The Medieval Review 12.02.23

Response to TMR 12.01.19, Victor Spinei's response to 11.03.14, Nora Berend's review of The Romanians and the Turkic Nomads North of the Danube Delta from the Tenth to the Mid-Thirteenth Century, East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450 (Leiden: Brill, 2009). 2012. Pp. . . . . .

Reviewed by:

Nora Berend
University of Cambridge
nb213@cam.ac.uk

Response to TMR 12.01.19, Victor Spinei's response to 11.03.14, Nora Berend's review of The Romanians and the Turkic Nomads North of the Danube Delta from the Tenth to the Mid-Thirteenth Century, East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450 (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

Response by Nora Berend

University of Cambridge

nb213@cam.ac.uk

As readers will have noticed, contrary to Dr. Spinei's assertions, I have acknowledged clearly enough the archaeological elements in the book; as I stated in my original review: "The only useful parts of the book consist of the information on archaeological finds and patterns of distribution in chapter three; however, as Spinei himself states, the evidence is incomplete, the 'date and ethnic attribution for a considerable number of finds...remains controversial' (292)." And again, I stated, "Indeed, several times when the archaeological evidence points to a mixed population, he refers to 'immigrants' (252) and 'groups of foreigners living side by side with the native population' (283)."

I doubt whether archaeological materials can denote an entity that did not, strictly speaking, exist in the middle ages, and there is little merit in pursuing a chimaera. To equate "Vlachs" with "Romanians" in the period between the tenth and the mid-thirteenth century is to project a modern identity back to the Middle Ages. No sources talk about Romanians in this period; they talk about Vlachs. Sources first mention Vlachs living in Macedonia, Thessalia, Epiros and so on, rather than north of the Danube. By the thirteenth century, Vlachs lived in what became Bulgaria as well as in regions that much later became Romania; various other populations as well as Vlachs lived in Moldavia in the thirteenth century. Italian humanists in the 1530s were the first to mention a self-designation of some of the population as "Romans." Wallachia and Moldavia gained territorial definition and political coherence only in the later Middle Ages.

Perhaps, as a mere historian, I am disqualified from evaluating the uses of archaeological material in Dr. Spinei's eyes. Archaeologists have highlighted the problems of ethnic attributions; for example, Siân Jones: "The study of ethnicity is a highly controversial area in contemporary archaeology. The identification of 'cultures' from archaeological remains and their association with past ethnic groups is now seen by many as hopelessly inadequate. Yet such an approach continues to play a significant role in archaeological enquiry, and in the legitimation of modern ethnic and national claims" (The archaeology of ethnicity: constructing identities in the past and present [London-New York: Routledge, 1997]). Many other recent articles and works address these issues for specific areas or themes, which cannot all be listed here; some examples include Sebastian Brather, Ethnische Interpretationen in der frühgeschichtlichen Archäologie. Geschichte, Grundlagen und Alternativen (Berlin-New York: De Gruyter, 2004), and Mats Roslund, Guests in the House: Cultural Transmission between Slavs and Scandinavians 900 to 1300 A.D. (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2007).

Readers interested in the questions of myth-making in Romanian historical writing can consult the English translations of books originally published in Romanian, both by Lucian Boia, History and Myth in Romanian National Consciousness (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001) and Romania: Borderland of Europe (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), and by Charles King, The Moldovans: Romania, Russia and the Politics of Culture (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2000).