Origins of the German Nation according to Heart of Thomas
Heart of Thomas is a 1974 manga by Moto Hagio, one of the members of the loosely-linked Magnificent Year 24 Group which revolutionized the shojo genre. Since I’ve been on a shojo spree of late, and am enjoying Rose of Versailles so much (authored as it is by another purported member of the same group) I decided to give this classic a try. It’s a seriously good story, considered one of (if not) the first shonen-ai (=boy’s love) manga series, taking place in an all-boys school in early 20th century Germany.
As the title reveals, this post is not going to be about any plot point in particular, but about my attempts to understand the origins of Germany as they are presented by Hagio in the manga.
Germanness becomes an issue in the story: one of the characters has Mediterranean blood and dark, dark hair. He studies German history very hard and tries his best to fit in. There’s a fundamental lesson that he likes to recite over and over even though it forms the basis of his own exclusion from the German race. Juli (that’s his name) says that he’s learned in school that there were six tribes that built the German nation. The six are:
(I’m using the standard names in English for this region. Scanlators have used German names, which reflect Hagio’s own katakana terms.)
Let me call this List A. As a student of History, as soon as I saw this list I matched it with the so-called Stem Duchies. The Stem Duchies were tribes, organized into duchies, that were very powerful in early Germany (only stem dukes could become German Kings and, eventually, Holy Roman Emperors).
The problem was that List A didn’t match the one that I was used to. Let me call this one List B:
This is exactly the same as List A, except Frisia is missing. One example of List B (where I first saw it, actually) is in the discussion [here], as the five tribes that constituted Germany, or East Francia as it was called back then. I must admit the first thing I thought was that maybe the translators had added Frisia for some personal reason or other. After checking the Japanese, however, I was able to confirm that the translation was accurate and the lists in Hagio and the translation were the same.
My next thought was that List B must have been the Anglo-American way of looking at things, and that Hagio must have gotten her List A straight from German sources. So I started googling German maps with the stem duchies and sure enough, I found that they always differed from List B. The problem is that they didn’t agree with List A either! Here I present you with List C:
As you can see, we’re still missing Frisia, but we also have Lotharingia replacing Thuringia. By the way, these three problematic locations (Frisia, Thuringia, Lotharingia) are in different areas of Germany, so I knew there wasn’t a chance of different names being used to refer to the same place. Frisia is on the German-Dutch border, Lotharingia was to the south of that, around Belgium and the French border, and Thuringia is in the heart of Germany.
It turns that the difference between List B and List C can be explained like this: B gives more importance to the tribes (the stems), C gives more importance to political units (the duchies). Thuringia was a duchy for brief periods, but spent most of the time under rule by others. This disqualifies it from List C, but not from List B since the Thuringians were a relatively well-defined tribe even when under foreign rule. As for Lotharingia, it was a very powerful group politically (thus included in C) but it was a hodgepodge of tribes and was constantly switching its allegiance between the Franks and Germana (thus excluded from B). Incidentally, I’ve found some English-language sites with List C so I’m starting to think it might be the most popular one both in Germany and abroad.
Actually, the site where I first learned about List B has a map that includes Lotharingia (=Lorraine), because it eventually joined the other stem duchies. To make things more complicated, Lorraine split into lower and upper, so this could be seen as a fourth List D with seven members:
But what about Frisia and List A??
I was very puzzled and ready to think that our mangaka had just made up her own arrangement when I discovered a website with a breakdown of Germany according to List A. The map there talked of German Stems. After a while I was able to decipher the German and realize that this wasn’t an abbreviation for Stem Duchies, but something else altogether (in fact, Frisia was never organized as a duchy). But these Stems are hugely important, as they were the standard “ancient divisions” of the German people according to 19th and 20th century scholarship, right through the Nazi period. That is, List A refers to a group of six tribal peoples that German consensus held as having founded the nation. German Wikipedia has an article on this scheme [here] and there’s another German site [here]. I couldn’t find a map based on this list, and this kind of makes sense, since it is a diffuse ethnic/racial/linguistic scheme and is not in current use.
The research behind List A is today discredited as arbitrary, but what it means is that Hagio did her job remarkably well. When Juli recites his history lesson he is truly reciting the same lesson that German schoolchildren of his era would have known, with those six stems. And of course, since Juli’s father was from Southern Europe, he was an outsider and not a true German, the source of considerable sorrow for the boy…