Slavs in Fredegar and Paul the Deacon: medieval gens or ‘scourge of God’?
By Florin Curta
Early Medieval Europe, Vol.6:2 (1997)
Abstract: This article presents a new interpretation of the accounts of Slavs given by two early medieval Latin narrative sources. The first section discusses Fredegar’s Wendish account, while the second section considers Paul the Deacon’s view of the Slavs in his Historia Langobardorum. The instrumental use of the Slavs in the domestic affairs of the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms constitutes the emphasis of the last section, in which the author compares Fredegar’s and Paul the Deacon’s historiographical perspectives.
Introduction: It has long been noted that prior to the mid-1200’s, the territories now defined as Eastern Europe have only episodically retained the attention of western historians. It was only under the impact of the Mongol invasion that westerners began to conceptualize the existence of an east European area. At that time, however, much of what they knew about that region’s history prior to 900 came primarily from Fredegar and Paul the Deacon. Together with Einhard and the Frankish annals, these were the most important sources of information about regions beyond the eastern frontier of the (Frankish) empire.
The importance of Fredegar and Paul the Deacon as historical sources for such groups as Avars or Slavs does not need further emphasis. All modern studies of Eastern Europe rely heavily on these two sources for reconstructing the early medieval history of the region. In contrast, the image that both Fredegar and Paul the Deacon had of the east, the fundamental concepts – such as ‘kings’, ‘peoples’ or ‘nations’ – by which they approached the alterity of Slavs and Avars, and the cognitive framework in which they placed their construction of the Other, have received comparatively less attention. Are Fredegar’s ‘Wends’ or Paul’s ‘Slavs’ concepts based on the self-identification of the groups, on the sense of ‘we’ and ‘they’ on which, according to current anthropological views, is based the very distinction between ethnic groups? How did they define ‘Slav-ness’ in contrast with their own affiliation to Franks or Lombards, or to other gentes? What was for them a gens Winedorum or a rex Sclavinorum? What were the sources for their image of the ‘Slavs’?