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Reviewed by:
  • Neglected Barbarians ed. by Florin Curta
  • Nicholas Brodie
Curta, Florin , ed., Neglected Barbarians (Studies in the Early Middle Ages, 32), Turnhout, Brepols, 2011; hardback; pp. xx, 656; 152 b/w, 35 colour illustrations; R.R.P. €135.00; ISBN 9782503531250.

This volume could properly be re-titled Previously Neglected Barbarians. The collection of essays contained herein goes a considerable way to redressing any neglect that lesser-studied barbarians have suffered at the hands of scholars. The barbarian groups, regions, periods, and themes covered are many and broad: from Lithuania to Libya, and Huns to Herules. Papers from archaeological, historical, and numismatic perspectives make for challenging interdisciplinary reading. The copious illustrations are not simply decorative, [End Page 226] but provide crucial evidence for individual arguments about cultural similarities and differences across space.

Audronë Bliujiené's chapter on Lithuanian amber ornaments of the Aesti demonstrates how archaeology can be used to chart 'barbarian' trade, and identify possible 'homelands'. It also serves to bring a wealth of archaeological literature to the attention of an Anglophone audience, a feature common to many of the chapters in this collection. Wojciech Nowakowski explores the archaeology of the appearance and disappearance of the Olsztyn group in Poland with reference to interpretive debates about the connectedness between material culture and migration. This piece is an example of how chapters in this volume contribute not only contextual information about the forgotten barbarians, but pose methodological frameworks for further study.

Bartlomiej Szmoniewski highlights another theme of many contributors: the way that the histories of 'barbarians' have been co-opted into nationalist historiographies, and the problems for modern scholars of equating archaeological cultural remains with historical peoples. Identifying with precision such archaeological cultures is the subject of Igor O. Gavritukhin and Michel Kazanski's chapter, and they draw attention to the continued role of seriation in comparing archaeological assemblages. Margit Nagy's analysis of a Hun-age burial uses similar approaches to contextualize a particular site. This also draws particular attention to a feature of this volume, which is the revelation of data that earlier archaeological excavators had often not published, especially in cases where excavation was rescue-driven.

An excavation of a grave in Budapest where a barbarian woman had been buried in the remains of a Roman fort is the subject of Ágnes B. Tóth's chapter. The cemetery theme continues with Radu Harhoiu's research into the disappearance of the Gepids. Anna Kharalambieva's chapter again addresses Gepids, but shifts the focus, synthesizing the archaeological and historical evidence to situate these barbarians within a broader historical sweep. Of particular note is the reliance on museum artefacts originally treasure-hunted and now co-opted into scholarly analysis. Once again, the subject of Jaroslav Jirik's chapter brings history and archaeology together, centring on interactions between barbarians and Roman in Bohemia. It raises again the methodological quandary of linking cultural continuities or changes with historical peoples; this theme is also addressed in Roland Steinacher's discussion, which follows, of the Herules. Steinacher discusses the tension between a 'people' and a 'polity', and ultimately concludes that the Herules can be seen as a people, although at the same time he dismisses a long-held migration mythology that he attributes to German nationalism. [End Page 227]

In an extremely detailed survey of the archaeological, numismatic, and historical evidence for Slavic peoples in Greece, editor Florin Curta concludes that there was not a Slavic conquest of Greece. Curta notes that excavated coin 'hordes' were not evidence for reactions to invasion, but were for the payment of Roman soldiers, highlighting the continuation of a functional imperial presence in the region. In contrast, Santiago Castellanos argues that in northern Spain barbarians can be seen to have integrated with proximate imperial structures, first Roman, then Visigothic. This, a product of social stratification, is in contrast to the stereotypes of tribal simplicity still current in some discussion of antique and late antique barbarians. Political relations between Sueves, Visigoths, Romans, and Byzantines are the subject of Fernando López Sanchez's study of Suevic coinage, further exploring the forgotten barbarians of the Iberian past.

While certainly not forgotten in the same sense as other groups...


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