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Dustin Faulkner

Location: BOERNE, TX
Joined: 20 Jul 2008

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PostPosted: Sat 22 Oct, 2011 11:40 pm    Post subject: Medieval / Rennaisance geography / nationality inquiry         Reply with quote

Hello Everyone:

I am generally aware of the fact that some nations of Europe did not exist during medieval and rennaisance times as we know them today. For example: there was no Germany or Italy yet. I don't think the eastern european nations existed yet either except Poland - a much larger Poland. Even Burgundy was seperate from France at one time.

However, regions like "Germania" and the Italian city-states were distinct from England, France, Portugal, and Spain. How? Was it simply by language and culture? Still ... how much did a Milanese have in common with a Florencian (?), a Venetian, or a Roman given the fact ruling families (like the Medicis) exerted their own power & culture over a region? How much did a Dresdener have in common with a Nuremberger? Did German city-states ever fight each other like the Italian ones did?

With regards to the Germanic people, how did the Austrians and the Swiss eventually become distinct from the Germans? After all, you hear about the Swiss pikemen - not German pikemen. I fear that's a big question. I assume it pertains to the period being discussed. Were Norway, Sweden, and Finland seperate yet (if they were ever one entity)?

I can't imagine how complicated diplomacy must have been back then. I get the impression you needed a diplomat not for each country like today, but for each city-state or guild or duchy or kingdom or principality. In a hypothetical sense, was France ever allied with one Italian city-state, but enemies with another? Could England have been allied with Saxony, but have nothing to do with Bavaria? There was also the Catholic Church as its own political entity.

Please pardon my ignorance of this part of history. My basic inquiry is that eventhough Germany and Italy (and a few other countries) did not exist as we know them today, did they have enough cultural commonalities then that eventually "coalesced" them into the countries we know now, or did such factors exist at a later time? Did germanic regions have enough in common that "Germans" and Swiss would have helped the Austrians defend Vienna from the Muslims?

Just wondering. We tend to focus on weapons on this website (naturally), but I am curious about the geopolitical landscape our revered kings and knights lived in too. For example: what were other monarchs thinking during the wars of the Italian city-states? Did England's war of the roses matter to the Hapsburgs, Spain, France, or the Church? Just curious.

I thought this could begin an interesting and very different discussion while I was driving to work trying to tolerate what passes for music on the radio today.

Dustin Faulkner

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Blaz Berlec

Location: Podgorje, Kamnik, Slovenia, Europe
Joined: 26 Aug 2003
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Oct, 2011 12:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An interesting question, and tough to answer quickly.

The problem is that our "history" (as study of the past) is largely founded on the 19th century scholars. And that was the time of "nation states" and rising nationalisms. Consider this Wikipedia quote:

In France, Eric Hobsbawm argues the French state preceded the formation of the French people. Hobsbawm considers that the state made the French nation, not French nationalism, which emerged at the end of the 19th century, the time of the Dreyfus Affair. At the time of the 1789 French Revolution, only half of the French people spoke some French, and 12-13% spoke it "fairly", according to Hobsbawm.

During the Italian unification, the number of people speaking the Italian language was even lower. The French state promoted the unification of various dialects and languages into the French language. The introduction of conscription and the Third Republic's 1880s laws on public instruction, facilitated the creation of a national identity, under this theory.

I don't know if historians were always consciously building myths of the glorious past of their nation, but such myths were successful and rewarded by the state they helped to create. And dispelling those myths is apparently not a very popular or even wanted today.

The fact is that ethnicities have very little to do with medieval states. Broad terms like "Germans" and "Italians" were much more often used to describe the population geographically, not ethnically. And while some ethnicities were more closely connected with the state they lived in it was still a far cry from what we consider as a "nation".

I'd say that people in middle ages were usually closely connected to very small area, and felt very little connected to the people far off, even if they spoke similar language. You also have to remember that there were many more languages in Europe at the time, and what would pass today as simple dialect could be thought back then as a completely different language. So the main forces of connection weren't nationalistic but political and religious.

Extant 15th Century German Gothic Armour
Extant 15th century Milanese armour
Arming doublet of the 15th century
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Paul Hansen

Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Oct, 2011 8:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Blaz that from an individual's perspective, loyalty was limited to a rather small area: either a city, a monastery or a local lord. According to the feudal system, that city or lord owed allegiance to a slightly greater area, like a county, duchy or bishopric. This would likely be the largest extent that most people would experience in their lives. Geographical and cultural closeness also created intense hatred in some instances. This was by no means limited to Italy.

If you look at it from the other way, top-down if you will, a king's power would for a large part be based on the loyalty of his retainers: the dukes and counts. The HRE was notoriously decentralized: many counts had considerable leeway in following their own plans. But other kingdoms may have likewise been not very centralized at various points of history (for instance, the relationship between France and Burgundy).

It's a very complicated topic... Perhaps a good way to get somewhat of a feel for (even though it's by no means perfect) is to play the computer game "Crusader Kings".
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