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Ab Imperio, 3/2001 143 Ildar GARIPZANOV SEARCHING FOR “NATIONAL” IDENTITY IN THE MIDDLE AGES (THE RESPONSE OF A EUROPEANIST) What are the nation and nationhood? What are hidden forces creating national identity? Is national identity a conscious construct chosen by a person because of earthly needs or irrational feeling driving an individual against his will? These are first questions arising after reading the papers by Michel Bouchard and A. V. Korenevsky. Unfortunately, these questions are left without a definite answer. At the same time, modern historiography of medieval West proposes interpretations which might provide useful background for the study of the “nation” and “nationhood” in medieval Russia. The first issue which can shed light on the problem of “national” identity is the debated problem of Gothic identity. The Goths emerged on the European horizon in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Gothic ethnic conglomeration was created after the migration of some German tribes from Eastern Pomerania to the territory of modern Ukraine. This mixture of German migrants with indigenous population is now identified as the Cherniakhovsky I. Garipzanov, Searching “National” Identity in the Middle Ages… 144 archaeological culture. Reinhard Wenskus and Herwig Wolfram1 argued that the appearance of Gothic identity was the creation of aristocratic elite, that is, the Gothic royal families in the fourth century. These elite, which included just a few per cent of the whole people, imposed their own identity on other German groups and conquered population. Thus, the Goths existed while their royal dynasties were alive. According to this theory, nationhood or national identity was primarily rational and political construct, and people chose and changed their national “affiliation” easily and consciously. On the other hand, Peter Heather2 strongly argues that this ‘royal’ interpretation is visibly influenced by Cassiodorus’ Getica, which were written at the mid-sixth century and re-interpreted early Gothic history in the interest of the Amal dynasty. Heather proves that Gothic free men were the carriers of Gothic identity in the “Cherniakhovsky’ period and later on, while the royal dynasties appeared in the fifth century when the Goths were already on Roman lands. The free Goths consisted of about 20-30 per cent of population . This was the reason why the Gothic identity survived through three centuries. The Gothic identity gave high social status and related privileges in the society, and the slaves, dependent people, and conquered people were formally excluded from the Gothicness. Many people from other ethnic groups tried to become the Goths when the Goths were the ruling group in the state. Yet the Gothic identity disappeared soon after the military defeat and annihilation of the free Goths or their departure. The latter case happened on the territory to the north and east from the Carpathian Mountains. When the Goths left this region for Roman lands, the former dependent tribes and ethnic groups created their own Slavic identity. Thus, in Heather’s opinion, the Gothic identity was the irrational category and rational construct simultaneously. This example demonstrates that ethnic identity in the early Middle Ages was a very complicated category quite different from the nationhood of the modern period. That is why Michel Bouchard’s attempt to find the earliest traces of a sense of Russian nationhood back to the eleventh century seems to me too presumptuous. Bouchard’s methodology is based on Adrian Hastings’s study of late medieval England. Yet English “national” identity at that time was rather an 1 Reinhard Wenskus. Stammesbildung und Verfassung; das Werden der frühmittelalterlichen gentes. Cologne, 1961; Herwig Wolfram. Geschichte der Goten. Munich, 1979. The influence of this theory is also visible in the article by V. K. Ronin: Franki, vestgoty, langobardy v VI-VIII vekakh: politicheskie aspekty samosoznaniia // Odissei, 1989. Pp. 6076 . 2 Peter Heather. The Goths. Oxford, 1996. Ab Imperio, 3/2001 145 exception in medieval Europe. For example, when late medieval authors spoke of France and French nation in the Higher Middle Ages, we realize that this “nation” included not only French speaking majority, but other ethnic groups such as the Bretons and Gascons with different languages, customs , and tradition. Therefore, “the most Christian French nation” speaking of the same language was simply an ideological construct of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-9731
Print ISSN
2166-4072
Pages
pp. 143-146
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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