Saturday, February 19, 2011
The Social System
The family group formed the foundation of Celtic society. This agnatic group [related through male descent or on the father's side] extended over four generations. It centered around groups of farmsteads, each the property of a particular family. The original settlement of the kindred group was called the "henfref". In the Welsh this family property came to be called the "trefs". As the number of family settlements began to increase in number and size, the holding of family meetings (courts) and the collection of dues (taxes) became more of a logistic problem. The "trefs" [12 - 16 in number] were then grouped into "commotes" to help facilitate the collection of dues and hold family meetings in a more central area. As the number of "commotes" increased in size, their organization became more important, and a group of commotes [4-6 in number] were formed into larger social units called "cantrefs". The cantrefs were roughly synonymous with the Anglo-Saxon hundred. The further up the social chain, the most distant the family relationships. You can begin to see how the leadership of the cantrefs would come into question, as the number of cantrefs increased, each being a different family [kindred group]. A group of cantrefs might form together to help one another in certain disputes. This group of cantrefs would need a chief leader, and soon these groups of cantrefs came under the control of a head, called ultimately a "king" by the Romans. Thus, the largest administrative unit in the Welsh culture became viewed as a "principality", under the rule of a single individual, which then became the rule of a single dynasty. In the Welsh, these political units were called a "gwlad". The head (king) exercised certain privileges which came to be called "prerogatives". As a male born into this social system, it was his standing in a network of kindred [trefs], rather than his standing as the citizen of a state, that determined his social status, his economic rights, and his legal obligations under tribal law.