Accepted Paper:

Towards a Prosopography of Medieval Eurasian Nomads  


Agustí Alemany (Autonomous University of Barcelona)

Paper long abstract:

Imperial nomads of the Pre-Mongol period have been paid little or no attention from a prosopographical perspective. In fact, several objections can be raised against such an approach: sources are often scarce and therefore the number of individuals is necessarily limited; in most cases, known persons are hápax legómena and no cursus honorum can be reconstructed for them, with the exception of a few individuals, often in the service of sedentary empires; and, taking into account that PIR, the first modern prosopography, was planned by Mommsen as a supplement to epigraphic corpora, the absence of inscriptions (or other written documents) in the nomadic world before the eighth century is no good omen, and their relative scarcity in later periods forces us to rely heavily on the fragmentary and often biased reports left by sedentary neighbors.

However, we can turn the tide if we conceive a "nomadic" prosopography as a tool devised to overcome all these drawbacks and their worst consequence, the abuse of vague conjectures and hazardous hypotheses -which often become established truths- by scholars trying to fill the gaps of our knowledge on these peoples. In our opinion, a series of prosopographies of imperial nomads of the Pre-Mongol period (Huns, Avars, Türks, Uighurs, etc), conceived as reference works providing quick and easy access to primary sources and their discussion, would be a worthwhile enterprise (which, in any case, could be extended to the Chinggisid age, if it proved successful).

Despite the limited number of individuals and the relative scarcity of sources for most of them, the required effort should not be underestimated: a close reading of available evidence would be imperative, especially in search of anonymi (recorded persons whose name is unknown) and relevant aliens, sedentary or not, "civilized" or "barbarian", both within and outside the nomadic world, but always interacting with it. The heterogeneous origin of the sources claims for a long-standing, international research project, midway between philology and history, and with a significant presence of sinologists, given the accumulative nature of Chinese sources. I would like to emphasize the need for designing a unified plan and methodology for all these prosopographies, which would allow the comparison of similar processes in different historical and cultural contexts. And finally, even if printed versions might seem more attractive at first sight, a computer-accessible form allowing for quick searches would be an obvious desideratum.

Panel HIS-01
Strands of Power in Medieval Eurasia