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Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce AD 300-900 Hardcover – 17 Jan 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1130 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (17 Jan. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521661021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521661027
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 5.9 x 24.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 538,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


'Cambridge University Press is to be congratulated on a polished and well-edited production … This is a noble addition to the school inspired by Pirenne, and will no doubt still be around in another sixty years' time.' Economic History Services

'Michael McCormick has written a Decline and Fall for the twenty-first century … his brilliant book will shatter most people's conceptions of the Dark Ages.' Ross Balzaretti, The Times Literary Supplement

'… an awesome book … The results are little short of extraordinary. McCormick has established a benchmark for what, as he rightly points out, has been a virtual world lost between those studying East and West, and North and South. Time will show what a massively useful work this.' Richard Hodges, Agrarian History Review

'The motor of the economic surge which appears in the increase of Mediterranean communications…was the linking of Europe to the more advanced economy of the Middle East. The Mediterranean was thus no barrier, but a bridge between two economic worlds. The significance of this clear and persuasively polished book lies in its method of observing economic development and in the convincing results …'. Neue Zürcher Zeitung

'… a product of arduous, ambitious, serious historical scholarship … a noble addition to the school inspired by Pireene, and will no doubt still be around in another sixty years' time.' EH.Net Reviews

'… this is a thorough and refeshing discussion of what documentary and artefactual sources tell us about economy and communcation in this period.' History

'The book is a remarkable compendium of information about travel. McCormick is an exceptional scholar, blessed with the linguistic gifts that allow him to range through an extraordinary number of texts … am certain it will be productively mined, as a comprehensive work of reference, for a long time to come.' The Times Higher Education Supplement

'McCormick's book is a masterpiece of craft … McCormick, like Bloch and Pirenne, is writing a different kind of economic history: 'economic history as cultural history' … McCormick has carried the best work of the early twentieth century on into the twenty-first - not just by adding more lanes, but by carving out a whole new route.' New Republic

Book Description

This is the first comprehensive analysis of the economic transition from the time of the later Roman empire to the reign of Charlemagne and beyond for over sixty years, bringing exciting new evidence to bear on the fall of the Roman empire and the origins of the medieval economy.

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Format: Hardcover
McCormick, Michael, Origins of the European Econmy: AD 300-900

The economic machinery of Europe during the Early Middle Ages is a topic that on the surface at least, has left very little evidence for us to be able to deduce any conclusions from. While politically, there was undoubtedly great change in Western Europe, particularly with the rise of the Carolingians and the expansion of Frankish power into Spain, Germany and Italy. However, the economic development that was happening during the years from 700-900 AD have never really been explored in the depth with which McCormick approaches them.

McCormick's brilliant book changes all this. The brilliance of the study comes from the way it re-interprets old pieces of evidence as well as uncovering new material. MCormick asks serious questions on a consistent basis of lots of old evidence. Items such as hagiographical novels and even works of fiction suddenly begin to have whole new meanings and much deeper historical resonance.

McCormick is far too good a historian to allow his new, re-interpreted evidence to stand alone. In the pages of his book we also see the correlating patterns between his own, largely textual research and the findings of archaeology. The results are surprising.

We find an Italy in the 8th century, where a Pope is using coins inscribed with the Arabic for 'there is no God but Allah'. We also find a harrowing scene where Christians are herded down onto beaches by other Christians to be sold into slavery in Arabic lands of North Africa and the Middle East. The overwhelming picture MCormick tries to paint is that far from being isolated, Europe, and especially Italy, was involved in heavy economic interaction with the Arab world by the 8th century.
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Format: Hardcover
Masterful, thorough, and insightful, this lengthy work may look daunting but is so beautifully written that it is an easy read. The chapter headings are also clear, making the book simple to navigate.
Not just worth reading but worth buying as a permanent source of pleasure.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars 12 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re: A brilliant, seminal, page turner 5 May 2014
By Daniel Karan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Other reviews have discussed the content and so i won't repeat.

I agree that this is a brilliant, siminal work and one that should be read by all interested in both the middle ages as well as those interested in the "decline and fall" of roman antiquity as well as the rise of "modern" Europe. The best work of history i have read in some time (the last one being Peter Heather's Empires and Barbarians)

It is impossible to be anything less than in awe of McCormick's command not only of a tremendous amount of data (from archaeological finds of coins, pottery etc., to diaries of travelers as well as Church records/documents etc) but also his "smarts" in how to use such data in trying to understand what it tells us and what patterns if any it reveals. So, for example, when examining the issue of trade one of the things McCormick looks at are ingredients included in medical book remedies surmising that ingredients included that were not local had to at least known about and in all probability at least somewhat available or they would not have been included. The inclusion of many maps throughout and tables throughout the text also are extremely helpful in that they make it much easier for the reader to visualize the trade and communication routes and patterns that McCormick is discussing as well as to tally up numerous discreet pieces of documentary evidence that he is examining to demonstrate its cumulative weight.

Despite it's length (over 800 pages in text plus nearly 200 pages in appendixes), this is a wonderful read (a page turner that i couldn't put down and plowed through in 2 weeks) that gives the reader much to chew on not only for the period that McCormick is looking at e.g., since McCormick argues that slavery does not die out at the end of antiquity and in many ways forms the economic basis for much of the early medieval European economy (providing the major source of the money that Europeans used to purchase goods from the east) i think it forces us to reexamine the whole notion of slavery and it's "rise" in the feudal/early modern era i.e., slavery is much more of a continuum from antiquity through the 19th century (and indeed through to today since there are probably more slaves in absolute numbers today than there were during its supposed "heyday") though the places where it was "centered" changed as did the ideology that propped it up.

McCormick is also refreshingly modest despite his exhaustive research and command of the material he is looking at and more often than not makes his conclusions provisional based on the state of the evidence at this time (as well as acknowledging that there are languages that he does not speak and therefore was not able to examine source material directly) or even that no "definitive" conclusion can be made one way or the other though the evidence may suggest a likely conclusions or several reasonable possible conclusions. He is also extremely respectful of and kind to other scholars (openly acknowledging their owrk and ideas) including those with whom he may disagree so e.g., though he is in many ways picking up on, responding to and critiquing the work of Henri Pirenne, McCormick winds up by saying that in the end Pirenne may be right at the same time that he was wrong i.g., that there would indeed have been no Charlemagne without Muhammed but perhaps not for the reasons Pirenne believed. In a world in which people are often less than kind and often downright disrespectful towards those with whom they disagree, this was also a welcome plus in McCormick's writing.

It is a crime that the publisher has not issued this amazing work in an affordable paperback addition. The list price is truly outrageous but, that having been said, for those that can afford the hefty purchase price and are interested in medieval European history and beyond it's a must read.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resurrecting Rome's Fall: the view from the early 21st century 20 Feb. 2007
By Arnold Lelis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
No one who is seriously interested in the transition from the Roman Empire to the Early Medieval West should pass up the opportunity to own this volume--in hardcover!--for only $52. Michael McCormick analyses the economic transformation of the Mediterranean world ca. A.D. 300 - 900. In doing so, he presents a nearly compendious wealth of data (including a vast and multi-faceted bibliography) on various aspects of the question.

"Origins of the European Economy" joins works by Chris Wickham, Charles McClendon, and Peter Heather (among others of like quality) that re-analyze questions concerning the fall of Rome and the rise of Latin Christendom from various angles, including the economic, architectural, and military-political. In this first decade of the 21st century, the old debates between the catastrophist and continuist views on the Roman-Medieval transition are being informed by a fresh influx of data and analysis. The new studies, including "Origins of the European Economy," promise to bring about a quantum step-up in our understanding of this ancient issue.

Arnold Lelis
52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most brilliant work of medieval scholarship in years! 9 Dec. 2003
By Glenn McDorman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, before you proceed any further with this book, you ought to know that it is not abou the origins of the European economy. If you are looking for a book about economic life and change in Europe between 300 and 900, this is not really the book for you. McCormick's book is specifically about trade, and largely "international" trade, between these years.
Having said that, McCormick's book is the most brilliant work on medieval history in years. He sets out to examine the patterns of Mediterranean commerce during the early middle ages, focusing on different aspects of the Pirenne thesis. This, of course, has been done repeatedly over the eight decades since Pirenne's famous publications, but McCormick's approach is startlingly new. Rather than simply argue over the same tired scraps of evidence, McCormick works hard to incorporate old, non-economic, data into his argument, and also brings in entirely new evidence. To begin with, McCormick focuses on the accounts of non-commercial travellers -- pilgrims, envoys, missionaries, etc. -- to see how they travelled, when they travelled, and whom they travelled with. By looking at these accounts McCormick puts together a picture of frequent Mediterranean travel, demonstrates the frequency of specific routes, and, the interaction of travelling merchants and other travellers. McCormick uses these accounts as evidence of a vibrant shipping network in the Mediterranean in the eight and ninth centuries. He then backs this inferrence up with "hard" data from recent undersea archaeology, numismatics, and the study of relic hordes.
In the end, McCormick discusses the export of Europeans as slaves to the Caliphate, and, to a limited extenct, Byzantium. McCormick's final argument is that this slave trade was massive, and provided the fuel for the growth of European commerce, growth that was sustained even after the decline of the slave trade.
When all is said and done, McCormick's book is amazing. His arguments and evidence are controversial, and it is easy to predict that this book will be the focal point for scholarly debate for the next generation. Well written, engrossing, and thought provoking, this book is a must for anyone interested in medieval studies or good scholarly debate. The beuatiful maps, charts, and graphs, and the detailed accounts of travellers in the appendices simply add to the value of this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable 30 Jan. 2016
By Ian - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Really an indispensable book if you're studying the Early Middle Ages.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book....boring-sounding title 8 Oct. 2015
By Avidreader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've enjoyed this; but, not for casual history reader.
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