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Similarities and differences in the dynamics of cultural and political development in Eastern and Western Europe, 1000-1700

Priority areas of development: humanitarian

Research object

The common research object for the project participants is the specificities of different (ethnic, linguistic, religious) cultures of Western and Eastern Europe and the diversity of their interaction in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period.

Therewith each of the five 2016 subprojects had its particular research objects within the common research field. Subproject 1 examined the understudied Cuman branch of the Rurik dynasty quite different from the main branch of the clan between X and XII cc., as well as the attitude of the main branch of the clan and its chronographers to the Cuman branch it. Subproject 2 analyzed a series of documents falsified at the Vienna court in the middle of the XIV c. and known since then as “Privilegium majus” and focused on the perception of the past in these documents. Subproject 3 studied church architecture of the so-called Eastern Byzantine region (containing the Crimea, the Caucasus and part of Asia Minor) in the period IX — XI cc. The research object of Subproject 4 was the correlation between faith and knowledge in the works by Latin theologians, philosophers and writers in the XII c. Subproject 5 investigated the mainstream discourses of attitude to sainthood in the works of Latin and Russian writers in XII – XVII cc.

Goal of research

The final goal of the research group in general is to develop a basic concept of the unified European history in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period without dividing it into Western and Eastern European histories. The project also aims at developing and testing methods of interregional and whole-European historical studies. However, each of the subprojects has its own goal, subject to the above mentioned collective goal.

The purpose of Subproject 1 is to understand the role and standing of the Cuman dynasty within the Rurik clan in the political events of X – XII cc. as well as in the collective memory. Subproject 2 aims at defining characteristic features of the attitude towards the past (ancient past first of all) and the methods of constructing the “useful past” necessary for legitimizing the power of a medieval ruler and a whole dynasty (namely the Habsburg dynasty in the middle of the XIV c. and later). The goal of Subproject 3 is to find out to what extent the architecture of the Eastern Byzantine region in IX — XI cc. adopted the influences of constructing techniques from outside constructing centres and architectural schools, in other words to understand whether it was subject to the influence by dominant outside traditions, or developed its own peculiar style, or there was no system in the application of different trends. Subproject 4 seeks to reveal the correlation between rational methods of understanding the world and the Christian faith in the Middle Ages based on a range of Western medieval cosmologic texts of the XII c. The aim of Subproject 5 is to detect characteristic features (and consequently the differences) of understanding sainthood in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity during XIII — XVII cc.

Empirical base of the research

The empirical base of the research is quite wide and diversified. The research was implemented based on a wide range of primary sources with the use of a vast collection of secondary sources in all main languages used in academia. The collection of primary sources includes not only written sources, but also visual and material (architecture) ones.

Each subproject deals with the relevant collections of primary sources. Even within the subprojects, the source base is diversified.

Nevertheless, the key sources for Subproject 1 are the annals and chronicles in highly differing versions as well as stocks of names of different Rurikids branches in X – XII cc. Subproject 2 relies mainly on the collection of mid-XIV c. documents, known as “Privilegium majus” and other relevant primary sources, such as chronicles of XIV – XV cc. The main sources of Subproject 3 are architecture of X – XII cc. in the Crimea, in the Caucasus and in Asia Minor. Subproject 4 examines the treatises of several Latin authors of the XII c., such as William of Conches, Thierry of Chartres, Bernardus Silvestris. The main sources of Subproject 5 are a range of Latin and Russian hagiographic texts from XIII XVII cc. reflecting their authors’ perception of sainthood (hagiographic and polemic texts by Zinovy Otensky, Joseph of Volotsk, Piotr Skarga, as well as sermons by J. Geiler of Keiserberg, a number of anonymous texts, etc.)

Research results

Subproject 1 revealed the previously unknown seniority of Cuman princes among the Rurikids as seen by the Rurikids themselves. Princes from Polotsk appear to be the only rivals to the princes – descendents of Yaroslav in Kiev claiming to power. This finding sheds new light on a series of political events important both in Russian and in international context, such as murder of Yaropolk Izyaslavich in 1086 or escape of Polotsk princes to Constantinople. The investigation within subproject 2 showed that well-educated falsificators working at the Habsburg court and chancellery in the middle of the XIV c. relied heavily on the ancient history in their writings, moreover the orders of “pagan” Roman emperors were seen as valid for the medieval Empire as well. Although knowledge of Ancient Roman history in the princes’ chancelleries was fragmentary, it was however successfully instrumentalized for current political purposes. The methods of using the ancient past for legitimizing the power resembled those used in the XV – XVII cc. Eastern Europe, but also varied from them in some respects. Within subproject 3 it was discovered that the common knowledge of Eastern Byzantine region as a separate entity characterized by specific features should be revised. Reexamination of regional architecture (accompanied by improvement of the description and dating of several objects) showed more divergence than similarity in construction programs and important details. Even within subregions the divergence in construction solutions is high. The only common feature of the whole Eastern Byzantine region (excluding Rus’) is the prevalence of masonry over brickwork. According to subproject 4 William of Conches and his contemporaries, especially Bernardus Silvestris, show good knowledge of Ancient Greek and Arabic science from translations from Greek and Arabic far before the scholastics. They (Bernardus Silvestris above all) were able to add new ideological and literary perspective to the Greek and Arabic cultural heritage. “Cosmographia” by Bernardus Silvestris displays manifestations of the author’s own literary devices (neologisms, personifications, alliteration, metrical prose, etc.), as well as pre-humanist features common for his times, namely respect to pagan classics, careful attention to Christian doctrine, increasing interest to the structure of the world (macrocosm) and the man (microcosm). Subproject 5 resulted in revealing that the perception of sainthood in catholic culture a) implied that the saints had to have religious “merits”, sainthood had to be deserved and was a difficult-to-obtain ideal associated with action; b) was characterized by well-structured and rationalized criteria; c) understood sainthood as anti-peccability. Moscow Rus’ inherited some specific features of Byzantine perception of sainthood which however did not dominate Ancient Rus’ writings. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that in traditional Moscow culture sainthood was perceived as having irrational-charismatic nature. Also, due to the idea of theosisof the world, sainthood was not connected with religious virtues and merits, which can be traced in Moscow discourses of sainthood.

Level of implementation,  recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results

The results of the research are already demanded among the Russian and international academics and in teaching. This is confirmed through a wide participation of the project contributors in the Russian and international conferences, as well as a wide range of their talks, lectures, special courses, seminars, and media presentations. Moreover, the participants of the project prepared about 30 published works in Russian and foreign languages partly published and partly being prepared for publication (see a list in the report). The results of the project are planned to be published in a book (collective work “Polystoria”) in the HSE Publishing House.

Scope of application

The research is intended to be applied in the Russian and international academic researches devoted to the Russian History, World History, Source Studies, Religious Studies. medieval past of the peoples and cultures of Europe. Moreover, its results may be used in the higher education, and partly secondary education, in the museums, libraries and other cultural institutions, as well as in the media.


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