In this paper I want to explore the role of myths of descent and renewal in nourishing a sense of ethnic identity and mobilising ethnic communities for political action. Much of the recent literature on the upsurge in ethnic sentiment, by focussing on the postwar West and concentrating on immediate economic, social and political factors, fails to grasp the deep historical and sociological roots of modern nations and the persistence of ethnic ties and symbols around which nationalists could create their nations. There is a long history of formation and dissolution of ethnie, reaching back to the first recorded cases in ancient Summer, Egypt and Crete, which forms the backdrop to the modern drama of nationalism and the specifically modern revival of ethnicity. Not only are the postwar ethnic autonomy movements simply a recent variation of a wider ethnic and national revival going back to the late eighteenth century in Europe; this latter revival is but the latest of a series of such resurgences, some of them purely local and others widely diffused. In pre-Roman antiquity, just as in the early European Middle Ages, and in the Far East and Africa more recently, that ancient and widespread social formation, the ethnie, has occupied a variable but important position in the hierarchy of human allegiance and has, on occasion, served as a focus for political movements and organisations. Whether we think of the kingdoms of Hittites, Hurrians and Elamites in the second millennium B.C., or the early medieval regna of Franks, Normans and Visigoths, we cannot escape from the fact that these states rested, to a large degree, on a sense of identity and solidarity deriving from elements of their shared culture and their social and political interactions with significant outsiders.