Michael Kulikowski

title.none: Corradini, Diesenberger, and Reimitz, eds., The Construction of Communities (Michael Kulikowski)

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.014 04.01.14

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Kulikowski, University of Tennessee,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Corradini, Richard, Max Diesenberger, and Helmut Reimitz, eds. The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources, and Artefacts. Series: The Transformation of the Roman World, vol. 12. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. x, 417. $149.00 90-04-11862-4. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.14

Corradini, Richard, Max Diesenberger, and Helmut Reimitz, eds. The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources, and Artefacts. Series: The Transformation of the Roman World, vol. 12. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. x, 417. $149.00 90-04-11862-4. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Michael Kulikowski
University of Tennessee

With The Construction of Communities, the European Science Foundation's Transformation of the Roman World reaches its twelfth volume (though only the tenth to appear). The many early medievalists who have felt duty bound to read the nine extant volumes will be pleased to learn that this ranks amongst the best. Taken as a whole, the series has mirrored the European experiment, in the national distribution of its contributors, in the rather out-of-step contributions of the British participants, and in the unacknowledged but barely challenged hegemony of the English language. The series is a valuable symbol of European unity, but for the most part its contributors have refrained from novelty and genuine dialogue, seeking instead to enshrine their own well-established positions as a new orthodoxy. Not so in the present volume, with its high proportion of original arguments and primary- source studies, as well as strong contributions not presented in the original ESF seminars.

Walter Pohl's introduction gives by the far the best account of the author's interest in the theoretical schema of Pierre Bourdieu, constructivist philosophy and functionalist anthropology. These influences have been recurrent features of Pohl's recent work, but this is the first time that he has demonstrated, by example, that the theory can illuminate the sources, rather than shaping or defining them. As a result, even the theory-averse will profit from attentive reading.

That is much less the case with the first article of the volume, Dick Harrison's "Structures and resources of power in the early Middle Ages." Stridently anti-historicist and self- consciously modern in its embrace of twentieth-century theory, it is in equal parts a lengthy attack on Ian Wood's Merovingian Kingdoms and a theoretical typology of different resources of power-- economic, ideological, administrative -- drawn from the theories of Michael Mann. This typology allows Harrison to conclude that the "gradual increase of landholding as a resource of power" is key to the transformation of the Roman world, a statement so glaringly obvious that it might have been designed to expose the limitations of theory in historical explanation.

The rest of the volume is much better. Much the finest chapter is Wolf Liebeschuetz on "Refugees and evacuees in the age of migrations," which examines the uses of systematic transfers of population, whether in the face of barbarian invasion or for other reasons. It shows how the depopulation of cities could be used to deprive invaders of the human infrastructure of a Roman province, while making good use of the comparanda from Sassanian behaviour. By taking a broad view of the material, Liebeschuetz can plot trends from the fifth through the seventh centuries, in the west, the Balkans and the Near East, drawing useful parallels between them and reminding us that emigration out of a region will transform its character as much as will the immigration with which we are more commonly concerned. He also raises the useful question of why the fifth-century invasions in the west produced so much less massive an emigration than did Avar or Arab invasions in the east, suggesting that the relative religious homogeneity of the west may well explain matters. Most suggestively, he draws a parallel between the deliberate Middle Byzantine depopulation of Cilicia and Isauria on the one hand, and the no man's land of the Duero valley between the Caliphate of Cordoba and the Asturian kingdom on the other. This comparison is well-founded, whether we explain it as conscious imitation or in terms of similar responses to similar situations, each working from a basically Graeco-Roman administrative heritage. Finally, Liebeschuetz shows how the evacuation of populations could be instrumental in destroying the network of Roman urbanism in a province, a problem he has treated at length in his Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford, 2001) and one which surely gives us the definitive distinction between Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Hagith Sivan's "Alaricus Rex: legitimizing a king," is equally important, despite its anachronistic references to fourth-century "Visigoths." Not only does Sivan show convincingly that communal piety played an important part in cementing Alaric's rule over his followers, but she also recognizes that we are dealing not with some pre-existent Gothic leadership or Traditionskern, but rather with what she calls quite correctly a "nascent kingship," and one which was effectively new. Alaric's legitimation, as she demonstrates, does not belong to"a specific Gothic form of enunciating power, if such had ever existed"; it is a demonstration that bears deep contemplation by the partisans of dominant theories of barbarian ethnicity, not least Ian Wood in the present volume.

Wood's contribution is on "Deconstructing the Merovingian family," and though his footnotes misrepresent the work of scholars who do not agree with his own points of view, the article is quite strong on the way in which the family politics of the Merovingians was not particularly out of the ordinary, still less a manifestation of their sacral kingship, but rather a product of quite normal early medieval Realpolitik -- a conclusion that is coupled with his plausible, if unprovable, support for the notion that the Merovingian dynasty as it survived through the seventh and into the eighth century really was the product of a king, Chlothar II, who was not in fact the biological child of the Merovingian Chilperic, but rather of Chilperic's wife Fredegund and her lover.

In a related, and very fine, article, Max Diesenberger shows how blood descent, sacrality, and magical powers are all inadequate explanations for the significance of hair to the Merovingian reges criniti. He turns instead to Christian and Roman precedents and analyses them in light of Pierre Bourdieu's theory of symbolic capital, using a wide, and systematically-explored, body of sources as support. A similar concern with symbolic systems permeates Bonnie Effros' "Ritual significance of vessles in the formation of Merovingian Christian communities." This article follows from questions raised in the author's recent book-length studies of mortuary customs in the Frankish world and provides a useful short introduction to her Creating Community with Food and Drink in Merovigian Gaul, which one will nevertheless need to consult for the full picture. Hans-Werner Goetz, in "Gens. Terminology and perception of the 'Germanic' peoples from Late Antiquity to the earl Middle Ages," asks whether people's changing perceptions of gentes can be used to trace the transformation of the Roman world and of the Roman mind. Very thorough, it serves mainly to show that the Carolingian period is a watershed in the territorialization of ethnic notions and the acceptance de facto of definitions that had appeared as theory in the earlier seventh-century.

Gisela Ripoll's "From civitates to urbes regiae in Hispania" is a sound introduction to its subject, good on the ideological implications of the establishment of royal capitals in place of imperial administrative centres; on the other hand, by underestimating the longevity of the old Roman cityscape revealed in the most recent archaeological work, and also perhaps by taking the evidence of Barcelona as normative for the other, greater, cities of Roman Spain, she seriously ante-dates the appearance of a "medieval" city in most of the peninsula. The book's final essay is also on Spain: Ann Christys' "The History of Ibn Habib and ethnogenesis in Al-Andalus" explicitly sets out to apply Vienna-school concepts of ethnogenesis across the Christian-Muslim divide. One can hardly help but have reservations about a methodology which takes as given a theoretical construct and then plugs in relevant data as needed, but for what it is worth, Christys does show that the Arabic literary evidence (generally quite late, one should note), is perfectly susceptible of such treatment. The author is aware of the multiple problems of authenticity which bedevil the Arabic historical tradition of Al-Andalus (debated for more than a century by French and Spanish scholars, and recently in English by Roger Collins and Hugh Kennedy), but to my mind underestimates the evidentiary problems this creates. Regardless, it is good to have Christys' attempted rehabilitation of the thirteenth-century copy of the tenth-century recension of the ninth-century Ibn Habib, and a book-length study would not come amiss.

The two other primarily textual studies are Helmut Reimitz's "Social networks and identities in Frankish historiography. New aspects of the history of Gregory of Tours' Historiae" and Richard Corradini's "The rhetoric of crisis. Computus and Liber annalis in early ninth-century Fulda." Reimitz offers a contribution to the long literature on the recensions of Gregory's histories, and the problem of ethno-political ascription to different manuscript traditions, seeking to place them in the context of political and familial networks down through the Carolingian period. Corradini inquires into the nexus of computistic, historiographical and liturgical politics during the era of the Carolingian reforms. Both articles will be of interests to specialists, though both stand at some distance from the questions of communal identity which are meant to shape the volume as a whole.

Michael Schmauder's "Gold hoards of the early migration period" is fascinating on the material evidence, and one awaits the fuller consideration of the Pietroasa treasure announced here, though the article as a whole tries to draw too extensive historical conclusions from our very limited corpus of Balkan and Carpathian hoards. That Matthias Hardt can treat the "Nomads' greed for gold," without reference to John Matthews' seminal discussion of Ammianus on the Huns is a sad reflection of the continuing insularity of scholarly traditions that the ESF programme was meant to diminish. The article is for the most part a collection of the anecdotal evidence for imperial subsidies to Huns and Avars. However, its interpretation perpetuates rather than analyses the nomadic topoi of the ancient sources, without addressing the very real problem of the carrying capacity of the Pannonian plain for nomadism -- and hence the problem of self-representations as nomadic pastoralists in a physical environment that could not support large-scale pastoralism.

The book as a whole perpetuates the infelicities one has come to associate with the series: the citation system has not been harmonized and the annotation is self-congratulatory and disproportionately weighted towards fellow ESF participants; Viennese contributions indulge in a ritual forelock-tugging that disguises how far the authors diverge from Wenskus and Wolfram; the translations into English are frequently awkward (Christina Poessel's translation of Reimitz is a laudable exception); and no attempt is made to cite from the same editions, or indeed the best editions, of primary sources, particularly those in Greek.

Nevertheless, this is a good volume, and much the best to emanate from the ESF's group 1, which considered Imperium, gentes and regna. Indeed, it ranks with the third and fifth volumes of the series, on the sixth century and east-west communications respectively, as consistently thought-provoking and potentially useful.