In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

RELIGIOUS IDENTITY AS SEEN BY SIXTH-CENTURY HISTORIANS AND CHRONICLERS Ecaterina Lung In recent decades, the problem of identity has become central in the research on Late Antiquity, a period characterized by the disruption of existing political structures through large scale migrations. In order to decipher the process of creating new identities in this period which formed the foundation of medieval identities, the historical narratives are of primary importance. This paper exploits these sources to explain the construction of religious identity. The concept of collective or group identity refers to the group’s members’ shared “conception of its enduring characteristics and basic values, its strengths and weaknesses, its hopes and fears, its reputation and conditions of existence, its institutions and traditions, its past history, current purposes, and future prospects.”1 Identity can be defined from various ethnic, social and cultural points of view, but historians and anthropologists look mainly at ethnic identity because ethnicity is to them the most important reference point.2 Furthermore, these ethnic identities are considered as irrevocably established from the time when peoples are first mentioned in historical sources. Only in the 1960s did scholars begin to challenge this assertion: historian Reinhard Wenskus and anthropologist Fredrik Barth stressed the fluid character of identities.3 In the 1980s, Benedict Anderson persuasively argued that intellectuals in the “century of nations” projected onto the past a reality of their own time, the nation, an “imagined 1 Herbert C. Kelman, “The Place of Ethnic Identity in the Development of Personal Identity: A Challenge for the Jewish Family” in Peter Y. Medding, ed., Coping With Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 16. 2 Piere Bonte, Michel Izard, dir., Dictionnaire de l’ethnologie et de l’anthropologie. (Paris: PUF, 2004), p. 799. 3 Reihard Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung: Das Verden der frühmittelalterlichen Gentes. (Köln, 1961); Fredrik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. The Organisation of Social Difference, (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1969). i6 p&c 00 book.indb 119 2017.09.20. 16:22 ECATERINA LUNG 120 community.”4 Ethnic identity is now linked to possessors of political power, elites who imposed on their subjects their family traditions.5 Ethnicity is thus shown as a social and cultural construct, a form of mobilization to achieve political goals.6 Due to the concentration on ethnic identity in the last decades, less attention was paid to religious identity in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, even though the issue of Christianity was quite often taken into consideration by the historians dealing with questions of identity.7 In the words of Denise Kimber Buel, “religion remains surprisingly under theorized in relation to ethnicity.”8 This may be explained by the idea that the link between ethnic identity and religion was somehow obscured by Christian monotheism and its pretension to universalism.9 Social psychology gave more attention to religion being “at the core of individual and group identity” and contributing to its stabilization.10 This paper examines the ways religion was used by sixth-century historians as a tool to forge and secure the identity of the group to which they belonged (the in-group identity), in contrast to the identity of others. Throughout, I will use the terms ‘Christians ’ and ‘pagans’, ignoring different Christian persuasions competing with each other during the Christological debates. Sixth-century Byzantine and Latin historians and chroniclers preserve popular myths and legends that are remarkable sources for the study of the mentality and world-view of the period. As Ian Wood states, “Communities often fantasize about their origins, which can provide a crucial element in the construction of their self-identity.”11 Self-identity has a strong religious component. Historical writings of the time were either political and military-centered histories, or universal chronicles, written from 4 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London, 1983. 5  Patrick J. Geary, Mitul națiunilor. Originile medievale ale Europei, (Romanian translation of The Myths of Nations ), (Târgoviște: Editura Cetatea de Scaun, 2007), p. 17. 6 Florin Curta, Apariţia slavilor. Istorie şi arheologie la Dunărea de Jos în veacurile VI–VII , Târgovişte, Editura Cetatea de Scaun, 2006. 7 See, for example, Walter Pohl, Clemens Gantner, Richard Payne (eds.), Visions of community in the Post-Roman World. The West, Byzantium and the Islamic World, 300–1100, Ashgate, 2012. A recent survey presenting the problem of religion connected with other kinds of identity: Marilyn Dunn, Belief and Religion in...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.