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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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Epilogue: The End of the World of the Barbarians


This book is not a course book, and so it does not have to cover everything. In attempting to reconstruct the social system of the Germanic and Slavic tribes, I have left aside a number of important questions. It was my conscious decision not to speak of matters about which I had nothing original to say. For this reason I did not take up the question of the creation of early medieval ethnic communities, so popular and hotly debated recently. In general, I share Walter Pohl’s views in this matter, but this is not a reason to summarize them, or to recapitulate Reinhard Wenskus’s magnificent work, or to discuss Herwig Wolfram’s works.527 The ethnogenetic processes can be captured mainly in Roman narratives about the Germanic migrations and conquests. I have looked at the states created by the conquerors on the territories of the empire from a different perspective; I have tried to extract out of the codes of the barbarian legal traditions the legacy of archaic culture, the deposits of the social norms brought from the realm of barbaricum. Doing this required looking at the Lombard saga of their people’s origin, although it was not the process of ethnogenesis that was the object of my interest, but the relation of the mytho-historical tradition with their legal tradition.

Neither did I closely examine the antrustions (trustis). It was an important institution, but the strength of their units and their political significance in the archaic Germanic societies were...

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