Patrilineality (or agnatic kinship) is a system in which one belongs to one's father's lineage.[1] It generally involves the inheritance of property, names or titles through the male line as well.

A patriline is literally a father line; one's patriline is one's father and his father and his father... ad infinitum, one's nearly infinite line of fathers. The two corresponding adjective forms are patrilineal and father-line. One's patriline is thus a line of descent from a male ancestor to a descendant (of either sex) in which the individuals in all intervening generations are fathers. A man's genetic Y-DNA and his family name (in most cultures) have descended down this same line from father to son. In a patrilineal descent system (= agnatic descent), an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as his or her father. This patrilineal descent pattern is much more common than matrilineal descent, see the article on family names which are almost all patrilineal surnames. Also for an indepth treatment of current patrilineal surnames, globally, see the same article.

The agnatic ancestry of an individual is that person's pure male ancestry. An agnate is one's genetic relative exclusively through males: a kinsman with whom one has a common ancestor by descent in unbroken male line.

In cultural anthropology, a patrilineage (or patriclan) is a consanguineal male and female kin group each of whom is related to the common ancestor through male forebears.


Salic Law

In parts of medieval and later Europe, the Salic Law was purported to be the grounds for males alone being eligible to inherit land, with particular emphasis applied to hereditary succession of monarchies and fiefs, i.e. in patrilineal or agnatic succession. The true scope and sway of the Salic Law was never defined rigidly, the original 6th century text being both ambiguously worded and originating in a kingdom long extinct. Although observance of, or disregard for, the Law was primarily a matter of political expediency rather than legal principle, it was broadly understood to prevail in domains that were originally Frankish or at some time accepted Salian Frankish juridical principles. The last practical effect of the Salic Law at the international level was the separation of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg from the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1890, almost fourteen centuries after the Law was codified. Strict Salic inheritance has been officially revoked in all extant European monarchies except for the Principality of Liechtenstein; however it is still recognized in the House laws of many non-sovereign noble families.

Genetic genealogy

The fact that Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) is paternally inherited enables patrilines, and agnatic kinships, of men to be traced through genetic analysis.

Y-chromosomal Adam (Y-MRCA) is the patrilineal human most recent common ancestor, from whom all Y-DNA in living men is descended. Y-chromosomal Adam probably lived between 60,000 and 90,000 years ago, judging from molecular clock and genetic marker studies.

Early medical theories

In ancient medicine there was a dispute between the one-seed theory, expounded by Aristotle, and the two-seed theory of the 2nd century A.D. Roman physician Galen. By the one-seed theory, the germ of every embryo is contained entirely in the male seed, and the role of the mother is simply as an incubator and provider of food: on this view only a patrilineal relative is genetically related. By the two-seed theory, the embryo is not conceived unless the male and female seed meet: this implies a bilineal, or cognatic, theory of relationship. It may be significant that Galen lived at about the same time (129 – 199/217 AD) that Roman law changed from the agnate to the cognate system of relationships.

Common to both theories was the mistaken belief that the female emits seed only when she comes to orgasm. Given that assumption, the evidence for the one-seed theory is the fact that a woman can conceive without coming to orgasm (though this was still a matter of dispute in the ancient world and the Middle Ages[2]). The evidence for the two-seed theory is the fact that a person can look like his or her maternal relatives. These two facts could not be reconciled until the discovery of ovulation in the early 19th century, confirming the two-seed theory as biological fact and dissociating the production of female seed from the occurrence of the orgasm.

In early Greek and Roman history, a few philosophers[who?] claimed that although every child has one absolute mother, it did not follow that every child had one absolute father. They suggested that a child's genetic character could be influenced by the seed of two or more men if they had inseminated the same mother. This was considered a fringe theory even in its time, however, and was never widely accepted. Traces of such a theory appear to underline various myths of a hero (such as Heracles) with both a human and a divine father.[citation needed]

Roman law

In Roman law, agnati were persons related through males only, as opposed to cognati. Agnation was founded on the idea of the family held together by the patria potestas; cognatio involves simply the modern idea of kindred.

In Roman times, all citizens were divided by gens (clan) and familia (sept), determined on a purely patrilineal basis, in the same way as the modern inheritance of surnames. (The gens was the larger unit, and was divided into several familiae: a person called "Gaius Iulius Caesar" belonged to the Julian gens and the Caesar family.)

In the early Republic, inheritance could only occur within the family, and was therefore purely agnatic.  Women were largely excluded from inheritance until the Middle Republic, but suffered a legal setback in the passage of the Lex Voconia in 169 BC. This was however evaded by careful planning, and by 42 BC, many women had inherited large wealth.

In Imperial times[when?], the system favoring patrilineal inheritance was changed by the Praetorian edict[clarification needed], giving paternal and maternal relatives equal rights. 

In the Bible

The line of descent for monarchs and main personalities is almost exclusively through males. Tribal descent, such as whether one is a kohen or a Levite, is still inherited patrilineally in Judaism,[3] as is communal identity as a Sephardi or Ashkenazi. This contrasts with the rule for inheritance of Jewish status in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, which is matrilineal. Karaite Judaism interprets the Tanakh to indicate that Jewish status is only inherited patrilineally. See Davidic line and Matrilineality in Judaism.[4][5]

Agnatic succession

Traditionally, agnatic succession is applied in determining the names and membership of European dynasties, often with reference to the tenets of Salic law, which emphasized male primogeniture. Under Salic law an agnatic heir to a throne or title can still be female, provided that the kinship is calculated patrilineally and there are no male siblings of equal descent.[6]

As an example, because Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom was married to a prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, her son and successor, Edward VII, was a member of that dynasty, and is considered the first British king of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, later changed to Windsor, and so are his descendants in the male line (see Elizabeth II's ancestry; a roughly similar situation will occur on the succession of Elizabeth II, who married a Mountbatten whose actual patriline is of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg). Victoria is reckoned to have belonged to her father's House of Hanover, despite her marriage and the fact that by marriage she legally became a member of the Saxon dynasty and acquired the surname of that family, Wettin. Agnatically she was a Hanover and is considered the last member of that dynasty to reign over Britain.

A variant to agnatic succession through primogeniture is agnatic seniority in which inheritance passes to the eldest male member of the family, typically the eldest surviving brother, rather than the eldest son of the deceased father.

Some European dynasties, such as the Monarchy of Sweden, have had their traditional agnatic succession replaced with equal primogeniture, meaning that the first child born to a monarch becomes the heir to the throne, regardless of the sex of the child.

See also


  1. ^ Benokraitis, N. V. Marriages and Families. 7th Edition, Pearson Education, Inc., 2011
  2. ^ In some cultures[which?] a rapist could not be convicted if his victim had conceived, as this was taken as evidence that she had come to orgasm and therefore welcomed his attentions.
  3. ^ This has led to the idea of a single male ancestor of all males members of these groups. In the Bible this individual is identified as Aaron, brother of Moses, so the hypothetical figure is known as the Y-chromosomal Aaron.
  4. ^ intermarriage.html
  5. ^
  6. ^ Murphy, Michael Dean. "A Kinship Glossary: Symbols, Terms, and Concepts". Retrieved 2006-10-05. 

External links

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