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Barbarian Europe

Karol Modzelewski

European culture has been greatly influenced by the Christian Church and Greek and Roman culture. However, the peoples of Europe’s remote past, whom the Greeks, Romans, and their medieval heirs called the «barbarians», also left their mark. Closely examining ancient and medieval narratives and the codifications of laws, this thoughtfully conducted comparative study sheds light on the illiterate societies of the early Germanic and Slavic peoples. The picture that emerges is one of communities built on kinship, neighborly, and tribal relations, where decision making, judgement, and punishment were carried out collectively, and the distinction between the sacred and profane was unknown.
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Between 1994 and 2002 I held a series of monographic lectures titled Barbarian Europe – From Tribes to States and Nations at the Institute of History at Warsaw University. This book is not a transcript of those lectures. I never wrote down what I would talk about to my students, relying instead, on the spontaneity of our face-to-face interactions. I encouraged the students to interrupt me with any questions they had without waiting for the end of the lecture. Those questions, numerous and often startling, became for me a source of intellectual satisfaction and inspiration; the students helped me discern problems which had escaped detection in the academic routine. This provided a considerable stimulus for me. Without the questions my students posed, this book would not have been written. My thanks go, above all, to my students from whom I have learnt so much.

I belong to that generation of historians for whom professional contact and the exchange of ideas with scholars from abroad were often hindered. For political reasons to which I myself contributed, these obstacles accumulated. As long as I did research on Poland under the Piast dynasty, I could deceive myself that the Iron Curtain would not interfere with my work. Yet now that I have attempted to transcend the barriers that had for generations separated research on the early history of the Germanic and Slavic barbarians, the long-standing dearth of foreign contacts and texts have placed a heavy burden on my work. I...

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