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Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 1st Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199212965
ISBN-10: 0199212961
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"This is a book and a subject with a pedigree that demands the closest attention.... a tour de force.... Wickham'snds Framing the Early Middle Ages may be the last great historical work of the last century."--The New Republic


"History doesn't get any better.... More than almost any history I've read, Wickham's manages to be at once grand and rigorous. In its adroit and confident treatment of an array of subjects and disciplines, and in its exhaustive bibliography, this book, like Brown's [Rise of Western Christendom], has encapsulated and synthesized a burgeoning field of scholarship at the point of perhaps its greatest creativity."--Benjamin Schwarz, he Atlantic Monthly


"For all its great range, its methodological self-awareness, its deployment of precise and often closely analysed data from many disciplines and kinds of source, there is hardly a page of Framing the Early Middle Ages which a newcomer to the period would not find accessible, indeed warmly welcoming, in the informality of its tone, the scrupulous articulation of its reasoning and its care not to presume on the prior knowledge of the reader.... It raises the bar for all future discussion of large-scale historical change, and not just for this period, but it also shows us how we may occasionally scramble over it."--Times Literary Supplement


About the Author


Chris Wickham received his DPhil from Oxford in 1975. He has taught at the University of Birmingham since then and is currently Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford. He has been editor of Past and Present since 1995.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199212961
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199212965
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 2.2 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By John E. Mack on August 30, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a monumental review of the economic and social histories of the former provinces of the Roman Empire between the penetration of the empire by the barbarians and the imperial coronation of Charlemagne. Along with the Origins of the European Economy, this book is likely to be the standard social and economic survey of the dark ages for years to come. The author surveys each of the major territorial regions of the fomer Roman Empire region-by-region, and slowly develops his theses. These include: (1) a "soft-fall" view of the disintegration of the Western Empire, concluding that many of its structures were in place well into the seventh century and gradually were melded into the less sophisticated successor states of Western Europe; (2) a taxation-driven notion of the state, concluding that the major factor distinguishing Rome and Roman power from that of successor states is that Rome had an elaborate and relatively efficient tax system, and that the successor states did not; (3) a regionalist approach to conclusions, finding that things changed in different degrees in different ways throughout the territories of the Roman Empire -- slowly and relatively little in the East, massively in Britain, in odd ways in Spain and Gaul; (4) a picture of transformation from peasant-based society to feudal society, occurring rather later than many historians would allow; (5) a strong de-emphasis on barbarian wars and conquests as an explanation for these transformations; and (5) a peasant's eye view of the transformation from Roman Empire to the Middle Ages.

It is in the latter that the only real problem with the book arises. The author is so pro-peasant in his view that he takes what could be called a "Xena" view of medieval class struggles.
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Format: Hardcover
Chris Wickham explores the world of the early Middle Ages in a systematic way. Using literary and archaeological evidence, Wickham describes the changes which took place in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa after the fall of Rome. He maintains that despite the great political upheavals of the time, local continuity was a hallmark of this period. Economic decline and regrowth were connected with changes in the power and wealth of the aristocracy, who also exercised lesser or greater control over the land and the people.

While this massive piece of scholarship does not address cultural or intellectual history, it provides a very clear picture of the political and economic changes that transformed the former Roman Empire during the years 400-800 A.D. The writing is lively and easy to read, and the work is well organized. The full index and large bibliography as well as the broad range of topics covered make this book an indispensible reference tool for anyone studying Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages.
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Format: Paperback
I completely agree with the reviewers who call this "a tremendous piece of scholarship" and "a monumental review." But beware - it is very heavy going. This is not because it is poorly written. On the contrary, given the density of information and depth of analysis, it is very well written. But Wickham deals extremely carefully with a great mass of material, and the result, while insightful and thorough, is very difficult to digest. As a couple of examples for comparison, I found Marc Bloch's "Feudal Society" and Pirenne's "Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe" both much easier to read.

It's difficult to rate this book. If you are looking for scholarship, it is 5 stars. If you are looking for a readable overview, it's more like 2 stars. I notice that one reviewer listed Peter Heather's "Fall of the Roman Empire" along with this as one of three must have books on the period. To me, the books were completely different. Heather's book was extremely readable, but the analysis was not not at the forefront. I wasn't particularly convinced by Heather's thesis, but more to the point, you can pretty much ignore the analysis if you just want a narrative history. With Wickham's book, each page carefully marshalls evidence and inference - you may agree or disagree, but you can't take this book lightly. That may be for better or for worse, depending on what you are looking for.
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Format: Paperback
This is a tremendous piece of scholarship. I won't even try to summarize the content - in a work of over 800 pages of text, this is impossible. Wickham takes the geographic regions which were part of, or heavily influenced by, the Roman Empire and examines how they evolved and developed, in multiple aspects, from the beginning of the 5th to the end of the 8th century. The book is divided into 12 chapters, focusing on four major subject areas; States, Aristocratic power-structures, Peasantries, and Networks. For each topic he divides the Post-Roman world into 10 distinct geographic regions and examines each individually. These regions are; North Africa, Egypt, Syria and Palestine, Byzantium, Spain, Central and Southern Gaul, Northern Gaul, Britain, Ireland, and Denmark. In some chapters he will examine regions together when development patterns are similar; most frequently combining Britain, Ireland and Denmark; however for the most part each of these 10 regions receives its own attention.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it able to maintain my interest and more readable than I anticipated. Each topical chapter is 60-100 pages long, which would be tedious, however when 8-15 pages are devoted to a given geographic region for each topic, it's much easier to work through.

There are several ways in which this book is truly outstanding. First is Wickham's use of sources. The book is heavily footnoted and he provides a great deal of evidence for most of his conclusions (I'll return to the exceptions in a moment). The sheer amount of referenced data is stunning and includes archaeology as well as written sources. He offers conjecture and hypothesis in some cases where there is not enough evidence to document a pattern of development.
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