Descent from antiquity

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A Descent from Antiquity (DFA or DfA) is a well-researched, historically documented generation-by-generation genealogical descent tracing living persons back to people living in antiquity. The term was coined in a European context, where the poorly-documented Early Middle Ages provide few records of the type necessary to document contiguous genealogical descents that would connect the new royal families of the Early Middle Ages, from which descents to the present can readily be traced, to the well-documented figures from antiquity.

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 invention, 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 in each generation of the descent, a defining characteristic that distinguishes the DFA from the legendary descents found in medieval genealogical sources, and from the modern pseudogenealogical descents appearing in books like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. DFA research has focused on the ancestries of royal and noble families, since the historical record is most complete for such families. Particular attention has focused on possible genealogical links between the new dynasties of western Europe from which well-documented descents are known, such as the Carolingians, Robertians, Cerdicings and the Astur-Leonese dynasty, through the ruling families of the post-Roman Germanic dynasties and Franco-Romans to the gentility of the Roman Empire, or in Eastern Europe, linking the Armenian wives of some Byzantine emperors through the ruling families of the Caucasus to the rulers of the Hellenistic and Roman-client kingdoms of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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."[1] The possibility of establishing a DFA as a result of serious genealogical research was raised in a pair of influential essays, by Iain Moncreiffe and 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 Cyril Toumanoff, David H. Kelley, Christian Settipani and Ford Mommaerts-Browne. The following years have seen a number of studies of possible routes through which an appropriately documented descent might be found; these routes typically involve either linkages among the ruling dynasties of the post-Roman Empire Germanic states, or those between the ancient dynasties of the Caucasus and the rulers of the Byzantine Empire. Though largely based on historical documentation, these proposed routes have invariably resorted to speculation based on known political relationships and onomastics - the tendency of families to name children in honor of relatives being taken as support for hypothesized relationships between people bearing the same name. Proposed DFAs are highly variable in both the quality of their research and the degree to which speculation plays a role in their proposed connections.

No European DFA is accepted as established at this time. However, research has established the outlines of several possible ancestries that could become DFAs were further evidence to be discovered. Moreover, the pursuit of DFAs 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smollett, Tobias (1798). "Pye's Naucratia". The Critical Review. 23: 298.


  • 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:
  • 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.
-- 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
-- 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)
  • Bierbier, M. L. (1998), "The Descendants of Theodora Comnena of Trebizond", The Genealogist, 12 (1)