Rohdewald (2014 Congress)

Stefan Rohdewald
(Historical Institut, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany)
“Within a Southeast European Multiple-Contact Zone:  The Conceptualization of Medieval Bulgarian and Early Ottoman History”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 2014)
Session on “A Neglected Empire:  Bulgaria between the Late Twelfth and Late Fourteenth Centuries”
Part II:  “Engaging in Empire, From Center to Periphery and Beyond”

Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida
Organized by Mildred Budny (Research Group on Manuscript Evidence) and Florin Curta (University of Florida)
2014 Congress Accomplished

[First published on our first website on 20 March 2014]

The proximity of Slavs, Turkish tribes, and Byzantium is an old and extensively investigated topic of research.  Since the nineteenth century, the Romantic concept of “homogenic cultures” has prevailed:  “Slavic culture” or “Bulgarian culture” was uniformly seen as influenced by the “Byzantine culture”, and several degrees of “acculturation” were made discerned by Dmitri Obolensky.  While Ivan Duychev argued for the rise of “a transnational. . . Mediterranean Slavic–Byzantine culture,” he described “a . . . culture” consisting mainly of two homogenous components: “the Byzantine and the Slavic.”  While Alexander Avenarius investigated the “after-life” of Byzantine “elements of culture” among the Slavs, he delineated how already in Preslav, the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire, “Byzantine influences were received with increasing intensity, to the detriment of the very essence of Bulgarian culture.”  Yet the assumption of one or more homogenous systems of culture, on which this analysis was based, has been more recently overcome by the critique of such conceptions of culture and by the interpretation of the region as a whole as “frontier” and “area of contact,” notably by Paul Stephenson and Florin Curta.

In contrast to the notion of isolated homogenous cultures, I will argue, with several examples, in support of an analysis of medieval Southern Europe — including Asia Minor (cf. Daniel Goffman) — as a “multiple contact zone” constituted by a multitude of cultural practices.  Examination of the evidence, in the light of this current discourse, reveals that the abstract historiographical description of cultural practices in their social and communicative settings is helpful, while ethnic labels are not always helpful.  On this abstract level of interpretation, the dense entanglements of Byzantine, Slavic, Turkic, Cuman, Bulgarian, Seljuk, Ottoman, and Western European elements constituted a large, unstable, and heterogenous region with several centers of condensation and with Constantinople at its core, defined rather more by cultural practices of legitimization of power, religious veneration, habitus, economics, regional dynastic alliances, and factional warfare than by impermeable and seemingly intractable religious or ethnic boundaries.

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  1. […] Stefan Rohdewald (Historical Institute, East-European History, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany), “Within a Southeast European Multiple-Contact Zone: The Conceptualization of Medieval Bulgarian and Early Ottoman History” Abstract / Rhodewald (2014 Congress) […]