THE CONCEPT OF THE RENAISSANCE
ONE of the most noteworthy features of European historiography in recent decades has been what Dopsch has called 'the problem of continuity'. The attempt has been made to locate the origins of great political and spiritual movements much earlier in time than had formerly been the custom, and to break down the systems whereby the story of humanity had been subdivided into extremely precise and well-defined periods, self-contained and compact as blocks of granite. It has been replaced by a theory of continuous evolution, in which one civilization merges into the next, without violent upheavals or interruptions.
The historians of the enlightened age had devised, or rather perfected, the 'catastrophic' theory concerning the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the Middle Ages, fixing between the two civilizations, classical and mediaeval, an unbridgeable gulf. Present-day thought, on the other hand, reveals, in a much more emphatic degree, the tendency already expressed some seventy years ago by Fustel de Coulanges: it seeks to prove that the barbarian invaders, far from making tabula rasa of all the achievements of ancient civilization, accepted, meekly and fully, the legacy of Rome, and that consequently mediaeval civilization, at least in its legal, economic and social aspects, has its essential roots in the rich soil of Roman civilization. For evidence of this tendency we need only recall the well-known works of A. Dopsch and H. Pirenne.