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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
The Early Slavs : Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe
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on January 10, 2010
Barford deals with the difficult subject of early Slav history in a thoughtful and non-political way. In the absence of Slavonic written history (writing only came with Christianity in the 9th and 10th centuries) he carefully uses scarce Byzantine, Carolingian and Arab references together with linguistic, archeological and ethnographic sources.

The interesting picture that emerges is of closely related Slavonic groups (linguistic evidence) probably originating in the Southern Polish, Czech, Carpathian area, cooperating with invading Huns from the East, and moving into land abandoned by the movement of earlier Germanic tribes (who in turn had moved to occupy the collapsing Western Roman Empire). Linguistic evidence also shows wide ranging contacts with German and Iranian influences overlaying the earlier Proto Balto Slavonic.

He emphasizes the importance of Christianity (from both Rome and Byzantium) in bringing stability, "promoting social unity and aiding the authorities of the early state in their struggle against decentralizing tendencies in a way that no pagan religion could have done". Christianity also developed a class of educated people able to read and write and give Slavonic kingdoms a place in the newly forming Medieval world.
12 people found this helpful
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on September 17, 2009
This is a great overview of the origins of the Slavs and their ancient customs. The book fills a big gap in English historical literature - most history books I've read in English on Eastern Europe only begin with the early Middle Ages, but don't say much about the origins of the Slavic people and the displacement of the Celts and Germanic tribes in the region. For this reason, I think the book is a must read for anyone interested in the region who can't speak the local languages. For those who can, this book provides an impartial view, or rather overview, of competing theories among Communist scholars. The downside is that it reads very much like a textbook, which makes for dry reading. Only true nerds interested in the subject can read through the whole thing without being bored.
7 people found this helpful
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on January 16, 2014
I am currently working my way through this work which highlights the very complex tapestry of Slavdom. The author has obviously researched this important topic in some detail and shows that over the centuries Slavonic cultural forms and languages subsumed different ethnic tribes and nations to the point that the Slavic tongue in Europe and Eurasia is the most dominate of the Indo-European (or Aryan) languages.
4 people found this helpful
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on June 26, 2002
This is a scholarly book by an archaeologist/historian living in Poland. 12 main maps, plus some more maps among the 72 illustrations, most of which are clear line drawings, not photos. The most important characteristic of this book is that it summarizes in English a wealth of information otherwise available only in Slavic languages. (Most of the 38 pages of notes and references cite Slavic language sources.) A very enlightening examination of who the Slavs are and where they might have come from. Of limited use in genealogy, since the main story here ends in about the 11th Century. Tiny print is hard on the eyes.
39 people found this helpful
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on February 16, 2013
An intriguing, thorough archaeological, linguistic, and literary historical survey of life in Eastern Europe and Russia from the 5th to the 10th century. Maps and illustrations are beautiful. Highly detailed.
2 people found this helpful
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on April 19, 2007
"The Early Slavs" by P.M. Barford is probably the best non-fiction book about Ancient Slavs that I've ever read. It is, in reality, very complicated to discover who these Ancient Slavic peoples were, since there are sparse archaeological evidence and minimal historical accounts. Barford, despite the sparse evidence and accounts, fully details the "Pagan Ideologies" and the "Daily Life" and the "State Formation" of what is now Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and (even) Germany. However, there is a downside to this book: this reads like a bloated textbook and much of the vocabulary is sophisticated (a dictionary must be useful). This is nonetheless a great introduction of the Ancient Slavs. A-
21 people found this helpful
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on March 27, 2015
This is a well written, scholarly book. It was received in good condition and in a timely manner. Unfortunately, it is beyond my interests and willingness to spend the time to try to understand it.
One person found this helpful
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on February 13, 2003
P. M. Barford is a British scholar residing in Poland. With this book he has made a valuable contribution by providing an easy to read, and best of all OBJECTIVE overview of this often controversial subject area.
I say controversial because as any student of Eastern Europe knows, the history of the region has always been fraught with vastly differing interpretations based on rival and competing nationalisms, and no area moreso than the fragmentary early history.
The author tackles this issue head-on, tracing the course of various nationalist contructions of early Slavic history in response to certain political imperatives, such as the post-WWII refutation of Nazi German claims to East European territory, or Soviet government desires to minimize and divert attention away from differences among peoples in order to facilitate the formation of one "Soviet people". He also carries this healthy skepticism even further, by constantly questioning the perspectives and motivation for writing of all of the existing early written sources he discusses, and even applying it to the newest scholarship which has begun to appear in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.
The book begins with a preface and introduction as well as a very convenient time-line chart of East-, West- and South-Slavic history. The body of the book consists of 13 chapters. The first four cover the early history divided into several phases. Chapters 5-10 respectively focus on daily life of the early Slavs, their social structure, warfare, economics, paganism, and the coming of Christianity. Chapters 11-12 deal with state formation and the final chapter deals with the image of the Slavs from a historiographic perspective.
This is then followed by 30 pages of extensive notes to the preceding chapters, a select bibliography (which I would have preferred to be a bit more thoroughgoing), and best of all 80 pages of illustrations and maps. The 12 maps included here I found especially wonderful!
My only tiny complaints would be the rendering of certain East- or South-Slavic names in Polish style, which may be confusing to some readers, and the very occasional echoing of a distinctly Polish perspective on certain issues (which I had actually gone into the book expecting to be far stronger given the author's immersion in the Polish academic milieu). But neither of these are significant enough to mar my 5-star rating of this book.
I am happy to recommend this book as a concise, comprehensive and up to date introduction to this subject area.
72 people found this helpful
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on June 29, 2014
gives a very brief overview of the history of the Slavic peoples. could have been shorter as not too much info was really given out. but a good book to get you started.
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