Geography and politics
THIS CHAPTER, like the last, is substantially introductory. In it, an overview of the geography and the political history (from 400 to 800) of each of the regions that this book will focus on will be set out as a point of reference. The regions are presented here in the form of a spiral, starting from North Africa, going anti-clockwise around the Mediterranean to Spain, then moving northwards to Denmark. The chapter is not intended to be particularly original, and will essentially be based on secondary literature; the footnotes cite fairly obvious guides. But it does need to be here, for not every reader has a very detailed knowledge of every part of western Europe and the Mediterranean, and an orientation point thus seems useful. I shall also include brief characterizations of some of the historiographical problems that are a feature of each region. But it must be stressed that my aim is to be introductory—an analysis of political history is not one of the purposes of this book (there are plenty of alternative guides); and a proper discussion of national historiographies would require a complex, booklength, characterization of national cultures, and of the role of historians, and national images of the past, in each. That task is much needed, but it will have to be carried out elsewhere.
Roman Africa consisted of a strip of the Mediterranean coast and its usually mountainous hinterland, running from Tanger to the Gulf of Syrtis (see Maps 1, 3, 8), essentially the western half of the part of the African continent north of the Sahara. Its economic powerhouse was beyond doubt the twin provinces of Proconsularis (or Zeugitania) and Byzacena, in modern terms northern and southern Tunisia and the eastern fringe of Algeria. Proconsularis was the grain-growing province par excellence, with a complex urban network focused on Africa's largest city by far, Carthage. Byzacena, notably drier and less urbanized except on the coast, was more an oil producer, though one should not be too schematic here—there were olives in the north and grain-fields in the south as well. Together, the two 'Tunisian' provinces produced one of the largest agrarian surpluses of the empire, second only to