Book of

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000, by Chris Wickham

A rollerskate tour of the current state of scholarship on this pivotal but ill-understood period in European history. Excellent for including material on Eastern Roman Empire and its Islamic successors, also for trying to stay aware of the 90% of the population who were peasants.

actual post date: Nov. 15, 2009.

Reading notes:
1. He says there were no villages in Europe before c. 400-600 CE (can’t find the reference — no topic index!!), only spaced homesteads. It’s very hard for me to visualize a Europe without villages. I wonder if this connects to the European marriage pattern?.

added: Differences between Eastern & Western Roman Empire:

[p. 38-39]: One real difference between East and West was the peasants lived in villages much more often in the East. …. The West was different. Here, villages were rarer, except in some mountain zones; instead, as much archaeology shows, the countryside was scattered with isolated farms and the rural villas or estate-centres of major landowners. Even the concept of the village territory was hardly present in most places; land was simply identified by its owner, and most estates had their own names. We do not have Egyptian levels of documentation here, so it is hard to tell how rural societies worked, but it is likely that they were less coherent than in the East, for there was less to bind them together.

[p.212 ]Before 800, overall, villages tended to be smaller and less structured than they would be later, and some historians indeed prefer not to call them villages in this period at all.

2. distinction between tax-based government and land-based: the only the former could support specialists like a paid army, engineers for roads, etc.

3. Proximate cause of Fall of Western Roman Empire was Vandal kingdom in N. Africa, because population of Rome was supported by grain taxes from Tunisia.

4. only after the Fall did the idea that aristocrats were innately virtuous develop. Does not discuss why/how.

5. Bemoans lack of really good history of early Islamic politics — partly due to source problems, but mostly because the historical questions are still so politically & religiously loaded.

6. stresses that in most cases even very large landowners didn’t tend to own “great tracts” of land, but many small parcels — it was unusual (esp earlier) for all the land in a given area to be held by a single lord. Confusion because one of the exceptions was Ile-de-France and nearby, which have been well-studied.

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