Descent from antiquity
Descent from antiquity (DFA) is the project of establishing a well-researched, generation-by-generation descent of living persons from people living in antiquity. It is an ultimate challenge in prosopography and genealogy.
The idea of descent from antiquity is by no means new to genealogists. Hellenistic dynasties, such as the Ptolemies, claimed descent from gods and legendary heroes. In the Middle Ages, major royal dynasties of Europe sponsored compilations claiming their descent from Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, in particular the rulers of Troy (see also British Israelism, Euhemerism). Such claims were intended as propaganda glorifying a royal patron by trumpeting the antiquity and nobility of his ancestry. These descent lines included not only mythical figures but also stretches of outright fiction, much of which is still widely perpetuated today. The distinguishing feature of a DFA compared to such efforts is the intent to establish an ancestry that is historically accurate and verifiable. Nevertheless, DFA research still focuses on the ancestries of royal and noble families, since the historical record is most complete for such families.
The phrase descent from antiquity was used by Tobias Smollett in the 18th-century newspaper The Critical Review. Reviewing William Betham's Genealogical Tables of the Sovereigns of the World, from the earliest to the present period he wrote "From a barren list of names we learn who were the fathers or mothers, or more distant progenitors, of the select few, who are able to trace what is called their descent from antiquity."  The possibility of establishing a DFA as a result of serious genealogical research was raised in a pair of influential essays, by the Albany Herald, Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, and the late Garter King of Arms, Sir Anthony Wagner. Wagner explored the reasons why it was difficult to do, and suggested several possible routes, based on the work of genealogists such as Prince Cyril Toumanoff, Prof. David H. Kelley, Christian Settipani and Ford Mommaerts-Browne. The following years have seen a number of studies of the possibilities. These are highly variable in the quality of their research. Many, if not most, of the DFA-related publications widely used by amateur genealogists are essentially worthless.
No Western DFA is accepted as established at this time, and widely accepted non-Western DFAs have not been validated. However, research has established the outlines of several possible or likely ancestries that could become DFAs. Moreover, the project has stimulated detailed inquiry into the prosopography of ancient and early medieval societies, an effort which is of great value in illuminating the social transformations which took place in those societies.
Innumerable alternative routes of descent from antiquity have been posited. One proposal is to establish Charlemagne's descent from one of the senatorial families of the later-day Imperial Rome based in southern Gaul. This project is of particular interest since all European royal families can trace their descent from Charlemagne, as can many other people who are able to trace their descent from European nobility. While such a link possibly existed, extant sources do not permit reconstructing it with any degree of certainty. The record of senatorial families in the 5th and 6th centuries is very sparse. While a large amount of data exists with which to construct a prosopography of the leading provincial families of Imperial Rome in southern Gaul, it is not yet possible to establish a Gallic line that traverses the Imperial Age, though a Roman line through a Gallic one had been proposed in 1991 by Christian Settipani. Therefore, all reconstructions of the DFA through Western European monarchs must remain precarious at best and speculative at worst. Though two possible lines are proposed for the ancestry of Arnulf of Metz, both are linked to the ancestors who are in turn reputedly linked to the Gallo-Roman genealogies. One of these proposes a descent from the proconsul Flavius Afranius Syagrius.
A possible alternative route to Settipani's original scheme goes through the Counts of Coimbra in 9th century Portugal. That route was originally suggested in a discussion between Settipani and Francisco Antonio Doria; it starts with a Count Ardabastos (b. c. 611), son of a Visigoth refugee in Byzantium, Athanagild (in turn son of Saint Hermenegild) and of Flavia Juliana (a Byzantine noblewoman related to the family of Emperor Maurice), that later moved to Provincia Spaniae (Byzantine possession in Spain) and fathered Erwig, king of the Visigoths (680-687). It is argued that this individual was descended from a Byzantine Artavazd of the great Mamikonian clan. The line is documented in a controversial deed that links the full descent to the historically attested count Hermenegildo Gutiérrez (878). The deed itself is dubious, and while some have suggested that the genealogy it contains could still be authentic, the lack of surviving documentation from the period spanned makes independent evaluation impossible. It is also said that the mentioned Count Ardabastos was a great-nephew of Emperor Maurice, grandson of his brother Peter Augustus, whose ancestry, though Armenian, was of a lower birth. Interestingly, even if Count Ardabastos was "only" a great-nephew of Emperor Maurice, with no kinship to the Mamikonians, through his maternal grandmother Anastasia Areobinda (wife of Peter Augustus and great-great granddaughter of Flavius Anastasius Paulus Probus Sabinianus Pompeius, Roman consul in 517) he was a lineal descendant of the Valentinian and Theodosian dynasties, as well as of the very ancient gens Anicia, whose first mention dates back to the end of the 4th century BC (Quintus Anicius Praenestinus, curule aedile in 304 BC). If the proposed links between Count Ardabastos and Hermenegildo Guterres are correct, it would be possible to trace a blood-link between Theodosius I or Valentinian I and Ramiro II of León (grandson of Hermenegildo Guterres) and so to the modern European royal houses.
The Solomonic dynasty, formerly sovereign in Ethiopia, has long claimed descent from King Solomon of the Kingdom of Israel. For all of its circumstantial evidence, the well known claim is nonetheless unverifiable due to the fact that reliable documentation is lacking before the 13th century. Outside of this case in particular, similar oral traditions of various descents from antiquity exist in nations and amongst peoples from all over the continent. Amongst the Yorubas of West Africa, for example, there is a popular belief that the numerous members of the tribe are all descendants of Oduduwa, their semi-mythical emperor and founding father, who is believed to have reigned in the 11th century. Contemporary social status in their various kingdoms, therefore, is traditionally reckoned by what can be described as tanistry: If a person can claim to be a direct descendant of the emperor through the lines of his progeny (i.e. his children and grandchildren) as opposed to being an indirect one through those of his more distant relatives, then he or she is probably a dynastic member of one of the royal or high noble families within the contemporary Yoruba chieftaincy system. As with the aforementioned claim by the Ethiopians, however, genealogical verification is generally difficult in these cases due to an absence of written corroboration.
Another such case for descent from antiquity originates in the Americas (i.e. pre-Columbian civilization) for the descendants of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II (himself a direct descendant of the first Aztec king Acamapichtli), among whom can be counted titled members of the Bourbon, Stuart, Habsburg, and Hohenlohe noble houses (as well as untitled people such as Eduardo Matos Moctezuma) and the holders of the titles of Duke of Moctezuma de Tultengo, Dukes of Ahumada, Counts of Miravalle, Duke of Abrantes, Condes de la Enjarada, Condes de Alba de Yeltes, Dukes of Atrisco and Dukes of Alba.
The privileges and immunities accorded to descendents of the prophet Muhammad have led to many false claims. As in other parts of the world, claiming noble ancestry could reinforce a ruler. In the Ottoman empire, tax breaks for "the People of the House" encouraged many people to buy certificates of descent or forge genealogies; the phenomenon of teseyyüd - falsely claiming noble ancestry - spread across ethnic, class, and religious boundaries. In the 17th century, an Ottoman bureaucrat estimated that there were 300,000 impostors; In 18th-century Anatolia, nearly all upper-class urban people claimed descent from Muhammad. The number of people claiming such ancestry - which exempted them from taxes such as avarız and tekalif-i orfiye - became so great that tax collection was very difficult. The Hashemite kings of Jordan, the Alaouite kings of Morocco, and the Aga Khans, all claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad or his close relatives.
In the East, a descent from antiquity may be easier to establish. The Japanese imperial family claims descent from the Emperor Ōjin, who is generally considered historical, though his time of life is uncertain. However, contemporary Japanese records do not commence until several centuries after Ōjin's time, and the tradition reports a major change to a cadet line shortly before the start of the literate period.
The oldest claimed DFA is Chinese. Kung Tsui-chang, who succeeded to the title Sacrificial Official to Confucius in the Republic of China in 2009, is claimed to be the 79th-generation male-line descendant of Confucius, and many other Chinese claim descent from this line. It is likely that some of the descent involves links by adoption.
There are numerous families in China who purportedly claim descent from antiquity figures. Some of these lines go back to pre-Qin dynasties, which in turn can be traced back into legendary history.
- Smollett, Tobias (1798). "Pye's Naucratia". The Critical Review 23: 298.
- For example, the Kung family, which claims descent from Confucius, has declined so far (2012) to submit to Y chromosome analysis, which would support their claim to a male-line descent from a common ancestor living at the time of Confucius
- T. Robert S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic (1952).
- William Nemos, Thomas Savage, Joseph Joshua Peatfield (1883). History of Mexico, Vol. I 1516–1521. A.L. Bancroft. pp. XIV and 141.
- Donald E. Chipman (2005). Moctezuma's Children: Aztec Royalty under Spanish Rule, 1520–1700. University of Texas Press. pp. XIV and 141. ISBN 978-0-292-70628-6.
- Canbakal, Hülya (2009). "The Ottoman State and Descendants of the Prophet in Anatolia and the Balkans (c. 1500–1700)". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 52: 542–578. doi:10.1163/156852009X458241.
- Acun, Fatma (2002). "The Other Side of the Coin: Tax Exemptions within the Context of Ottoman Taxation History". Bulgarian Historical Review 1 (2).
- King Hussein official site "The Hashemites are thus the direct descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali bin Abi Talib, who was also the Prophet’s paternal first cousin and the fourth caliph of Islam."
- The Alawi Dynasty - Brief History
- Kingdom of Morocco's (Alaoui dynasty)
- His Highness the Aga Khan
- Emperors, Shoguns, & Regents of Japan
- Japan opens imperial tombs for research
- "Confucius' Family Tree Recorded biggest". Chinadaily.com.cn. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
- "New Confucius Genealogy out next year". China Internet Information Center. 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-01. "With a history of over 2,500 years covering more than 80 generations, and the longest family tree in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, the fifth edition of the Confucius Genealogy will be printed in several volumes in 2009, according to an organizer of the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee (CGCC)."
- C. J. Bennett, A Babylonian Ancestry for King Darius, Journal of Ancient and Mediæval Studies XII (1995) 41-56
- -- Annotations to the Egyptian Descent in the Descents From Antiquity Charts, Journal of Royal and Noble Genealogy 1:2 (1996) 2-10 (much of which is incorporated in the DFA discussion file here: buratto.net)
- -- Ptolemaic Descendants is a webpage that summarizes some hypotheses for Ptolemaic descents.
- I. Moncreiffe of that Ilk & D. Pottinger, Blood Royal, (Nelson, London, 1956).
- T. S. M. Mommaerts-Browne, 'A Key to Descents from Antiquity', Journal of Ancient and Medieval Studies III, (1984–85) 76-107
- -- Monomachos, Tornikes and an Uncharted Caucasian Ancestry, in Foundations, 2:2, (2006), 158-162.
- T. S. M. Mommaerts & D. H. Kelley, The Anicii of Gaul and Rome, in Fifth-century Gaul: a Crisis of identity?, ed. by John Drinkwater and Hugh Elton, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge & New York, 1992) 111-121.
- Rafał T. Prinke, Krew Bagratydów. Genealogiczne związki Rurykowiczów i Komnenów z Bagratydami w XII wieku, in: Nuntius Vetustatis, sive Opuscula diversa Professori Georgio Wisłocki septuagenario dedicata, Posnaniae, Anno Domini MCMXCVIII.
- C. Settipani, Les ancêtres de Charlemagne (Editions Christian, Paris, 1989). See also Addenda to Les Ancêtres de Charlemagne
- -- Nos ancêtres de l'Antiquité: Etudes des possibilités de liens généalogiques entre les familles de l'Antiquité et celles du haut Moyen-Age européen (Editions Christian, Paris, 1991)
- -- Nouvelle histoire généalogique de l'auguste maison de France: La préhistoire des Capétiens, 1993
- -- Continuité gentilice et continuité sénatoriale dans les familles sénatoriales romaines à l'époque impériale, Prosopographica et Genealogica vol. 2 (Linacre College, Oxford, 2000). See also Addenda et Corrigenda and Review by Nathaniel Taylor
- -- Onomastique et Parenté dans l'Occident médiéval, 2000, en collaboration avec K.S.B. Keats-Rohan
- -- La noblesse du Midi Carolingien, 2004
- -- Continuité des élites à Byzance durant les siècles obscurs. Les princes caucasiens et l'Empire du VIe au IXe siècle, 2006
- N. L. Taylor, Saint William, King David, and Makhir: A Controversial Medieval Descent, The American Genealogist, 72 (1997) 205-223. Also available at Saint William, King David, and Makhir
- -- Roman Genealogical Continuity and the "Descents from Antiquity" Question: A Review Article, The American Genealogist, 76 (2001) 129-136. Also available at Roman Genealogical Continuity
- A. R. Wagner, Bridges to Antiquity in Pedigree and Progress: Essays in the Genealogical Interpretation of History (Phillimore, London, 1975)
Useful material on this topic can be found in the archives of the UseNet newsgroup soc.genealogy.medieval, (which is also archived at GEN-MEDIEVAL), and at GEN-ANCIENT. The Yahoo! group Ancient Genealogy discusses DFA-related issues.
Much of the published work on this topic is no more reliable than medieval genealogies, and should be used cautiously. A well-known example is:
- R. W. Stuart, Royalty for Commoners: The Complete Known Lineage of John of Gaunt, Son of Edward III, King of England, and Queen Philippa (4th edn) (Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 2002).
This is also true for most DFA material on the web, see e.g. many of the descents at .