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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How the other half lived, 16 Jan 2009
This review is from: The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe (Hardcover)
The early Slavs, as Barford points out, have been ill-served by history. Work done in the West tends to dismiss them rather as barbarians, writing off at a stroke the history of half of Europe. This is made easier to do by the absence of written sources, compared to western Europe where writing became widespread earlier, and the frequent ignorance of Western historians of work written in Eastern European languages. Work in the East has been subject to other constraints, most notably pressure from the prevailing political orthodoxies of the time and place of writing - for example, work on the Slavs in Greece is hampered by Greek nationalism refusing to countenance the idea of modern Greece being an ethnic mixture, whilst in the Soviet Union it was difficult to write about foreign, Scandinavian influences in the formation of the Russian state not merely because of nationalist resistance, but because orthodox Marxist thought saw state-formation as the dialectical result of internal developments, not something provoked by outside factors.

Barford's work here, then, is in effect to bring the Western reader up to speed with the work already done on the subject and to put that in context. What we know about different Slav cultures - more than Western stereotype would have it - is set out in detail, existing works in Eastern European languages synthesised, and the distortions visited on the evidence by political pressures stripped away. It is, perhaps inevitably, something of a dry read for the non-specialist. As Barford points out, for a pre-literate society we are dependent on archeological study of material remains, and there are whole areas of human experience for which these cannot help. Stripping off nationalist or political myth-making, too, means that whole areas of history become more tentative, and what we make of scattered bits of evidence is far less certain. This is unlikely to be a favourite with the general reader - anything about analysis of pottery types is probably a turn-off - but it sums up the debate so far for the Western reader, and provides an intriguing insight into the ill-known history of areas of Europe now, as they were a thousand years ago, integrating with the West after years either of isolation or of facing in another direction.
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The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe
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