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Bread, cheese and genocide : imagining the destruction of peoples in medieval western Europe.

Scales, L. E (2007) 'Bread, cheese and genocide : imagining the destruction of peoples in medieval western Europe.', History., 92 (307). pp. 284-300.


Western European society in the middle ages is generally perceived as lying, in its modes of thought and action, far remote from those acts of mass ethnic destruction which have been a recurrent element in world history since the early twentieth century. Yet medieval Europeans too were capable of envisaging the violent obliteration of peoples. Indeed, the view that such acts had occurred in times past and were liable to occur again was deeply embedded in medieval thought and assumption. For some commentators, the destruction of certain peoples was inseparable from the making of others, an essential motor of historical change, underpinned by biblical narratives of divine election and condemnation. Such notions constituted a matrix within which medieval writers interpreted real acts of social and political violence, the scale and the ethnic foundations of which they were thus naturally inclined to inflate. Nevertheless, their belief in the recurrent historical reality of ethnic destruction was, in their own terms, well founded - although medieval conceptions of what constituted the undoing of peoples were broader than most modern definitions of `genocide'. By the later middle ages, moreover, government was increasingly perceived - not without justification - as a powerful agent for remaking the ethnic map.

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Record Created:22 Aug 2007
Last Modified:08 Apr 2009 16:35

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