chapter  8
Collective identities, war and integration in the Early Middle Ages
Pages 11

In the Early Middle Ages, ethnic groups were established primarily on the basis of common mythical traditions which were handed down orally in tales of gods and mythical figures. Tales of legendary origins and glorious history created a group’s identity. Such constituent myths represented the beginning of a collective historical consciousness which manifested itself in the belief in a biological community of origin. This played a decisive role in ethnogenesis, the gradual process of forming and stabilizing a people,1 through the creation of a collective self-consciousness and a specific group identity.2 Reinhard Wenskus rightly argued that the ethnic existence of a community only began when it developed its own historicoethnic tradition.3 Admittedly, this ethnic consciousness did not apply to all members of the gens to the same extent and at all times. On the contrary, it seems frequently to have been concentrated around representatives of the leading families within the ethnic unit, who made a pronounced contribution to the tradition of the gens. Through this they were further able to substantiate their claim to power, as they embodied the historical continuity of their people and thereby also that of its ethnic existence.4