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Croatia in the Early Middle Ages

Written 01.12.2009. 11:34
Croatia in the Early Middle Ages is the first volume of the intended 5 volumes series that intends to present to the wider audience (in French and English editions) the, in the alchemist parlance, “quintessentia” of Croatian culture and civilization, spanning thirteen centuries (7th to 20th ). The entire series is a project of Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the other four volumes will see the light in the next few years (the second volume which covers the 13th to 16th century period-mature Medieval Age and Humanism and Renaissance- has already been published in Croatian, with English and French translations to appear till the end of 2003.) This voluminous (630+ pages; dimensions 22 cm x 30 cm) book, written by pre-eminent Croatian academicians and scholars, lavishly illustrated, both scholarly impeccable and accessible to the interested general reading public, is divided into 8 major chapters and 30 minor ones. The major chapters are: Croatia in European History and Culture; Croatian Territorry in Classical Antiquity and in the Middle Ages; Origins, Society, State and Religion; Sources-Inscriptions; Language and Literature; Fine Arts; Music; Science and Philosophy. Since it is beyond the scope of the review to enumerate all minor chapters, it will have to suffice to name just a few in order to get “the flavor” of the Croatia in the Early Middle Ages survey: Croatia-historical and cultural identity; Greek and Roman Antiquity; The archaelogical heritage of early Croats; The Church and Christianity; The Croatian glagolitic and cyrillic epigraphs until 1200; Language and literature; Glagolitism and glagolism; The pre-Romanesque in Croatia; Sculpture from the 8th to the 12th century; Illuminated manuscripts; The first centuries of Croatian music; Glagolitic chant; Science and philosophy among Croats.

The best way to conclude this review is to quote the foreword, written by the foremost authority on the medieval European civilisation Jacques Le Goff:

“It was an excellent idea, born in the early 1990s following the creation of the independent state of Croatia, that the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (founded in Zagreb in 1861) should undertake the publication of a history of relations between Croatia and the rest of Europe written from a cultural, scholarly and artistic point of view. Here we have the English translation of the first volume of the five which are to be devoted to that history, and it covers the period extending from the genesis of Croatia in the 7th century to its mediaeval apogee at the close of the 12th century.
In these pages the authors, all Croats, demonstrate in an erudite, intelligent and brilliant way, that Croatia is both a culturally distinct and yet profoundly Western European component of the rich ensemble which constitutes Europe, and that, from the Early Middle Ages, she has contributed to it in an outstanding manner within the specific domain most important to her, that of civilisation. Croatia manifests most clearly her Western European character through the remarkable combination of a personality which, right up to the present day, and through all her torments and tribulations, has expressed her awareness of her cultural identity, coupled with the appropriation of a wide range of elements derived from the many different cultures with which she has been in contact. As with Europe itself, Croatia is the product of successive cultural contributions which have enriched her without changing her fundamentally.
This diversity is in the first place dictated by geography, located as she is in the immediate zone of contact between the East and the West, between Northern Europe and the lands of the Mediterranean.
She has thus been the fruit of history. Croatia brought together the heritage of the Roman Empire, around Salona, the capital of Roman Dalmatia. Of Slavonic origin, she has absorbed into the ongoing Slavonic heritage contributions from her Carolingian, Byzantine, Venetian and South Italian, Pannonian and, above all, Hungarian neighbours. Croatia converted to the Latin tradition of Christianity - the first of the Slav peoples so to do- which placed her in the zone of dynamic interaction (as it still is to play) between it and Greek Orthodox Christianity, but this also integrated her, in a way which is now becoming better understood, with Latin Christianity, the cradle of modern Western Europe. As “the easternmost region of Europe in which the Latin language and alphabet were employed for diplomatic purposes”, she knew how to unite written Latin with Cyrillic characters and, above all for liturgical purposes, with the Glagolitic, which Pope Innocent IV finally approved in the middle of the 13th century. Furthermore, Pope Paul VI was able to say that she belongs to the “territories of encounters and dialogue”.
You will see in this superb book-— which will bring blushes to many of its English-speaking readers, not least myself, on account of their ignorance - the flowering of one of the finest artistic traditions of the Early Middle Ages. They will meet there two of the most outstanding intellectual figures of the Middle Ages: the theologian Gottschalk from Saxony who was the guest of Prince Trpimir from 846 until 848, and the great scholar Herman Dalmatin, a brilliant product of the School of Chartres (1130—1134) and one of the first to introduce Arab culture into Western Europe together with Greek literature transmitted by the Arabs.
I do not doubt that readers of this work will find here more than sufficient reasons to accord to the Croatian people of today, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of our tragic century, admiration, friendship and a certain zeal, into the new millenium, to help to encourage wider recognition of her position within the Western European family.”

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