The Euro-barbarian

For instance, there is certainly a link between interpretations of the Germanic invaders as primarily peaceful, and the remarkable (and deserved) success that modern Germany has had at constructing a new and positive identity within Europe, after the disastrous Nazi years. Images of the fifth-century Germanic peoples and their settlement in the western empire have changed dramatically since the Second World War, as ideas about modern Germans and their role in the new Europe have altered.

At the time of the Nazi threat and in the immediate aftermath of the war, the fifth-century invaders were, not unnaturally, viewed by most Europeans in a very bleak light. […] Gradually, attitudes to twentieth-century Germans mellowed and softened, and with them the image of the fifth-century Germanic invaders. Already in the 1960s and 1970s the Germanic peoples had been rehabilitated from murderous and destructive thugs to become an essential element in the making of modern Europe, in book titles like ‘The Formation of Europe and the Barbarian Invasions’. When Goffart launched his theory of peaceful ‘accommodation’ in 1980 it therefore fell on fertile ground.[…]

The European Union needs to forge a spirit of cooperation between the once warring nations of the Continent, and it is no coincidence that the European Science Foundation’s research project into this period was entitled ‘The Transformation of the Roman World’—implying a seamless and peaceful transition from Roman times to the ‘Middle Ages’ and beyond. In this new vision of the end of the ancient world, the Roman empire is not ‘assassinated’ by Germanic invaders; rather, Romans and Germans together carry forward much that was Roman, into a new Romano-Germanic world. ‘Latin’ and ‘Germanic’ Europe is at peace.

B. Ward-Perkins, The fall of Rome and the end of civilization, Oxford 2005, σσ. 173-174.

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