Pirenne's empiricism and search for the historical truth led him to the obvious conclusion that the European Dark Ages did not begin until the 7th century, with the Moslem invasion of the Mediterranean basin and the destruction of some 600 years of cultural, economic and political unity. 476 A.D. was little more than a German inspired palace coup, and the Roman empire was dissolved into German principalities, in which both the culture, and the essence of Rome lived on. There was no fall.
Pirenne proves that the Roman empire was not dissolved, but extended and changed with the Germanic takeover [see review part one here]. Indeed archeology reveals a resurgence in all matters of advanced society in the 6th century – gold, more building, more roads, more exotic products and lots of written records and literature. The destruction of Mediterranean culture, economy and urbanization came with the Moslem invasions. Nothing like it had been seen.
“The swiftness of its [Islam's] victory is comparable only with taht by which the Mongol Empires of Attila, Jenghiz Khan and Tamerlane were established....In 634 they [Arab Moslems] seized the Byzantine fortress of Bothra (Bosra) in Transjordania; in 635 Damascus fell before them; in 636 the battle of Yarmuk gave them the whole of Syria; in 637 or 638 Jerusalem....at the same time their Asiatic conquests included Mesopotamia and Persia. Then it was the turn of Egypt ...Next the invasion...submerged the Byzantine possessions in North Africa....The intensity of the results were out of all proportion to the numerical strength of the conquerors.” [p. 150]
By 711 Spain was conquered. Hundreds of thousands of Christians were dead and enslaved. In 720 a Moslem principality occupied southern France and the Narbonne. Slaving and looting were annual Moslem events in both Spain and France. Toulouse was besieged and Moslem forces occupied the key passes in the Alps slaughtering traders and caravans, and laying siege to important monastic centres like St. Gall in Switzerland. Moslem expansion in Francia and northern Italy was not fully checked until 759 A.D. It would take another 150 years to completely eject the Arabs and Berbers from southern France and clean them out from the key islands in the Gulf of Lyons. In 846 of course the Moslems ravaged Rome and the entire littoral of the Tyrrhenian sea was emptied of trade, urban life and population. Marseille once a thriving port became a dead ghost town by 750.
Moslem destruction, enforced slavery and squatting was the modus vivendi:
“And this subjection they enforced wherever they went. After the conquest they asked nothing better than to appropriate the science and art of the infidels as part of their booty; they would cultivate them to the glory of Allah....The conquered were their subjects; they alone were taxed; they were excluded from the community of the faithful. The barrier was insuperable.”
After 720 or so the Western Mediterranean became a Moslem lake, and the Roman empire with its Gothic legacy states finally perished:
“The Frankish empire having no fleet, was powerless. Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi still possessed a fleet. But their commercial interests impelled them to abandon Byzantium, as being too remote, and to enter into relations with the Musulmans. It was thanks to their defection that the Saracens finally succeeded in taking Sicily. The Byzantine fleet, it is true, was powerful...but once Sicily was taken it was almost completely cut off from the Occident....”
Navigation and commerce was disrupted – fatally. Africa and the East were split off from the Occident.
“As for the commercial activities of Africa, the continual ravaging of the country from 643 to 708 undoubtedly put an end to them. A few rare vestiges of commerce that may have survived disappeared after the taking of Carthage and the foundation of Tunin in 698 [a major slave trading port].”
“Thus, it may be asserted that navigation with the Orient ceased about 650 as regards the regions situated eastward of Sicily, while in the second half of the 7th century it came to an end in the whole of the Western Mediterranean.”
Papyrus from Egypt, the essential product for writing and literacy simply disappears from Europe. Gold the mono-metallic currency of pre-Islamic invasions is replaced by silver and barter. Archaeology reveals that Oriental products ranging from wine and spices to silk are not found post 720 AD in Western Europe, or if they are, they are in such miserable small quantities as to signify only a black market trickle. The main commerce with the Musulmans was of course in slaves – a trade brokered in large measure by the Jews.
“The most important branch of Venetian trade was the traffic in the Slav slaves of the Dalmatian coast.”
The Vikings or Northmen hooked up with the Musulmans between 800 and 900 AD to exchange northern European and 'Russian' slaves for Moslem products like wine and spices. Arab coins en-masse have been unearthed in Scandinavia dating from this period. War, piracy, slavery, environmental and social destruction turned Europe in upon itself. The ties with the world of the Mare Nostrum were severed. Urbanization, literacy, wealth, and even collective will all declined:
“...[the] unexpected advance of Islam. The result of this advance was the final separation of East from West, and the end of Mediterranean unity. Countries like Africa and Spain, which had always been parts of the Western community, gravitated henceforth in the orbit of Baghdad....The West was blockaded and forced to live from its own resources. For the first time in history the axis of life was shifted northwards from the Mediterranean.”
Eventually northern European civilization would come to the rescue of the southern. Together both would drive the Saracens out of Spain, Italy and parts of North Africa. The Moslem Jihad would be rolled back somewhat. But that imperialist impulse never leaves Islam. This fact is another 'inconvenient truth' that Europe is rediscovering today.