16.05.02, Fries-Knoblach and Steuer, eds., The Baiuvarii and Thuringi

Main Article Content

Allan Scott McKinley

The Medieval Review 16.05.02

Fries-Knoblach, Janine, and Heidi Steuer, eds., with John Hines. The Baiuvarii and Thuringi: An Ethnographic Perspective. Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2014. pp. viii, 388. ISBN: 9781843839156 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Allan Scott McKinley
University of Birmingham

The history and culture of the Thurungians and Bavarians (the use of the Latin forms of these names in the title of this work is nowhere explained) in the early middle ages are not areas often encountered in any detail in the English-language literature covering the period. With the exception of works on Carolingian Bavaria and, to a lesser extent, Boniface's mission in Thurungia, any scholar wishing to study these areas has to rely on German studies. Therefore, the publication of a collection of essays on aspects of early medieval Thurungian and Bavarian society in English, mainly by German scholars actively researching these areas, is a very worthwhile endeavour.

However, this volume is maybe not the ideal English-language publication to introduce scholars to modern German work on early medieval Thurungia and Bavaria, albeit for reasons that are partially clearly outside the control of the editors. The papers presented here were delivered in 2004, and to judge by the bibliographies they have not been substantially revised since around 2007, with the notable exception of Claudia Theune's paper; the delay in publication apparently resulting from the death of the original series editor Giorgio Ausenda in that year. An issue here is that there have been further collections on both the Thurungians and the Bavarians published in German since this date, along with other works published elsewhere; [1] to the editors' credit they draw attention to these works in their Introduction. For readers of German, much of the volume will not be new, as the same or closely-related papers have been published in German by seven of the eleven authors (and all but one of the authors who normally publish in German), so this volume in effect provides English versions or variants of existing papers for over half its contents.

If the delay in publication and the resultant dated appearance of papers was out of the editors' control, another issue with the volume should not have been. This is the failure to necessarily adhere to scholarly standards at all times. This is most obvious in the fact that in an English-language volume, many of the keys to figures and the names are in German: whilst in many cases this is because the figure is copied from an earlier work (e.g. 122, where the distribution maps will be inaccessible to any non-German speaker) which is explicable if not ideal, there are cases such as the genealogy (94) where this just seems lazy (and it raises the spectre of a non-German-speaking undergraduate one day referring to the Thurungian Amalafried having a child called Kinder). Having a quotation justifying the author's position in the original German without an English translation (261) is also a concern, as this is part of the argument being developed and needs to be accessible to all readers. Proofreading should have picked up the existence of two type 5 a's in the typology of settlements (206), which does potentially reduce its utility. It might also be questioned whether in a volume like this the practice of defending a key statement for an argument by reference to only German language works is acceptable without some discussion (e.g. the dismissal of Jentgen's re-dating of a cemetery on p. 258). The situation is so bad that over three pages (291-293) it is possible to find three notable editorial failings: manuscripts referenced without an indication of their location; a figure with symbols and no key (which is anyway not referenced in the text) and the peculiar assertion that the "Laws of the Anglo-Saxons" finish in 925, which may surprise many scholars who do not think Edward the Elder's reign marked the end of Anglo-Saxon lawmaking. [2] Other lacks of normal scholarly standards are much more acceptable, as the decision not to annotate the posthumous papers by Ausenda and by Dennis Green (who are jointly commemorated by this volume) is acknowledged and understandable.

Far more serious, albeit in the main referenced properly, are two further papers. Heike Grahn-Hoek's attempt to place Thurungian law in a wider context is at least a sensible proposition, but somehow the paper argues that similarities in laws (from different periods--Visigothic and early Anglo-Saxon law are not contemporary with the relatively late Thurungian code) equates to some form of connection between the peoples that were covered by the laws. This shows both a worrying tendency to still view the various Germanic-speaking peoples as distinct tribes with an integral relationship to their own law and an unawareness of the need to study law as both a social document and a literary creation. Peter Neumeister meanwhile attempts to argue for a sixth-century Thurungian kingdom within the bounds of the Roman province of Gaul, but continually uses as references unpublished notes of Sielaff, with no explanation as to why these have particular value. Of great concern here is that recourse to Sielaff replaces recourse to the primary sources which are in any case all written, with no linguistic or archaeological considerations entertained. It should be noted that it would be possible to write a modern scholarly paper in either of these two areas, albeit perhaps with different conclusions on the possible Thurungians in Gaul, so the problem here is not necessarily the subject matter but the way these two papers address it. Whilst it is not for an editor to dictate methodology and approach, one would in these cases expect that editors would insist on the authors engaging with methodologies designed to help understanding and to insist on the use of historical sources. That this has not been done means the volume carries two papers which promote conclusions which do not seem acceptable in the light of normal historical methods, but which are reinforced by being found alongside excellent scholarly papers.

It is also the case that most of these problems occur in the early papers in the volume, giving a poor impression to anyone actually reading through the whole work in order (albeit this experience may be limited to reviewers). This is a pity, because there is some stimulating work here, some of which will be new to Anglophone readers, such as Fries-Knoblach's massive paper on Bavarian houses and settlements and the much shorter but equally valuable contribution by Joachim Henning putting together a convincing argument that the Franks did not export agricultural innovation to their conquests, but that these were natural developments in the wake of the collapse of Roman systems. Ian Wood breaks new historical ground in showing that the leading families (the only ones we can speak of in these cases) amongst the Thurungians and Bavarians were Christian throughout the historical record. Elsewhere, the long-running debate about identity and archaeology is well represented with Steur arguing for no connection, with a valiant and well-thought out (if to this reviewer ultimately less convincing) defence of the traditional position from Max Martin, and a related consideration of the significance of symbolism from Theune.

As always with volumes of this nature, there is an issue of coverage, although here this may reflect the focus of current research in this field: thus there are two interesting and revealing papers on names and language (Green and Wolfgang Haubrichs) but both deal exclusively with the Bavarians. Ideally we could wish for coverage of Thurungian housebuilding or language, or of how the Bavarian identity was expressed in archaeology (albeit this is not an area that will bring many authors much joy) to go alongside the existing papers. As it is, the book presents very different pictures of Bavarians and Thurungians because of the questions asked and methodologies employed. Whilst not a huge issue, it should be noted that an earlier volume in the series had already dealt with the natural comparators to the Thurungians and the Bavarians, the Franks and the Alamanni respectively (with similar issues of lack of common features) which is perhaps an issue with series design. [3] The work as it stands is a comparison of different features, but in general a comparison which does not compare the same things.

It is difficult to recommend this volume, as it does not appear to serve a particular purpose. The only paper in this volume which is both unique and not seriously flawed is that of Wood (although Green and Ausenda's paper will perhaps be of interest). Those researching the Thurungians and Bavarians are likely to encounter very similar papers by the other authors in German, and are unlikely to require the English versions, although these may be convenient. Moreover, the volume as a whole does not appear to be ideal for teaching either, with the combination of poor editorial standards and some questionable content not exactly demonstrating the standards that we hope students will adopt, although it should be emphasised that some of the papers would benefit many reading lists. The volume's long genesis has probably not helped and ultimately there is still much good scholarship available within its pages; it is overall perhaps best to be thankful that this learning is available in English to use as seems appropriate, and to cope with the flaws.



1. Primarily Die Frühzeit der Thüringer. Archäologie, Sprache, Geschichte, ed. H. Castritius et al. (Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde Ergänzungsbund, 63; Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009) and Die Anfänge Bayerns. Von Raetien und Noricum zur frühmittelalterlichen Baiovaria, ed. H. Fehr & I. Heitmeier (Bayerische Langdesgeschichte und europäische Regionalgeschichte, 1; St. Otilien: EOS, 2012).

2. This error is perhaps explicable by use of F. L. Attenborough, The Laws of the Earliest English Kings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), although that does include the laws of Athelstan (reigned 927-939).

3. Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: An Ethnographic Perspective, ed. I. N. Wood (Studies in Historical Archaeoethnology, 3; Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1998).

Article Details