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Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691007601
ISBN-10: 0691007608
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Editorial Reviews


"An indispensable complement to the confusing history of the Carolingian period and early days of European civic development. . . . In short, it is one of the best sort of contributions to historical writing--those which combine simplicity with erudition and imagination with accuracy."--New Statesman (London)


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 1, 1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691007608
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691007601
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #422,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Greg Nyquist VINE VOICE on August 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a groundbreaking work in the study of the so-called "Dark Ages." Pirenne, one of the great scholars and historians of the 20th century, discovered that the economic destitution of Western Europe during the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries was a consequence, not of the barbarian invasions, as is commonly supposed, but of the Islamic presence in the Mediterranean. The astonishing advance of Islam into Northern Africa, Spain, and Syria during the 7th and 8th centuries meant that Western Europe lost control of the Mediterranean. It became, as Pirenne puts it, a "Moslem lake," and because of this, Western Europe found itself in what amounted to a state of virtual blockade. All the trading routes to the East were cut off and Gaul and other Western European countries were thrown back on their own resources. Bereft of the economic lifeblood of trade, cities shrunk into insignifance. Marseilles, once a thriving seaport, became a ghost town. The Middle Class ceased to exist. Complete autarky reigned in the West. The economic devestation was so bad that Charlemagne's government could not collect any taxes. All of Charlemagne's revenues came from his own estates.
In "Medieval Cities," Pirenne not only sketches the economic disintegration of Western Europe, he also details the revival of trade and the emergence of a flourishing medieval civilization in the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries. How did Western Europe pull itself out of the dark ages? Pirenne's brief answer is simple: by reclaiming control of the Mediterranean and thereby opening up sea routes to the East.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Andres C. Salama on December 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this classic book written in the 1920s, Belgian medieval historian Henri Pirenne tracks the revival of European cities in the Middle Ages. The first chapters lay out what would later be known as the Pirenne thesis: that the classical civilizations of the west were not destroyed by the Germanic invasions of the 5th century, but by the closing of Mediterranean trade in the 7th century, after the Arab conquest of North Africa and the Levant. To defend his thesis, Pirenne shows how significant trade existed in the Mediterranean in the 5th and 6th century. Here I wonder whether it is not possible to adhere to an intermediate position, in the sense that the classical world received two blows (one from the germanic invaders, another from the arab expansion), from which it would not recover. In any case, there is little doubt that urban civilization had virtually disappeared in Western Europe by the 8th century. The Carolingian renaissance of the 9th century was a very modest affair, and Europe would descend back into rural autarchy in the 9th and 10th century with the Viking invasions. It was only after the millenium, that Western European civilization started on its way to recovery, which Pirenne documents in the later chapters dealing with the revival of trade and urban civilization. By the mid 1300s, not even the terrible black death could hold urban civilization in Europe back. All in all, one of the greatest books about medieval economic life.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael Valdivielso on January 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
Cities have been around for a long time. And even after the fall of the Roman Empire the Mediterranean allowed commerce and the economic system that held them together to continue, still using the Roman model. When Islam took over the Mediterranean many of those European cities found their businesses cut off, out of the loop of trade, and forced to live on the local material and produce of the farmers. Profit was no longer a issue. You made what you needed, no more, no less.
When the crusades and Italian city-states started to take the sea lanes back these cities now had access to trade from the East and went back to using gold coins again. Many turned back to the old methods that had survived, mostly the Roman institutions, but during the time of decline new ways had been invented. The European cities had a middle class and rich merchants, besides the nobles and serfs. Now the cities were to become a mixture of new and old, Roman laws mixed with guilds and population growth. Cities were no longer just military posts and government centers. They became places to live in, work in, invest in and worship in.
The book is a must for any lover of history, World history or European history. It is simple, moves swiftly and even has some humor.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Charles M. Corden on August 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
Henri Pirenne's work is a collection of his lectures delivered in the U.S. during the 1920's. It is a must for anyone interested in medieval Europe or in history itself. His thesis on the fall of the West may be out of fashion today but it still bears a thorough study.

I'm not going to repeat what others have written here but if you are interested in history (regardless what kind) read this book.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Alyssa A. Lappen VINE VOICE on April 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating little presentation on the revival of European cities during the Middle Ages.

Some of the observations herein are astounding in their blunt precision---including the effects on "the very land where civilization had been born" by what Pirrene labels "the Cult of the Prophet" Mahomet. Pirenne writes that Islam turned the Mediterranean, which "had been a Roman lake," over which trade flowed freely, into "a Moslem lake," which from then forth "separated, instead of uniting the East and the West of Europe."

He also brilliantly describes the cataclysmic force "thrown across the path of history" by the 50 years of Moslem conquests that followed Mahomet's death in 632. As many seem to have forgotten, this warrior ideology defeated the Persian Empire in only 7 years (637 to 644), and in only 8 years (634 to 642) violently wrested from the Byzantine Empire, Syria, Palestine and Egypt before taking North Africa and pummeling Spain by 711.

Moreover, from new military bases throughout the Mediterranean basin, they "devastated the coasts of
Provence and Italy and put towns to the torch after they had been pillaged and their inhabitants captured to be sold as slaves." In 889, these plunderers even "laid hold of Fraxinetum," now Garde-Frainet, near Nice, and for nearly the next century "subjected the neighboring populace to continual raids and menaced the roads" across the Alps from France to Italy.

Alas, Pierenne in this volume provides very few footnotes, and even cuts short his bibliography, which for "numerous monographs devoted, in each country, to the history of the particular city," he refers readers to additional references, including his own "L'origine des constitutiions urbaines au Moyen-age," in Revue historique, Vol.
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