on 17 January 2009
What did Europe look like in the 950s and what movements define Europe in the periode 950-1350? That is in essence the question Robert Bartlett's "The Making of Europe - Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350" analyzes and answers. And the answers are intelligent, multi-facetted, and based on sound arguments. Moreover, Bartlett's book is a linguistic pleasure to read.
I appreciated the fact, that Bartlett's book touches many individual identifiers in such a way that is easily understandable for a novice reader of history, but which at the same time is interesting for a more knowledgable reader. Among the identifiers that defines the periode 950-1350 are:
- the expansion of Latin Christendom
- the aristocratic diaspora
- military technology and polical power
- the image of the conqueror
- the free village
- the new landscape
- colonial towns and colonial trade
- race relations on the frontiers of Latin Europe
- the Roman Church and the Christian people.
Bartlett's book focusses on geographical areas that were subject to expansion, such as Eastern Europe, the Baltic, the Iberian penensula, and Ireland, but it does include many details that span the whole of Europe. I find this to be a major plus for the book, it does not view a specific situation for example that of Germany or France to automatically represent all of Europe. Bartlett has a strong knowledge of the geographical, ethnic, and cultural differences in Europe and this knowledge and the acceptence of the differences shines through.
I recommend Bartlett's book to anyone interested in European history or history of the Middle Ages: novices and experts alike.
on 6 June 2001
This is the most enjoyable history book I have ever read. If the history of Europe is a long and interminably complicated one, then I would suggest that this single volume could be the key to unlocking that history and explaining the remarkable diversity of nations and cultures that co-exist within this single, small continent today. The author's clear, unpretentious prose style further enhances the readability of the book and while it is likely to be a must-read for students and academics, the general reader will find this book accessible and entertaining. Bartlett takes the reader on a rapid and utterly fascinating tour of medieval Europe, from the Celtic fringes of the British Isles to the uncharted wildernesses of Eastern Europe, and south to newly-reconquered Spain, between the tenth and fourteenth centuries. Amidst the profound social, religious, political and economic - not to mention shamelessly opportunistic - forces taking hold across the continent in this period, we can already begin to see the origins of the Europe we recognise today beginning to emerge. With countless examples drawn from historical sources from literally every corner of Europe, the reader is nonetheless given a refreshing perspective of the story of our continent as a whole - in human terms, rather than as colours and lines arbitrarily drawn on a map. I would advise anyone with an interest in Europe as it is today, and how it came to be, to read this book. I noticed with interest that Simon Schama cited it in the bibliography of his "History of Britain". This book actually affected me quite deeply; I now see European current affairs in a new but much richer context, and I've been compelled to re-examine the way I look at history and its implications for future generations. On another level, I found this book helped me to re-evaluate my outlook on some of the concepts we often take for granted, such as nationality, culture and identity. I can't help thinking, therefore, that by reading this book and reflecting on its implications, many fellow Europeans might want to take a fresh look at the meaning of their own identities and prejudices; ethnic, religious, nationalistic, cultural and linguistic sources of tension and conflict can be identified, often at source, throughout the pages of this stunning book. And, for all the bloodshed and medieval argy-bargy, there's the unexpected bonus of the occasional giggle. Splendid.
on 18 March 2010
This really is an outstandingly good book. Not only is it clearly expressed and easy to read but it manages to be comprehensive without superficiality. There is considerable detail although the central theme - the expansion of the Frankish Chrtistian West of Europe into the Barbarian North and East and the Muslim South and West as well as the Holy Land - is never lost. This is a book reflecting an enormous field of research condendsed into relatively few pages. Had the author continued for another chapter or two, I'm sure it would still not have been enough.
The book explains well the common culture and values [with interesting local variations] of the West. In this context several minor criticisms come to mind.Firstly the maps need to be expanded and increased in scope. The author too frequently assumes a knowledge of [ancient] geography that the reader may lack. Secondly readers new to the subject would certainly benefit from an expanded introduction explainig more of the explictly Northern, or rather Frankish, historical circumstances immediately prior to the book's point of commencement. If one knows little of Charlemagne's Empire and its achievements it is a little hard to follow the opening of the book. Lastly and perhaps most significantly, at the heart of the book there appears to be something of a Christological bias or at least presumption of cultural and inevitably ethical superiority. This is more than the frequent use of the words 'Barbarian'and 'Pagan'. The book seems constantly to assume some sort of inate superiority on the part of Northern European Christians to their Pagan neighbours. This needs further thought and discussion. The record of Christian Europe, at that time and subsequently, is of consistent savagery and philistinism of a very high order especially towards those of other cultures or religious traditions. This sense of superiority is thus somewhat misplaced.
Nevertheless the small criticisms are insignificant indeed by comparison with this fine book as a whole. I highly recommend it.
on 27 December 2012
Very detailed, thorough and extremely well-written, but a work that's so in-depth you feel you need to study and digest it to wholly appreciate it.
Not for everyone I suspect if you are really only interested in gleaming key points of this era. This is a graceful and gradual explanation of a process that itself proceeded in a similar way!
on 13 July 2012
A very instructive and very well-researched book and an original look at the medieval birth Europe.
The Making of Europe deals with the expansion of Latin Christianity outside of the former Carolingian empire (i.e. its original core).
The expression "Latin Christianity" is used to give boundaries to a region where a specific and more and more homogeneous culture developed between 950 and 1350. That culture implies much more than religious aspects; it concerns social structures, processes of urbanization, administration, trade, law, the spread of knowledge in recently founded universities, etc.
While many history books concentrate on limited geographic areas (Hungary, Ireland, Andalucía...) or on specialist themes such as medieval monasticism or maritime trade, "The Making of Europe" underlines processes and driving forces, as well as the spread of means and structures across an expanding territory. Some subjects have been studied with more depth in other books, but the way they are juxtaposed and analysed in The Making of Europe helps draw a dynamic picture of the changes that affected Europe in the High Middle Ages.
The expansion took place into two main directions: "The Ostsiedlung", east of the Elbe River (northwards towards Scandinavia and the Baltic regions; eastwards towards Silesia, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, ...) on the one hand, and the Reconquest of territories formerly controlled by the Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula on the other hand. The Celtic fringes of Europe (Ireland, Scotland, Wales) are also studied in some chapters, esp. when their history exemplifies recurrent processes. Some aspects and consequences of the Crusades are presented too, esp. when they help explain and specify the expansion of a common culture in Europe (e.g the Crusades made Christian men from different linguistic and ethnic regions of Europe to fight for a common purpose. They gave birth to new, international orders such as the Templars, etc)
The author used dozens of essays and articles on local history as sources, as well as published primary sources (chronicles, charters,...). They are listed at the end in a section of 100-odd pages (including the bibliography and index). Needless to say the book (published in 1993) is built on strong foundations.
on 9 August 2015
The author impressively employs an encyclopaedic knowledge of case histories to describe how Latin Christendom doubled in size between 950 and 1350, the High Middle Ages, to replicate itself beyond the boundaries of Hamburg, Pisa and Barcelona. Rather than focus on enmities and competition between the different components of Christian Europe, he identifies the common threads that unified them in method and purpose. There occurred a dynastic diffusion and diaspora of Western European Carolingian aristocrats, primarily from France or Frankish territories and often represented by younger sons and middle-level warrior knights in search of land they could not get access to at home. Encouraged through religious fervour, they took to crusading against surrounding territories hitherto variously ruled by Celts, Slavs, Pagans and Muslims. The book begins by the tracking of bishoprics over the period in order to subjectively measure the expansion of assimilated territories. It then examines the mechanisms by which this growth took place as new fiefdoms ranging from a few square miles to much more were established in outlying regions in all directions. The underlying unifying of the Christian cause came from the influence of Rome (oddly, far from the geographical epicentre of this movement) on monarchies around Europe, directly as well as through local religious hierarchies and monastic orders such as the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, and notably the Cistercians. The distinction between warriors and religious men became blurred. After the initial onslaught through modern military techniques that included heavy cavalry, crossbowmen and siege equipment, knights raised funds to consolidate their new territories by building wooden and eventually stone castles and accompanying towns. England, for example, gained one castle every ten miles. The highly effective but fearsome crossbowmen were generally detested, so their number was encouraged through tax exemptions. Knights were variously polyglot, energetic, courageous, violent, ambitious, revengeful, and greedy. They developed a culture of conquest over inheritance and even granted each other future spoils of conquest. Once in place in their newly acquired territories they started to develop procedures and laws to better manage their domains and improve productivity. The use of mattocks to tame the land gradually enabled the use of ploughs. However, the new colonised regions were often characterised by a lack of manpower, and as new towns were captured, inhabitants were enticed, usually voluntarily through offers of free rent or hereditary rights, to go and settle newly acquired lands elsewhere. Mansi, acres, yugida, carucates, unci and various other terms represented the plots of varying sizes that were allocated to the new settlers who often took up cerealisation and contributed to supplying seigneurial mills. There also occurred an explosion of urbanisation characterised by plurism; towns, became ‘linguistic islands’, centres of foreign immigrants. They were chartered and denizens awarded economic privileges and liberties. Individuals of different backgrounds remained subjected to and tried by their laws of origin, whether German, Jewish, Muslim or other. Along the frontiers, especially Genoans and Venetians took to trading into foreign territories. Towards the end of the period, under the pressures in part created by recession and growing discrimination, drives towards uniformity started to occur. Linguistic nationalism, such as the decline of Arabic in Spain and southern Italy, started to take hold, and the book ends describing the homogenisation of first names, coinage, education and social order.
on 17 August 2011
I bought this on the strength of having seen the author present his programmes on the Normans on BB2; I found him very entertaining then, and I am pleased to say that he writes in a similar fashion, because this was very readable. My copy now has lots of postit tags in it marking particular items that I liked, I have recommended it to friends and family, and I am considering further reading.
This wonderful book is about the end of the Dark Ages, when trends were aligned in such a way that Europe finally began to overcome the long decline and chaos that followed the Roman Empire's disintegration. During this period (950 to 1350 CE), the vast migrations and fluidity of the early middles ages ended decisively, allowing stable states, a reformed and largely unified western church, and oases of stability to flower into what would become modern Europe. It was a time of economic boom and technological advancement, the end of centuries of external threat, and expansion outwards, not only into the holy land but to central and northern Europe. The book is the perfect followup to the more impressionistic Forge of Christendom, which evokes many of these issues but neither describes nor analyses them in the depth that I found here.
In 950 CE, Europe was a shrunken region under siege from non-christian invaders (Arabs, Vikings, Hungarians, and certain Slavs, i.e. from all directions). As the Millennium approached, many in western Christendom believed that the apocalypse was imminent. While there had been a succession of relatively effective Emperors from the time of Charlemagne, their dynasties had proven unstable, rarely lasting more than 3 generations before disintegrating into power struggles. Then suddenly, the external threats either stalled (the Arabs) or were absorbed by conversion into Christendom.
The relative calm that resulted enabled actors to undertake a series of fundamental measures that completely transformed the political and economic landscape. On the one hand, aristocrats adopted a new style of defensive fortification, the stone castle. This new technology of warfare consolidated their power base, allowing them to invest their resources into economic development - clearing land, forcing their serfs and peasants to pay taxes and stay within their territories for long-term servitude - rather than merely warfare. On the other hand, the Roman church initiated a series of reforms, in particular the clearer definition of orthodoxy, opening the way to persecutions for heresy and crushing the enormous diversity that had grown up during the extraordinary experimentation of the dark ages. Indeed, Christianity became a far more politicized ideology, a unifying glue (with administrative structures and educational institutions in place) that spawned that gigantic colonial venture called the Crusades in the Holy Land as well as east and north within Europe. While these developments narrowed diversity and did not promote political freedoms, they added focus to the work and missions of European rulers. Europe in this time became far more uniform as a territorial entity in its economy, institutional forms, political-religious ideologies, and urban plans. Even the names of rulers lost their local flavors, becoming those of the accepted saints as defined by Rome.
This was a golden age for aristocrats (the landowners, knights, and upper clergy), who intermingled, spoke common languages, and moved into geographical areas designated to them by emperors; they exploited new policy instruments to buttress their power. In exchange for service to the Emperor or King, many commoners became aristocrats at this time. In addition to the church's support, they established scholastic universities, systems of uniform law based on the legal legacy of Rome, and the foundation of cities and networks in which new economic activities could be undertaken. As the economy flourished and populations exploded in size and dynamism, Europe truly established an identity for itself. Much of the basic urban contours that they established at that time exist today.
Bartlett covers this for the most part from the optic of "colonialism" - the movement of populations to new, often unoccupied areas for development. It was more or less the end of the migrations that established the essential outlines of the ethno-linguistic groups that exist today. This is, of course, only one dimension of the process: there was also an intellectual movement (scholasticism) that is largely uncovered, the economy is only occasionally mentioned, and other related developments (e.g. the Gothic era, another way to define the entire period) are neglected. The reader will need to explore those elsewhere. Also, it is so analytic that there is very little narrative, which makes it read a bit dry at times.
This book is so full of ideas that it was very hard for me to put it all together in this review. I do not feel I have successfully covered either the nuance or even the substance, which means I must read it again. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the West and/or the middle ages. It is fundamental reading and has forever changed my perception of the period.
on 3 January 2015
Reccomended at uni. Great generic overview of period but too generic for specialisms at uni. Does what says on the tin
on 20 July 2014
Very thorough and articulate detail, convincing arguments and interpretation and full of insight.