Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

Tagungsbericht: Research Forum “Approaching Migration and Mobility in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages”

Ort: Tübingen

Veranstalter: Kolleg-Forschergruppe „Migration und Mobilität in Spätantike und Frühmittelalter“/ Center for Advanced Studies "Migration and Mobility in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages" (Leitung/ headed by: Prof. Dr. Mischa Meier, Prof. Dr. Steffen Patzold, Prof. Dr. Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner), University of Tuebingen

Datum: 19.07.2017-21.07.2017

Von: Madlena Müller-Karpe, Historisches Seminar, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

Since the arrival of ever more refugees in central Europe, beginning in 2015, the question of human migration and mobility has taken centre stage in media coverage and public debate. The Center for Advanced Studies “Migration and Mobility in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages” at the University of Tuebingen, funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation), aims at providing a new base for future scholarly discussion of historical migration phenomena in Late Antiquity and the early medieval period by bringing together most recent research findings and academic debates of various scientific disciplines. In order to grasp the importance of migration and mobility as a fundamental historical experience, the Center not only expands the traditional temporal frame of the so-called Migration Period and takes into account a larger time span, ranging from the 3rd to the 9th century AD, but also includes methods and findings from research on movement in contemporary societies. Incidents of individual and group mobility are supplemented by considerations of the economic dimensions and local effects of mobility and migration. This new broadened conception of migration and mobility now encompasses a variety of diverse movement phenomena including everyday mobility, seasonal migration patterns, and permanent re-settlement. A comprehensive approach to historical mobility also captures the structural differences of voluntary movement in contrast to compulsory migration and illuminates incidents of prohibited mobility. From July 19 to July 21, 2017, the Center held its interdisciplinary opening conference in Tuebingen, bringing together renowned scholars in the field of migration studies. The goal of the forum was to present the diverse status quo of research on migration while also pooling the heterogeneous findings and providing new impulses.

The conference started with a welcome address by the rector of the University of Tuebingen, Bernd Engler, followed by an introduction by Mischa Meier, spokesman of the Center for Advanced Studies. The opening speech by Michael McCormic (Harvard) posed the question “Migration and Mobility in the Late Antique-Medieval Transition: How should we study them in the 21st century?” In presenting the work of the SoHP (Initiative for the Science of the Human Past at Harvard), McCormick singled out joint interdisciplinary research as “the way forward”. This project brings together historians, archeologists, and natural scientists under one roof in order to provide more adequate answers for fundamental questions concerning historical migration: Who moved, how many moved, from where did they move and where to, and, finally, why did they move. The data from the different scientific fields test traditional historical assumptions and hypotheses but do not necessarily replace older findings of history and archaeology. Instead, using “the full toolkit of research disciplines,” McCormick advocated, helps answer the complex questions concerning historical movement and, ultimately, helps create as complete a picture of ancient mobility and migration as possible.

The first thematic section of the conference dealt with possible approaches of different scientific disciplines to “Re-Directing the Study of Migration and Mobility in 3rd-9th c. Europe”. Roland Steinacher (Greifswald) presented the current state of historical research on the migration period which stresses the importance of deconstructing ancient discourses on ‘barbarians’. The term ‘barbarian’ proves to be a heterogeneous and not very descriptive category. Ancient authors employed the expression to mark otherness in a derogatory manner in contrast to mainstream Greek or Roman culture. Modern historiography merely adopted and reinforced this stereotypical notion of barbarians for a long time. Subjecting the category to historical criticism – as executed in the last couple of decades – was long overdue. It was also shown that the barbarians were not the “foreign invaders” that classical authors wanted their readers to see. Instead, there had been a long time of interaction and integration, especially in the military sector as a result of structural changes within the Empire.

Carlos Eduardo G. Amorim (Stony Brook, New York) demonstrated how “Applying Paleogenomics to the Migration Period” can enrich the historical discussion. He presented the findings of an interdisciplinary research project that analyzes two European cemeteries of the Lombard period (6th century AD), one in Collegno, Italy and the other in Szólád, Hungary. In addition to the evaluation of written sources on Lombard history, the project undertakes archaeological excavations of the cemeteries in which both material culture and human remains are examined. Biologists have helped disclose the genetic makeup of the burial sites, adding fascinating new information on gender distribution, biological kinship, and regional distribution of DNA. Comparing archaeological and biological findings, the correspondence between material culture, i.e. grave goods, and DNA-distribution is striking. Since Michael Kulikowski (Pennsylvania State) and Bastian Vollmer (Tübingen) could unfortunately not attend the conference on short notice, there was left a time slot for Walter Pohl (Wien), who is also involved in the cemetery projects, to comment on Amorim’s presentation from a historiographical perspective. He stressed how important it is to avoid attributing DNA-structures to ‘peoples’ or ethnical groups, in this case to ‘the Lombards’. The very same methodological prudence needs to be applied to archaeological data. Yet, while both genetic and archaeological findings may not be able to capture ‘ethnic’ identity, they do, however, give valuable evidence about migration processes.

Sebastian Brather’s (Freiburg) thoughts on “Migration and Mobility from an Archaeological Perspective” directly tied in with Pohl’s appeal. According to Brather, ethnic identity may not be inferred from archaeological finds, and changes in material culture do not necessarily point to incidents of migration. Rather, the paths of migration in Late Antiquity overlap with typical paths of commerce and communication. Consequently, a change in material culture does imply mobility but it does not give evidence for the type of movement. It may also simply indicate an exchange of goods or ideas without any permanent re-location of people. While archaeology can reconstruct long-distance contact fairly well, it struggles with the local level of mobility. Here, natural sciences – isotope analysis and genetics – can contribute their findings.

Noel Lenski (Yale) demonstrated how information on movement of larger groups as recounted in classical historiography can be visualized with the help of a geographic information system (GIS). GIS allows for various possibilities of visual representation: It can show origins and destinations of resettlement by century, migration paths, and scale of the moving group. In addition to quantitative data, the GIS is also fed with information on the supposed ethnicity of the groups, their motivations for movement, and the type of integration into the Roman Empire (e.g. form of treaty).

After having discussed general approaches to historical mobility, the conference now focused on the military side to migration. Mischa Meier (Tübingen) held a talk on “Warlords, Dynastiebildung und Mobilität – Hypothesen zum Problem der ‚Ansiedlung‘” in which he argued that there was a connection between mobility, settlement and dynastic succession among warlords who were transforming themselves into sedentary rulers in the 5th century. Meier distinguished two forms of rule for Late Antiquity: imperial rule with a stable financing model and a standing army that did not require mobility on the one hand and ‘warlords’ with their mobile militant groups that were (partially) independent from Roman control on the other. Meier characterized these groups of warriors on the move as temporary phenomena that formed in response to a structural necessity and not out of a ‘Germanic Wanderlust’. The longer such mobile military groups existed, the higher the pressure for settlement became. However, with this profound structural change in the organization of the group the leaders lost their previous means of accumulating martial prestige. Instead, they now had to adopt a new form of manorial prestige that encompassed dynastic succession to ensure their rule.

In his contribution, Guido Berndt (Freie Universität Berlin) argued that the rather negative perception of the Lombards stemming from Edward Gibbon’s influential depiction of Rome’s downfall needs to be reassessed. When thoroughly analyzing the few written sources available for Lombard history, one would receive the picture of a highly structured and organized society, not one of ‘headless anarchists’. At the core of the Lombard social set up lay a militarism that pervaded all levels of society. The legitimacy of Lombard kingship could only be secured through force, which explains the constant military activities of the Lombard aristocracy against external enemies as well as against internal rivals. Berndt concluded that although the constant change of leadership regularly caused political destabilization, militarism paradoxically also served as a means of social cohesion in the Lombard community.

In a third section, the conference considered the economic dimensions of migration and mobility. Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner (Tübingen) shared “Some Thoughts on the Economics of Migration in the Fourth and Fifth Century”. He criticized that social and economic dynamics were either neglected in recent research or interpreted as a mere financial crisis and economic decline of the Empire. Analyzing Greek and Roman legal documents from the angle of migration and mobility, on the other hand, indicates that economic demands for workforce, especially in the border regions, can serve as a central explanation for the migration events after 376. A manpower shortage in the agrarian sector appears to have increased competition among the landholding elite. A number of legal texts reveal that peasant mobility was considered a problem in that they tried to prevent peasants’ desertion of land that they cultivated. Peasants at the time profited from an advantageous economic environment, which raised their self-confidence thus resulting in social tensions with their landlords. An interesting case study for the economic use of migrant workforce proves to be Southern Gaul.

In his talk “The Missing Factor: Migration and Workforce Mobility in the Vandal Century, 440-540 CE” Paolo Tedesco (Tübingen) discussed how various economic sources like trading records, taxation, and legal documents point towards the importance of a wage labor force for the thriving economy of North Africa under Vandal rule. Similar to Southern Gaul, there is evidence for labor shortage and attempts of landlords to bind their farmers to their land via legislation. There are also indications that the wage laborers were aware of their favorable position in the agricultural power relations: by migrating, rural workers apparently tried to evade the contracts and other legal tools implemented by their landlords, thus artificially enhancing the labor shortage.

Thomas Kohl (Tübingen) moved forward chronologically in considering “Mobility in Carolingian Francia”. Building upon McCormick’s Origins of the European Economy (2001), Kohl rejects the traditional perception of Carolingian peasants as being immovable by means of a socio-economic system that bound them to the land of their lords. The Carolingian society was a society “on the move”, and this held for all levels of society. Indications of peasant mobility and migration can be found in early medieval hagiography as well as in other ecclesiastical sources. Written documents of Prüm in the Rhineland, for example, show legal instruments of landlords that prohibited peasants from leaving their land and placed specific agrarian duties on them. The texts mention a wide range of services that required a large scale of mobility and flexibility of the farmers throughout the year. This requirement of mobility encompassed more frequent short to mid-distance traveling but could also make long-distance journeys necessary at times. Another important factor of early medieval peasant mobility was intermarriage, which, however, signified migration, i.e. a permanent resettlement often over long distances.

Finally, the conference addressed incidents and restrictions of individual mobility. Stefan Esders (Freie Universität Berlin) considered “Episcopal Mobility and Its Limits in the 7th-century Western Mediterranean”. The episcopacy was the only social group that still relied on Roman structures in the Early Middle Ages. As such, bishops needed the authorization of the pope for the long-distance travel that pilgrimages or their presence at synods involved. But in the changed political system bishops now also required the permission of the Gothic kings. These kings, however, were suspicious of such travels as they were wary of imperial papal interference more generally. This ambiguous status of the episcopacy, their being suspended between two authorities, is evident in a great number of sources ranging from laws on high treason through chronicles, synodal texts, and papal letters to historiography and hagiography. The geographical scope of the evidence is just as broad since possible examples stem from the Visigoths, the Anglo Saxons, and Gaul.

With his contribution on “Vagante Geistliche und die karolingische Reform”, Steffen Patzold (Tübingen) demonstrated how clerical mobility was subjected to even stricter control, limitations, and prohibition under 9th century Carolingian rule. The Carolingian clergy had to comply with the civitas-regulations which prohibited transmigration and limited the visitation of other dioceses. Clerical mobility required specific legitimation and was only permitted in exceptional cases. Written sources on legal disputes concerning the treatment of non-local, mobile priests give insight into the manifold means of tracking and controlling clerical movement. Carolingian elites took all these precautions with regard to clerical mobility as an attempt of Christian “quality assurance” since the clergy occupied a central socio-political position in the Carolingian society as the safeguards of its spiritual and moral wellbeing. Mobile priests posed a threat to the targeted high quality of religious provision since they could have obtained their ordination by fraud.

Ekaterina Nechaeva (Bern) discussed two cases in which the return of high-profile fugitives or captives under protection against religious persecution in their homelands were negotiated in the Endless Peace Treaty of 532 between East Rome and Sassanid Persia. Both the Roman and the Persian emperor relished in their self-presentation as protectors of minorities resulting in those remarkable contractional clauses. The negotiation of conditions for distinct individuals and not for a whole religion was unprecedented in diplomatic proceedings between the two countries. In the first case study, Agathias’ account of the emigration and return of seven Greek philosophers from Byzantium to Persia and back was scrutinized. The second case study centered on the hagiographic account of the martyrdom of Mar Grigor dating from the second half of the 6th century.

Conference Overview:

Bernd Engler (rector of the University of Tuebingen) and Mischa Meier: Welcome Address and Introduction
Michael McCormick (Harvard) – Opening speech: Migration and Mobility in the Late Antique-Medieval Transition: How should we study them in the 21st century?

Section I – Re-Directing the Study of Migration and Mobility in 3rd-9th c. Europe
Roland Steinacher (Greifswald): Römer und Barbaren: Meistererzählungen von den Wanderungen
Carlos Eduardo G. Amorim (Stony Brook, New York): Applying Paleogenomics to the Migration Period
Walter Pohl (Wien) – Commenting on Amorim’s Talk
Sebastian Brather (Freiburg): Migration and Mobility from an Archaeological Perspective
Noel Lenski (Yale): GIS and the Analysis of Barbarian Migration

Section II – Migration: The Military Side
Mischa Meier (Tübingen): Warlords, Dynastiebildung und Mobilität – Hypothesen zum Problem der ‚Ansiedlung‘
Guido Berndt (Freie Universität Berlin): (Not) the “anarchists of the Völkerwanderung” – New Approaches to the Military History of the Lombards

Section III – The Economics of Migration and Mobility
Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner (Tübingen): Some Thoughts on the Economics of Migration in the Fourth and Fifth Century
Paolo Tedesco (Tübingen): The Missing Factor: Migration and Workforce Mobility in the Vandal Century, 440-540 CE
Thomas Kohl (Tübingen): Peasants, Merchants, Beggars – Economic Mobility in Carolingian Francia

Section IV – Individual Mobility: Case Studies
Stefan Esders (Freie Universität Berlin): Non cuivis homini contingit adire Romam: Episcopal Mobility and Its Limits in the 7th-century Western Mediterranean
Steffen Patzold (Tübingen): Vagante Geistliche und die karolingische Reform
Ekaterina Nechaeva (Bern): Studying Emigration from the Later Roman Empire: Challenges and Insights