The Transformation of Frontiers from Late Antiquity to the Carolingians

By Walter Pohl; Ian Wood et al. | Go to book overview

CONCEPTS OF REALM AND FRONTIERS FROM LATE
ANTIQUITY TO THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES:
SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS

Hans-Werner Goetz

What I am going to propose briefly in the following pages is not the result of a thorough analysis of Late Roman and early medieval frontiers or frontier systems, but simply meant to reveal some problems in this area of research. I intend to raise the question whether there was a change in the perception of frontiers after the end of the West Roman Empire (or rather: in Christian society from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages), as it was seen in the contemporary historiography of those times. This paper will approach this project by examining only a few examples taken from the Late Antique, Merovingian and Carolingian times. Superficially, the answer seems to be very simple: At the beginning of our period the limes formed a strict border line which was disrupted again and again in the course of the Germanic and other invasions, which finally led to a dissolution of borders. (The exact frontiers of any of the Germanic realms of this period remain unknown.) Beginning in the Frankish period, these emerging Germanic realms developed into kingdoms and early 'nations', separated from each other by more or less clear borders.

However, it is not as simple as that. First, a great difference exists between the concept of frontiers and their reality. Second, if we follow the results of the recent, overall view given by C.R. Whittaker on the Roman frontiers,1 the limes, in spite of its clear appearance in archeological hindsight, apparently was not the clear political and cultural 'border-line' scholars have held it to be. Somewhat simplified, Whittaker suggests the following: The limes was not a frontier in the modern sense. Rather than hinder, it supported trade. Consequently, there was an exchange along the border-line. The limes, therefore, marked no cultural frontier, contrary to the barbarian ideology held by the Romans.

1 C.R. Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire. A Social and Economic Study (Baltimore
and London, 1994, French version 1989).

-73-

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