Bachofen, Johann Jakob

Bachofen, Johann Jakob

Bio: (1815-1887) Swiss jurist, anthropologist, and sociologist. Johann Jakob Bachofen taught at the University of Basel from 1841 to 1845 and was a judge in that city. He wrote on legal topics and especially dealt with Roman law. He is best known for his book Mother Right (Das Mutterrecht, 1861), in which he studies the cultural evolution of humanity. Analyzing the huge ethnographic material, which primarily consisted of myths, he concluded that matriarchy preceded patriarchy in the evolution of the family and society. He viewed motherhood as a source of religion and morality and believed that the original deities were of the female form. He explains the emergence of matriarchy by the assumption that primitive people did not possess knowledge about the connection between sexual relations and the conception of a child. Since men could not establish paternity, all children belonged to women. When men understood the source of fatherhood, they became able to distinguish their offspring from the offspring of other men, which enabled them to establish power over women and children and form patriarchy. In his later work, Bachofen adopted a view of kinship as advocated by the anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan.

Main works

De legis actionibus de formulis et de condictione (1840);

Das Naturrecht und das geschichtliche Recht in ihren Gegensätzen (1841);

Das Mutterrecht: eine Untersuchung über die Gynaikokratie der alten Welt nach ihrer religiösen und rechtlichen Natur (1861).

Books translated into English:

Myth, Religion, and Mother Right (1992, in German 1961);

An English Translation of Bachoffen's Mutterrecht (Mother Right) (1861): A Study of the Religious and Juridical Aspects of Gynecocracy in the Ancient World (2007).

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