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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very good intro to the basics, 28 April 2013
This review is from: The Making Of The Middle Ages (Paperback)
I read this as an undergraduate during the time that I discovered a love of history, so it was a great pleasure to re-read it. The book covers a narrow, if crucial period, 972-1204 CE, when Europe was emerging from the dark ages. The basic idea of the book is that things went from local and parochial to global and universal - in a variety of areas.

First, there were the somewhat artificial ethno-linguistic distinctions between Germans and Latins, the former farther north and less civilized than the mediterranean-linked "old world". Still, they remained separate from the Byzantines, whose Greek traditions appeared obscure and effeminate to the rough scrabble western EUropeans. Southern offers a good snapshot of what was going on in a geopolitical sense in the period: the Crusades exposed fighters to new ideas, forcing them out of local life and into the bigger world. This opened their minds and indicated new possibilities.

Second, there were the social arrangements, essentially freemen v. serfs. Governed by force for centuries, the period saw the rediscovery of Roman Law, which began to replace the arbitrary exercise of power in a non-religious way. There was also the rise of knighthoods, which required oaths to govern (or restrain) personal behavior. Finally, as the power of proto-states extended itself, rulers found themselves in need of administrators, whose specializations aided in improving governance (and tax collection).

Third, the church was transforming itself into a global institution, with Papal doctrines to enforce in localities that had long worshipped in the ways that they chose. In addition, monasteries were accepted and established on a far greater scale than before, opening career possibilities to learned men.

Fourth, with the influx of Arab text translations and then the original Greek texts, scholars were on the cusp of a period of explosive rediscovery of the ideas of the ancients, in particular Aristotle.

Now this is a very basic introduction. It is helped by concrete examples of individuals, but it doesn't get into detail beyond about freshman year in college. Nonetheless, it is elegantly written and a valuable resource.
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