Border Identities in the Early Modern Period

Venetian Friuli and the Habsburg County of Gorizia Mirrored in Contemporary Historiography

by Neva Makuc (Author)
©2021 Monographs 240 Pages
Series: Thought, Society, Culture, Volume 4


This book discusses early-modern collective identities related to territory, language, cultural milieu, state, and alleged "ethnic" origins in the border and multilingual areas of Friuli and the County of Gorizia before the rise of nineteenth - century nationalisms. It analyzes the perception of the Other, especially "barbaric" peoples and the early-modern Slovenian-speaking population, from the viewpoint of patriotisms of various types. These aspects greatly and in various ways influenced the perception of "others," which raises questions of linguistic and alleged "ethnic" otherness. Due to the multilingual environment of the border area studied, these topics display a very complex image. The volume is based on the analysis of an extensive number of early-modern historiographic works.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 The Principles of Studying Early Modern Collective Identities
  • 2 Sources: Historiography of Friuli and the County of Gorizia
  • 2.2 Historiography of Friuli and the County of Gorizia56
  • 2.2.1 The Middle Ages
  • 2.2.2 Humanism and the Renaissance
  • 2.2.3 Historiography during the Baroque
  • 2.2.4 Historiography during the 18th Century
  • 2.2.5 The Shift
  • 3 Italian Patriotism and the Stereotypical View of “Others”
  • 3.2 Representation of Peoples in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
  • 3.3 A Historical Constant: The Stereotyped “Other”
  • 4 Territorial Identities and Transcending Linguistic and Alleged Ethnic Differences
  • 4.2 State Affiliation: Political Ideals and Oppositions in a Border Region
  • 4.3 Multilingualism and “Ethnic” Origins of the Population in a Border Region
  • 5 The Slovenian Population and Its Ancestors in Light of Italian Patriotism and Provincial Identity
  • 5.2 Representation of the Early Medieval Slavs
  • 5.3 Representation of the Early Modern Slovenian-Speaking Population
  • 6 Conclusion
  • Appendix 1 Maps of the Region
  • Appendix 2 Table of Key Historical Dates and Events in the Area Examined
  • Sources and Literature
  • Series index

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In this day and age, borders and border areas are becoming an increasingly important topic. The connotations of borders have differed over the course of time—from the unclear borders in the medieval period to the clearly defined and internationally recognized borders of the 21st century.1 Border areas are a subject of various typologies; nevertheless, it is clear that borders and border areas are not static, but rather “constructed through discursive practices and molded by diverse institutions in complex and changing ways.”2 Areas and borders do have perceivable “internal dynamics” that are not only visible walls and fences but can also be seen in people’s state of mind. Borders define the nature of affiliation to a certain group and manners of inclusion or exclusion. It is therefore not surprising that one of the key aspects of border research is the relation between borders and identities.3

The most innovative and relevant social phenomena, which are of central importance for historical studies, often arise in border areas, even in marginal ones.4 The complexity of identities that occur at the crossroads of languages, religions, and histories recognizes the importance of border areas in integrating broader national communities because they are traditionally areas of contact and transition. These environments can produce areas of fluid identities.5

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This work is a case study of collective identities related to territories, languages, cultural milieus, state affiliations, and alleged ethnic origins in the border area of Friuli and the County of Gorizia from the end of the Middle Ages to the period immediately preceding the nationalistic movements of the 19th century. The large number of diverse concurrent historiographic oeuvres are a valuable source for reconstructing and studying the early modern collective identities in the area addressed. Apart from comprehensive and scholarly records such as provincial histories, town chronicles, biographies of the Patriarchs of Aquileia, historical poems, and other similar documents, this book also analyzes more or less rudimentary historiographic records, such as the ones included in registers known as catapani,6 and private historiographic records (diaries and memoirs), intended for reading within a family and/or within a circle of like-minded persons. Why exactly was historiography chosen for studying these identities? The answer lies in the assumption that it is one of the most important sources for examining this subject because “narratives are not necessarily reflections of actual facts but, first and foremost, intentionally and artificially constructed arguments to constitute identities.”7 In the long term, studying historiographic works points to changes that occurred in collective identities.

This book focuses on the historical regions of Friuli and the County of Gorizia.8 This area is part of central Europe as well as part of the northern Adriatic area, where the Mediterranean world meets the continental one, and where numerous cultural influences are present. In this multilingual area, political borders have continually shaped—and sometimes dramatically disrupted—the locals’ lives. This area is an ideal laboratory for researching the issues of borderness and collective identities. The wider northern Adriatic has always been a transitional area where differences have come into contact—and sometimes conflict.9 This also applies to wider Friuli region.

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Almost a hundred years ago, the historian Pier Silverio Leicht made the following observation about research on Friulian history:10

the history of Friuli is influenced by several factors, such as lines of communications that descend from the Alps into the territory of Friuli and further toward the sea, which significantly influenced the events in this area. From prehistoric times until today, these events have been intertwined with the conflict between cisalpine and transalpine forces for dominance over the Apennine Peninsula and, consequently, over the connections between north and south. Other important factors of our history are the struggles for commercial and military dominance over the Adriatic and the migrations from the central and eastern parts of the European continent to the sea; along the Alpine ridges, the migrating masses faced people living on the southern side of the Alps. These and other reasons contribute to the fact that the history of Friuli is seldom “local”; instead, it is often closely related to particular events of European history, whence arose its tragic and epic elements, and its grandeur.11

Researching the history of the County of Gorizia is yet another challenge. The historian Sergio Tavano often emphasizes the unique status of the County of Gorizia in the European context: “The County of Gorizia has been a land of connectivity and unity, as well as a model and a vigorous melting pot for uniting all people, whose foundations were naturally pluralistic.” The cosmopolitism of this area is organic, substantial, and ancient. The European character of the County of Gorizia has roots in its structural heterogeneity, which emerged in the Middle Ages and was preserved until the birth of the nationalisms of the 19th century.12

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the northern Adriatic saw some heavy and also bloody national conflicts.13 According to an important observation by Marta ←11 | 12→Verginella, the still pervasive ethnocentric orientation must be overcome when studying the history of the northern Adriatic. “Nationally oriented histories” arose alongside the establishment of nationalisms. The aim of demonstrating the indigenous character and Antiquity of a particular nation in a multilingual area then began to lead to the deprivation of the right to a homeland for “newcomers.” “Nationally oriented histories” thus became a tool in intense political games in the 19th and 20th century.14 This work contributes to overcoming such orientations.


This volume is divided into several chapters and sub-chapters. The chapter “The Principles of Studying Early Modern Collective Identities” (i.e., the complexity of examining early modern identities connected with the question of studying national identities) is followed by the chapter “Sources: Historiography of Friuli and the County of Gorizia,” which includes the method used for studying the early modern historiographic material, insight into early modern historiographic production in Friuli and the County of Gorizia, and an outline of the contemporary historical events of that time.

The following chapters address issues of collective identities related to the territory, language, cultural milieu, the state, and alleged “ethnic” origins; for example, those of provincial or local identity, sense of belonging to a state community, and the sense of belonging to a certain linguistic or cultural milieu; that is, Italian patriotism understood geographically, linguistically, and culturally.15 These aspects greatly influenced the perception of “others” in various ways, which raises the questions of linguistic and alleged “ethnic” otherness. Due to the multilingual environment of the border area studied, these topics display a very complex image and are a research challenge. The historiographers discussed in this volume are almost exclusively members of the Italian cultural and linguistic sphere,16 which is why special attention is paid to the ideas arising from ←12 | 13→the contrast with Italy—the “barbaric” world and the perception of “barbaric” nations (the transalpine population, the Ottomans, the Lombards, etc.). Special attention is paid to the early medieval Slavs and the early modern Slovenian-speaking population living in the County of Gorizia and in certain parts of the eastern Friuli region. It is precisely the attitude toward these groups that helps one understand the coexistence of seemingly conflicting concepts related to the Italian patriotism on the one hand and provincial identity on the other.17

The work concludes by presenting definitive conclusions related to the coexistence of various identities or patriotisms at various levels that, despite being different in nature, were not mutually exclusive in the early modern era. It also underlines the key changes that occurred in identities toward the end of the 18th century, with long-term consequences in the border area discussed.


This volume is the result of many years of research on collective identities and historiography. It is therefore based on several previous studies that developed and improved the findings presented here.18 I am grateful to the various ←13 | 14→publishers and journal editorial boards for approving the use of that material in this volume.

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Special thanks go to my teacher Branko Marušič. He has encouraged my research with his erudition, wisdom, and kindness. I would also like to thank the other researchers who contributed to the creation of this work: Darja Mihelič, Petra Svoljšak, Oto Luthar (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts), Peter Štih (University of Ljubljana), and Silvano Cavazza (University of Trieste). I am thankful for the support of my colleagues from the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU). I would also like to thank the staff of various libraries and archives in Italy and Slovenia, such as the Isonzo State Library (Biblioteca Statale Isontina, Gorizia), Gorizia Provincial State Archives (Archivio Storico Provinciale di Gorizia), Gorizia State Archives (Archivio di Stato di Gorizia), Gorizia Central Seminary Library (Biblioteca del Seminario Teologico Centrale di Gorizia), Guarnerio d’Artegna Library (Biblioteca Guarneriana, San Daniele del Friuli), Vincenzo Joppi Civic Library (Biblioteca Civica “Vincenzo Joppi,” Udine), Attilio Hortis Civic Library (Biblioteca Civica “Attilio Hortis,” Trieste), France Bevk Library (Goriška knjižnica Franceta Bevka, Nova Gorica), and Nova Gorica Regional Museum (Goriški muzej, Kromberk).

I am thankful to the Peter Lang publishing house, the editors, Mimi Urbanc and Martin Pogačar, and the editorial board of the series Thought, Society, Culture: Slovenian and South Eastern European Perspectives, which made the publication of this book possible. Sincere thanks to Simona Lapanja, Donald Reindl, and Gregor Pobežin for their careful translation of this work into English. Thanks also to Mateja Rihtaršič, Miha Kosi, and Boris Golec for their collaboration in preparing the maps.

For all their love and patience during my research work, I am thankful to my family.

Special thanks go to the ethnologist Andrej Malnič (1961‒2013), who encouraged me to become a historian. He carried out his work as the director of the Nova Gorica Regional Museum with unparalleled devotion and commitment, advocating the social and cultural development of the Gorizia border area. Furthermore, he transcended state and mental limits of this region that he knew, loved, and understood so well. To him I dedicate this work.

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1 Brunet-Jailly, Emmanuel. “The State of Borders and Borderlands Studies 2009: A Historical View and a View from the Journal of Borderlands Studies.” Eurasia Border Review 1. 1 (2010), http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/publictn/eurasia_border_review/vol11.htm, retrieved 29 January 2020, pp. 1‒15.

2 Berger, Stefan. “Border Regions, Hybridity and National Identity. The Cases of Alsace and Masuria.” In: Wang, Q. Edward; Fillafer, Franz L. (eds.): The Many Faces of Clio. Cross-Cultural Approaches to Historiography, Essays in Honor of Georg G. Iggers. New York: Berghahn Books, 2007, https://www.academia.edu/12274488/Border_Regions_Hybridity_and_National_Identity_The_Cases_of_Alsace_and_Masuria, retrieved 20 January 2020, pp. 366‒381 (quotation on p. 367).

3 Newman, David. “The Lines that Continue to Separate Us: Borders in Our ‘Borderless’ World.” Progress in Human Geography 30. 2 (2006), https://doi.org/10.1191/0309132506ph599xx, retrieved 14 December 2015, pp. 143‒161.

4 Scaramellini, Guglielmo. “Osservazioni su linee di confine e regioni di frontiera.” In: Pastore, Alessandro (ed.): Confini e frontiere nell’età moderna. Un confronto fra discipline. Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2007, pp. 117‒125.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (January)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 240 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Neva Makuc (Author)

Neva Makuc, PhD, historian and Italianist, is a researcher at Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), more precisely at Milko Kos Historical Institute and the Research Station Nova Gorica. N. Makuc collaborates with the School of Humanities, University of Nova Gorica.


Title: Border Identities in the Early Modern Period