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Crisis, continuity and transformation in the making of Early Medieval Western Europe (up to the 8th century) Europe,

the second smallest of the seven continents, is most popularly known as the birthplace of Western culture. The continent has, from the beginning, seen the coming, rising and falling of many Empires and cultures. Be it the Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome of the Before Common Era phase or the Germanic invasions, Viking Era, Frankish kingdom, High age of feudalism, Renaissance Period, The French Revolution, industrialization, the World Wars in the Common Era. For the question provided above, one can broadly look at Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and its fall, the migration period and early middle ages which contributed in the making of Early Medieval Western Europe. For the question, 'Crisis, Continuity and Transformation', I have tried to summarize Roman Empire and its fall and have put it under 'Crisis' section, with a short background which includes Ancient Greece. 'Continuity' has been shown in the form of a summary of Germanic Intrusion and other invasions and finally under the 'Transformation' topic, I have tried knit together aspects which have helped in the birth of a new Europe. It is true that birth of Europe was not in the early middle Ages but it was beyond this period. It is also true that there was no common link or identity between the present days Spain, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Germany etc but was a small community which linked the Christian polities together. There was no common European culture, and certainly not any Europe-wide economy. There was no sign whatsoever that Europe would, in a still rather distant future, develop economically and militarily, so as to dominate the world.1 So from where does the European history begins and how did Europe came to be? This is the question that needs to be answered here, keeping in context of the question of this assignment. Background to Europe (till the Roman Empire) Before the advent of the Roman Empire a host of things took place in the continent of Europe. It started with the Prehistoric period- the time before history; before the written history of the Greek world. Our information of this comes from the archaeological finds, the mythology and traditions of later periods. The following were the Paleolithic (old), Mesolithic (middle) and Neolithic (new) periods that saw a period of transition in the civilizations of the Aegean. For example: change from a nomadic "hunter-gatherer" lifestyle to one of settled village life and agriculture. The Bronze Age saw the Minoan civilization come to power, on the island of Crete. The

. Wickham, Chris, 'Inheritance of Rome: 400-1000, ALLEN LANE Published by the Penguin Group, 2009

Minoan civilization was eclipsed by the Mycenaean civilization in Greece. The Early Iron Age (1100-900 B.C) saw the final collapse of Mycenaean civilization and following was the depopulation of the surrounding areas. This period is also sometimes referred to as the "Dark Ages". According to the Greek Tradition, "Dorian" or the "Sons of Heracles" invaded southern Greece, thereby driving out the last of the Mycenaean. The next began the era of Greek Civilization. During this period the Greek polis or "city-state" developed, including Athens, Corinth, and Sparta. This period saw the growth of artistic output, rise in trade with other Mediterranean, development in writing which ended the "Dark Age" period and announced the beginning of proper historical periods. The Archaic Period (700-480 B.C.) saw individual city-states and their colonies prosper, giving rise to centers of political, religious, philosophic and artistic development. Monumental sculpture, stone temple architecture, and civic building programs are among the achievements of this period. This period came to an end with the defeat of Persian forces and Athens took the lead in a league of Greek states against Persians. The Classical Period (480-323 B.C) saw literature; drama and arts flourish throughout Greece. Athens enjoyed a period of wealth and power at the beginning of this period, successfully bringing the democratic form of government to the fore. But a conflict with other Greek states, resulted in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) and defeat of Athens. Subsequent decades saw the rise of Macedonian power beginning with Philip II, and culminating with the conquests (and death in 323) of Alexander the Great. The last phase, The Hellenistic Period (323- 31 B.C) witnessed death of Alexander. The internecine struggles of the contending Macedonian generals ended with the partition of the Empire into four main zones, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Asia Minor and Greece, the first three henceforward generally outclassing the last in political and economic importance. (Anderson, Perry) The growing power of Rome eventually surpassed and engulfed the Hellenistic Kingdoms. From 200 B.C. onwards, Roman imperial power was advancing eastwards at their expense, and by the middle of the 2nd century its legions had trampled down all serious barriers of resistance in the East. 2 The Crisis (Roman Empire and its fall) The Roman Empire became the largest and most enduring empire in antiquity. The nucleus of the empire lay in Italy and subsequently it encompassed the entire Mediterranean world. Roman expansion into the Mediterranean began soon after the break-up of the Macedonian empire. By this time the city of Rome in Italy had

. Anderson, Perry, 'Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism', NLB, 1974, p- 46- 51.

succeeded in bringing almost the entire Italian peninsula under its control. The rise of Rome started a new phase of expansion, which not only made Italy the center of Ancient World but also brought about a socio-economic development of the mode of production which had started under Greek Civilization. Large scale use of slave labor was also one of the important features of Roman republic. 'The early growth of the Roman Republic followed the normal course of any ascendant classical city-state: local wars with rival cities, annexation of land, subjection of allies, foundation of colonies.'3 However the knowledge of early history of Rome remains sketchy. For nearly five centuries, Roman Empire had a republican form of government and was not ruled by a monarchy. The city was ruled by an oligarchy consisting of the wealthy Latin aristocracy of Rome. The government was headed by two magistrates, called Consuls, who were elected annually. The main instrument of aristocratic power was the oligarchic council or Senate. The Senate was the supreme body of the Roman Republic. There were also assemblies of citizens, though at the beginning of the Republic they had almost no share in governance. The last hundred years of the republic witnessed the rise of professional army. The segments of this army were controlled by war commanders and were loyal to them rather than the State. These commanders or war lords had regular conflicts with each other and also as a group with Roman State. This mighty Empire though lasted around 500 years only, from c. 510 to 27 BC. 'The Roman state was not particularly enlightened nor was it doomed to collapse. Its violence (whether public or private), corruption and injustice were part of a very stable structure, one which had lasted for centuries, and which had few obvious internal flaws. Half the empire, the West, did collapse in the fifth century, as a result of unforeseen events, handled badly; the empire survived with no difficulty in the East.' 4 Constantine the Great created a new capital in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, renaming the ancient Greek city of Byzantium "Nova Roma", the New Rome, more commonly known as the city of Constantine, "Constantinople" (modern Istanbul). His religious conversion and political recognition of the Christian faith paved the way for the continuation, in Christian form, of the Roman Empire. Henceforth, the "Eastern Roman Christian Empire" known in modern times as the Byzantine Empire, carried on the traditions of Greek culture.

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. Anderson, Perry, 'Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism', NLB, 1974. . Wickham, Chris, 'Inheritance of Rome: 400-1000, ALLEN LANE Published by the Penguin Group, 2009.

However, the downfall of the Republic undercut these successes and changed the structure of Roman power. The vaunted Roman armies gradually became less and less effective suffering their first massive defeat in 9 AD against the Germans. As the Ancient Era drew to a close it became customary for Rome to supplement its strength with Germanic armies to guard large sections of the empire. There was another reason, however that the Romans found it necessary to augment their military strength barbarian invasion. Continuity (Europe and the Barbarian phase) Despite the crisis, there was still continuity in Europe, in form of migration and 'barbarians' coming into the picture. Also, with the beginning of the millennium, Europe had, thanks to Roman Empire, expanded out from the Mediterranean basin as far north as the River Danube and as far east as the Rhine. Beyond these borders were the Barbarians, who had occupied some of the central European uplands and most of the Great European Plain5, and were waiting to redefine the history of Europe. The causes of the invasion are of little importance. 'The growth of population and the attraction of more fertile territories probably came into play after an initial impulse which might have been, a change in climate, a cold spell, which reduced the cultivable land and pasture of the barbarians'6 The 'Barbarian' invasions, especially the Germanic invasion was not unknown to Rome and this menace had been a permanent burden on the Empire. The Germans had been brutal barbarians. By 300 AD, they had founded kingdoms and developed politically and culturally under Roman influence. However, they were under pressure from other barbarians invading from Asia. In 372 AD, Europe had new invaders, the Xiongnu, also known as the Huns. Attila the Hun ravaged much of Europe and was the single most dangerous threat to the Roman Empire. The sheer volume finally overwhelmed the Romans and after their defeat at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, their German allies began to understand it. Thus the end of the Roman Empire did not come in a great battle or a deadly assassination, but in the decision of Rome's allied tribes to ignore it and rule the Roman Empire for themselves. Many Germans ruled simultaneously on the very foundation of Roman authority - at least until they realized that foundation was no longer important to their continued success. Roman political institutions had slid backward, and could not survive under the mounting pressure. Germans depended on feudalism, a form of cooperative rule where each ruler created a type of contract

. Heather, Peter (2010), Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe , Oxford University press. 6 . Le Goff, Jacques, Medieval Civilizations: 400-1500, Blackwell Publishers, 1988.

with a group of subordinates that ruled for him. At the same time, unlike the Ancient bureaucracies, feudalism still theoretically placed the monarch in total control. For the next century, German armies raged back and forth across Europe until some stable borders began to emerge around 507 AD. Then, in 607 AD, the heirs of the Roman Empire faced their first major challenge from the Avars, who were the most vicious central Asian barbarians since the Huns. For the next 200 years, they would raid Europe ruthlessly. In 791 AD, the Frankish king, Charlemagne, crushed the Avars ending the threat they posed to Europe and laying siege to the Muslim cities of Northeastern Spain. He died too soon to save Europe from its newest threats. In 793 AD, the Vikings made their first appearance in history, raiding and pillaging in England and Ireland. For the next two centuries Vikings would not only raid Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, they would settle states in Northern France, seize England for several generations, conquer Sicily, and found Kievan Rus (Russia). Finally, in 899 AD, the Magyars invaded and terrorized Eastern Europe. By 1000 AD, Europe had suffered through almost 800 years of uninterrupted invasions from Asian barbarians and the Islamic powers of the Middle East. Transformation The settling of the barbarian hordes in Europe created incredible changes in the structure of European society. The barbarian hordes integrated with the remnants of the Roman society and they brought along their own culture as well. This was the turning point, however. European nations would continue to fight wars against each other, for territory and cities, but they did not destroy and depopulate regions wholesale. This allowed the continent to grow and develop. With more people available to pursue specialized careers, a more vibrant and more monetized economy became possible. Merchants enjoyed a slowly expanding customer base and the result was a rising, urban-based middle class that swelled the size of cities. Cities continued to be a driving source of cultural and economic power and vital communities of human intelligence and cooperation. With cities powering dynamic growth and lacking annual barbarian invasions that destroyed everything a king might try to build, the nations of Europe stabilized despite their own wars against each other. Borders moved back and forth but central cores emerged for England, France, and other states in Europe. These proto-nations embraced new institutions that were critical to further development. Nations were no longer being torn apart on the death of a king to provide an inheritance for each

son. The Ancient Era tradition of passing the state intact to the next ruler was resurrected, greatly diminishing political fragmentation. Conclusion In conclusion, a string of events finally culminated into the making of Early Medieval Western Europe. Starting right from the Greek civilization, the Era of the Romans and its decline, barbaric invasions and their recreation of European history, the making of Early Medieval Europe was a slow but a gradual process.

1. Heather, Peter (2010), 'Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe, Oxford University press. 2. Le Goff, Jacques (1988), Medieval Civilizations: 400-1500, Blackwell Publishers. 3. Wickham, Chris, (2009), 'Inheritance of Rome: 400-1000, ALLEN LANE Published by the Penguin Group. 4. Anderson, Perry, (1974), Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism', NLB. 5. Internet Sources:a) b) Institute of Lifelong Learning, history reading material, 'Ancient Societies: The Roman Empire, Ancient Greece'