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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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Chapter VI. The Political Dimensions of Neighborhood

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Civilized observers noted that the territories of the barbarian tribes consisted, like a honeycomb, of many local cells. Profound importance was attached to the information about the number of such local cells. The Description of cities and lands north of the Danube (Descriptio civitatum et regionum ad septentrionalem plagam Danubii), written in the times of Louis the German and conventionally known as the Bavarian Geographer,359 gives us, in fact, precisely this kind of information. It describes the tribal territories as regio, while local centers are called civitas. The source enumerates the ethnic names of the particular tribes or federations of tribes, and lists the number of civitatum for each tribe. The federations of tribes were treated here as political entities. The author of the Geographer knew that the Veleti (Vuilci) were a group consisting of four tribes, yet he did not name the Redarier, Kessinians, Circipani, and Tollenser, but only stated that their federation consisted altogether of 95 civitates. The Sorbs were treated similarly. Although this federation indeed consisted of several tribes (Surbi, in qua regiones plures sunt), they were not named. Only the sum total of their civitatum was given – 50. For the tribes that were not part of larger politico-military structures, a separate number of local centers was given. The Sleenzane (Ślężanie) from the vicinity of Wrocław and Niemcza had, according to the Geographer, 15 civitas; the Dadosezani (in the vicinity of Legnica and Głogów) had 20; the Opolans also 20,...

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