The Oxford History of Medieval Europe

By George Holme | Go to book overview
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The Northern World in the Dark Ages 400-900


FOR Romans, or at least for their rulers and the aristocratic élite who provide us with the bulk of our written sources, northern Europe was at the fringes of civilization or beyond it, and barely worth attention. Those parts of it in the Roman Empire--central and southern Britain, and northern Gaul-- were much less heavily Romanized than the provinces around the western Mediterranean. It is significant that the earliest surviving Latin writings from those provinces are from the very end of the Roman Empire, and from writers who may have learnt their Latin in Christian rather than secular schools. The only time that Britain and northern Gaul impressed themselves upon the consciousness of Roman authorities was when they produced usurpers or were attacked by still less civilized peoples from beyond the frontiers: the Franks, the Alamans, the Saxons, the Picts, or the cannibal Atecotti. The northern provinces were merely buffer states to help protect the empire from the barbarians beyond.

The five hundred years with which this chapter is concerned saw a tremendous change in the role of the north in the history of Europe as a whole. By the eighth and ninth centuries the north was the political centre of Europe, and could claim to be its intellectual leader as well. The Channel and North Sea


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The Oxford History of Medieval Europe


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