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‘Centres’ and ‘Periphery’ in Medieval Europe

The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies in 2017.

Research object

The common research object for all project participants is such features of the history of the Latin and East-European Middle Ages which reflected synchronic or diachronic relationships between certain samples perceived as such by the contemporaries and different kinds of their replicas.

Therewith, each of the five 2017 subprojects had its particular research object within the common research field

Subproject 1, titled “The historical and cultural ties between Asia Minor and the Caucasus in the end of the 1st millennium and the formation of the constituting elements of the architecture of the middle-Byzantine period” studied, above all, architecture of the region concerned, both surviving and detected only by archeological methods or known by its description in the literature. Subproject 2, titled “The School of Chartres in the historical and cultural context”, studied the texts by a number of thinkers of the 12th century, known in the medievalist literature as the School of Chartres. Subproject 3 titled “Norica. Northern Europe and Rus’” examined the mentions of the Varangian families in the Ancient Rus’ texts. Subproject 4 titled “From nationesof the Middle Ages to the nations of the Modern times in Western and Eastern Europe in 10–17 c.” examined protonational discourses in Moscow Rus' and in he Orthodox culture of the Ukranian and Belorussian territories of the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern times reflected in the texts of the period. Subproject 5 titled “The repentance of a Christian prince” studied the scenes of repentance of the Christian rulers as depicted by the contemporaries and also descendants.

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 collective goal mentioned above.

Subproject 1 aimed at detecting the character of influences of the Armenian and Byzantine architecture on the new building projects in the theme Mesopotamia conquered by the byzantine army in the 10th century.  

The goal of subproject 2 was to understand to what extent the School of Chartres contributed to the spreading of knowledge about man and nature in Europe in the 12–13th c., on the one hand, and to the history of European literature, on the other .

Subproject 3 aimed at identifying the Varangian characters mentioned in the Primary Chronicle and the Paterikon of the grots of Kiev and revealing their genealogical ties to the famous families of pre-mongol Rus’.

The goal of subproject 4 was to find similarities and differences between protonational discources in Moscow Rus’, the orthodox territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (periphery) and the Latin West at the same period.

Finally, subproject 5 aimed at revealing the initial centre of the origin of the prince’s repentance tradition. Specific attention was paid to the peculiarities of that situation which would later either be reproduced in the periphery in the Middle Ages or remained without attention. 

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 ones (architecture).

Each subproject deals with the relevant collections of primary sources, diversified even within the subprojects. Subproject 1 relies mainly on architecture of 10–11th c. in Asia Minor (Cappadocia above all), the Caucasus and Transcaucasus. The key sources of subproject 2 were the treatises by the Latin authors, mainly Guillaume of Conches and Guillaume of Saint-Thierry. Subproject 3 examined Russian chronicles and the Paterikon of the grots of Kiev. The main sources of subproject 4 were the Primary Chronicle, the Bible of the slavs, the epistles by Iov Boretsky of 1624 etc. Subproject 5 relied on the epistles and speeches by Aurelius Ambrosius.

Research results

Subproject 1 revealed that the newly established theme Mesopotamia witnessed an intensive process of cultural exchange, characteristic of contact zones. More importantly, however, it was revealed that byzantine builders from Cappadocia brought to Mesopotamia their architectural solutions that mixed with the local traditions significantly, subduing the latter. Subproject 2 managed to clarify the place of the School of Chartres not only in the history of European literature and science, including physics. The sources for the naturalism typical of the highest stage of the gothic style were, firstly, the new understanding of nature and relationship between the man and the God originatedin Chartres, secondly, religiosity, no less new, or rather renewed by the experience of the mendicant orders, searching for unity with the God. Subproject 3 uncovered the lineage of the Ancient Rus’ family, founded by a Varangian named Shimon, who came to Rus’ and based himself in the Kiev-Pechersk monastery. This finding allowed to suggest that part of unusual narratives in the chronicle were the echoe of the familial legends of noble families whose successors had personal contacts with the scribes who contributed to the creation of the written history of Ancient Rus’. Subproject 4 finally proved the hypothesis that Western European and Orthodox-Byzantine discourses responsible for the formation of a certain understanding of medieval nations, gentes et populi differed drastically. Besides, in the 17th c. Latin model of constructing discourses of protonational collective identity gradually replaced the Byzantine-Orthodox model at the Orthodox periphery in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Subproject 5 showed that one of the central ideologemes of such a typical form of the representation of power, as the prince’s repentance, dates back to a single episode in late 4th c. Therewith, conceptual ambivalence of the medieval practice of the repentance of a prince, namely prominence through humiliation,was not planned from the beginning, was not designed by political theorists, but emerged instantaneously out of the conjunction of specific political circumstances. Despite its accidental creation, the new form of representation of power appeared to have been destined to the promising future. The original, central, episode was regularly reiterated in the political tradition. Due to its intrinsic ambivalence, each time different aspects could be stressed. Provincialism of such use of the original manifested itself above all in the simplification of its contradictory meanings. This ambiguity, though, was not present when the original emerged, but appeared later, in one of its earliest interpretations by one of the co-authors of the novelty.

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

The participants of the project regularly participated in the Russian and international seminars, colloquiums and conferences, gave personal talks, delivered lectures and special courses, appeared in the open public, presenting some results of the project. Moreover, the participants of the project prepared a number of publications (see the list in the final report), part of which have already been published. The results of the project are also planned to be published in a separate book (the next volume of 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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