Saturday, 12 November 2011


Primogeniture is an interesting topic for discussion methinks. A related topic is Ultimogeniture. Primogeniture is right of the eldest child of the family to inherit the entirety of estate or property from parents which excludes any other siblings from it.

In some cultures Primogeniture especially privileges firstborn boy and excludes any other siblings from gaining property. According to some traditions Primogeniture meant that the firstborn received all the estates, property and authority and then he apportioned it to other siblings as per his decision.

If you have watched Akira Kurosava’s Ran (1985), you might recall the role Primogeniture played in that movie. What is so intriguing about Primogeniture?

I am haunted by the question: what would have been the basis of such a legacy system in past. Was it a mere superstitious tradition or something which was based on more substantial grounds?

Ultimogeniture (postremogeniture) is the tradition of inheritance by the last-born of the entirety of, or a privileged position in, a parent’s wealth, estate or office.

This tradition has been far rarer historically than Primogeniture. The idea supporting Ultimogeniture is that last-born stay with parents and take care of them when first-born have gone out in the world to achieve success and make it big!

The idea behind ultimogeniture seems to have more reasonable basis when compared to Primogeniture. If I think about Primogeniture-I can come up with only a few things in its support, but, these do not seem to have been the only causes of its coming into the existence and all of these premises are moot points.

In the system where Primogeniture meant righteous apportioning of inheritance by eldest of children to other children and where control used to stay with the eldest sibling: The reason might have been the belief that since eldest sibling was most experienced he was most suitable candidate to manage the estates and property; whereas it would have been risky to allot maximum power to the relatively inexperienced younger siblings.

Though not supported practically and wholeheartedly by the modern science, the concept of Jing as in Neidong and other Taoist traditions-seems to have supported Primogeniture to a great extent. According to Taoism the amount of Jing anyone of us has is determined by the amount which was in the sperm of father and the egg of our mother. This amount can never be increased in your life-time (Unlike ‘chi’ or life-force-energy which can be increased). It is also suggested that levels of Jing decrease in men because of ejaculations and in women because of menstruation. It is therefore said that the chances of producing healthy off-springs reduce as the age of the couple increases. It has been proposed that the chance of getting healthy child in a conception where age of mother is more than 35 years is very less and there is a high risk of getting a child with Down’s syndrome. Verity of none of these claims is beyond doubt.

The oriental Primogeniture had a stricture that an heir to the throne must be a male. This is simply a reflection of Patriarchal sexist society where Polygyny was common. The successors to the monarchies were first of all required to be warriors and military commanders: which is more usual for males than for females. But what caused it to be the first born male child?

Adam Smith, in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, explains the origin of primogeniture in Europe in the following way:
[W]hen land was considered as the means, not of subsistence merely, but of power and protection, it was thought better that it should descend undivided to one. In those disorderly times, every great landlord was a sort of petty prince. His tenants were his subjects. He was their judge, and in some respects their legislator in peace and their leader in war. He made war according to his own discretion, frequently against his neighbours, and sometimes against his sovereign. The security of a landed estate, therefore, the protection which its owner could afford to those who dwelt on it, depended upon its greatness. To divide it was to ruin it, and to expose every part of it to be oppressed and swallowed up by the incursions of its neighbours. The law of primogeniture, therefore, came to take place, not immediately indeed, but in process of time, in the succession of landed estates, for the same reason that it has generally taken place in that of monarchies, though not always at their first institution.

As per the above description it is clear that undivided land and properties were more useful for the existence and sustenance of the clans but it does not elucidate why it had to be the first born to gain highest favors.

What do you think were reasons for the origin of Primogeniture?