Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800
The Roman empire tends to be seen as a whole whereas the early middle ages tends to be seen as a collection of regional histories, roughly corresponding to the land-areas of modern nation states. As a result, early medieval history is much more fragmented, and there have been few convincing syntheses of socio-economic change in the post-Roman world since the 1930s. In recent decades, the rise of early medieval archaeology has also transformed our source-base, but this has not been adequately integrated into analyses of documentary history in almost any country.
In Framing the Early Middle Ages Chris Wickham aims at integrating documentary and archaeological evidence together, and also, above all, at creating a comparative history of the period 400-800, by means of systematic comparative analyses of each of the regions of the latest Roman and immediately post-Roman world, from Denmark to Egypt (only the Slav areas are left out). The book concentrates on classic socio-economic themes, state finance, the wealth and identity of the aristocracy, estate management, peasant society, rural settlement, cities, and exchange. These are only a partial picture of the period, but they are intended as a framing for other developments, without which those other developments cannot be properly understood.
Wickham argues that only a complex comparative analysis can act as the basis for a wider synthesis. Whilst earlier syntheses have taken the development of a single region as 'typical', with divergent developments presented as exceptions, this book takes all different developments as typical, and aims to construct a synthesis based on a better understanding of difference and the reasons for it. This is the most ambitious and original survey of the period ever written.
By T. O'Byrne "perpetual student" - September 3, 2006
Chris Wickham explores the world of the early Middle Ages in a systematic way. Using literary and archaeological evidence, Wickham describes the changes which took place in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa after the fall of Rome. He maintains that despite the great political upheavals of the time, local continuity was a hallmark of this period. Economic decline and regrowth were connected with changes in the power and wealth of the aristocracy, who also exercised lesser or greater control over the land and the people.
While this massive piece of scholarship does not address cultural or intellectual history, it provides a very clear picture of the political and economic changes that transformed the former Roman Empire during the years 400-800 A.D. The writing is lively and easy to read, and the work is well organized. The full index and large bibliography as well as the broad range of topics covered make this book an indispensible reference tool for anyone studying... read more
Sure to set the standard on the Subject
By John E. Mack - August 30, 2008
This is a monumental review of the economic and social histories of the former provinces of the Roman Empire between the penetration of the empire by the barbarians and the imperial coronation of Charlemagne. Along with the Origins of the European Economy, this book is likely to be the standard social and economic survey of the dark ages for years to come. The author surveys each of the major territorial regions of the fomer Roman Empire region-by-region, and slowly develops his theses. These include: (1) a "soft-fall" view of the disintegration of the Western Empire, concluding that many of its structures were in place well into the seventh century and gradually were melded into the less sophisticated successor states of Western Europe; (2) a taxation-driven notion of the state, concluding that the major factor distinguishing Rome and Roman power from that of successor states is that Rome had an elaborate and relatively efficient tax system, and that the successor states did not;... read more
In depth analysis, but heavy going
By Norman Siebrasse - January 27, 2009
I completely agree with the reviewers who call this "a tremendous piece of scholarship" and "a monumental review." But beware - it is very heavy going. This is not because it is poorly written. On the contrary, given the density of information and depth of analysis, it is very well written. But Wickham deals extremely carefully with a great mass of material, and the result, while insightful and thorough, is very difficult to digest. As a couple of examples for comparison, I found Marc Bloch's "Feudal Society" and Pirenne's "Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe" both much easier to read.
It's difficult to rate this book. If you are looking for scholarship, it is 5 stars. If you are looking for a readable overview, it's more like 2 stars. I notice that one reviewer listed Peter Heather's "Fall of the Roman Empire" along with this as one of three must have books on the period. To me, the books were completely different. Heather's book was extremely readable,... read more
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