The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources and Artefacts

By Richard Corradini; Max Diesenberger et al. | Go to book overview

GEMS. TERMINOLOGY AND PERCEPTION OF THE
'GERMANIC' PEOPLES FROM LATE ANTIQUITY
TO THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES

Hans-Werner Goetz

The relationship between the Empire, on the one hand, and the peoples and realms of the Great Migration (Völkerwanderung) on the other as well as the political supersession of the Empire by the socalled Germanic kingdoms obviously are a central aspect in the discussion of 'The Transformation of the Roman World'. It is no less obvious that the process of ethnogenesis (or the process by which a people evolved into a political unit) and terms such as 'tribe' (Stamm). 'people' or 'nation' when used in connection with the development of the Germanic peoples, are seen in a much more differentiated manner nowadays than a few decades ago. Since Reinhard Wenskus wrote his great book Stammesbildung und Verfassung in 1961, our perception of the Germanic peoples has changed: they are no longer regarded as homogeneous ethnic units, but as constantly changing institutions focussed in a 'kernel of tradition' (Traditionskern) and held together by political leadership and the consciousness of a common origin and tradition.1 Thus, their names are no more than 'collective terms' for various groups of different origin.

A variety of questions await being unravelled. Thus, it seems to me, first, that in our research we often do not distinguish clearly enough between 'Germanic peoples' and 'Germanic kingdoms'.2 This

1 R. Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das Werden der frühmittelalterlichen gentes 2nd
edn. (Köln, Wien and Graz 1977). Cf. P.J. Geary, “Ethnic Identity as a situational
construct in the early Middle Ages”, Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien
113 (1983) pp. 15–26; Typen der Ethnogenese unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Bayern, ed.
H. Wolfram and W. Pohl (Wien 1990); Ethnogenese und überlieferung. Angewandte Methoden
der Frühmittelalterforschung,
ed. K. Brunner and B. Merta, Veröentlichungen des Instituts
für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 31 (Wien and München 1994). Cf. the useful
summary of the state of research given by W. Pohl, “Tradition, Ethnogenese und
literarische Gestaltung: eine Zwischenbilanz”, ibid., pp. 9–26, and, lately, id., Die
Germanen,
Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte 57 (München 2000) particularly pp. 7–10.

2 The relationship between gentes and regna has now become the subject of an-
other comparative volume of our team: Gentes et regna. The Relationship between Late
Antique and Early Medieval Peoples and Kingdoms in the Transformation of the Roman World.

ed. H.-W. Goetz, J. Jarnut and W. Pohl (forthcoming).

-39-

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