ABSTRACT

The Romans, according to literary sources, were given to ornamenting the halls of their houses with decorations that would link portraits of their forebears with wavy lines or ribbons. The feudal nobility of the later Middle Ages, concerned above all to guarantee their hereditary titles to land and privilege, preferred to perpetuate the ancient practice of reading genealogical lines from top to bottom. These genealogies were to be read from the top, where the founding ancestor would be placed, and down through the sequence of descendant generations. Though there are occasional references to 'branches' in Roman genealogical texts, the term was used to denote the side-lines that linked portraits or names to the stemmata, rather than the lines of the genealogy itself. However, for the image of the genealogical tree to become established it had to be separable from the text and to make sense on its own without the benefit of accompanying description.