Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe

By Henri Pirenne | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

In order to understand the economic revival which took place in Western Europe from the eleventh century onwards, it is necessary first of all to glance at the preceding period.

From the point of view which we must here adopt, it is at once apparent that the barbarian kingdoms, founded in the fifth century on the soil of Western Europe, still preserved the most striking and essential characteristic of ancient civilisation, to wit, its Mediterranean character.1 Round this great land-locked sea all the civilisations of the ancient world had been born; by it they had communicated with one another, and spread far and wide their ideas and their commerce, until at last it had become in a real sense, the centre of the Roman Empire, towards which converged the activity of all her provinces from Britain to the Euphrates. But the great sea continued to play its traditional rôle after the Germanic invasions. For the barbarians established in Italy, Africa, Spain and Gaul, it remained the highway of communication with the Byzantine Empire and the relations thus maintained enabled it to foster an economic life, which was simply a

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1
This truth is generally recognised to-day even by historians who consider that the invasions of the fifth century overthrew and transformed western civilisation. See F. Lot in t. I of Histoire du Moyen Age ( Histoire Générale, ed. G. Glotz), p. 347. A. Dopsch, Wirtschaftliche und soziale Grundlagen der Europäischen Kulturentwickelung aus der Zeit von Caesar his auf Karl den Grossen, 2nd ed. ( Vienna, 1923-4, 2 vols.), has the merit of having shown that there is no breach in economic history between the period before and after the establishment of the Germans in the Empire.

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