"New" Indo-European Homeland Theory

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"New" Indo-European Homeland Theory

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Aug 25, 2012, 2:35 pm

Well, it's not a new theory actually, but apparently a new approach which--its authors claim--reinforces an older theory: that is, that the Indo-European languages ultimately arose in Anatolia. They presented their methodology in the journal SCIENCE, but since most people don't have access to that, they were kind enough to put together a website, aimed more or less at non-specialists.


I'm not convinced.

But it is always interesting to see new takes on things, I suppose. As far as I can tell, they use a statistical model that was actually designed to plot the origin of viruses, and use linguistic cognates as the data set.

Interesting discussion going on now at Language Log about the findings:


Edited: Aug 25, 2012, 2:54 pm

Ah, pretty much the old Colin Renfrew Archaeology and language theory (or am I missing something?). Nope, I'm not convinced either, but it is interesting to see people trying to apply new methods to old theories.

Fascinating stuff - thanks.

Aug 25, 2012, 3:09 pm

Yeah, essentially. I myself am firmly in the Mallory/Anthony camp, and sort of take umbrage at the way these guys seem to treat the competing theory, essentially characterizing it as the old "axe-wielding barbarians sweeping in off the steppe and conquering Europe" argument. That may be how it was conceived in the days of phrenology and racist archaeology, but it is quite a bit different these days. Anthony's take in particular in "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language" definitely calls for a subtler, gradual transmission of language and ideas--more of a franchising operation--than the old thinking which called for straight up conquest and massive population displacement.

Edited: Aug 25, 2012, 3:28 pm

It may well be that the Indo-European languages came from that region, but I dare to ask for a place a little in the north: The place where today is the Black Sea. Around 5500 BC the Mediterranean sea broke through to this plain and filled it up, and the people(s) settling there had to move away. What about this theory as the origin?

Please be aware of another point: Turkish cultural policy has it, that Turkey is considered to be the cradle of civilization. Which is slightly exaggerated ... - The key word is "Anatolianism". Every cultural aspect in the long history of Anatolia is comprised under the word "Anatolianism". So e.g. Homer writing about Troy is considererd not (!) to be a Greek, but an "Anatolian". In the end, the Turkish nation is the nation who brought all culture to the world.

The latest chief excavator of Troy, German Prof. Korfmann, (he recently died) supported the idea of Anatolianism. He fulfilled the expectations of German and Turkish politicians by this, who try to find reasons why Turkey should become a member of the European Union, although Turkey is totally different from a cultural point of view and has not yet caught up with Western values. Details can be found in the recent book: "Tatort Troja", by Prof. Frank Kolb. (German only).

Well, seems the politicians found another reason, now. Who paid the study?

Aug 25, 2012, 3:26 pm

From Atkinsons homepage:


2012 Templeton Foundation, “Testing the functional roles of religion in human society” (US$300,000)

2011 Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, Royal Society, New Zealand (NZ$1 million) (Principal-Investigator).

2010 Economic and Social Research Council, UK - “Bringing ritual to mind” (£3.1million) (Co-investigator)

2008 Cognition, Religion and Theology Grant, Templeton Foundation - “ Cross-cultural religious diversity”, £25,000 (principal investigator)

2008 Cognition, Religion and Theology Grant, Templeton Foundation - “Supernatural agents, surveillance and cheating”, £13,000 (principal investigator)

Aug 25, 2012, 3:47 pm

> 4: Sounds a bit like Thet Oera Linda Bok, except there everything, but I really mean just about everything, is attributed to Frisians. Neptune is a bastardized form of the nickname of some Frisian sea king : Neef Teunis (Cousin Tony) - yeah, sure, dream on. Just finished it cover to cover - what a total load of crock.

(p.s: you do realize your message in #5 is awfully spammy?)

Aug 25, 2012, 3:53 pm

>6 Nicole_VanK:: In that vein, I have a book in my collection I've skimmed (but have no intent to fully read), which pretty much does the same thing, except it claims that "Homer" was really writing/singing about memories from the Baltic region. I mean, anything's possible, but simply comparing a few roughly similar place-names and some broad similarities of mythology doesn't really cut it.

Aug 25, 2012, 3:56 pm

>6 Nicole_VanK: and 7: If we're not careful, quicksiva will pop by to remind us that every part of human culture ever conceived started in Egypt.

Edited: Aug 25, 2012, 4:11 pm

> 3: Renfrew is more subtle than that. He did think dispersal of language would have something to do with migration of humans (but very gradual), and thought the best option for that was population increase because of the introduction of crop farming (neolithic evolution if you will) - and essentially that's why he starts his reconstruction in Anatolia: early agriculture plus early usage of an Indo-European language. His idea was that raising crops would have given some groups such an advantage that they would have gradually displaced earlier hunter/gatherer groups. In itself not a bad theory.

He runs into awful problems when he tries to explain the movement of Indo-European languages into the Persia and India though. Then, suddenly, he relies on conquering hordes.

In short: I would advise you to read this book, just to take notice of an alternative theory going about. But I agree Horse, wheel, and language makes much more sense to me too.

Aug 25, 2012, 4:31 pm

>7 Feicht:
It's rather funny. Snorri claimed that the Aesir were really immigrants from Troy that fooled the stupid populace up here into believing that they were Gods (and that "Hektor" was equivalent to "Åke-Tor", something like 'Thor that rides on a wagon'. Inventive etymology is nothing new). Sounds like that theory has come full circle.

Aug 25, 2012, 4:42 pm

>9 Nicole_VanK:: Don't worry, I've had Renfrew on my bookshelf for years, even read it and everything! :-D

>10 andejons:: Yeah I remember when I first read Shorri's Edda years ago finding his euhemerism particularly odd, but I guess it was nothing new then, and still isn't, even though people are still doing it. I mean, look how many (non-Jewish!) peoples in the middle ages claimed to have some sort of genealogical connection to the Holy Land.

Aug 25, 2012, 4:48 pm

For what it worth: Thet Oera Linda Bok also claims that Odysseus made it to the Frisian shores - Calypso "obviously' being a bastardized form of a Frisian nickname of some dame on these shores.

Yes, okay, Feicht is right: anything is possible. But come on... It's not very likely, is it?.. ;-)

Aug 25, 2012, 5:11 pm

6 BarkingMatt

> p.s: you do realize your message in #5 is awfully spammy?

Ouups, I didn't. I should have added it to the previous message. Sorry for that.

Interesting is, that Atkinson receives a lot of money from the Templeton Foundation, this is the same Foundation mentioned a lot of times in Richard Dawkins' books: Researchers who have an all too friendly view of religion are financed by this foundation. Could be that in this case the biblical story of the Deluge with Noah's ark landing at mount Ararat in ... Anatolia (of course) ... plays a role.

Aug 25, 2012, 5:59 pm

Hehe, Matt, you see why there are different words for "possible" and "likely"! :-D

Aug 26, 2012, 3:29 pm

If I may make a drive-by comment: I have in my collection a book called "Homer, singer of Celts" (orig. Homerus, zanger der Kelten) by Dutchman Ernst Gideon, which claims that the real location of Troy was in England (around Cambridge), that the sea Homer speaks of is the Atlantic, and that Ulysses' travels took him all around the Atlantic coast, the Channel Islands and, of course, the Dutch shores. IIRC, he hypothesized that Scylla was really some mechanical contraption devised by the Phoenicians to extract metals from Cornwall (though I might be wrong here: I haven't read the book so much as skimmed it). The book was even republished at some point as "Troy was situated in England" (orig. Troje lag in Engeland).

More on-topic: I find Renfrew's (and Bellwood's and Diamond's) idea of an agriculture-fuelled spread of IE a fascinating suggestion because it claims to be one instance of a general prehistoric pattern where farmers outcompeted hunter-gatherers. If true it would also offer an explanation for other prehistoric puzzles, such as the spread of Uto-Aztecan languages. It'd be a neat (ish) framework with which to look at the Neolithic. Unfortunately, I think the evidence amassed by historical linguistics (notably words for wheels and chariots and birch trees etc) constitute too much of a problem.

Aug 26, 2012, 7:18 pm

Yeah, I'd love for the whole question to be wrapped up in a nice package of the languages expanding with Neolithic farming culture, but in my mind anyway, the linguistic aspect (which, in this instance, is the important one) just doesn't really allow for it. Once again, I say that Anthony is the new authority on this subject.

Of course, it's not that the Renfrew-esque "Out of Anatolia" model is irrational or anything. That distinction (IMO) lies with Alinei's "Paleolithic Continuity Model", which as I understand it relies more on genetic evidence than linguistic. But here again is the strength of Anthony's theory. It allows for the fact that there was no widespread genetic whitewashing by Indo-European interlopers, positing a gradual influx of only a relatively few individuals who didn't (generally speaking) come in search of conquest in the traditional sense. Alinei's theory sees the same genetic result, but assumes that it MUST mean that the languages of the aboriginal inhabitants were Indo-European, jumping through a variety of hoops in order to do so. To me, it's an example of trying to make the data fit the hypothesis instead of the other way around, which is flawed reasoning.

Aug 26, 2012, 9:56 pm

>4 Thorwald_Franke: "Please be aware of another point: Turkish cultural policy has it, that Turkey is considered to be the cradle of civilization. Which is slightly exaggerated ... - The key word is "Anatolianism". Every cultural aspect in the long history of Anatolia is comprised under the word "Anatolianism". So e.g. Homer writing about Troy is considererd not (!) to be a Greek, but an "Anatolian". In the end, the Turkish nation is the nation who brought all culture to the world."

Asia Minor played an important role in early world history, no doubt about it. But the Turks didn't arrive in Asia Minor until rather late: after 1000 A.D. Even if the Anatolian theory is true, it has little to do with the present inhabitants of Anatolia, who speak Turkish-- which is not an Indo-European language!

It's funny how many different countries claim to be the root and source of all civilization: Turks, Scots, Basques, Frisians... when we all know that the true home of civilization is Ireland. ;)

Aug 29, 2012, 3:55 am

For those who are interested in serious thinking about this long-standing question, here are my comments on my reading of Robert Drews' 'The Coming of the Greeks: Indo-European conquests in the Aegean and the Near East':

"Splendid example of hypothesis construction & testing. Effect is to strengthen greatly the Gamkrelidze/Ivanov hypothesis on the IE homeland (Armenia/Eastern Anatolia), with corrected chronology (2nd M not 4th or 5th) and good archaeological data. Gimbutas ('out of the steppes') & Renfrew ('plodding farmers demic diffusion') loose credibility.

""All the IE movements of the Bronze Age that we know about are takeovers, date no earlier than ca.1600BC, & are associated with chariot warfare." (p153)

""Chariot warfare, along with 'the Greeks', came to Greece ca.1600BC ... similar in the takeover of nthwestern India by the Aryans, of southern Mesopotamia by the Kassites, of Egypt by the Hyksos, of Mitanni by Aryans ... All of the takeovers occurred within a few generations after the perfection, around the middle of the C17thBC, of chariot warfare ..."(pp170-172).

"" ... 'the coming of the Greeks' did not ethnically transform the land; instead, it seems to have superimposed upon the indigenous population of Greece a small minority of PIE speakers. In this respect, as in its date, the Hellenization of Greece thus seems to parallel the Aryanization of nthwest India" (pp199-200).

"PS August 2012: If we factor in the Ryan/Pitman hypothesis on the catastrophic filling of the Euxine around 5600 BCE as the seas rose in the deglaciation of the Holocene a process that continues today, then it becomes interesting that all the arguments on the origins of the IEs focus on places all round the Black Sea - the 'Kurgan' theory of Marija Gimbutas and many others including David Anthony focussed on the northern and north-eastern steppes; Renfrew et al focussed on the spread of agriculture to Europe out of Anatolia; and the linguistic theories of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, supported by Drews albeit with much lower chronology, focussed on eastern Anatolia and Armenia, particularly around Lake Van. Perhaps the conceptualisers should be thinking more sub-marine at this stage!"

Aug 29, 2012, 4:42 pm

It's funny how many different countries claim to be the root and source of all civilization: Turks, Scots, Basques, Frisians... when we all know that the true home of civilization is Ireland. ;)

Where is the "Like" button when you really need it!

Edited: Aug 29, 2012, 5:24 pm

> 18: Yes, I really should try to get a better understanding of the Gamkrelidze/Ivanov hypothesis. Problem (for me at least): they're too much focused on linguistics. Don't get me wrong, of course there's absolutely nothing wrong with that as such. It's just - most of the time I won't have a clue what someone like that is on about. I understand stratification, C-14, tree-rings, etc. But without further explanation, I don't get why reconstructed replacement - no sure way of telling it actually ever really happened at all, but that isn't really even my point - of b with v (or whatever) is in any way really significant.

So some people in far antiquity had speech impediments : big deal. ;-)

Seriously though: PIE linguists out there - please give some subtitles for those of us who come from other disciplines. As it stands it's voodoo.

Edited: Aug 29, 2012, 6:36 pm

I'm only an "amateur" regarding this stuff, at least at present. But as I understand it, much like it is possible to provide an average time span on certain other activities (rates of tree-growth, carbon decay, whatever), there is a way to sort of do the same with rates of language change (last I checked, called glottochronology). Of course you're working with an average, so it is impossible to say with certainty when exactly something happened, and the farther back in time you go the less precise it gets. But either way, just like C-14 will eventually become N-14, certain sounds also "decay" into other ones, and since for most modern languages there is at least 1000 years of written record at this point, we are provided with a sort of rubric to assess how long each of these things takes.

Part II consists of comparing this to lists of words which linguists have reconstructed (based on similar theories of "sound decay/progression") in the ancestral *PIE language, and doing the math to see how long it would (or more accurately, "could") take to get from A to B (that is... "ah" to "ei"...or something. I guess).

Of course, now that I say that, I have to say that since I am not a linguist by training (yet), I am a bit dubious of the idea of using this AND ONLY THIS as any kind of argument proving anything. It's of course an interesting corollary, but in a lot of ways, without any cultural/archaeological context, it just doesn't tell you very much other than certain educated guesses about how some things sounded a few millennia ago, and tells you next to nothing about WHERE said sounds came from geographically, which is kind of the thing people have been trying to prove for several generations now.

Aug 29, 2012, 8:00 pm

My impression from the perspective offered in SCIENCE is that at this point the main interest is in the analytic methodology rather than the conclusions. It is a new approach that merits further attention and effort. Results so far are illuminating but not conclusive. My impression from reading the perspective in SCIENCE. The report itself is heavier going and may defeat me.

Aug 29, 2012, 8:43 pm

>20 Nicole_VanK: & 21: Yes I agree that historical linguistics alone, certainly this far back in time, will be more indicative than conclusive, and Gamkrelidze & Ivanov have been criticised for the vagueness of their chronology. Nevertheless historical linguistics can offer insights into where a proto-language was probably spoken, based on (i) the words that the 'daughter' languages have in common with another language family (thus G&I cite Semitic words in common with Proto-Indo-European, suggesting greater proximity to Mesopotamia than provided by the 'traditional' northern Pontic region) and (ii) lexical items for the environment (eg animals & plants) that the daughter languages share and which point to particular geographic spaces and limit points on a map of pre-historic Eurasia.

For me the main issue re the IEs is as follows: If you take the suggestion I made above about the relevance of Ryan/Pitman's hypothesis around 5600 BCE (for which there seems to be good empirical evidence) and if you accept Drews' chronology linking the 'arrival on the scene' of the IEs to chariot warfare (around & following 1600 BCE), then you have a 4000-year gap to fill. If the IEs were the people living around the Euxine lake before the Mediterranean broke through and filled the basin with salt water to become the Black Sea, then where did they flee to (or at least move to over a period of decades as the basin filled up)? Well the hypothesis is pretty obvious: those on the northern side of the now-expanding lake moved north to the steppes; those on the south side moved south into Anatolia; and those in the south-east moved south east towards Armenia & Lake Van. Then, much much later, with the invention of chariots & perfection of their use in warfare, comes the big expansion - west into Europe (both through Anatolia & across the northern Pontic), south-east to Persia & India (the Indo-Aryans, perhaps travelling partly by sea down through the Persian Gulf & around the coast), and north-east into Xinjiang (the Tocharians, whose mummified remains I viewed in Urumchi a couple of years ago - they had long noses and red hair). And their takeovers of land and peoples were all examples of 'elite dominance' - their numbers small, they change the local cultures & languages but don't change the local DNA all that much. Whence all the DNA tests in Europe, for instance, that show that most modern Europeans are descended from ancestors who lived in Europe 30,000 years ago, before the last Ice Age and long before the IEs had been invented!

So all the IE theoreticians can eat their cake and have it! And whence my suggestion that marine archaeology around the shores of the Black Sea might have much to teach us.

The other thought I have (as I play amateurishly with lines on maps) is that some of the ancient Greek settlements in the Pontic region (north, south & east) may have been not so much Iron Age colonies of Aegean Greeks moving east, but rather Bronze Age settlements of proto-Greeks moving west!

Ah, the fun of the armchair historian!

Aug 30, 2012, 1:47 am

> 21-23: Yeah, I was just venting really - and in doing so I managed to exaggerate the depth of my not-understanding. (In itself no mean feat, since my lack of understanding is great).

I do get the basic idea behind it. And I don't deny it's interesting. It strikes me as very similar to the relative chronologies based on typology archaeology relied on so much before the carbon revolution. I'm sure you're all familiar with them. Like Feicht says, not something I would like to rely on exclusively but certainly interesting as corollary.

I do think PIE linguists are often being too obscure in their communications though, and that this obstructs multidisciplinary research.

Aug 30, 2012, 2:10 am

>24 Nicole_VanK:: I think the thing to remember is that at least some parts of the 'soft' sciences - including pre-history - are becomer 'harder' through use of hardish science tools: physical anthropology & archaeology, DNA testing (on both mortal remains & living descendants), dating methodologies, even historical linguistics ... In the case of pre-history it seems to me that the progress made over the last 20 years is remarkable - in many fields including the IEs, ancient Israel, Homo sapiens colonisation of the Pacific, Australia & the Americas and so on. Much of what was written in all these fields before the 1990s is now in the rubbish bin of the history of ideas. Even historical linguists are managing to throw away much of what they thought they knew - this has to be good!

Aug 30, 2012, 2:19 am

A rubbish bin? One of my favorite topics? :-)

Aug 30, 2012, 2:51 am

Yes I love it too (particularly the question how we got from there to here and what makes us so sure we're now - at last - right).

In the pre-history context the point is that no single discipline has all the answers. Only when they all start pointing in the same direction at the same time can we begin to have some confidence in our hypotheses.

Dec 3, 2012, 5:21 pm

I'm coming to this discussion ratyher late, but was glad to see mention (#18) of the Ryan/Pitman hypothesis. Their book, Noah's Flood is well worth reading and there have been some Robert Ballard follow-up explorations that are still ongoing, I believe. Given the dispersion of PIE, it certainly makes sense, although we still have nothing close to concrete evidence that this is based upon anything more than strong conjecture.

Dec 3, 2012, 6:36 pm

Lately I've been looking deeper into the "native" aspects regarding Indo-European linguistics (much to the chagrin of my handlers, who FOR SOME REASON want me to finish things that I've actually been assigned). So in other words, going the other direction, examining the extant evidence for the languages of the peoples who were there before the "Indo-Europeans" brought their languages (if not--very many of--their people). It's fascinating stuff, really. Highly conjectural as a matter of course, but when you're dealing with pre-written language, that's to be expected.

Specifically, I've been looking at Hans Krahe's "Alteuropäische Hydronymie" (literally "Old-European water-naming"), basically a list of every body of water in Europe that he could come up with which seemed to have a pre-Celtic or pre-Germanic root in its name. All told, even if some of the names are identified incorrectly, there is still a vast number of rivers and localities in Europe which would seem to fit into one of three roots: *al-/*alm-, *sal-/*salm-, and *var-/*ver-. This of course tells us next to nothing about these people (we have to rely on archaeology for that), but it is at least interesting in and of itself to be able to recognize this much.

I've also been reading a little about some of the odd characteristics in some branches of the Indo-European tree, and what that can help us infer. Specifically, the Germanic branch has a lot of odd characteristics not common to any of the others which make some scholars thing it proves that the Germanic branch itself may have initially evolved as a sort of pidgin language between *PIE speakers on the one hand and some other group somewhere else (alternatively, it may have picked up these characteristics as it moved into Europe proper). What was interesting to me initially was that there really are some truly weird things about our branch of the family tree (as it were), but we just don't notice because it's the language we speak; Latin and Greek are the weirdos, not us! When in fact it's kind of the reverse (and by the same token, at least part of the reason why it is comparatively easier to pick up another Germanic language than, say, Ukrainian).

Dec 3, 2012, 6:45 pm

Speaking of Germanic languages, I was so surprised to discover that Prussian was not related to German on the IE branch. When you consider that the militaristic Prussians dominated 19th & 20th century Germany and sent them on their suicidal trajectory, it seems unreal they were such very distant relatives on the language tree.

As for pre PIE, we have no ideas what language the Cucuteni spoke. That is what is tragic

Dec 3, 2012, 7:20 pm

Well, the "Prussians" are a case of the historical misnomers (the Germans were great at that). Just as the "Holy Roman Empire" was famously neither "Roman" nor an "empire", and especially not "holy"--instead being a bunch of squabbling (mostly) German-speaking fiefdoms, "the Prussians" of the 19th century were actually the aristocratic German "1%" and the people they ruled (often German settlers, often not) from the Baltic Rim. As I understand it, the area itself was called "Prussia", so the people that ruled it after the "crusades" of the Teutonic knights in the 14th century ended up being referred to as "Prussians" in some circles as well, when to be completely technical the real Prussians were the indigenous inhabitants massacred by those knights spreading the Good News of Jesus at the end of pointed sticks of wood and iron. Hence "Old Prussian" is the language spoken by those unfortunates, which as I understand it would have been related to modern Baltic languages like Latvijan and Lithuanian.

Dec 3, 2012, 7:55 pm

Oh, that's interesting. So what used to be Prussia, which has been carved up more ways than the infant Soloman ruled on -- now in pieces in Poland, Russia, Germany, etc. -- what language do they speak? Is there actually a Prussian language that survives?

Dec 4, 2012, 7:50 am

As far as I know, the Teutonic K'niggits extinguished the local language of "Old Prussia" in the aftermath of their "crusade", but I could be wrong. The way it usually worked in the "Drang nach Osten" was Germans would build up towns as trading centers which would be either majority German (immigration) or at least have a large German stratum; Danzig/Gdansk is a good example of this, along with Prague and... well... practically every other eastern European city you can think of (Ljubljana, Slovenia, for instance, used to be called "Laibach", and when you go there it looks very much like a German/Austrian town).

But anyway, as for your question, I think it's luck of the draw, really. Old Prussian was extinguished, but Polish, for instance, survived, maybe because it had a wider area of distribution. Of course, for better or worse, it should be noted that huge tracts of what are now Poland, Czech, etc, were very much "German" areas culturally speaking at the dawn of the 20th century and even into WWII**, and it was only through a sort of "ethnic cleansing" afterwards that they really became "Polish", etc as we would think of it. So even though today's Poland is a gigantic country, in some ways it is sort of skews the evidence when it comes to things like pre-war linguistic distribution.

**I guess it bears noting that I'm not trying to forgive Nazi atrocities and whatnot by any means, but simply stating that a lot of these places were heavily "German", due in large part to the massive immigration TO there FROM what we think of as "Germany" today, albeit oftentimes in the aftermath of genocide-for-Christ as stated above.

Dec 4, 2012, 3:46 pm

Poland was christened long before the crusades. Apart from some coastal areas, what is today Poland was not occupied by the Teutonic knights. They did war, but at that point, the only crusades the knights were on were against Orthodox russians.

And according to wikipedia, Old Prussian became extinct somewhere around the year 1700. The Teutonic knights probably didn't care what language people talked, as long as they where Christians and paid what was due to their superiors.

Dec 4, 2012, 6:53 pm

Well yeah, "Poland" was sort of "on the way" ;-)

Dec 4, 2012, 10:06 pm

I have to admit that I feel really dumb about not knowing that people who spoke Old Prussian had no relationship to the later German inhabitants of Prussia. I rarely miss things this consequential. Thank you for setting me on the right path, Josh. Plus, it's always cool to learn new things, even when the path to that knowledge can be a bit humbling.

I suppose at the root of it, the whole thing betrays my spotty background on the whole medievil period. The truth is, I know so much more about neolithic settlements, Younger Dryas, Natufians, Cucuteni, etc., as well as Bronze Age and Classical Age history than I know about Germany or France 700 years ago. It's an era I have always had little interest in, but this discussion is a reminder that all holes need to be filled with data, even if these are less than exciting bits as far as I'm concerned.

Edited: Dec 5, 2012, 5:55 am

Oh don't get me wrong, I'm no expert on medieval times myself; my interest in history generally takes a rapid nosedive after the introduction/imposition of Christianity, and my knowledge/interest in the period begins to get a lot more "topical"... losing the forest for the trees, maybe.

But one thing I do find interesting about the time is how you still very much had this sort continuation of the theme of "civilization vs. the natives" that existed among the Romans (which I guess makes sense, because all practically all the "kingdoms", fiefdoms, etc in western Europe recognized with them in at least some way). But yeah, part of this theme is stuff like the Drang nach Osten (don't know what that is in English offhand; I mean I know what the words mean, it just sounds a bit silly to translate, kind of like "Zeitgeist" does), where the Germans (and French) kept on pushing east, building new towns, taking over old ones, converting the natives, etc. A great book that talks about this is Robert Bartlett's The Making of Europe, which is loaded with not only history, but lots of pretty (tragically?) funny little anecdotes, for instance vivid descriptions of times when "the natives" attempted to copy the technology of their invaders with hilarious consequences... such as building a trebuchet while knowing what a trebuchet looks like, but not really how it works :-D

Dec 5, 2012, 6:48 am

#37 - Christianity modeled itself structurally after the Empire beginning in the 4th century (I find this process fascinating) so it's not terribly surprising that to a large extent they (and Christian polities) adopted Roman attitudes toward "the other."

Edited: Dec 6, 2012, 4:46 am

#38 - Does that hold true for 'heterodox' forms of Christianity that were more influential outside the Empire such as Arianism (particularly successful among the Germanic tribes) and the Church of the East (within Sasanian territory) but which shared to a greater or lesser extent the structure of the orthodox churches of East and West? Or do you mean the Church 'adopted Roman attitudes' because the members were in large part actually Romans and didn't have any alternative attitudes? In which case 'inherited' might be a happier description.

Dec 6, 2012, 6:43 am

#39 - Inherited is a better term (Church would be better than Christianity too). And I'm talking primarily about about the orthodox Church/two churches. It's hard to know exactly what Arians thought, partly because there isn't a lot of evidence remaining. Plus it's hard to figure out what's meant by Arian, other than, "A sect conceptually created by Athanasius to assist him in characterizing and demonizing his anti-Nicene political opponents." There's some evidence for a structured hierarchy but not enough for me to characterize it.

Dec 6, 2012, 1:39 pm

>39 shikari:: While it's true that many of the Germanic tribes were first "christened" under something vaguely referred to as "Arian" Christianity, they didn't last long being settled in the West (i.e. the Latin-speaking realms) before they were convinced by the established church to "convert" to orthodoxy -- see e.g. Clovis in the 6th century. A new wave of the "evangelization" of Europe then came in the 7th and 8th centuries as Anglo-Irish monks and bishops, led by St. Boniface ("Apostle to the Germans"), were commissioned by the Pope to confirm the flagging faith of the Germanic tribes.

From what I understand, the Christians who lived on the other side of the Fertile Crescent under the Sassanians and later successors pretty much lost any direct ecclesiastical contact with the Eastern patriarchs after Chalcedon (451), for reasons both geopolitical and internally doctrinal.

And "the Holy Roman Empire" has a long history before the modern period of squabbling Prince-Electors, being revived by the mutual needs of Pippin the Short and the 8th century papacy. In short, Pippin's father, Charles Martel, had effectively replaced the Merovingians ("last of a line long-bereft of kingship", to quote a great line of Tolkien's) with his own family, but needed some type of validation for their newly-found royal status; the popes, who were the effective rulers of the city of Rome and little else, on the other hand, had spent a century suffering under the encroachments of the Lombards and were looking for some outside support. The bargain was set: the Pope, drawing on authority enshrined at about that time in the forged and famous "Donation of Constantine", declared Pippin the rightful king of the Franks, and Pippin in turn marched to Rome's aid to curtail the pesky Lombards.

Pippin's son, of course, would take take the next logical step, together with the pope, who crowned and consecrated Charlemagne Emperor on Christmas Day, 800. Both at that time and throughout the centuries that followed, their was a mutual (and mutually suspicious and contentious) relationship of power between the Emperor and the Pope, both of whom drew their models of authority (imperial and sacerdotal) from Roman examples rather than Germanic. A classic (and undervalued) study of this is Percy Ernst Schramm's Kaiser, Rom, und Renovatio; also good (if idiosyncratic) is Alois Dempf's Sacrum Imperium.

I'm afraid I don't know the scholarship on the early medieval and Carolingian roots of this as well (my speciality is the twelfth century), so I'm not sure where the best place to start in English would be. The works of Gerd Tellenbach are still foundational for the period when that relationship between Papacy and Empire bubbled out of control in the "Investiture Contest" at the end of the eleventh century. Good for the earlier ends of the spectrum is Walter Goffart's The Narrators of Barbarian History; and the chapters on this development in Peter Brown's The Rise of Western Christendom are good, too.

Edited: Dec 6, 2012, 5:50 pm

'Didn't last long?' Well, the entire life of the Vandal kingdom in North Africa, the entire life of the Germanic occupation of Italy by the Ostrogoths and the successor Langobard kingdom (tho' rather more contested) up to the reign of King Percatrit in the late Seventh century, the Visigothic kingdom in Iberia. The three centuries of these Arian kingdoms contrast with the Frankish kingdom, the only Germanic polity to enthusiastically embrace orthodoxy before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.