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Join Gab (@StFerdinandIII) Western Civilisation was and is superior to anything Islam has developed.  Islam has not aided in the development of the modern world; in fact civilisation has only been created in spite of Islam.  Raising the alarm about the fascism called Submission since 2000.  

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

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The Early Middle Ages 400-1000, Editor Rosamund McKitterick, Short Oxford History of Europe

Very good overview and accessible.

by Ferdinand III


This is a very useful book premised on facts and archaeology, and of interest to anyone who desires to move beyond the uselessly named 'Dark Ages' to something more intelligent about the 'Middle Ages', an era which developed the foundations of the modern world. This short compendium provides accessible material, written by different authors who concentrate on different parts of the Middle Ages, and it is full of maps, chronologies and easy to digest detail. The chapters divide this epoch into politics; society; the economy; religion; culture and the wider world. Perhaps the most interesting parts of the book are the last 3 chapters on religion [Mayke de Jong]; culture [Ian Wood] and the wider-world [Jonathan Shepard].

Regarding religion and the state, which is portrayed in the post-modern world as one and the same, Mayke de Jong provides evidence for the opposite. The church and state were not merged of course, but oftentimes at odds. The closest approximation to the merger of church and state, which one sees within Islam, or other pagan constructs, might be during the reign of Charles le Magne in the early 9th century. But even here the poly-cratic structure of medieval society precluded the usurpation by the church of secular and temporal power. Oftentimes of course it was the secular state which protected the religious. Charlemagne's coronation in 800 was simply an affirmation by the papacy of secular power in protecting the church from the Lombards and other enemies.

De Jong makes the following observations:

-Monasteries provided a replacement for the decline of Roman civitas or administration 'serving as important centres supported by royal and aristocratic power'. [p. 136]

-'The new Christian realms might invoke Roman authority, but these polities primarily defined themselves by drawing strict liturgical boundaries coinciding with their respective 'people'....One faith and one realm...the 'Roman-ness' and universality of an authoritative tradition. [p. 137]

-'This notion of the New Israel taking over from the Old was at the heart of early medieval biblical commentary...The insurmountable divide between Christians and pagans was part and parcel of the self-definition of the new Christendoms in the west...' [p. 143, 145]

-'Was early medieval Christianity top-down? Yes, if one means this that kings and aristocrats vied for control of sacred resources, and turned them into bases for building legitimate power. No, if one discards the familiar perspective of clerics pitted against 'the laity'....'unity might exist in diversity', as long as Christian communities were one in their love of Christ and their neighbours.' [p.161]

Ian Wood does a very good job at traversing some of the key figures in various cultural breakthroughs during the early Middle Ages. He puts each of these well-known figures in context including giants such as Augustine and Bede. Importantly he notes that Roman society and culture permeated the European Middle Age culture, affecting varying regions differently depending on their 'Roman-ness'. This is an important point. The Roman empire never fell, it transmogrified into 3 distinct German-Gothic states which carried on Roman traditions.

Rome and the Bible underpinned the Carolingian Renaissance, but Rome meant more than one thing. It stood for classical culture. But it also stood for power, particularly imperial power, and as such could be exemplified by Ravenna as much as by the Eternal City itself. In addition it carried with it the notion of Christian, papal, power, with Rome being understood as the city of the apostles Peter and Paul.” [p. 190]

Roman power and tradition in some ways, was both appropriated and expanded by the Church.

Shepard in his excellent rendition of the Middle Ages in the context of the wider-world, states the fact that the Mediterranean world, even as late as the 8th century was premised on Roman civilization and contacts between east and west. It was in many ways a complicated and interwoven, if not a unified civilization:

There was in other words, a multiplicity of contacts between east Mediterranean urban centres and the advanced cultures still further east in the fifth, sixth, and early seventh centuries. In fact Byzantine and Sasanian [Persian] rulers were hard-put to regulate exchanges between the local populations of their borderlands in the Fertile Crescent...also in containing the religious enthusiasm of communities straddling the borderlands. The network of the predominant Christian community in Persia, the Nestorians, stretched along the 'Silk Road' via Samarkand as far as China.” [p. 204]

In spite of these linkages, the ancient world was destroyed by a century of warfare between Byzantium and Persia. This allowed the cult of Islam, generated by Muhammad or some 'great leader' to efface these civilizations and destroy the Mediterranean complex of advanced cultures and political-economies. Islam denuded former Romanized areas of wealth, agriculture, irrigation and turned vast tracts into desert.

The conflict between Sasanian Persia and Byzantium which broke out in 603 became a fight to the death and brought massive disruption to the cities and trading nexuses of the Byzantine east, the empire's richest provinces.....the constant warfare with the Arabs brought a change over patterns and settlement and wealth distribution in the Byzantine lands. Towns shrank in size and in Asia Minor many were transferred to hilltops that were less accessible to Arab raiders...” [p. 206]

Given the multiplicity of challenges that the Medievals faced; Arabs, Moslems, Avars and Huns; the Vikings; the slave trade, plague, and illimitable local and regional feuds, rivalries, violence and periods of transition; it is quite remarkable that Europe survived as a Christian based set of polities, committed to both communal and individual development and improvement. The Middle Ages is a vast network of complexity and this book is an excellent macro overview of the main tenets of that important civilizational era. It is a strong base for the enthusiast to start with to focus his interest and provide a springboard into deeper areas of investigation including local and regional variations in Middle-Age history.

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