Historians of Europe may be generally aware of the former significance of Celtic child-fostering, so prominently documented in the law books and legends of medieval Ireland. Yet there is no comprehensive survey of such fosterage from a comparative historical perspective, nor has its archival documentation been collated for analysis. The present essay aims to redress this neglect: it reviews extant evidence of Celtic fosterage in the British Isles, examined with reference to comparable institutions of adoptive kinship documented throughout western Eurasia, which comprised some of its scarcely recognized “elementary structures” of familial clientage and feudatory state formation (cf. Guerreau-Jalabert 1981; 1999; Mitterauer 2006).
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