Writing the Barbarian Past: Studies in Early Medieval Historical Narrative


Writing the Barbarian Past examines the presentation of the non-Roman, pre-Christian past in Latin and vernacular historical narratives composed between c.550 and c.1000: the Gothic histories of Jordanes and Isidore of Seville, the Fredegar chronicle, the Liber Historiae Francorum, Paul the Deacon’s Historia Langobardorum, Waltharius, and Beowulf; it also examines the evidence for an oral vernacular tradition of historical narrative in this period.
In this book, Shami Ghosh analyses the relative significance granted to the Roman and non-Roman inheritances in narratives of the distant past, and what the use of this past reveals about the historical consciousness of early medieval elites, and demonstrates that for them, cultural identity was conceived of in less binary terms than in most modern scholarship.

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Shami Ghosh, Ph.D. (2009), University of Toronto, has published numerous articles on medieval and early modern cultural, social, and economic, and literary history. His first book, Kings’ Sagas and Norwegian History: Problems and Perspectives, was published by Brill in 2011.
"This is a significant study which will add nuance to the engagement of scholars with the thorny issues of identity, ethnicity and the perception of the past in the Early Middle Ages… The quality of Ghosh’s scholarship and the deep maturity of his arguments, which he demonstrates with his chosen texts, will ensure that this work will remain a sine qua non of the literature for some time to come. He has pointed the way to further useful engagement with the sources that will be a productive avenue for future research and researchers."
Christopher Heath, University of Manchester, in: al-Masaq 29.3 (2017), 273-4.
Acknowledgements ix
Abbreviations xi
1 Introduction 1
The Barbarian Past and Early Medieval Historical Narrative 3
Barbarians and Romans, Christians and Pagans: Cultural
Contact in Late Antiquity 11
Historical Writing in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages 27
2 The Gothic Histories of Jordanes and Isidore 39
The Goths and Rome: Historical Background 39
The De origine actibusque Getarum of Jordanes:
Background and Summary 42
Jordanes’s Sources: Oral or Written? 46
Paganism and Arianism in the Getica 60
Goths and Romans: The Purpose of the Gothic Past in the Getica 63
Isidore of Seville’s Historia Gothorum: Background,
Summary, and Sources 69
Religious Identities in Isidore’s Historia Gothorum 74
Goths, Romans and Barbarians in Isidore’s Historia Gothorum 81
The Function of Gothic History: Isidore and Jordanes Compared 87
3 The Origins of the Franks 93
The Historical Background to Frankish Historiography 93
Gregory, Fredegar, and the lhf: Background and Summaries 95
The Trojan Origin of the Franks 99
The Sources for the Trojan Myth 104
The Function of the Frankish Distant Past 110
4 Paul the Deacon and the Ancient History of the Lombards 115
The Early History of the Lombards: Background and Sources 115
Paul the Deacon and his Historia Langobardorum 117
Lombard Oral Tradition in the Historia Langobardorum 121
Catholics, Romans, and Lombards in the Historia Langobardorum 141
5 A ‘Germanic’ Hero in Latin and the Vernacular: Waltharius
and Waldere 153
Waltharius and Waldere: Authorship, Content, and Historical
Background 155
Christianity in Waltharius 163
Waltharius and Germanic Oral Tradition 170
The Distant Past and its Function: Heroic Narrative as Light
Entertainment 178
6 Looking Back to a Troubled Past: Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon Historical
Consciousness 184
Anglo-Saxon England: Origins, Narratives, and Literary Culture 184
Christianity in Beowulf: The Pagan Past as a Problem 197
Beowulf, Germanic Tradition, and the Anglo-Saxon Past 212
7 Vernacular Oral Tradition and The ‘Germanic’ Past 222
Oral Vernacular Historical Material 225
“Fashionable Gothicism”? The Value of the ‘Germanic’ Past 236
8 Conclusions 257
Bibliography 267
Index 305
Scholars and students interested in late antique and early medieval history, Latin historiography and historical verse, early Germanic literature, and the uses of the past in medieval western Europe.