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  • Eastern and Western Europe in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period: Historical and Cultural Commonalities, Regional Peculiarities, and the Dynamics of Interaction

Eastern and Western Europe in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period: Historical and Cultural Commonalities, Regional Peculiarities, and the Dynamics of Interaction

Department: Centre for Medieval Studies
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

The common object of study is the interaction of Western and Eastern European cultures in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, and how that interaction was perceived and interpreted in the subsequent historical tradition.

Meanwhile, each of the six 2013 subprojects had its particular research objects. For Subproject A, these were strategies for building dynastic ties as well as naming and cultural-exchange strategies in the wider European region from the 9th-13th centuries, its outer borders being Scandinavia, Kievan Rus’, and the Cuman (Polovtsy) steppes. For Subproject B, these objects were the models of interaction between Christian and non-Christian cultures in the West and in the East of Europe in connection with discourses on religious tolerance and intolerance, mostly in the 15th-17th centuries. Subproject C focused on the forms of symbolic communication in and among European political and cultural communities. It also dealt with how and under what circumstances technologies, knowledge, and images were transferred geographically and culturally within the so-called wider Europe of the 5th-15th centuries. The foci of Subproject D were concepts of the European Middle Ages put forward by professional historians in the 19th-21st centuries, taken in the context of the specific historical circumstances in which they were developed; individual fates of medieval historians; and political circumstances that affected the creation of specific models of the medieval European past. Subproject E was engaged with the political and confessional culture of Caucasian societies of 6th-11th centuries, which were located at the crossroads of different cultural influences and, at the same time, found their own original way with regards to political genesis, political representation, confessionalization, and building their own religious and cultural identity. Subproject F dealt with sacral spaces and the means of creating them from the early to the high Middle Ages, in both Byzantium (and its cultural satellites) and Latin Europe. 

Research Purpose:

The ultimate goal of the project in general, including for the future, is to develop a basic concept of unified European history in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period without dividing it into Western and Eastern European histories. In addition, the project aims to develop and test methods for interregional and pan-European historical research.

However, each of the subprojects has its own goal. Subproject A aims to reveal both the peculiarities of matrimonial and naming strategies of the Rurik dynasty as compared with the same strategies of the Scandinavian and Cuman (Polovtsy) princes, and the interaction of these strategies. The purpose of Subproject B is to compare models of attitudes towards the adherents of other faiths in Catholic Europe and in Orthodox Eastern Europe in the context of the confessional specificity of the two branches of Christianity. Subproject C seeks to reveal the peculiarities of the mutual perceptions (understanding and non-understanding) of representatives of different cultural regions during symbolic intercultural communication, the routes of transfer, and the degree to which significant symbolic and cultural practices were assimilated by different communities, as well as the main ways intellectual technologies, knowledge, and images were transferred. Subproject D aims to define those factors that influenced the development and alteration of concepts about the European Middle Ages in the historical thinking of European intellectuals of the 19th-21st centuries. The goal of Subproject E is to reconstruct the political genesis in Caucasian societies of the early Middle Ages and to detect specific local features regarding the formation of specific forms of state-building in the Caucasus. Subproject F's goal is to reveal the principles that pertain to the creation of sacral spaces in different European countries, but primarily Eastern Europe.

Empirical Base of the Research

The research that was implemented was based on a wide range of both unpublished and published primary sources. A vast collection of secondary sources were used.

Each subproject deals with relevant collections of primary sources. Even within the subprojects, the source base is diverse. Nevertheless, the key sources for the first subproject (A) are the annals and chronicles of the 11th-13th centuries and Scandinavian sagas. The second subproject (B) relies mainly on official sources and historiographical, polemical, and publicistic narratives, as well as on theological, exegetic, and evangelical texts of the 15th-17th centuries. The main sources used within the third subproject (C) fall into two categories: 1) so-called reports on ambassadorial missions, and also court payment books, chronicles, inventories, banner books, etc; and 2) Latin scholarly treatises of the 12th-14th centuries, as well as visual sources dating back to the early and high Middle Ages. The chief sources for the fourth project (D) are official documents and ego-documents, as well as journalistic materials from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. The fifth subproject (E) is based on the Byzantine and Caucasian chronicles of the early Middle Ages and other narrative sources, as well as artefacts. Finally, the sixth subproject (F) examines theological treatises, but primarily architecture and the plastic arts of the 11th-13th centurues in Byzantium, Latin Europe, and especially Russia.

Research Results

Subproject A provided the first-ever reconstruction of a consistent dynastic and linguistic continuum in which the Rurik dynasty appeared to be a mediator between the Scandinavian world and the world of the steppes. The Slavic and Scandinavian onomasticon of the Cuman (Polovtsy) princely dynasties was revealed in full and analyzed for the first time. In addition, based on new material, strategies for integrating different branches of the Rurik family with the Cuman (Polovtrsy) nobles were demonstrated. Subproject B proved that the tolerance Artemiythe ideologue of the Non-possessors Movement of the 16th century―exhibited towards adherents of other faiths was not unique, but on the contrary reflected common assumptions of Eastern-European cultures and had deep roots in Eastern-European faith. Subproject C revealed 1) that Central European art of the 10th-11th centuries, especially Ottonian book illumination art, is by no means a purely regional phenomenon within a narrow chronological framework, but, on the contrary, evolved, developed, and reached its apex at the intersections of different traditions of Christian (and even pre-Christian) art, and theological and political thought, and, moreover, is indebted to them; 2) the main trends in the development of medieval vexillology from Antiquity to the 15th century. We detected the main trends in the evolution of banners and revealed the development of the symbolic senses within them. We demonstrated both the continuity from the vexillological practices of Antiquity and breaches in this continuity when switching to the new principles of using banners. Subproject D revealed how deeply World War I influenced Russian (and European therewith) Medieval studies; it also revealed the changes in the relationships between different national schools of medieval historians. Subproject E produced an original concept on the genesis of early medieval political entities in the Caucasusat the intersection of the Byzantine cultural region, Islam, and the Khazars. The investigation showed that the Abkhaz tsars claimed to be not only Christian, but also Orthodox princes. Their key task was to unite within one state different ethnic communities with different political histories, eg Abkhazia and Egrissi always looked to Byzantium, whereas Kartli and Samtskhe relied on their own tradition of early state-building. The Muslim world did not have any significant cultural impact on the Abkhaz principality. Subproject F offered and substantiated a new understanding of the symbolic concept of sculptural decoration of Vladimir and Suzdal churches as a reflection of the idea of a New Jerusalem closely connected with Ezekiel's prophecy, this decoration bearing features of both Byzantine and Western origin.

Implementation of the Research Results

This research project's results are already in high demand among Russian and international scholars and in university teaching. This is confirmed by the large number of talks given by the project participants at Russian and international conferences, as well as the wide range of lectures, special courses, optional courses (held at the HSE), and media presentations in which they have participated. In addition, the project's participants prepared almost 30 published works in Russian, English, French, and German, some of which have been published, and others of which are being prepared for publication.

Scope of Application

This research is intended to be applied in Russian and international academic research devoted to the medieval past of the peoples and cultures of Europe. Moreover, its results may be used in higher education andto some extentsecondary education, and in museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions, as well as in the media.


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