RESEARCH

IÖG|UNIVIE | University of Vienna

At the University of Vienna, we conduct historical studies about the period. This concerns research by the PI, Walter Pohl, which spans the history of early medieval steppe peoples, the question of the transformation of the Roman world, the history of the Longobards, problems of ethnicity and identity, the impact of religion and other issues relevant for the project. Together with the team, he will also be involved in the historical interpretation of scientific and archaeological data, and in the methodological reflection of the process.

Steppe peoples of eastern Central Europa and Central Asia in Comparison

(400-900 CE) - PhD project, Sandra Wabnitz

In her PhD thesis, Sandra Wabnitz analyzes cultural similarities between early medieval steppe peoples on a Eurasian scale. Focusing on the Avars, the Bulgars, the Tuoba, the Turks and the Uighurs she does not only compare the accounts about these steppe peoples in historiographical, annalistic and chronographical texts of Latin, Greek and Chinese authors, but also takes into account archaeological finds as well as the latest genetic analyses. In her work, she will pay special attention to the contemporary Chinese perceptions of steppe peoples, and work with original Chinese texts that have so far not been translated into European languages. This will help to understand in what ways the early medieval steppe empires along the Danube differed from those that emerged north of China.  

Community, migration and identity in the textual record

Building on the new data from genetic and isotope analyses and on the progress in the archaeological record, migration narratives and perceptions of difference as documented in the written sources can be reassessed. How is migration framed in the historical record? In what ways did successive scholarship and modern national master narratives develop that picture? How do these perceptions relate to the scientific/archaeological record? This line of research will be complemented with a historical enquiry about perceptions of smaller communities and their collective agency in the sources. It will also address the Latin, Greek and Germanic terminology for small communities such as the ones that can be traced in the cemetery evidence. This research can also build on the results of the cPI’s ERC Advanced Grant project ‘SCIRE’. In particular, it can use and extend the data-base GENS (Group terminology and Ethnic Nomenclature: a Semantic database, c. 400-1200, http://www.oeaw.ac.at/imafo/gens).

Mental Maps of Migration.
Re-using and Re-adapting ethnic discourse in the Migration Period

Within the ERC Synergy Grant HistoGenes Salvatore Liccardo will explore the re-negotiation of ethnic nomenclature and cultural frameworks in early medieval geographical sources. In light of the general research question of tracking directions and progressions of migration in early medieval Eastern Central Europe, written sources, especially geographical ones, can give the impression ‘to be always late.’ Operating within an established educational canon and literary tradition, they tend to display a rather marked lexical conservatism and describe an apparently static ethnic landscape. However, a thorough analysis of these sources, of their transmission, and the influence they had on contemporary historical accounts aims at highlighting the traces of the authors’ historical consciousness and a certain awareness of their terminological ambiguity. Finally, the new data that the ERC Synergy Grant will provide from genetic, isotope, and anthropological analysis will serve to reinterpret the ‘grand narratives’ of migration found in the written sources. The transformations occurring on the ground, the spatial relocation of ethnic groups from their homeland to a destination point and the conceptual and lexical changes recognizable in the sources, appear as two distinct but related analytical concepts. Interdisciplinary and methodologically innovative, the project contributes significantly to the debates on late antique and early medieval ethnicity.