South Ossetia and the Middle Ages
If you’ve paid attention to another conflict with medieval roots, then you saw this war coming. When Kosovo declared independence in February, the South Ossetia separatist leader insisted that his people had an even stronger case for autonomy, while Russia sent ominous signals that confirmed the earlier fears of EU foreign policy types. In the days to come, journalists will try to explain the matrix of grudges between Russia, Georgia, the two halves of Ossetia, and nearby Ingushetia and Chechnya. Chances are they’ll overlook this snippet from a 5th-century poem by Claudian about an Alan warlord
cui natura breves animis ingentibus artus
finxerat inmanique oculos infecerat ira;
vulneribus pars nulla vacat rescissaque contis
gloria foedati splendet iactantior oris.
whom nature had moulded with small limbs but great courage and dyed his eyes with a terrible anger. No part of his body was free of wounds and, torn by spears, the glory of his disfigured face shone more proudly.
Expect to see more anger, wounds, and disfigurement out of the Caucasus. And when you start to hear talk about glory and pride, don’t be surprised if it takes on a medieval tinge.
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