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The “Germanic Völkerwanderung“ in Early Modern Thought.
Origins and Developments of a Historiographical Master Narrative, 1500-1830


"In the patriotic German historiography of the 19th and 20th centuries, the motif of the “Germanic Völkerwanderung“ has played an eminent role. According to this master narrative of German nationalism, allegedly Germanic tribes like the Goths, the Vandals, the Langobards and numerous others had roamed Europe in a series of far-reaching campaigns of conquest and colonization between the late fourth and the mid-sixth century AD that brought the Roman Empire to its knees. Their bravery and martial prowess were interpreted as manifestations of primordial, unchanging Germanic virtues which modern Germans shared with their barbarian ancestors. During the last decades, historical research on the transformation processes of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages has thoroughly refuted such appropriations of the past. The deconstruction of the ""Völkerwanderung"", however, makes it even more important to examine the origin of this highly influential historical narrative.
The planned research project intends to examine the development of the ""Völkerwanderung"" topos between the 16th and the late 18th century. How did early modern scholars conceptualise the process of barbarian migration – the migrants’ motivation, the organisation and the logistics? How did they judge the interaction between Romans and barbarians? Was ""migratio gentium"" already instrumentalised in the construction of pre-national and proto-national identities before the rise of the modern concept of nationhood around 1800? And when and why did scholars reach the consensus that the period between 375 and 568 was the migration period, and that it was more heavily influenced by tribal mobility than others? A detailed analysis of the ""Völkerwanderung"" motif between humanism and late enlightenment would promise important insights into the intellectual roots of German nationalism."

Call for proposal

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Funding Scheme

MC-IEF - Intra-European Fellowships (IEF)


Dr. Ignaz Seipel-platz 2
1010 Wien
Activity type
Research Organisations
EU contribution
€ 240 733,20
Administrative Contact
Walter Pohl (Prof.)