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ETHNONYM: Tyroleans


The Tirol is an alpine province of western Austria, bounded by Germany to the north and Italy to the south. "Tirol" was originally a family name, derived from a castle near Merano in what is now Italy. In 1248, the counts of Tirol received lands from the bishop of Brixen, and by 1271 they had nearly replaced the power of the church throughout the region. In 1363, control of the area passed to the Habsburgs, with whom it remained until 1918. The region was effectively Catholicized during the Counter-Reformation. After World War I, Italy received South Tirol, with its large German-speaking population, and has retained it to this day. The principal towns of Tirol are Innsbruck, Kufstein, Lienz, and Solbad Hall. The population of the region is just under 600,000.

The majority of Tiroleans live in nucleated communities, generally located in river valleys, surrounded by the lands on which they earn their livelihoods. In each village one finds shops, administrative institutions, a school, and a church.


Tiroleans are predominantly pasture farmerslargely of wheat and ryeand livestock breeders, with some dairying and silviculture as well. While agriculture and stock raising have long been dominant, the location of the Tirolcontrolling passes between the Mediterranean and transalpine Europemade commerce an important factor in the economy as well. One of the most important commercial centers of the area historically has been located at Bozen, in South Tirol, since the Middle Ages. There is some mining in the region: coal, iron, lead, zinc, copper, and magnesite. Also important to the modern Tirolean economy are textile mills and some other small, specialized industries, particularly those to do with the tourist trade.

Agriculture is based on the privately owned family farm, ownership of which passed from one generation to the next impartibly, generally along the male line and according to the principle of primogeniture. Noninheriting siblings had three basic alternatives: to stay on as dependents of the heir, if the land was able to support them; to hire themselves out to other farms in the region; or to migrate in search of employment in the lowland towns or beyond. Until recently, agriculture retained its traditional subsistence orientation, but production for market has in the last several decades gained in importance, and nearly all households are now to some degree dependent on cash income.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship terminology specifies lineal relations, while merging into collective terms all those individuals who stand in collateral relationship to the household head. There are special terms for first and second cousins.

Only through marriage does an individual acquire full recognition as an adult in the community. Marriages in the Tirol tend to be village-endogamousindeed, most Marriages occur between individuals of the same neighborhood within the village. It is within the neighborhooda group of four to six of the local farm propertiesthat the closest relations of interhousehold cooperation and friendship arise, and intermarriage between such households serves to strengthen these bonds. Individuals who did not inherit land have great difficulty in marrying, for they are wholly dependent on their inheriting sibling for their support. A man generally did not marry until he was financially able to support a wife. Long courtships were the rule, and they depended on the approval of the bride by the siblings of the marrying male. A dowry is required and generally consists of furnishings for the marital household. It is often the bride-to-be herself, rather than her family, who earns the money to be invested in the dowry. The wedding is an event of villagewide import, celebrated in the church. Upon marriage, the wife usually comes to live in the farm household of her husband; it is far less common for a man to go to live on the bride's family estate. Information on divorce is unavailable.

With marriage, a new domestic unit is established, with the husband serving also as head of householdexcept on the rare occasion when a noninheriting sibling marries. Generally speaking, however, dependent male siblings who remain on the family farm remain unmarried, so this circumstance does not arise with any great frequency. The household consists of the heir to the farm, his wife, their unmarried children, and any siblings of the heir that the farmstead can employ and who choose to stay on. The Tirolean tradition of impartibility according to the principle of primogeniture serves to keep the major portion of an estate's land undivided, but it is not absolutely applied. Smaller parcels of land can be, and are, divided among a number of heirs. At times, a firstborn son is unwilling to wait until his father relinquishes control of the family estate and so leaves the farmstead. In addition, even those who are excluded from inheriting ownership of the property may be bequeathed rights to a living from the land (i.e., rights to ownership of a room within the house and usufruct rights of a portion of the land itself).

The early socialization of the Tirolean child is the responsibility of the mother. The family is adult-centered rather than child-centered, and children are taught early on to conduct themselves politely, even formally, in the presence of adults. Discipline is not harsh, but it relies principally on sending the misbehaving child from the room. Play is unstructured, and in early childhood, boys and girls may play Together. By the age of 7 or 8, however, children are expected to begin to assume some of the responsibilities of adults, taking on chores appropriate to their sex. Herding is a boy's pursuit, housework is a girl's, and both are expected to help in the fields, especially during harvest times. Children begin school at about the age of 6, and are required to attend until they reach the age of 14. Most children do not go on beyond this point, but opportunities do exist for high-school education and beyond.

Sociopolitical Organization

The basic social unit of the Tirol is the neighborhood, consisting of four to six neighboring farm households. Cooperative tasks are organized within this group under the leadership of the several household heads, who share ties of friendship and trust through long association with one another. The hierarchical relations that characterize the farm household, with the owner-heir at the head, have implications beyond simple household and interhousehold activities as well. Those who serve as head of household also tend to monopolize political activity in the village, hold village-council office, and dominate the decision-making processes regarding Village concerns. Tirol communities enjoy self-government; each one has its own mayor, elected community council, and regulatory committees.


Tirol is a Catholic region, and it has been so since the Counter-Reformation. Local communities provide a Residence and farm lands for the local priest. Attendance at mass and membership in ecclesiastical organizations are expected of all members of the community. Baptism, confession, and communion are important rituals, and marriage is consecrated by the local priest. Each of the religious organizations (there are separate ones for married and unmarried men, and married and unmarried women) sponsor special masses over the course of the year. At the approach of death, the priest provides the sacrament of extreme unction.


Cole, John W., and Phillip S. Katz (1973). "Knecht to Arbeiter: The Proletarianization Process in South Tyrol. " In Studies in European Society: The Worker-Peasants in Europe, 39-66. The Hague: Mouton.

Cole, John W., and Eric R. Wolf (1974). The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley. New York: Academic Press.

Crowe, Patricia W. (1981). "Community Size and Social Relationships: A Comparison of Urban and Rural Social patterns in Tirol." Anthropological Quarterly 54:210-229.