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Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade
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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.Read more ›
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.
The cities of the ancient world had very little in common with the cities of today. The cities of ancient Greece and Rome were not places of commerce but places of government. The heart of the ancient city was the public square--the forum--where wealthy landowners discussed politics and farming. The ruling elite were administrative, military, and religious officials. The merchants and craftsmen who supplied their needs were mostly non-citizens and slaves. In contrast, the heart of the medieval city was the marketplace. Democratic Greece and the glory that was Rome were based on slavery; the medieval city was based on commerce.
Pirenne traces the history of the city and how it evolved from a city of government to what it became in the thirteenth century and still is to today, a city of commerce. The rise of trade brought about the drastic change--an economic revolution. Pirenne cites Venice as an example. Forced to live on the barren islets of a lagoon off the coast of northern Italy, Venetians had to tax their ingenuity to survive. Trade was thus forced upon them by the very conditions under which they lived. Trade was the making of Venice, as it would be for countless cities across Europe. What began as little more than a meeting place where traders exchanged goods, grew to become cities, not dependent upon kings or the church for their welfare, but upon business.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very good book with a slightly different slant on the origin and rise of towns and cities of the Middle Ages. Recommended.Published 15 months ago by Jonathan Gude
I read Pirenne's Medieval Cities five years ago and still think about it all the time. Explaining the decline and rise of Europe is one of the great challenges of history. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Garett Jones
Haven't finished it yet. Written many decades ago, but very interesting ideas.Published 24 months ago by georgiana
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... Read more
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. Read morePublished on August 31, 2006 by Charles M. Corden