Why is the interpretation of different peoples important

Escape historically

The "migration of peoples" has always been a source of eerie fascination. The idea of ​​endless wagons of gigantic fighters and their families who set out from the interior of Germania or from even more remote places in the direction of the Roman Empire and, after a long phase of wrestling and fighting on its soil, established their own empires, has become part of this branded in the cultural memory of Europe. The foundations of the modern world of states, it is often claimed, were laid in this context, and the political and cultural self-image of Europeans and individual nations among them is sometimes attributed to the "migration of peoples". At the same time, the "migration of peoples" shapes our conception of historical upheavals. For example, antiquity was conceptualized for a long time as a phase between two major migratory movements, the "Doric migration", which occurred around 1200 BC. And the "Great Migration".

It is no coincidence that the term "Völkerwanderung" (migration of peoples) as the name of the profound transformation process associated with migrations and conflicts that shaped the transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages occupies a dominant position and thus already conveys a powerful interpretation: the initiative or creative power should have been with the wandering groups at that time. In the Romance languages, on the other hand, a different perspective is adopted: If this is from invasive barbaric or invasioni barbariche speak, they tend to take a Roman point of view, thus referring to the structure that was particularly affected by the events, and suggest a catastrophic interpretation. In this respect, terminology paves the way for common, subcutaneously nationally occupied interpretation patterns that point to an antagonism of migrating peoples on the one hand and the static one Roman empire run out on the other side and narrow into a Roman-Germanic antagonism, which is also reflected in the traditional temporal delimitation of the migration as a phase between the great "Germanic" invasions around 375 (arrival of the Goths on the Roman Danube border) and 568 (Lombard invasion in Italy).

But what do we have to imagine under the "migration of peoples"? In a more recent introduction to the Germanic tribes aimed at a broad public it says: "The time of the Great Migration is set in the years 375-568, it is the time between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. It is triggered by the invasion of the Huns coming from Asia which drove the peoples to migrate south and west. But population growth and the associated land shortage are also reasons for the migration, as well as the lust for conquest and war. All of Europe up to the Black Sea is in upheaval, most of the peoples are leaving their old ones Settlement areas to conquer new ones. It is the end of the Roman Empire. From now on, it is no longer Rome, but the new culture of the Germanic tribes north of the Alps that determines what happens. "[1]

In the following, I will discuss some central aspects that are cited or resonate in this definition, which is quite representative for widespread ideas, in order to show that they are no longer viable against the background of the research discussions of the past three decades. However, it will not be a question of simply replacing inadequate definitions with new definitions; rather, it should be made clear that the concept of a large, especially for the Roman empire destructive "mass migration" at the end of antiquity as such now appears problematic and should be replaced by more differentiated conceptual considerations. The result will therefore be rather uncomfortable because it forces us to say goodbye to familiar certainties and, above all, because it points to the considerable complexity of the phenomena to be considered; the more sharply individual facts emerge, which demand an increased degree of differentiation and precision, the more the "migration of peoples" disappears in the fog as an easily manageable complex. [2]

Peoples, tribes, tribes

The compound "Völkerwanderung" does not represent a source term, but a secondary word formation; The idea of ​​wandering units was known to ancient contemporaries - for them immigration was even one of the most important sources of impetus for state-building and socialization processes - but one migratio gentium they did not know how to designate a specific complex of events in the late phase of Roman history. Also the use of the phrase migrationes gentium in the case of the humanist Wolfgang Lazius (1514–1565), who is generally considered to be the creator of our modern term (with his work "De aliquot gentium migrationibus" from 1557), appears to be quite unspecific. "Migration of peoples" only coagulated into the term epoch in the narrower sense in the 19th century; The definition in Grimm's "German Dictionary" is symbolically cited, which speaks of "the great movement of the Germanic peoples at the end of antiquity". [3] This conceptual narrowing compared to Lazius was by no means accidental: In the course of the nation-building processes in Europe, people also looked in Germany for supposed historical points of contact for a collective history; You found what you were looking for in the idea of ​​overcoming the Roman empire by Germanic tribes, which was seen as a first great feat of identity of the early Germans.

The connection between the "early" and the "current" Germans was accentuated with recourse to the increasingly emphatically charged and holistically used concept of the people. In politically divided Germany, the idea of ​​a unified people that could act as a collective subject and had characteristics similar to those of an individual - characteristics that manifested themselves in "folk songs", "folk poetry" or "folk culture" - gained in attractiveness. The amalgamation of Teutons and Germans into a "people" that acted over time enabled back and forward projections of alleged heroic deeds and events and could be instrumentalized in the context of increasing national consciousness. This is one of the main reasons for the link between the "migration of peoples" and the fall of the Roman Empire, which soon became a matter of course Roman empire laid the foundations of medieval Europe. One consequence of this perspective was the time limit of the "migration" to the period 375-568, ie the phase of "Germanic" activities. The Slavic movements that began in the 6th century were excluded from this concept, as was the Arab expansion since the early 7th century. They did not fit in with the idea of ​​the "migration of nations" as a movement supported by Teutons and thus the German people. [4]

Today we know very well that the romantic conception of peoples as acting, timeless units contradicts all empirical findings. Peoples are by no means homogeneous, unchangeable entities, but highly unstable social structures that are exposed to permanent processes of transformation, are primarily defined by political brackets and whose cohesion is based on complex identity-building processes that are at best able to generate temporary suggestions of coherence. The Roman Empire itself, a huge structure that stretched geographically from Britain to the Sahara, from today's Portugal to the Mesopotamia, could be described as a multi-ethnic state that never achieved complete internal homogeneity. It gained its coherence primarily as a firmly established political unit, which, through factors such as common citizenship, an overarching imperial cult, binding legislation for all imperial residents, but also through softer aspects such as the importance of Latin as an administrative and military language, extensive infrastructure Measures as well as the implementation of the Roman urban culture or the Roman way of life was guaranteed in most of the provinces. A resident of Britain was allowed to feel as a Roman citizen as well as a Syrian, Egyptian or even a resident of the city of Rome. This conglomerate can hardly be described with a conventional popular term.

Similar problems arise for those groups who are beyond the boundaries of the Roman empire were settled. A political unity of so-called Germanic associations never came about. This is not so much because the question of how one should actually define "Germanic" or "Teutonic" is highly controversial [5] and has even led to the demand for the adjective "Germanic" in a scientific context to refrain; [6] it is mainly because none of the small groups on the periphery of the Roman empire proved to be strong enough to exercise long-term political dominance - and whenever there were signs of it, the Romans intervened. Above all, however, there was no form of Germanic community consciousness that could have grounded processes of identity formation, which are essential for building more complex political structures. The large associations that developed in the course of the 3rd century (Goths, Huns, Alemanni, Franks, Saxons, Burgundians and others) did not have such a collective consciousness.

Just like the term "people", the term "tribe" or even the compound word "people stem" cause problems. In ethnology, tribes are now a well-researched and critically examined category. As attractive as it may appear at first glance, the small groups in the north described by Caesar or Tacitus, for example Barbaricum to be described as "tribes" - the criteria developed by ethnology simply do not fit these groups or at least cannot be proven there, and the same reservation applies in particular to those associations with which we are confronted in late antiquity.

In addition, until the middle of the 20th century, so-called tribal constitutions were considered to be backward compared to the developed European-transatlantic state. From this point of view, ancient barbarian stereotypes are in principle perpetuated, the core of which is aimed at denying the barbarian the ability to organize political and social issues. We know, however, that the most intensive exchange between Romans and barbarians prevailed during the "Great Migration", so the latter were very familiar with the ancient world and not for nothing both as individuals and as groups within the Roman empire Make a career and also initiate and control political and social processes in a targeted manner. This fact, which has been known for a long time, did not initially lead to any corrections in the formation of the term. Rather, especially in the first half of the 20th century under supposedly Germanic central terms such as "rule", "loyalty", "oath" and "allegiance" on the construct of a specific Germanic tribal constitution as the basis of the medieval state and in contrast to the organization of Roman empire worked, which has long since been refuted as well. [7]

So it is time to say goodbye to the "migration complex" of peoples, tribes and tribes.