SFI’s Paula Sabloff examines link between royal marriages and risk reduction in pre-modern states


A nobleman and his wife. Old Kingdom Egypt. Source: Wikimedia.

What role did women play in pre-modern politics and warfare? Dr. Paula Sabloff explores the role of marriage and royal women in pre-modern patron-alliance networks in a recent article published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and long-time advisor to the Seshat project, Sabloff has encouraged our project members to look more closely into the role of women in pre-modern history. The article, “How Pre-Modern State Rulers Used Marriage to Reduce the Risk of Losing at War: A Comparison of Eight States,” explores the connection between royal marriage and risk reduction in pre-modern states.

In her past work, Sabloff analyzed the differences between patron-client relationships and alliances, a crucial difference that, as Sabloff points out, is too often blurred by archaeologists and historians of military history. As opposed to alliances formed between equal partners in pursuit of some mutual goal, patron-client relationships are formed between unequal partners. Her new article focuses on royal marriages between patrons—who ‘send’ wives—and their less prominent clients—who ‘receive’ the women and accept numerous obligations to the patron, including all-important military support. Pre-modern rulers tried to reduce their chances of losing wars by sending royal women to marry associates, whether rulers of nearby-states, former rulers of newly-conquered territory, or powerful elites within the same society, writes Sabloff. These royal marriages created long-term network ties between patrons and clients. Clients then supported patrons by sending troops and aid in times of war.

In the article, Sabloff examined royal marriage and patron-client relationships in eight pre-modern states and uncovered six patterns of marriage and military support practiced by rulers. The most practiced rule is the one outlined above—the marriage between a patron’s female kin and his client to increase the patron’s chances of receiving military support and tribute from the client. This was practiced in six of the pre-modern states examined by Sabloff. In another pattern, patrons also used elite members of their polity for client marriages. Sabloff also examines patterns of marriage amongst equally allied rulers. Sabloff concludes that in all eight societies surveyed, royal marriages in patron-client relationships were based on the ranks of both parties involved. In addition, these patterns developed independently in at least five of the states surveyed.

This research stems from Sabloff’s work on an archaeological database on roles and statues on pre-modern states. This database will be linked with Seshat: Global History Databank upon its completion.

Read the full article here

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