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Mohammed and Charlemagne Paperback – August 28, 2001

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Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; Dover ed edition (August 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486420116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486420110
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on November 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
Belgian historian Henri Pirenne's thesis, that the Mediterranean World of Antiquity was broken by the rise of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries and not by the Germanic invaders of the fifth and sixth centuries has been subject to endless criticism, debate and revision since Mohammed and Charlemage was first published in Europe in 1937.
In Pirenne's view, the conquest of the eastern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean, of Spain, and of the important islands had shut off the movement of world trade which had flourished during the late Roman times. The result of this closure returned western Europe to an earlier "natural" and rural economic system, which set in motion a shifting of the balance of power in Europe from the Mediterranean region to the north.
Although by the time Mohammed and Charlemagne was published the theory that Rome had collapsed suddenly under the impact of the immense German invasions during the fifth century was being qualified, it was Pirenne's theory on the end of the Ancient World and the beginning of the Middle Ages that upset traditional historical conceptions. He advanced the thesis that the Ancient World ended only after the Arab invasions of the seventh and eighth centuries had swept around the coasts of Mediterranean and had converted it into a Moslem lake on which, as one Arab writer said, the Christians could no longer "float a plank." This, Pirenne argued, had been accomplished by the last quarter of the eighth century and had destroyed the essential unity of the Roman Empire. For centuries the Mediterranean had been a "Roman lake" the Mare Nostrum of the Romans which held the great imperial structure together: Rome's trade and commerce, its military and naval might, the important exchange of ideas.
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Format: Paperback
Mohammed and Charlemagne is the last work of Henri Pirenne. It was published after his death and represents a masterpiece of historical scholarship. This is a seminal work that challenged the thesis that Germanic barbarians obliterated the Roman Empire. His revolutionary thesis was that the unexpected rise and advance of Islam led to the downfall of the Empire. With the rise of Islam, the Mediterranean was no longer a thoroughfare of commerce and ideas. Without the Mediterranean, commerce dried up to a trickle and Europe slipped into the Middle Ages.
The revision and completion of the book was completed by one of Pirenne's students after his death. That leads to one of my criticisms. Previous works by Pirenne I found engaging and masterfully written. This work however, seemed to lack the same literary style and, as a consequence, I found it to be a choppy read that lacked the clear crispness of his previous works. While this statement is subjective, it is not irrelevant. When Pirenne expounds on economic and sociological issues of the Middle Ages his words literally leap off the page. It is disappointing that this subject does not surface until the end of the book.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This magnificent 284 page piece of scholarship was first published in English in 1939 by W.W. Norton, and reprinted more than a dozen times afterwards. My copy, published by Meridian and Barnes and Noble in October 1961, is the sixth Meridian printed after its first 1957 issue of the book.

But the book had more than a dozen publications in French as well. The Meridian edition was translated "by Bernard Miall from the French of the 10th edition published by Librarie Felix Alcan in Paris and Nouvelle Societe d'Editions Brussels.

The author concluded that the Germanic invasions did not destroy the unity of the ancient world or the Mediterranean. By the 5th Century, there was still a Roman culture, even without an Emperor in the West. The regions by the sea had preserved that culture, and spawned the innovations that followed--monasticism, Christian conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and so on. Moreover, much of this culture emanated from Constantinople, which remained, in the year 600, the center of the world.

But "the break with the tradition of antiquity" was caused by "the rapid and unexpected advance of Islam." The result was "the final separation of East from West, and the end of the Mediterranean unity." Whereas before, Africa and Spain had been part of the Western community, Islam attracted them to "the orbit of Baghdad." The root of the change was "another religion, and an entirely different culture. The Western Mediterranean, having become a Musulman lake, was no longer [the] thoroughfare of commerce and of thought" it had always been before.
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By A Customer on May 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
Henri Pirenne's legacy lies in his famous thesis, published
posthumously in 1937 as "Mohammed and Charlemagne" (and stated
earlier in numerous articles): namely, that whereas the
Germanic invasions of the IV and V century broke the political
unity of the Mediterranean world, they did not break its
cultural and economic unity. The ancient world kept hugging
the coastline 'like frogs around a pond' and the East reasserted
its supremacy over the West. All this changed when the Islamic
invasions conquered Northern Africa and the Eastern
Mediterranean, closing the commercial and cultural exchanges
between the two halves of the Roman empire and capturing the
two most vibrant centres of commerce and culture (especially,
theological culture) of the Byzantine empire: Syria and Egypt,
whose religious separatism had been a constant worry for the
Eastern Roman emperors.
As a consequence, the center of gravity of the European economy
shifted to the more agrarian and less romanized regions around
the Rhine (Charlemagne's capital is in Aix-La-Chapelle, nowadays
Aachen) while the cities of Italy and Southern France decayed.
It is this which eventually led to the emergence of a diversified
Western European culture as opposed to the Middle East and,
eventually, Eastern (Orthodox) Europe. And therefore Charlemagne
could never have existed without Mohammed.
However, this is not the whole story. As Dennett and Lopez noted,
lack of Oriental merchandise in Merovingian lists may not
necessarily be due to a dearth of imports but to events on
the supply side and most importantly to the opening of the
Russian route to Baghdad, as Scandinavian coin hoards show
(e.g., Bohlin and Riising).
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