The Long Eighth Century

By Inge Lyse Hansen; Chris Wickham | Go to book overview

MARSEILLE AND THE PIRENNE THESIS, II:
“VILLE MORTE”
S.T. Loseby

Introduction

This paper is the sequel to my contribution to the first volume of articles arising out of the meetings of this working group.1 There it was argued that the considerable use which Henri Pirenne made of evidence from Marseille in constructing the first part of his famous thesis was justified, both in the emphasis which he laid upon the city in his evaluation of post-Roman Mediterranean trade, and in his assessment of it as a “great port”under the Merovingians. For the meagre written sources which were available to Pirenne can be combined with archaeological and numismatic evidence to show that at the end of the sixth century Marseille was able to function effectively as an emporium, the primary intention behind its original foundation over a thousand years earlier, and the role which it has always played during its periods of greatest prosperity. The particular significance of Marseille in this period is further reflected in the determination of the Frankish kings to control the port and the development of specific mechanisms through which they strove to maximise their exploitation of its trade.

This paper aims to pursue the economic history of Marseille through the seventh and on into the eighth century, as far as Pirenne's contention that “la rupture de la tradition antique a eu pour instrument l'avance rapide et imprévue de l'Islam. Elle a eu pour conséquence de séparer définitivement l'Orient de l'Occident, en mettant fin à la unité méditerrannéenne”.2 Just as Marseille had been crucial to Pirenne's convictions about the

____________________
1
S.T. Loseby, “Marseille and the Pirenne thesis, I: Gregory of Tours, the Merovingian kings, and 'un grand port'”, in R. Hodges and W. Bowden eds., The Sixth Century. Production, Distribution and Demand (Leiden, 1998), pp. 203–29.
2
H. Pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne, 3rd ed. (Brussels, 1937), p. 260: “the break with the tradition of antiquity was caused by the rapid and unexpected advance of Islam. Its consequence was the definitive separation of the east from the west, putting an end to the unity of the Mediterranean”.

-167-

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