The age of heroes in historiography: the example of Prince Eugene of Savoy

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Date: Annual 2013
From: Austrian History Yearbook(Vol. 44)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Document Type: Essay
Length: 14,154 words
Lexile Measure: 1620L

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ALMOST EVERY NATIONAL HISTORIOGRAPHY has at one time or another emphasized a certain era dominated by the alleged extraordinary feats of particular individuals. Modern nationalists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often sought support for their founding myths in their histories, exploiting imagery of heroic eras and their heroes for the needs of the present. The work of historians played an integral part of this mythmaking process. The German word Heldenzeitalter [Age of Heroes] is a concept with exactly such strong historiographical dimension. The term is not precise. It has variously been used to denote the mythic era of German sagas, the time of the Volkerwanderungen [migrations of peoples], and the Ostrogoth king Theodoric (sixth century). The same concept of an "age of heroes" is also fundamental to understanding Austrian historiography. This age constitutes a basic element of the Austrian national idea, and as with the other applications of the term "Age of Heroes," the Austrian version, which was largely a nineteenth-century historiographical construct, was also fed by epics and poetry and myth making. The ruling Habsburg dynasty also actively supported the design of an Austrian Age of Heroes, at whose center could be found the figure of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736).

The Habsburg monarchy in the seventeenth century found itself fighting enemies both in the east (the Ottoman Empire) and in the west (France). The outcome of these conflicts in both east and west, according to historical memory, was determined by the "great men" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, men who shaped the internal and external policies of the monarchy. Due to this notion, Austrian historiography can hardly avoid calling the time from 1670 to 1740 an "age of heroes." The role of this so-called age of heroes was especially significant for the romantic historiography and literature of the early nineteenth century, which treated the period as a time when history had transformed itself into mythology, and vice versa, where baroque mythology became history. The same idea dominated historians' accounts of this period in the twentieth century as well. Eugene of Savoy, a prince in the service of three emperors of the baroque period: Leopold I, Joseph I, and Charles VI, are the chief protagonists of the "age of heroes" and of the related "Habsburg myth" that also rested on the events of this age. The biography of Prince Eugene and his role in promoting the growth of the Habsburg Empire were integrated into the nineteenth- and twentieth-century myths about the Austrian or Habsburg past. The Habsburg ideal of a Central Europe united under the dynasty rests primarily on the achievements of Prince Eugene. Moreover, the absence of any memoirs or political writings by the prince made it easier to create numerous differing interpretations of his life and its significance. The myths promoted in the biographies of Prince Eugene were, time and again, largely accepted and recycled by historians and writers loyal to the Habsburg dynasty. Among the ranks of historians who engaged in this mythmaking...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A331806274