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Primogenitur ( Latin primus “first”, genitus “born”: first-born succession order) technically describes the order of succession according to which only the first-born or oldest child inherits and becomes the legal succession of a deceased person, while possible siblings are not taken into account. In the old nobility legal primogeniture was particularly true in royalty laying down the throne and in the ruling royal houses to determine the Regent result . As a rule, only eldest sons could inherit; Daughters were either completely excluded (according to the old Franconian law Lex Salica ) or were relegated to their brothers. This was mainly due to the fact that after the marriage of a daughter, her children would be added to the family of her husband, bear his family name and continue his lineage , but not the line of their mother and her father. If there were no male descendants , the family's own house laws regulated inheritance and legal succession, for example in the form of a majorate or a minorate , in rare cases also through an heirloom or maiden law . A primogeneity title ( first-born title ) could only be passed on to the first-born as an official part of the name.

Ultimogenitur ("last-born right"), on the other hand, describes an order of succession in which the youngest child inherits the family property. This line of succession was and is to be found as an ultimagenitur (“last-born”) in some of the around 160  ethnic groups and indigenous peoples who are matrilineally organized according to their maternal lines: Here the youngest daughter inherits the social position and property of the deceased mother, which is mostly the Includes power of disposal over family property ; Sons are disregarded because they cannot continue the line because their children are added to their mother and her line. In rural areas of Moldova , the youngest son often inherits family residence, while the oldest son officially succeeds his father; This regulation was also common in Mongolia in the past , where the youngest was considered to be the keeper of the “ sacred hearth fire ” of his family.



The primogeniture secured the undivided existence of an inheritance, in the case of a ruler, the continuation of uniform rule over the existing territory . In the early modern period, the more domains became functional and became a state according to the self-image of the rulers , the more desirable this goal became. However, the primogeniture also prevents agricultural property from becoming more and more fragmented. This goal was partly pursued through political interventions. B. by the Reichserbhofgesetz of 1933.

The primogeniture often left the siblings of the heir without provision from the hereditary property; Brothers had to be paid in part, which could lead to the indebtedness of the main heir. This was partly remedied by allocating church offices ( benefices ) to secure income to the younger brothers. After the Reformation, the Protestant countries lost this expedient, but often made military careers possible for them within the framework of mercenary armies. The Prussian army strength reached three to five times that of France in relation to the total population around 1760, and Hesse even sold its mercenaries to the English armed forces in the American War of Independence.

When the younger brothers took over church offices, they failed to be the father of legitimate children with inheritance rights. Unless that is the first born in reproduction "failed" threatened the families gender extinction. In order to ensure the continuation of the family, there were often deviations from the own house laws , which only provided for a primogeniture.


The primacy of the firstborn is already mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, for example in the rivalry between Esau and Jacob for the blessing of their father Isaac . In the story of Moses, the last (and most serious) biblical plague brings the Egyptians to their firstborn. However, there are many examples in the Bible of favoring younger sons, so that the biblical norm was probably applied flexibly.

In Germanic law, and especially in medieval Germany, the principle only gradually gained acceptance. With the Carolingians and the Ascanians , rule was divided among the living sons. Heinrich I of Bavaria justified his repeated revolts against the rule of his brother Otto the Great with the fact that Otto was the primogenitus (firstborn) of his father, but still the mere duke , while he himself was his porphyrogenitus ( purple-born ), i.e. his Child in higher office of the king.

The Capetians consistently enforced the primogeniture in France, which promoted the collection of the territory and the creation of the later French national state.

The Golden Bull of 1356 provided the primogeniture for the secular electoral principalities of the Holy Roman Empire and thus made it more important. But it only applied to the Courlands; other lands over which an elector ruled could well be divided by hereditary path, as happened repeatedly in the history of Saxony and the Electoral Palatinate ; the inheritance principle was only valid specifically and not generally.

The primogeniture statute of 1375 of the rule and later county of Hanau is one of the oldest provisions that prescribes this principle below the level of the electors. Mecklenburg first introduced the Primogenitur with the Hamburg settlement of 1701.


Descendent rules in European monarchies
Absolute primogeniture cognatic primogeniture with male preference, change to absolute primogeniture cognatic primogeniture with male preference Agnatic primogeniture Elective monarchy

In hereditary monarchies, the patrilineal and the cognatic primogeniture were most common, daughters were excluded from the line of succession or sons were preferred. Many of the still existing hereditary monarchies in Europe have meanwhile lifted the preference for the male sex in succession regulation. For example, in Sweden since 1980 and in Belgium since 1991, the oldest child has become heir to the throne regardless of gender.

Following a resolution by the Commonwealth of Nations in October 2011 (Perth Agreement), the 300-year-old regulation of the British succession to the throne has been changed so that the order is based only on the order of birth within the siblings and is independent of their gender ; female descendants are no longer ranked behind males born later. The reform was decided in April 2013 in the British House of Commons ; the decision has been in force since March 26, 2015 after it was ratified by all Commonwealth countries. The equal succession of female descendants to the throne only applies to those born after October 28, 2011 and therefore does not lead to an advancement of Princess Anne and her descendants in the line of succession.

In contrast, the Principalities of Liechtenstein and Monaco adhere to the patrilineal form of the primogeniture.

See also


  • Michael Kaiser: ruling princes and princes of the blood. The brotherly dispute as a dynastic structural principle. In: Foundation Prussian Palaces and Gardens Berlin-Brandenburg. Yearbook. Volume 4, 2003 ISSN  2192-4538 , pp. 3-28.
  • G. Rühl: Majorat, Minorat, Primogenitur, Seniorat. In: Carl von Rotteck , Carl Welcker (Hrsg.): Das Staats-Lexikon. Encyclopedia of all political sciences for all classes. New, improved and increased edition. Volume 8, Hammerich, Altona 1847, pp. 699–701 ( references in the Google book search).
  • Frank Robert Vivelo: Primogeniture and Ultimogenitur. In: The same: Handbook of cultural anthropology. A basic introduction. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1981, ISBN 978-3-12-938320-9 , pp. 177-178 (US original: 1978).

Web links

  • Gabriele Rasuly-Paleczek: Significance of age: Primogenitur / Ultimogenitur. (PDF file: 765 kB; 43 pages) In: Introduction to the forms of social organization (part 4/5). Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Vienna, 2011, pp. 180–181 , archived from the original on October 5, 2013 ; accessed on June 16, 2018 (documents for your lecture in the summer semester 2011).

Individual evidence

  1. a b Alan Barnard , Jonathan Spencer (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Routledge, London / New York 1996, ISBN 0-415-09996-X , p. 619: Primogenitur: "Inheritance or succession by the first-born child, or more usually, by the first-born son." Ultimogenitur: "Inheritance or succession by the youngest child. "
  2. ^ J. Patrick Gray: Ethnographic Atlas Codebook. In: World Cultures. Volume 10, No. 1, 1998, pp. 86–136, here p. 104: Table 43 Descent: Major Type (one of the few evaluations of all 1267 ethnic groups at that time; PDF file: 2.4 MB; without page numbers ): “ 584 patrilineal […] 160 matrilineal "(46.1% patrilineal ; 12.6% matrilineal ). Ibid p. 117: “Inheritance Distribution for Real Property (Land): […] 472 Missing data on distribution […] 16 Ultimogeniture (to the junior individual); 247 Primogeniture (to the senior individual) […] Inheritance Distribution for Movable Property: […] 382 Missing data on distribution […] 14 Ultimogeniture (to the junior individual); 244 Primogeniture (to the senior individual) ". The Ethnographic Atlas by George P. Murdock now contains data sets on 1,300 ethnic groups (as of December 2012 in the InterSciWiki ), of which, however, often only random samples were and are being evaluated, for example in the HRAF project .
  3. For example with the Khasi in Northeast India, see FK Lehman: Book Reviews - Chie Nakanee: "Garo and Khasi" (1967). In: American Anthropologist. Volume 71, No. 6, 1969, p. 1157, accessed on May 5, 2013 (English; PDF file: 383 kB; 4 pages at “[…] sharing a system of heiresses in matrilineal succession ( in the case of the Khasi, by ultimogeniture) [...] ".
  4. ^ Melvin Ember, Carol R Ember: Moldova. In: Same: Countries and Their Cultures. Volume 3: L – R , Macmillan, New York 2001, p. 1484 (English): “In the villages, there is a general rule of ultimogeniture (the youngest son and his family live with the parents, and he inherits the contents of the household). "
  5. Gabriele Rasuly-Paleczek: Significance of age: Primogenitur / Ultimogenitur. (PDF; 765 kB) In: Introduction to the forms of social organization. Part 4/5, Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Vienna, 2011, p. 181 , archived from the original on October 5, 2013 ; accessed on May 6, 2014 : “There are also some with a mixture of Ultimo- and Primogenitur. With the Mongols z. B. Political leadership was often passed to the firstborn son, while the youngest son, who stayed with the parents, held the spiritual leadership. He was considered the keeper of the »sacred hearth fire« of his family. "
  6. ^ Melvin Ember, Carol R. Ember: Mongolia. In: Same: Countries and Their Cultures. Volume 3: L – R , Macmillan, New York 2001, p. 1502 (English): “Historically, the cultural pattern of old age support was ultimogeniture and the youngest son would typically inherit the largest share of the parent's animals. Today, there is greater variation in inheritance depending on personality considerations and the economic and living circumstances of different family members. "
  7. Emmanuel Todd : Sad Modernity - A History of Humanity from the Stone Age to Homo Americanus. Beck, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-406-72475-6 (French first edition 2017), p. 182 ff.