Italy In The Central Middle Ages: 1000-1300 (Short Oxford History of Italy) Paperback – 6 May 2004
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About the Author
David Abulafia is Professor of Mediterranean History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College. He has published widely on the history of the Mediterranean from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I was first impressed by the readability of this book. It is far to easy to find medieval histories that are stuffed with jargon and statistics until the reader's eye glaze over. The essays in this work make their points succinctly and comprehensibly.
My chief regret was that the book was not a bit longer, so that it could better develop some of its essays. The map section at the end might have been better placed at the beginning, where it would be less-likely overlooked.
This book is aimed at a reader with at least passing familiarity with medieval history and Italian history and geography. Various authors comment on their predecessors, discussing how they feel earlier authors erred in their approach to this difficult subject. There's a useful recommended reading section at the end for those interested in pursuing individual topics further.
The standout chapters for me were 1-4 on Rulers and Subjects, which not only gave good accounts of the nature and development of different political entities, but also laid out a very clear picture of the era. Chapter 3 on the Papal States was a bit mudded with detail, but otherwise, these are great treatments. Hopefully, the style and somewhat excessive detail of the introduction won't discourage anyone from proceeding to these.
The second section was also very strong, but this is where we run into difficulties with some treatments being far too short. The chapter on Rural Italy is also not as clear as I'd like, but I'm uncertain the topic can really be discussed any other way. Chapter 9 on Language and culture is great, but so very short for such a promising topic. It reads like an extended encyclopedia article. On the other hand, Chapters 5 & 6 on Trade and Navigation and Material Life are just stunningly clear (esp. Chapter 5) considering the complexity of the topics and the volume of related data.
Chapter 8 on the Family is the chapter with which I would take the most issue. It also highlights the downsides of short treatment. As for as the Family goes, it's great, if short, but it brings up other topics that are usually included alongside family life which are touched upon very little in the book, viz. Women, Children, and Slaves. It seemed very strange that, having covered politics, economics, ecology, language, and non-Italic peoples, one would find this oddball chapter just on Family. Part of the reason may be that the topic is explored through the prisms of wills and legislation, and thus very much akin to the economic and political discussions elsewhere in the book more than, say, wider social and cultural history. What I found especially confusing was that this is the first chapter in which the existence of slavery in the period was mentioned. While it gets a sentence or two in a later chapter, the extent of and justification for slavery was never addressed.
Overall, very much worth reading.
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