Myths about the origins of a medieval gens functioned as an important force in political, social and cultural matters throughout the European Middle Ages, national identities having been crafted on the basis of descent of a national group from some great people, family or hero. The case of the Turks, the only Oriental nation said to have the honour of sharing with Europeans a common ancestor, the Trojans, is of particular interest, all the more so because medieval ethnogenetic narrative has also attributed evil, demonic origins to the Turks, alongside some other Asian peoples. While medieval constructions of a diabolical ancestry for the Turks are readily explicable by the long-standing political and religious confrontation between the Latins and the Turks, political and religious approaches fail, however, to explain the existence of myths of common Turco-Latin origins and their coexistence with myths of the Turks’ demonic nature.
This paper will approach these issues from a cultural perspective, by applying the methodologies of cultural history (or history of mentalities) to medieval ethnogenetic texts of William of Tyre and Hayton of Corycus. It is argued that attention should first focus on the social background of the authors which implies the perception of the Turks according to a specific reference model based either on religious or feudal/knightly values (i.e. prowess in war). It is further suggested that, considering the feudal military mentality of that period, the Turks deserved to figure among the great nations, as exemplified by the tradition of ascribing them Trojan descent and structuring the story of their origins on the rules of the widespread medieval historico-literary genre, the origo gentis.
Corycos, Hayton of. La Flor d’Estoires d’Orient. Recueil des historiens des croisades, Historiens arméniens. Vol. II. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1906.
Tyre, William of. L'Estoire d'Eracles empereur et la conqueste de la terre d'Outremer. Recueil des historiens des croisades, Historiens occidentaux. Vol. I. Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1844.