The Birth of Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
The So-Called 'Grand Commerce' of the Merovingian Period

H ENRI PIRENNE infused new life into the economic history of the Early Middle Ages by giving the Moslem conquest pride of place amongst the factors which transformed the structure of the ancient world. There is no need to summarize afresh a 'thesis' which was first presented to several historical congresses, which in 1922 and 1923 he condensed into two brilliant articles in the Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire, and which was fully and finally developed in a posthumously published work, Mahomet et Charlemagne.1 In actual fact, however, as one of his disciples has written, it is perhaps doing Pirenne an injustice to apply the word 'thesis' to a vast body of original ideas on the whole evolution of Europe from the third to the tenth century. It would be more accurate to say that new horizons have been opened up to those who are attempting to find out just how the transition from the ancient world to the Middle Ages was effected. The main contention of Pirenne, whose natural bent led him to place particular emphasis on economics, is that the ancient civilization, the ordo romanus, lived on even after the Germanic invasions, that the real destroyer of this ordo was Mahomet, whilst the creator, or at least the symbolic representative of the new order of things, was Charlemagne. Hence the title of the first memoir in which Pirenne expounded his views, a title which has been revived by the editors of his great posthumous book. These two evocative words have caught the imagination to an extraordinary degree,

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1
Mahomet and Charlemagne, London, 1939.

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