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

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Charlemagne and a Controlled Economy. Reform of the Currency

'A CONTRAST IN ECONOMIES: Merovingians and Carolingians',1 is the title of a famous article by Henri Pirenne, in which he sought to stress one of his favourite theories -- the contrast presented by two consecutive early medieval periods viewed from the standpoint of economics: one the Merovingian, still closely bound up with the economy of the Mediterranean world, the other the Carolingian, the dawn of a new age in which for several hundred years society was to remain static within a localized framework and was tied down to a purely agrarian and closed economy. There is no need to reiterate the underlying cause of this cleavage -- the irruption of the Moslems into the western basin of the Mediterranean. It is the extent of the cleavage which has been exaggerated, but Pirenne had too keen a sense of reality to wish to see his own ideas and even his most fruitful hypotheses interpreted too rigidly. In order to throw his ideas into bolder relief, he liked to strike hard and often, leaving to those who followed him the more thankless task of refining and elaborating them.

The northward trend of political and economic activity, its shift towards the Meuse and the Rhine basins, was in reality the outstanding fact of the later seventh and the eighth centuries. In Austrasia there were men who were energetic politicians, and wealthy and influential families. One of the latter, that of the Pepins, first monopolized the office of Mayor of the Palace, then ousted the effete Merovingian dynasty.

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1
Rev. belge de Philol. et d'Hist., 1923.

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