A Boar from the Mire: Elite Power, Eurasian Trade and Societal Transformation among the Baltic Slavs, c. 750-1050

Halsted, Christopher, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kershaw, Paul, History, University of Virginia

This dissertation investigates the socio-political history of the Baltic Slavs (the Slavs between the Elbe and Oder) between the eighth and eleventh centuries.  It looks specifically at the image of these peoples produced in texts from neighboring hegemonic cultures — in particular the Carolingian and Ottonian empires — and interrogates this depiction using the archaeological, numismatic, and onomastic record.  In so doing, this study situates the Baltic Slavs within the wider world of trans-Eurasian trade and communication, focusing especially on the exchange of enslaved captives for silver from Central Asia and the Islamic world that arose after 800.  The influx of wealth into the Slavic Baltic, especially in the tenth century, led to the establishment of new and more militarily powerful Slavic polities able to resist the aggression of the Ottonian empire.  The collapse of the eastern trade route in the 970s, however, catalyzed a turning of the Slavs toward western Europe, which first manifested in raiding and warfare as the elite sought material wealth to placate their followers.  After the millennium, the Baltic Slavs innovated new polities on models borrowed from Latin Christendom, in particular utilizing ideas of Christian monarchy and adapting the socio-spatial structures of the Christian church in the form of the pagan Liutizi theocracy.  As in neighboring regions like Denmark and Poland, the collapse of eastern trade routes thus provided a vital turning point in which the Baltic Slavs chose to look west for models and inspiration — a process of innovation and adaptation rather than conquest and colonization, as it has commonly been depicted.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Early medieval, Slavs, Polabians, Baltic, Economy, Political history, Archaeology, Anthropology
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