10 Ancient Customs for the Oldest Son in a Family

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The eldest son in the family has held a position of high status for centuries. The traditions of family hierarchy and inheritance centered around passing on the family name and property to the next in line. The firstborn son was commonly considered the most likely to be the strongest and most capable person to maintain the family fortune and name. Most countries and ethnic groups have established traditions regarding the first son. Here are 10 ancient customs for the oldest son in the family.

  1. Inherit title – European tradition has commonly been to pass any title such as Duke, Earl, or Lord from the father on to the oldest son. Of course this also held true for royalty and the lineage of monarchies. If the firstborn son were to die before the father, the title would go to the next son and so forth.
  2. Inherit family estate – Regardless of whether a title was involved, this sequence of succession also held true for the family estate. It’s been a long-standing tradition for estates to be passed down to the oldest surviving sons in the family.
  3. Japanese family – In Japan it’s custom for the oldest son to live with his parents and take over managing the affairs of the family. He has the responsibility to care for his aging parents and provide direction for the other family members. When he marries, his wife and children are also included in the household of his parents.
  4. Chinese family – The Chinese family structure is very similar, with the oldest son taking over the supreme responsibilities of the family. It’s up to him to arrange marriages and all private family matters. When a woman marries into a household, she can only speak to her husband’s family through her oldest son.
  5. Irish naming tradition – In Ireland there is an ancient custom of passing on family names. The oldest son would traditionally be named after his father’s father or grandfather. The second son was named after his mother’s father and it’s not until the third son is born that he gets named for his own father.
  6. Jewish tradition – A joyous event that is performed in Jewish families after the first son is born is called the Redemption of the First Born Son. This is an ancient tradition established in the Torah and is to be held on the 31st day after birth. The custom includes a large meal, a Kohain and the exchange of 5 silver coins.
  7. Roman death custom – In ancient Roman culture the patriarch of the family died at home surrounded by his family. At that time it was the duty for the oldest son to bend close to the body and call out his father’s name. This was either to make sure he was really dead or perhaps call him back to life.
  8. Samurai training – In ancient Japan higher ranking samurai sent their sons to be trained at a formal dojo, but lower ranking families passed the martial skills on from father to oldest son. If there were no sons, the tradition was to teach the oldest daughter instead.
  9. Funeral pyre – In India the Hindu’s practiced the ancient tradition of suttee where the wives of the deceased were burned with the body of their husband on a funeral pyre. It was the duty of the oldest son to light the pyre that would probably consume his own mother.
  10. Double share – In Second Temple Period Judaism it was tradition for the oldest son to receive double the inheritance of his younger brothers. Along with this preferential treatment came greater family responsibility.

This emphasis placed on the oldest son in the family was fairly consistent in nearly every culture or geographic area. This tradition known as male primogeniture has been prevalent until recently in most countries and religions. It’s theorized that this preference for males arose out of a desire to maximize reproductive success, and recent research lends some credence to the theory. However, modern culture and law has diminished most of these ancient customs giving younger sons and daughters equal footing with the eldest son when it comes to inheritance and property rights. In some families these traditions are hard to die and the oldest son still holds a place of authority and responsibility.

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