12.04.29, Štih, The Middle Ages between the Eastern Alps and the Northern Adriatic

Main Article Content

Marie Bláhová

The Medieval Review 12.04.29

Štih, Peter. The Middle Ages between the Eastern Alps and the Northern Adriatic: Select Papers on Slovene Historiography and Medieval History. East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2010. Pp. xxiv, 463. ISBN: 978-90-04-18591-3.

Reviewed by:
Marie Bláhová
Charles University, Prague

Peter Štih, Professor of Medieval History and Auxiliary Historical Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, associate member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, is one of the leading scholars in the field of Slovenian medieval history. His principal research fields include the ethnogenesis of Slovenes following the Slavic settlement of the Eastern Alps, early medieval polities in the eastern Alps, the history of nobility, and the emergence of the Slovene lands.

All these topics are included in the volume under review, which contains eighteen papers relating to the history of the region between the northern Adriatic and the eastern Alps in the Middle Ages based on the previously published articles of the author over a period of more than twenty-five years. As the author says, the articles have been partially reworked; in particular, they have been translated into English and made accessible to wide audiences of interested researchers. The "Slovene medieval history" mentioned in the book's subtitle is not related to the history of the Slovenes as a nation, but to the historical development in the area of the modern Republic of Slovenia. However, the region addressed in the book is generally wider, encompassing the "Alpine Adriatic", the region from the northern Adriatic to the Danube, and from Friuli and Venetia to western Hungary.

The published articles have been arranged as the individual chapters in three thematic parts or sections of the book. The book begins with part one, titled "The Middle Ages, Slovene Historiography, and the National Formation of the Slovenes," and dedicated to the examination of established national historical narratives. These four chapters follow the structure, origins, and function of those narratives, including their historical mythology.

Chapter one, "On National History, Myths and Stereotypes," is dedicated to the concept of the Slovenian history developed in the two last centuries, from the national awakening at the end of the eighteenth century to the present day. The author proceeds from the images contained in the bronze relief on the "Slovene Door," i.e., the new door of the main western portal of the archdiocesan cathedral of Ljubljana (consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1996), which presents the fate of the Slovenian people and the building of their state. The author then deals with myths connected with the history of the Slovenes, which make up their national historical consciousness. The main scenes of the aforementioned bronze relief treated in this chapter are: the baptism in Bavaria of the first Christian princes of Carantania; the Prince's Stone (the upside-down Ionic column supposed to have served at the enthronement ceremony of the Carantanian princes) as the "symbol of the first Slovene state"; and Bishop Modestus of Maria Saal, regarded by Slovene Catholics as the first apostle to the Slovenes. The author further analyses visions of the Slovenian nation and its history from the Middle Ages to the late eighteenth century, when that history received national features during the nation's formation. The Slovenes who did not live in one state in the Middle Ages and did not have a common history saw the nation as a community of the same language--perhaps unlike the Bohemians, whose representatives were conscious not only of a common language, but more particularly a common history and social memory. The (fictitious) common historical tradition has been presented as the oldest independent kingdom under Samo, of the counts of Cilli, as evidence of the glorious history of the Slovenes in the early Middle Ages, of the democratic nature of the Slovene social order, of Slovene oppression by foreign lords for over one thousand years, etc., and that tradition was not developed before the nineteenth century. According to the author, "Slovene national history" emerged in academic circles as well as at the level of historical memory with the formation of the modern nations of Europe in the nineteenth century.

Also, ideas of the indigeneity of the Balkan Slavs, which are dealt with in the second chapter, "Theories of Indigeneity and their Like among the Slovenes," have been considered by the author to be historical myths despite the surprisingly long tradition of these ideas, which can be traced in Christian tradition as early as the tenth century. These are especially based on the famous letter of Pope John X to the Croatian rulers stating that the Slavs were Christianised in apostolic times, and appear in medieval chronicles as well as in modern scientific works. With the help of historical, archaeological, philological and other arguments the author states that these theories are baseless.

The other "myth" revealed is the supposed Carantanian oath and the democratic character of Carantania's social order ("On the Modern (Mis)understanding of the Old History in the Case of the Enthronement of the Carantanian Dukes"), which is often quoted not only in historical works, but also in the speeches of modern western politicians. This idea is based on the Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum about the establishment of Carantania's rulers, which has long been connected with the (presumed) election and special enthronement ceremony, mainly with the oath of the nobles to the land. As in the above-mentioned events, Peter Štih states that this idea of the extraordinary democratic character of Carantania's social order--derived from literary tradition and considered the foundation of modern democracy--is not supported by any historical source.

This part of the book closes with an appeal not to cling to a historical paradigm elaborated in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ("A Plea for a Different View of Ancient Slovene History"). The position of present-day Slovenia as well as the self-perception of Slovenes are different from those of the nineteenth century: therefore the view and concept of Slovene national history is changing, or should be changed.

The second section of the book, "From the Slavic Settlement to the End of Frankish Rule" (in eight chapters), is dedicated to the history of the early Middle Ages in the region under study, mainly to the Slavic ethnogeneses, to Carantania and the Carantanians as the only people defined as Slavic before the late eighth century, and to their role in the Slavic world as a whole.

This section begins with the longstanding question about continuity between antiquity and the early Middle Ages, and of the nature of change in settlements in the Eastern Alps region (chapter 5: "Wiped out by the Slavic Settlement? The Issue of Continuity between Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages in the Slovene Area"). Concerning the Slovenes, the author takes advantage of the results of the archaeological excavations of the past three decades, which have fundamentally changed the image of late antiquity in the Slovene territory, mainly with regard to the existence of Roman towns and villages that survived considerably longer than previous historians had supposed. In contrast to these earlier assumptions, Štih shows that the indigenous population was not wiped out, but that it persisted in the area after Slavic settlement and adopted a new identity, including Slavic names as well as their language, traditions, and manner of life.

In this process of change in the territory of the eastern Alps into the Slavic region, the relations (both separatist and assimilative) between the Slavs and their neighbours, mainly the Frankish Bavarians, were very important (chapter 6: "The Alpine Slavs and their Neighbours: From Confrontation to Integration"). Their conversion to Christianity contributed to the integration of the Carantanian Slavs into western European civilisation. In that connection Štih returns to the problems of the first section of his book, and comments again on the Slovene historical myth that Carantania represented the first state of the Slovenes, and that the Prince's Stone was the symbol of their ancient statehood. The author demonstrates again that these ideas only emerged at the end of the eighteenth century (chapter 7: "The Carantanians: An Early Medieval Slavic Gens"). As far the further area settled by the Slovene-speaking population, i.e., Carniola, the author argues that its political autonomy and the ethnical identity of its inhabitants were suppressed while still in its embryonic stage by the administrative reform of the southeastern Carolingian empire by the Frankish ruler Louis the Pious in 828 (chapter 8: "Carniola: Patria Sclavorum").

A separate chapter is devoted to the structures of the Slovene territory in the early Middle Ages (chapter 9: "Structures of the Slovene Territory in the Early Middle Ages"). Attention is paid to the geography of present day Slovenia as it was in the early Middle Ages; to the names used for the particular regions in the written sources of that time (Pannonia, Avaria, Krajina, Carantania); to lordship, ethnic and tribal structures; and to social and organisational structures. In the argument about lordship structures, the question about the pertinence of the Slovene territory under the different lordships is discussed (the Byzantine or the Lombard lordships, then the Avar one, and the potential subjection of the Slovene to the Samos tribal union--the latter is considered as a result of logical deduction, not based on positive data). In connection with the ethnic and tribal structure, the argument about the role of princes--župani and kosezi--as the bearers of the public authority is worth special attention.

The following chapter (chapter 10: "The Early Medieval 'State' and the Tribal Formations in the Slavic Settlement Area of the Eastern Alps") analyses chiefly the social and power structures and the ethnogenesis of the Carniolans. The subject matter of the next chapter (chapter 11: "On the Eastern Border in Italy in the Early Middle Ages") is the situation on the eastern border of Italy, i.e., on the geographical as well as the political border of that region and changes there during the early Middle Ages. The last region discussed in this section is Istria in the initial period of Frankish rule, i.e., under Charlemagne (chapter 12: "Istria at the Onset of the Frankish Rule, or the Impact of Global Politics on Regional and Local Conditions").

The third section of the book, "Bishoprics, the Nobility, and the Länder in the High and Late Middle Ages", is dedicated to the various aspects of the medieval history of the southern Slavic region, including themes which extend beyond that region at that time.

In the first study of this section, titled "The Origin and the Beginnings of Episcopal Property in the Territory of Present-day Slovenia", the author follows the administration of the Catholic church in Slovenia, whose territory was divided into six dioceses which belonged to four different church provinces, and the specific structure of the church properties, which was quite different from that of the ecclesiastical administration. Of the bishoprics which had ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Slovenia, only Aquileia and Salzburg were large territorial landowners, while the holdings of Trieste and Koper were only small, and the bishoprics of Györ and Zagreb had no estates at all in Slovenia. On the other hand, the Bavarian dioceses of Freising, Brixen, and Gurk--which executed no ecclesiastical administration in the Slovenian region--were the owners of large landed properties there. Of the five bishoprics that owned large properties in the Slovenian region, four belonged to the Bavarian ecclesiastical province, much like the secular properties that belonged mostly to the Bavarian nobility. All the large ecclesiastical estates were formed between the years 970 and 1070, during the establishment of the basic network of seigneuries, and of the intensive feudalisation of this region. The estates of Bavarian bishops originated as grants of crown property as well as of private property (which often also derived from royal gifts) in the vast area of colonisation, mostly as a reward for loyalty and service rendered to the ruler. The presence of Aquileia among the five bishoprics that acquired large properties in the Slovene territory is, on the other hand, quite understandable because Aquileia was the "domestic" bishopric in that region, and the largest part of central Slovenia was under its ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

The following survey, "The Patriarchs of Aquileia as Margraves of Carniola," relates to the southern part of present-day Slovenia, to the March of Carniola which was formed after the defeat of the Magyars in the battle of Augsburg in 955. This important region, which controlled the passes from Germany to Italy, was granted by King Henry IV to one of the most important figures in the medieval history of Slovenia, the patriarch of Aquileia, in 1077 during the Investiture Controversy. Štih follows the weak position of the patriarchs in the March of Carniola from that time to the occupation of Carniola and Carinthia by the Czech king Ottokar Přemysl II in 1274, and to the granting of Austria, Styria and Carniola as imperial fiefs by Rudolf I of Habsburg to his sons in 1282.

In the first part of the next study, "The Beginnings of Lubljana and the Bavarian Nobility," Peter Štih examines older ideas relating to the birth of the present-day capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, and searches for the oldest written record of its existence. He rightly denies earlier historians' dating of the first written record to the first half of the tenth century. Like some historians, he considers the record of the Liber traditionum of Reichersberg to be the first mention of a castrum at Ljubljana, but in contrast to the older historical literature, which put this record in the year 1144, he dates that record between 1112 and 1125. The second part of this study deals with the Bavarian noble families that had their properties in the Ljubljana Basin and in the central part of the Slovene territory, and with their role in the early history of Ljubljana.

The subject of the following chapter, "The Counts of Gorizia as Domini terrae in Gorizia, Carniola, and Istria," is the formation of the county of Gorizia, the rise of the Gorizian counts and their estates, and their role in the late Middle Ages. The author highlights among other things the great importance of the counts of Gorizia for the constitutional, legal and territorial development of the present-day Slovenian territory. In spite of this, Štih observes that the counts of Gorizia are not part of the historical consciousness of the Slovenes--in contrast to the counts of Cilli, who unlike the counts of Gorizia left practically no traces in the territorial development of the Slovene territory but are nevertheless linked to mythical Slovene statehood in the Middle Ages, and therefore occupy a high place in the historical consciousness of the Slovenes.

The next chapter, "The Counts of Cilly, the Issue of their Princely Authority and the Land of Cilly," begins with the tragic love of the brother-in-law of Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, Frederick II of Cilli (Celje), to a young lady of low descent, Veronica of Desenice. The event probably took place in 1425 and had a strong influence on Slovene drama. Frederick, who had earlier killed his wife, was imprisoned, and Veronica was accused as seducer before the court, where her father-in-law requested the death sentence for her. The court acquitted Veronica of the charge, but she was imprisoned even so. Above all, Štih's interest is in the legal and judiciary aspect of that tragic story. He follows the rise of the house of Cilli, the elevation of the counts of Sannegg-Cilli to imperial status by Emperor Charles IV in 1372, and the family contacts of the Cilli that reached into many noble European families including the royal dynasties. These contacts were crowned by the marriage of Barbara of Cilli with Sigismund of Luxemburg in 1406. (Sigismund, however, was not Herman of Cilli's father-in-law, as the author states, but Herman's son-in-law). Štih continues by describing their solemn elevation to Princes of the Empire, which took place in Prague's Old Town Square on 30 November 1436. He ends with describing their conflict with the Habsburgs and the settlement of that conflict in 1443. This detailed analysis of the position and privileges of the house of Cilli above all shows the type of court that could try Veronica: the counts of Cilli could not have possessed a noble court in 1425, and that the trial against Veronica could have taken place before the market-town court in Celje.

The last chapter, "The Enthronement of the Dukes of Carinthia between History and Imagination: Issues of its Tradition, Development, and Course," is devoted to a theme popular in the historical literature for over a century, namely, the installation of the dukes of Carinthia on the Duke's Throne--which, like the Prince's Stone mentioned above, has been preserved to the present day. After a detailed analysis of the reports in the historical sources (Ottokar of Styria, John of Viktring, the Schwabenspiegel), which date only from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the author tries to characterize a form of the traditional Carinthian enthronement ceremony, which may have originated as early as the eleventh century. He states that the ceremony described in the late medieval sources could not reconstruct and perform the old customs because many of them had been forgotten in the meantime. The ceremonies described in these sources were thus performed in a very improvised form and not in accordance with the supposed "old customs."

This book by Peter Štih provides a complex view of the most important problems of the Slovenian history of the Middle Ages and on Slovene traditions. The re-reading of known sources from a new focus, a new understanding of the information which they provide, and the study of the semantics of individual terms--all supported by a broad knowledge of the relevant literature--enable the author to redraw the image of the Middle Ages in the region of modern-day Slovenia from a wider perspective and without fictitious traditions. The book is provided with maps that facilitate the reader's orientation in the region under study. Similarly, genealogies of the main noble families dealt with, a concordance list of Slovene place names in German and Italian, photographs, and an index all help the reader understand the whole text better.

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Author Biography

Marie Bláhová

Charles University, Prague