Marriage by Capture

By Allen, Nick | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Marriage by Capture


Allen, Nick, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


For the student of marriage by capture (cf. Barnes 1999) Indo-European comparativism provides interesting material that is probably little known among anthropologists. The key work is Dum[acute{e}]zil's Manages indo-europ[acute{e}]ens (1979), which centres on a comparison between Roman and Sanskrit marital law, while also drawing in material from Greek and Scandinavian epic traditions. This work argued, inter alia, that in the early Indo-European world marriage by capture was one item in a list of recognized modes of marital union, and that this list was structured in conformity with the primitive classification dominating the ideology. The ideology, as Dum[acute{e}]zil had argued elsewhere, was triadic and was expressed, for instance, in the ideal hierarchical division of labour between priests, warriors and producers, who represent the famous 'three functions'. Simplifying rather brutally, one can say that within this particular tradition marriage by gift or dowry represents the first function, marriage by capture the second, and marriage by bride-price the third (the basic Sanskrit text is easily accessible in Doniger 1991: 45-6).

Despite the prodigious achievements of Dum[acute{e}]zil, it is arguable that his model of early Indo-European ideology needs to be supplemented by a bifid fourth function, which adds to the ideal division of labour a place for the king at the top of the hierarchy and for slaves or other outsiders at the bottom. With this pentadic scheme in mind it is interesting to study the marital history of the central hero of India's Great Epic, which in some ways can be regarded as the charter myth of classical Hinduism. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna at one point leaves his wife in the interior of the subcontinent and travels to the cardinal points. …

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