Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

Refugee Temporary Migration and Networks of Letter-Writing: The Case of Maximos the Confessor

My project explores approaches to temporary migration. While sociologists agree that migration is often temporary, perhaps more often than not (climate change, career-building, age-specific work or refuge being among the scenarios leading people to settle elsewhere for a limited period), the topic remains to be addressed for Late Antique and Early Medieval history. Unlike with permanent resettlement, temporary migration requires that one maintain bonds with both the old and the new homes. Temporary migrants are thus at the centre of social networks which allow for information flow and successive mobility and should eventually enable return migration. By analysing such networks with quantitative and qualitative approaches, the project aims at exemplary insights into the interrelatedness of networks of communication and those of migration
The project takes up the case of Maximos the Confessor (c. 580–662) and his letters from North Africa as a refugee from ecclesiological struggles and/or Muslim raids. Recent studies have mostly scrutinized Maximos’s mobility to date his works. My project, in turn, looks at his letters as hints to agency and networking, in order to understand the role of letter-writing and social networks in managing refugee migration. The letters often attest to Maximos’s will to maintain former relationship, the effects of being separated, and the hope or plan to be reunited again. It appears that Maximos used letter-writing not merely to communicate his theological positions, but also to create a network intended to uphold bonds to former environments. To analyse the interrelationship between networks of letters and those of temporary migration, I will model social networks based on the letters from two phases of African refuge (five years each: c. 628-633 and 641-646). While these letter-networks do not necessarily correspond with those of migration decision-making, I read against their background what Maximos writes on such themes as friendship, exile and return. I am interested in whether the refugee’s attitude towards migration and its temporary character correlate to the structure of his personal network, and how this does potentially affect migration decision-making.