The Making of Europe (Robert C. Bartlett) pdf, epub, doc

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Long review!

This is a unique and important book. It's not at all what I thought: I was expecting a pretty traditional overview of medieval European history hitting all the normal beats: feudal society, rise of kingdoms and a documentary culture, monasticism and friars, rise of a papal monarchy, maybe some bits on cathedral building or literature if Bartlett was feeling particularly wide-ranging. All that jazz. Instead, The Making of Europe focuses on how the 'heartland' of European civilization, under fire from nearly every direct at the start of the 10th century, turned the tables between 950 and 1350 and began an increasingly expansive effort at conquest and colonization.

Bartlett makes it very clear that colonization in the medieval period was fundamentally different than it was in later periods (with the possible exception of English involvement in Ireland): medieval colonization was more haphazard and makeshift and, more centrally, it was almost never about the subjugation or exploitation of the local people. That's certainly not to say it was a happy and friendly affair, but most aristocratic expansion in the medieval period was designed to recreate on the periphery the culture of the center. If a knight from Swabia conquered some territory in Poland, he tended to build Swabian castles and found new, free Swabian-style towns. In turn, he might adopt a Polish name, and form new alliances with the surrounding Polish princes. It was a process of diffusion as much as conquest, and a process that involved a two-way movement of culture and ideas more than later colonial attempts would usually entail.

Bartlett makes a few central points about this large-scale trend. First, it was an aristocratic affair rather than a royal one. Kings rarely bothered to conquer new territory in this period, but the variegated aristocracy who served that king suddenly spread itself out from Scotland to Syria in the 11th and 12th centuries (with the Normans beings the most well-known and one of the more colorful examples). A myriad of reasons spurred this development, but it was rather stunningly effective. By 1350, there were 15 royal crowns in Europe. 5 were direct descendants of the Capetian royal line of France. 7 more were members of the Frankish aristocracy owing service to the Capetian kings. That's crazy. This efficacy was based on a couple of factors, including the cultural appeal of Frankish Christianity (particularly in the north) and the military dominance of heavy cavalry and stone castles.

Having established this new wave of colonization, Bartlett then turns to what it meant. He discusses the foundation of new 'free' towns that was hugely common in the conquest of new land: land was rather useless to a lord if it wasn't productive, so one of the first steps in establishing oneself was to build a village and offer mutually beneficial terms to peasants of the surrounding areas to encourage resettlement (in some cases the attempt was less subtle, and a knight would simply conquer the neighboring areaand forcibly relocate their peasants). This is one of the book's most interesting sections, as Bartlett does his best with extremely limited materials to try to figure out what this new village would have been like, and who would have lived there. Along with trade, Bartlett argued that this process led to the "Europeanization of Europe," a somewhat cutesy phrase that describes the process by which Europe came to be a cohesive cultural unit, able to speak about itself as a distinctive body differing from those who were not from Europe. He attributes it largely to the increasingly ethnic nature of the label "Christian," the spread of documentary culture (especially charters) and coinage, and the spread of a universal cult of the saints. Universities were also important, allowing prelates from widely different regions to obtain a uniform education and then to return to their towns and perpetuate these ideas.

The book closes with a look at European racism, a term not usually applied to the medieval field of study. But Bartlett does make the interesting point that there was a distinctive shift during this period. Around 1000, peoples just entering Christendom might be judged for their varying customs/dress/hair/etc., but there was a large degree of peaceful coexistence and, in many areas, legal equality. There was little to no concept of racism in the biological sense. By 1400, though, this was entirely different: ethnicity had become increasingly dependent upon who your parents were and where they were from, and within a century the concept of 'purity of blood' would spread through Spain like wildfire.

The highlight of this book is that it looks at areas that are almost never explored in large-scale medieval history books. You will read way, way more about Poland & Pomerania than Paris. Paris, in fact, is not even mentioned until 5/6 of the way through the book, and then it's a glancing mention in the context of the Irish Church. I cannot stress how unusual this is in the English-language writing of medieval history. It's really fascinating though, and one of the joys of reading it is to discover how differently things look when you look at the from a place that's not the traditional center.

It's also somewhat charming in its writing. There are plenty of little stories and asides, added in just the right places so that they give the text a lively, readable feel. Just an all around fascinating book.

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Book info

  • Author:
  • Publisher:Princeton University Press
  • File: 1.5 Mb
  • Ganre: History
  • Release: 01.09.1994
  • ISBN: 9780691037806
  • Pages 432
  • Rating: 4.58 (205 votes)

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