Research Focus

Ethnicity, Identities and the Formation of Political Communities

Ethnicity and Political Identities

The role of ethnicity in early medieval Europe is a controversial topic. The unquestioned existence and importance of ‘peoples’ and ethnic groups in the period needs to be replaced by a more nuanced and contextualised understanding of these social formations, considering where and when they mattered and tracing specific identifications and their impact in the textual sources. The aim in this cluster is not so much to study the development of single peoples or ethnic groups, but to investigate the emergence of a model of Christian and ethnically-defined rulership and community. Within the wider scope of this project, particular attention is being paid to the manifold meanings of ethnonyms in the early Middle Ages (Salvatore Liccardo), a study which is being conducted in conjunction with research into Yemeni tribal genealogy. Closely related to this investigation is an examination of ‘Ethnicity as Kinship’ (Maria Nezbeda), which collects the evidence for contemporary understandings of ethnicity as constituted by kinship or common origin in early medieval narrative sources. The study will cover the uses of genealogies and of kinship metaphors for the internal relationship of ethnic groups, and for the relations between them, and also explore the gender aspect of ethnicity.


  • Walter Pohl
  • Salvatore Liccardo
  • Maria Nezbeda

Empires, Communities and Political Culture

This project deals with the relationship of empires or other supra-regional states with smaller communities, for instance, religious (e.g. monastic) communities, local populations or peripheral groups. Rutger Kramer’s research explores Carolingian concepts of community by studying both central imperial authority and its reception and acceptance in monastic and other communities in the farthest reaches of the empire. Francesco Borri’s associated project Transformations of Early Medieval Dalmatia and the Adriatic focuses on identity, historiography and power in Italy and Dalmatia between the seventh and eleventh centuries.


  • Rutger Kramer
  • Francesco Borri

Illustration: Sacramentarium Gelasianum. Frontispice et Incipit. France. Milieu du VIIIe siècle. Vatican. Bibliothèque Apostolique. Reg. Lat. 316. Folios 131v/132. (Wiki Commons)

Last Update: 17.07.19