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Old 10-23-2008, 03:03 AM   #3
I of Macedon
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Default The making of Slavs - Florin Curta

The following is a book that I think is very important and well written. For those that don't know about this book already.

Taken from

The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, c. 500-700 (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series)

By Florin Curta

Quote from Author "Our present knowledge of the origin of the Slavs is, to a large extent, a legacy of the nineteenth century..."

Editorial Reviews

"The book is notable for the emphasis on the study of the material culture as evidence of cultural process...the novel and thorough approach of the book has a great deal to offer the scholar interested in many aspects of the history and historiography of early Medieval eastern and southeastern Europe and the study of past ethnicities." Slavic Review

"...the author offers quite a coherent and convincing approach...not only intriguing, but quite inspiring...this new study of early Slavic history is a particularly successful attempt to open new perspectives for dealing with the important challenges of history." Comitatus

"...brilliant...this book is a significant contribution to medieval history and an outstanding achievement in Slavic studies." Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"The hypothesis that Curta advances is extremely neat..." International History Review

Product Description

This book offers a new approach to the problem of Slavic ethnicity in southeastern Europe between c. 500 and c. 700. The author shows how Byzantine authors "invented" the Slavs, in order to make sense of political and military developments taking place in the Balkans. Making extensive use of archaeology to show that such developments resulted in the rise of powerful leaders, responsible for creating group identities and mobilizing warriors for successful raids across the frontier. The author rejects the idea of Slavic migration, and shows that "the Slavs" were the product of the frontier.

Customer Reviews

By Fiorella Sorello (Torino, Italia)

Since both reviewers before me made a detailed review, I would like to interpret the content of this scientificaly very well supported scholar work in a larger context. First of all, I would like to inform/remind future readers that the concept of "Slavic migrations" is a residue of the 19-th century scholarship whose conclusions were "firmly based" on the scarcity of the archaeological material and the "prima facie" interpretation of the mediveal Byzantine texts. Curta uses: much more material artefacts, his common sense and analytical approach to the written material. Consequently, it is no surprise that he comes to the conclusion that there was no "arrival of the Slavs" and there were no "massive Slavic migrations" on the Balkans in the early middle ages. The reader will find it difficult to draw a different conclusion on the basis of the presented evidence in the book.

However, the conclusions of Dr. Curta concerning the Slavic ethnogenesis are supported by at least two more independent streams of scholar work.

The first one comes in a form of recent breakthroughs in the field of genetics. The analyses of genetic founder linages on the populations in the Balkans (and eastern Europe) showed that only 10% of the extant mt DNA genetic pool (maternal ancestry)is of recent date (recent = starting from Metal ages onwards). The rest (90%)of the lineages are from Paleo-Mezo-Neolithic migrations that ceased some 5000 -6000 years before present. Similar results were found for the Y-chromosome lineages (paternal ancestry).

The second stream of scholar work that discards the idea of massive Slavic migrations in the early middle ages is the Theory of continuity of professor Mario Alinei. This theory (which is strongly corroborated by the above mentioned genetic findings)claims that the populations and languages in Europe are more or less geographically autohtonous. On several places in his two volume study ( Il Mulino editions 1996 & 2000) he points out that the idea of recent Slavic migrations is inconsistent and unsupported either by archaeological or linguistic evidence.
(I hope that this extremly important and up to date study will be published in English soon).

Those strong correlations between Curta's and Alinei's evidence and conclusions, on the one side, and the genetic evidence on the other, make a really strong case against the concept of Slavic migrations and offers a much more supported model of the prehistory and history of Balkans.

Seen in this larger context, the content of Dr. Curta's book represents a basic component of the new paradigm that emerges in the scholar work.

We cordially hope that time has come to make significant changes in the elementary school and high school history textbooks which are still based on the interpretations of the 19-th century scholar work.

By E. Filson (Chicago, IL)

This is a superb work of scholarship, putting to shame most histories of the Balkans which deal with this time period (e.g., Fine's). Curta smashes modern notions of the Slavic migrations derived mostly through (Byzantine) Roman sources, most of which are purely second hand accounts.

Curta begins with a history of the current thought on the Slavic migrations, influenced primarily by 19th century prejudices and Soviet Union "scholarship" emphasising the reigning hegemony there. He then goes on to offer a critical reading of texts, first those contemporaneous to the period under review, then the centuries immediately following. What's so important is that these readings are truly critical, as opposed to accepting or dismisive: how do these people know what they are writing? All of these texts have value, the argument goes, but they all have different value. What do these texts tell us about their authors?

Curta then reviews the archaeological evidence for the Byzantine-Roman fortifications built along the Danube. He finds Procopius' reports of these forts to be very accurate, but notes a significant absense of evidence that many were destroyed by violence; most were abandonded (and wait until you read his arguments about the coin hordes, a nerd's delight!).

Then Curta reveals the evidence for an actual Slavic culture north of the Danube. What he finds, using distributions of sites and artifacts, correspondence analyses, and cluster analyses, is a complex, well-organized and far-ranging system for the distribution of goods. His tentative conclusion is that this notion of Slav is one, while perhaps taken from a tribe somewhere along the northern border, that is projected onto a heterogeneous group of individuals that have long-ranging relationships from just east of Bavaria to east of Crimea to the Baltic seas! In short, there was no migration as such, they were always there, but had not yet formed this group identity they were given. (He does not deny raids into Byzantine-Roman territory, but who didn't raid their territory?)

What I didn't like: Curta has quite a beef with linguists and tars the entire field in his introduction. Linguists, he claims, have used spurious analyses of the Slavic lexicon to invent a purely fictional Slavic Urheimat (roughly, homeland/place of origin). While this might be true, this sort of folk etymology has little place in modern linguistics. Worse, Curta implies that he doesn't believe that Slavic languages are part of the Indo-European family! Anyone who knows a little of a Slavic language will recognize this as fantasy... Curta doesn't bother to justify his claim. It's hard to know how he would answer for this, particularly given that he doesn't seem especially up to date in linguistics.

But that's not the thrust of the book. The evidence is placed in the archaeology and a truly critical reading of the contemporaneous texts. This is a well substantiated iconoclasm that should be read by every student of European history.

By Madgearu Alexandru (Bucharest, Romania)

The main purpose of this volume is "to explore the nature and construction of the Slavic ethnic identity in the light of the current anthropological research on ethnicity". The author proposes an innovative vision about the archaeological evidence, considering that the ethnic boundaries were marked by items of material culture (features of an "emblemic style" used by an ethnic group in order to be different). The `ethnie' results from the interaction of groups with different emblemic styles. Significant changes in the material culture can thus show what Curta calls "the making of the Slavs": the emergence of a new ethnie. This approach is completely new from all what was written before about the Slavic ethnogenesis.

The sources about the early Slavs are classified in three categories according to the position of their authors: eyewitness, possible contact and second-hand information. The interest of the Byzantine writers was focused on the Slavs only in some periods when they were a real danger. The sources are showing that the inroads occurred when the Danubian limes was weak because the Byzantine army was involved in other wars. A major change took place in the Slavic society around 550-560: the anarchy recorded by Procopius was replaced by war operations commanded by several chiefs whose names were preserved in the further sources. The Byzantine answer to the Slavic threat was the building of three defence lines inside the eastern Balkan provinces. The migration of the Slavs south of the Danube can be dated only since the first years of Heraclius. Only after their settlement, the Byzantine sources recorded several real tribal names, replacing the Byzantine ethnic label that was the generic name Sclavenoi.

Curta examines the Byzantine Balkan region, in order to explain how the classical urbanized society turned into a ruralized one in the period of the Slavic invasions. After a detailed archaeological overview of the main cities in the Balkan provinces, the author concludes that the economic decline occurred because they were not supplied with food from the hinterland. The fortified network established by Justinian fell because the state was not able to support the permanent garrisons of the limes with the central distribution of grain; in the same time, the few number of peasants made impossible a defence based on their service. The withdraw of the Balkan troops in the early years of Heraclius was the natural result of the interruption of the annona taken from Egypt. Therefore, the economic decline and the withdraw of the army from the Danube were not caused by the Slavic invasions; both had internal reasons, remarkably emphasized by Curta.

Objects like amber beads, bow fibulae or pots with stamped decoration are items of two well-defined `emblemic styles' developed by the Gepids and the Lombards. The ethnic identity was constructed on the basis of different types of imported objects with symbolic value bore by elite people (especially by women). The spreading of these objects in different areas matches with the territories inhabited by the Gepids and the Lombards. Aristocratic women, with their garnment, played the main role in the establishment and the transmission of the emblemic style and, as a consequence, of the ethnic identity (they were "symbolic vehicles for the construction of social identities"). The need to emphasize the emblemic style increased in periods of instability and competition between neighboring groups. In this way, Curta finally comes to the making of the early Slavic emblemic style. Like the Gepids or Lombards, the Slavs used specific types of pottery and bow fibulae to construct an emblemic style. This does not means that such objects were genuine Slavic products. Curta argues that the earliest specimens of the so-called "bow fibulae" were found in Mazuria and in Crimea. Their diffusion does not show migrations, but another kind of mobility: "gifts or women married to distant groups in forging alliances" and their function was to express a kind of heraldry displayed on the female dressing. The bow fibulae became a part of the Slavic emblemic style shortly before 600, in the same time with a wider change in the material culture which took place during the climax of the raiding activity of the Slavic rulers.

The individual houses were settled according to a pattern that implied specialized sectors for production or for ceremonies involving food consumption. Food was prepared in ceramic pots, whose shape was determined only by practical reasons. Curta points that the pottery shapes "should be interpreted in relation to food preparation, not to emblemic style". Hundreds of hand-made and wheel-made ceramic vessels belong to the same set of shapes. The pots from the sites ascribed to the Slavs have similar shapes with pieces from Gepidic cemeteries and from Danubian early Byzantine fortresses. If so, the `Prague type', which was defined as the genuine Slavic pottery, is an artificial construct of the archaeologists.

The Lower Danubian settlements are earlier than those from the Zhitomir area (the chronology was established with the aid of the metallic objects, including coins). This contradicts the usual theory of the Slavic migration. In this way, Curta comes to one of his main conclusions: "it appears that instead of a `Slavic culture' originating in a homeland and then spreading to surrounding areas, we should envisage a much broader area of common economic and cultural traditions". This means that large migrations should be replaced with short-distance movements caused by the itinerant agriculture. The population from this wide area became Slavic because acquired an identity during the second half of the 6th century. This identity was expressed through a specific emblemic style defined by bow-fibulae and pottery decorated with finger impressions.
The final chapter deals with the political organization of the early Slavs. Curta applies the anthropological theories on chiefdom, distinguishing between great-men (warriors), big-men (rich men with authority inside their community), and chiefs (rulers of organized polities with control over a group of subjects). The Slavs evolved during the 6th century from a "segmentary society" (lack of hierarchy) to a society ruled by chiefs who fought between them. The emergence of the political organization was the result of the contacts with the Byzantine state. By this military elite the Slavs came into being as a new ethnicity.

The book written by Florin Curta will be a turning point both for the Byzantine and the Slavic studies.

This link is to Amazon

This link is to a sample of the first 28 pages of the book
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