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The peoples of Europe – their origins, histories, contacts

Class at Faculty of Arts |


Week 1 (from Feb 20)

The introduction to the course. 

The agenda of the course. The terms peoples, nation, state, Europe etc. in the historical context. Ethnic map of Europe.  

Greeks as the first attested Europeans.

The arrival of Indo-Europeans – questions of their homeland and expansion. Aegean area in the Bronze Age and Old Iron Age. Mycenaean Greece (linear script B). Dark Ages and Homer. Greek colonization. City-states, Macedonian and Hellenistic periods.  

 Reader: Geary, 1-11; Drews, 197-201  

Week 2 (from Feb 27)


Iron Age Hallstatt culture (cca 800-450 B.C.) as the core of Celtic territory. A large expansion in the La Tène period. Romanization of continental Celts. Insular Celts – division to Goidelic and Brythonic branches.   

R: Powell, 45-58  


The ethnic situation in the Apennine peninsula in the middle of the 1st millennium B.C. Rome and Latium as a nucleus of the prospective empire and its growth. The territorial peak of the Empire in the first centuries A.D. The decline and the division of the Empire to the Eastern and Western parts.     

R: Geary, 63-79  

Week 3 (from March 6)

Early Germans. Huns and the Migration Period.

The homeland of the Germans and their expansion to the south. The attacks of Roman Empire. The Germans in the Central and Eastern Europe. The invasion of the Huns and the Migration Period. The Goths and other East Germanic peoples.  

R: Todd, 1-14; Geary, 93-99  

Slavs and their expansion.

Ethnogenesis of Slavs and their expansion from their homeland to the West and South. The temporary domination over the most of Central and Eastern Europe. The division of Slavs to three major groups. The first Slavic states.  

R: Geary, 144-149, Chropovský, 14-23  

Week 4 (from March 13)

Hungarians (Magyars) and their remote northern relatives (Finns, Estonians).

The arrival of Hungarians, their aggressions and settling in Pannonia. The admission of Christianity and the formation of a regular Central European state. The autochthonic origin of northern Finno-Ugric peoples and their further existence in the shadow of more powerful neighbors.  

R: Engel, 8-27  

Vikings and the northern Europe.

Viking era and the beginning of the differentiation of North Germanic peoples. Colonization of Iceland. Shifts of power between Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Kalmar Union. The rise of the Swedish power in the 16th and 17th centuries.   

R: Anderson, 15-23; Norway, 123-130  

Week 5 (from March 20)

The English and their Celtic neighbors.

The arrival of Anglo-Saxons to the Celtic Britain. Scandinavian influence (Danelaw). The Norman conquest and the formation of the English nation. The coexistence with the Celtic population (Welsh, Scottish, Irish).  

R: Kiernan, 1-15  


The Roman Gaul as the basis of future France. Frankish rule and the adoption of Romance language. Centralization and growth after the Verdun Treaty. Occitanian (Provençal) and other minor languages on the territory of France  

R: Johnson, 35-47  

Week 6 (from March 27)  

Germans and the Holy Roman Empire. Italy.

West Germanic peoples in the 2nd half of the 1st millennium. Franks and Saxons. Charlemagne’s empire. Verdun Treaty and the division of the empire to three parts. The Holy Roman Empire (since 962) as a political union of many (mostly German) principalities and other domains.  The disintegration and decentralization in Italy.    

R: Averkorn, 177-192  

Midterm test    

Week 7 (from Apr 3)

The ethnic situation in the Pyrenean peninsula. Basques.

Celts, Romans and Visigoths. Arabic occupation of Hispania, the “reconquista” and unification of Christian kingdoms. Portugal and Catalonia.  Basques as a unique European nation. The problem of their origin and relatives.   

R: Collins, 1-16; Barton, 112-121  

The Balkans as a melting pot. Albanians.

The ethnic situation in Balkan in the 2nd half of the 1st millennium. The origin of Albanians. The rise of Rumanian (and Moldavian) as a Romance language. Slavs and Greeks. Mutual coexistence of the Balkan peoples.  

R: Brătianu, 173-177; Vekony, 217-220  

Czechs and Slovaks.     (makeup class)

The development after the collapse of Great Moravia Empire. The formation of the Czech statehood and nationhood, the rise in the 13th and 14th centuries, Hussite period, accession of Habsburgs and the loss of sovereignty after 1620. A delayed formation of the Slovak nation.  

R: Čornej, 3-30  

Week 8 (from Apr 10)

Poles and other West Slavic peoples. The Balts.

The Slavs in the territory of today’s Germany (Polabians, Sorbs). The formation of the Polish state. The Balts and their late Christianization. Polish-Lithuanian personal union and its decline in the 18th century.  

R: Davies, 279-311  

East Slavs and the Russian expansion.

Kievan Rus’ and its disintegration by Mongol invasion. Grand Duchy of Moscow and the fights with Tatars. Ivan the Horrible and the destruction of Tatar khanates. The expansion to the East. The modernization of the empire under Peter I. and Catherine II.  

R: Lantzeff, 321-332  

Week 9 (from Apr 17)

Easter Monday (no class)  

The Turks and their invasion to Europe.

The rise of the Ottoman Empire. The invasion to the Balkan. The battle of  Mohács (1526) and the culmination of the Turkish power. The defeat at Vienna (1683) and the following stagnation.  

R: Sugar, 14-23  

The peoples in diaspora – the Jews and Gypsies (the Roma).  (makeup class)

Jews in medieval Europe. Poland as the new centre of the Jewish community. Arrival of the Gypsies to the Balkans and their situation in Europe.  

R: Stow, 231-235, 302-308; Halwachs, 192-199  

Week 10 (from Apr 24)

On the border of the Empire – the Austrians and Swiss.

Early history of March of Austria. Habsburgs. Why Austrians are not Germans. Old Swiss Confederacy and its development. The ethno-linguistic composition and the question of the Swiss nation.  

R: Bruckmüller, 206-221  

On the border of the Empire – the Dutch and Belgians.

“Low Countries” as buffer territories between France and Holy Roman Empire. Frisians. The rise of Belgium. Luxemburg.  

R: Vos 128-143  

Week 11 (from May 1)

State holiday (no class)  

Europe in the 19th century

Europe after Napoleon wars. National revivals and the rise of modern nations. Emancipation processes and fights for independence. The unification of Germany and Italy.  

R: Banti, 15-23; Barmayer, 41-51    

Week 12 (from May 8)

State holiday (no class)   20th century and the world wars.

 World War I and the post-war shape of Europe. New ethnical and political problems. WW II and its influence on the map of Europe. The Iron Curtain and the invariability of European borders for almost 50 years.  

R: Rotschild, 2-25      

Week 13 (from May 15)

The turn of millennia – disintegration and integration.

The collapse of the “socialist” block and its disintegration (the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia). The destructive war in Yugoslavia and the rise of “new” nations. Other disintegration tendencies (Belgium, Britain, Spain, Italy) in contrast with Europe unification effort.  

R: Klemenčič, 236-249; Dusselier 195-206  

Final test

Course wrap-up


The course focuses on the processes and events that have been making the ethnical and political borders of Europe since the arrival of Indo-Europeans until present times. It follows the formations, expansions and differentiations of the Celtic, Germanic, Romance, Slavic and other peoples, the formation of medieval nations or changes in the political map of Europe in the last centuries.

It also explains how and when peoples like Basques, Albanians, Hungarians, Turks appeared in Europe. Due to its comprehensive character, the course is suitable for students interested in history, politics, geography, ethnology or linguistics.