Historical lexicography belongs at once to the disciplines of history and literary studies. Within this framework, the international team participating in this program of research proposes to study terms within the lexical field of peace in different languages over the longue durée, from antiquity to the Middle Ages. This study must historicise the usage of these terms, considering the types of texts in which they are utilised, as well as their co-text, and their contexts of production and reception.

It is important to note that the referents and terminology within this lexical field may be different from one culture to another, and it would be ethnocentric in the extreme to take a word from a particular language as a starting point. Thus, in Latin, and many of the languages derived from or influenced by it, there is a word - pax, pau, peace, paix, pace, paz - for which it may not be possible to find an exact equivalent in other languages.

In place of this quest for an exactly matching word, we will thus, for each language, explore its particular lexical field, which will offer us a broad range of lemmata and referents (cf. 2.2).

1. A historical point of view

We work on languages, through their texts, according to a historicist dynamic. As a result:

  • we are attentive to the contexts of production and reception of the studied texts;
  • we are interested in the internal evolution of each language;
  • we are aware that vocabulary and expressions may travel from one language to another, and it is thus important to follow them.

Again we should note that, although we study lexical items, our interest is not strictly linguistic. Thus, in the case of loanwords - in the case of Arabic, from Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac and so on - we are not concerned with finding the etymons, but rather with the journeys of the words themselves. Languages are not fossilised repositories, and it is necessary to historicise research; thus our interest is in the lexical field of peace in different epistemic frameworks.

1.1 The Study of the Evolution of Terminology

Words may appear or disappear within a language, or even change their referents from one historical moment to another, and for this reason we will historicise the referents of each word.

For example, in Greek, eirênê originally signified a state of peace established by treaty between the Greek city-states which had been at war, and it was not until 395-394 BCE that it came to refer to a treaty establishing a definitive peace (Aymard, 1962).

1.2 Understanding context

Historical languages are comprehensible not only in their evolution, but also in the context of production, necessarily different from one language to another, and from one epoch, or even milieu, to another, within a single language. An edict on stone praising a king for having brought peace must be treated differently from a religious text enjoining human beings to live in peace with one another.

Thus, historical lexicography, belonging at once to the disciplines of literature and history, requires the researcher to be attentive to:

  • the supports on which the studied texts are written (tablets, papyri, inscriptions, stone, codices, and so on);
  • the nature of the studied texts (royal decrees, magical formulae, religious texts, fiscal documents, international treaties, and so on);
  • the co-text, the textual environment of the word concerned;
  • the historical situation (period of conquest, historical alliance, a short or long truce);
  • to the context of production - the nature of the text’s producers: if a government text, the system of government which produced it; whether it was compiled over several generations and thus undatable; if a papyrus document whether it was produced by a local administration or by a private citizen;
  • to the context of reception: for whom was it written - subjects, taxpayers, the adherents of a religion?

It is important to note that translations present a particular problem: the passage of a text from one language to another demands particular attention to terminology, and the study of referents, often different in one epistemic context to another. To what extent are translations faithful to the original text? At times a text is translated multiple times: the Hebrew Bible was translated to Greek and then to Latin; the Chronicle of John of Nikiû was written in Coptic, and then translated into Arabic, then Ge’ez, and finally into French.

1.3 Studying the voyage of lemmata

When we consider several languages, as is the purpose of our project, we see that vocabulary may travel from one language to another, and it is necessary to follow them.
For example:


Sumerian > Akkadian > Ancient Egyptian

> Hebrew
> Arabic > Persian
> Turkish

2. Text and cotext

In the first place, we identify texts, regardless of literary genre (administrative documents, international treaties, historical chronicles, political, religious, or even literary texts), containing situations which express:

  • manifest peace: e.g. stone inscriptions marking the boundaries of territories;
  • the temporary or definitive end of war: treaties settling a temporary or long-term truce;
  • the maintenance of interior or international order;
  • internal harmony, individual or collective.

2.2 Addressing the lexicon 

In collecting vocabulary items, it is necessary to find terms which relate to the concept of peace, whether as harmony between people, between the members of a single community, or even as a concept in itself. If any of these terms exist within the languages being studied, we will add them to our study.

It is important to note that during a long-term war, there may not be attestations of a word to refer to peace. Nevertheless, war is not without interruptions, and terms to refer to the temporary interruption of war may exist. If, in a given culture, there is not a word to express "peace", with, as its semantic referent, "durable concord between people", we will investigate other terms referring to the cessation of hostilities: truce, armistice, reconciliation. We may also look for words which express the idea of a negotiation with the other to establish a state of accord: conciliation, alliance, agreement, concord, convention. Conversely we may investigate the idea of a peace which separates: tribute, pacification, pardon (of a prince to a rebel, a friend to an infidel, God to a sinner); all of these terms will be noted, in their co-texts and with their contexts.

2.3 Examination of co-text

Historical lexicography uses the methods of the literary disciplines. Thus, we are sensitive to the context, which will give us the referent. A peace in the context of a relationship of domination may be designated by the term "peace" or "pacification", but must be understood rather as a relationship of colonisation than as harmony between people.

Pacification, as submission to the commands of the other (as in the Pax romana), is obtained through war, and it is in this framework that we may understand Aristotle’s formulation “peace is the purpose of war, leisure the purpose of business" (Politics, 1334a, cited in Préaux 1962 p.233). Peace, thus, here concerns the relationship of domination, an authoritarian posture between the conqueror and the conquered, the coloniser and the colonised.

A position of authority may also be found in social peace, the maintenance of order in a given entity. Vocabulary may thus express a situation of harmony, but it may not signify anything other than a situation established in the context of a relationship of force or of domination.

This thus refers no longer directly to relationships between people, but rather between the different parts of a society, peace as a state of social stability, often obtained at the price of the maintenance of a coercive order. The "peace" here refers to "the maintenance of order". Here, the concept of arbitration may also be important.

At times, on the other hand, the vocabulary of emotional relationships may be used: friendship between people is often one of the foundations of the discourse on peace. The study of context and of co-text permits us to understand at what extent expressions of peace are formulaic or fictional expressions, or emotions which were really experienced.

The study of the cotext also enables us to understand if the referent is positive or negative. Thus, "a coward's peave" and "a peace which brings prosperity" are two clearly opposed concepts, illustrating the idea that peace may be considered as something either positive or negative, and it is the cotext which indicates this to us.

 "I, in this weak piping time of peace, have no delight to pass away the time", exclaims Richard III. Thus we understand that the Shakespearean hero only flourishes in war; the co-text here reveals the negative representation of peace, which gives rise to a mortal ennui in this belligerent prince. 

It is thus necessary to carry out extensive analyses, to locate the relevant words, phrases, grammatical role, their relations, and their meanings. The examination of co-text must take into account the complexity of the lexical field of peace.