The World of the Middle Ages: A Reorientation of Medieval History

The World of the Middle Ages: A Reorientation of Medieval History

The World of the Middle Ages: A Reorientation of Medieval History

The World of the Middle Ages: A Reorientation of Medieval History

Excerpt

There are admittedly two viewpoints in approaching the study of Medieval history. The first studies the past in order to understand the present and stresses in early cultures only those elements which directly contribute to our own modern civilization. The other considers that the past is per se worth studying, that there have been civilizations in other ages as significant as our own, and that from a study of their success or failure we can derive not only useful and interesting information but a basis for comparison with the society in which we live. This book attempts to find a middle path between these views, and, while stressing those things which have contributed directly to our modern culture, such as the development of English parliamentary institutions and the universities, places the emphasis in the study of the Middle Ages on institutions, states, and peoples which were the most important in their own time. This has necessitated a reorientation of perspective from the traditional treatment found in most textbooks of medieval history. Instead of Western Europe, Germany, and the papacy, which are usually stressed, the Byzantine Empire and the Moslem caliphates have been made the central theme in the present treatment of the Early Middle Ages. For until the latter part of the eleventh century the East held a clear supremacy over the West. Byzantium was far advanced over the semibarbarous countries of the West, and even the glories of a Charlemagne were meager as compared with the splendors of a Leo the Isaurian or a Basil Bulgaroctenos. "The main European nations were already in the process of formation," writes Professor George Vernadsky, "but the center of gravity, both politically and culturally, was located neither in western nor in central Europe but in Byzantium."

With the twelfth century, Western Europe came into much greater importance, and the West took the offensive against the East in the movement of the Crusades. While the East declined, the younger and more vigorous West developed rapidly, establishing institutions and a culture which in time excelled those of the East. Accordingly in the period of the High and Later Middle Ages, the emphasis in this volume has been laid upon the West.

Thus it is, that while the later portions of this volume conform more . . .

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