The Sea and human maritime activities in the narrative sources of the early and high Middle Ages

Dr. Sebastian Kolditz

Recent historical research has paid growing attention to the seas as historical spaces. In addition to specific studies, a number of large summary reports testify to that tendency. In these works, the history of entire seascapes is explored and narrated in a variety of ways, following different schemes and approaches. For the earlier middle ages, however, any reports transmitted in narrative sources are based on ‒ besides rich archaeological data ‒ fragmented pieces of information on seafaring, maritime warfare and piracy.
These sparse, yet rather numerous pieces that belong to different historiographic traditions, diversified according to language, genre or region of text production, form the basis of my research project, which is concerned with the representation of the maritime sphere in historiographic sources, the majority of which originate from the timespan between the 8th and 12th centuries. Latin and Greek text will be studied parallelly and, in part, comparatively. Attention will be paid to the horizons of perception with regard to maritime space, its imaginary, bodies of geographical and nautical knowledge as well as questions of terminology. Furthermore, the techniques of narrative construction with regard to maritime events and experiences will be analyzed in an exemplary manner, regarding individual episodes as well as their integration into the general structure of historiographical works.
Against this general background, my research during my stay at the German Historical Institute in Rome focused on Italian sources of particular relevance to this subject. On the one hand, specific attention is paid to the early historiographic traditions of the "maritime republics" of Venice, Pisa and Genoa, which follow rather specific paths in the representation of maritime events in order to examine in which way these historical memories contributed to the formation of a maritime identity in the longue durée. On the other hand, the rich historiographic traditions of Norman Italy ‒ based on Lombard predecessors ‒ will be analyzed with regard to the representations of Norman sea power, as well as the latter's repercussions in Transalpine chronicles and analytics as well as Byzantine historiography.

Dr. Sebastian Kolditz
Ludwig and Margarethe Quidde Fellow 2019/2020