who did become kings are discussed, including Tancred of Sicily, Henry of Trastámara and John of Avis, king of Portugal. Bastard children of rulers were often publicly recognized, and sometimes culturally identifiable through their names or coats-of-arms. There is a full discussion of the way illegitimate children could be legitimized.
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