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PETER DEUNOV, THE FIRST BULGARIAN SCHOLAR TO STUDY THE GOTHS AND OTHER GERMANIC PEOPLES

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PETER DEUNOV, THE FIRST BULGARIAN

SCHOLAR TO STUDY THE GOTHS AND

OTHER GERMANIC PEOPLES

 

 

Rossen Milev
 
As in many other aspects of his spiritual and research work, Peter Deunov is a pioneer, a forefather, and a founder - this time of the Bulgarian research into the history of the Goths and other Germanic peoples. The present essay, written during his studies at the School of Theology at Boston University between 1892 and 1893, makes him the first Bulgarian to address and discuss this topic. Its length was limited by the requirements for a degree thesis at the time. Nevertheless, the essay is clear, precise and concentrated. He outlines all the major points in this area, reviews the most significant publications at the time and suggests his own original interpretation, generalization and heuristics. There is all the evidence of a short but magnificent contribution to this research area. At that time the history of the German peoples had already been researched for centuries, mainly in Westren and Northern Europe. Thus Deunov is the first Bulgarian to have worked extensively on this topic. (Only Gavriil Krustevich before him mentions the Gothic presence in what is now Bulgaria, in his „Bulgarian history", volume 1, published in Constantinople in 1869.)
 
Deunov's pioneering work acquires even greater significance in the context of the enormous delay among Bulgarian scholars in studying Gothic and other Old Germanic cultural and historical heritage in Bulgaria. Systematic and comprehensive analyses have just started. Various factors, mainly ideological, have prevented whole generations of Bulgarian scholars from studying the history and culture of the Goths on Bulgarian territories and in the rest of Europe, their part in Bulgarian ethnogenesis, their role and position in the formation of early medieval Bulgarian Christianity. It was as late as 2002 when a group of Bulgarian scholars - historians, archeologists, linguists, theologists and others, decided to put their efforts together and to begin interdisciplinary studies of the Gothic cultural and historical trail on the Bulgarian territories. As part of the Gothic Research Project (2002 - 2001) an international research centre „Ulphilas" was established in Sofia in 2004 and I have the honour to be its director. It also has a library - „Bibliotheca Gothica" The centre gathers many Bulgarian scholars as well as colleagues from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, the Ukraine, the USA, Spain, Romania, etc. When, in the summer of 2007, we learned of P. Deunov's work on the history of the Teutonic migration and christianization, we were amazed that Bulgarian scholarly circles had forgotten or disregarded the topic for such a long time. Our foreign colleagues were particularly amazed. Now we have the very great pleasure of rediscovering P. Deunov's work. The embarrassment, almost shame, of the Bulgarian backwardness in the area of gothology has been cleared „post scriptum" - we do have a Bulgarian contribution as early as the 19th c. and by a thinker and enlightener of whom every nation can be proud.
 
It is remarkable that in his essay on German migration and christianization Peter Duenov discusses the life and work of Ulphilas (311-383), a Gothic bishop who translated the Bible into the Gothic language near Nicopolis ad Istrum (what is now the village of Nikjup, near Veliko Tarnovo), thus marking the beginning of the first German literary language. Ulphilas had encyclopaedic knowledge, a missionary talent and great spirituality which were highly appreciated by his contemporaries and later conveniently „forgotten" by the official church as he had been suspected of being an Arian heretic. He also created the Gothic Christian alphabet, and a centre of learning and spirituality in Moesia, which lasted for centuries. Later on it gave impetus to the development of the official Bulgarian Christianity and the Bogomils, a kind of inherited „faith laboratory". Until the 13 th c., in addition to the Gothic saints, officially respected by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church until now (St. Nikita Gotski, St. Sava Gotski, etc.), „got", „gotin" and other related ethnonyms had often been used also as a synonym of „heretic" in official ecclesiastical documents.
 
Such attitudes could hardly be taken for granted by a broad-minded person like Duenov. On the contrary, he notices and focuses on a quality which Ulphilas had and which made him so successful among the Goths: „He gained their love and reverence by his blameless Christian life". The moral integrity and purity of Ulphilas in particular and of the Goths in general were recognized and pointed out by Silvanus, a chronicler in the Frankish Empire in the 5th c. He says that „in spite of being heretics, Ulphilas' Goths are morally purer than more of today's Christians". These Goths, also called by their contemporaries Moesian Goths or Minor Goths remained on Bulgarian territories and became part of the Bulgarian ethnogenesis. The written source mentioning them has been deliberately hidden for centuries and has been re-discovered through the interpretation of Gothic Christianity as late as the 20th c. Duenov did not cite it; the source must have been inaccessible at his time but he was the first one to notice a quality of Ulphilas' which unfortunately is not mentioned even today - his moral righteousness. This is such a simple and natural insight into the personality „of the Apostle of the Goths", yet it needed a person like Deunov to be able to state it clearly and categorically in gothology for the first time. This is considered to be his original contribution to the modern studies on Bishop Ulphilas.
 
In his essay P. Deunov points out yet another fact which has often been analyzed by researchers. When Ulphilas translated the Old Testament he omitted the Books of Kings as he feared that they might „excite their warlike minds" (i.e. of the Goths). The Moesian Goths were extraordinary peace-loving people and this quality was noticed centuries after Ulphilas, at the beginning of the 7th c. by Isidor of Seville. He writes that they are well known for their love of peace and also that they do not drink wine, only milk. In the context of the militaristic attitudes at the time we can only imagine the utmost energy with which Ulphilas exerted himself to perpetrate among his people such a stable value which lasted for centuries. Perhaps the life style of the Moesian Gothic communities rejecting war and dissipation inspired P. Deunov and served as a model for the organization of his White Brotherhood. This could only be a hypothesis. When he wrote his work in Boston he was still being trained as a Methodist pastor in Bulgaria. The fact that the Methodist church first stepped in Moesia, Northern Bulgaria, its centre being in Svishtov (the ancient Nove was the capital of the Gothic king Theodoric the Great in the 5th c.) could also have provoked P. Deunov's interest in the Goths.
 
In his article P. Deunov concentrates on the migration and the following christianization of the main Germanic tribes - Goths, Vandals, Franks, Swabians, etc. during the Great Migration, outlines the major events in the clashes between the Late Roman Empire and the invading Germanic tribes and finally the collapse of the Western part of the empire. This is the area where during the 5th - 6th c. the first early medieval states in Europe were formed - the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, which existed on the territory of modern Italy, and the Kingdom of the Visigoths, which existed on the territory of modern Spain.
 
Nowadays Deunov's study can be useful to researchers, students and history lovers as a brief, clear and factually reliable introduction to the topic of the Germanic migration and Christianization at the border line between the Classical Age and the Middle Ages, between heathen and Christian times in European history. As its length shows, it was not designed as a comprehensive study. We should also keep in mind that it was written a century ago when more facts about this historical process were yet to be discovered. Deunov himself points out that „much history concerning the earlier development of the human family is obscure". However, measuring his work not only with the criteria of his time but also from the point of view of modern research on the topic, which has just started in Bulgaria, Peter Deunov has left a new and distinct mark on the history of research on the Germanic migration and Christianization.

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