Dark Age Migrations and Subjective Ethnicity: The Example of the Lombards
Scandia, Vol 57, Nr 1 (1991)
In the past Germanic tribes were usually defined as objective ethnic units, small peoples bound together by linguistic and religious ties.’ This view, which was based on statements and concepts formed by classical writers in the Mediterranean world, is today out of date. Reinhard Wenskus’ “Stammesbildung und Verfassung. Das Werden der friihmittelalterlichen gentes” (Cologne and Graz 1961) marked a clear break with the old tradition. The tribes and their historical context were carefully studied. According to Wenskus the tribes were heterogeneous units grouped around a core of nobility, which defined the tribe and carried its tradition. This new view has led to a number of works, in which classical and early medieval ethnic groups are analysed in a new way – especially Herwig Wolfram’s study on the Goths and Walter Pohl’s study on the Avars.
Today we know a lot more about the history and pre-history of the Age of Migrations than we did before the 1960s,but that does not mean that historical research has reached a common consensus. How did society actually function in the Dark Ages – were the tribes the historians refer to real peoples (with women, children, semi-free servants and slaves) or were they simply aristocratic bands of robbers? In an essay on the Goths Alvar Elleghrd wants to take a step further than Wenskus and maintain that the migrations between roughly 500 BC and 1.000 AD were not migrations of peoples.