In the final volume of Glen Cook's Black Company series, Soldiers Live, Croaker, the Company's physician, annalist and ultimately Captain, becomes a nIn the final volume of Glen Cook's Black Company series, Soldiers Live, Croaker, the Company's physician, annalist and ultimately Captain, becomes a near omniscient being capable of observing events in both the past and the present. A dream come true for Croaker, and one I'd love to emulate; I dare say, an existence any historian must envy because we must know the whats, whys and wherefors of human experience. And where we can't know, we speculate. Speculate and present our ruminations as "facts." Or the admitted fantasies of older historians morph into the unquestioned consensus of their descendants. It's this tendency - the human penchant for storytelling and connecting dots that shouldn't be - that is Walter Goffart's target in the present volume. Specifically, against the idea of a Germanic migration that stretches back centuries (if not millennia) and brought about the destruction of the Roman Empire, replacing a Mediterranean romanitas with a Germanic ethnicity that determined the shape of medieval Europe. (The latter thread found its most pernicious and palpably evil manifestation in theories of Nordic racial and cultural superiority and Nazism.)
The book is divided into 7 separate-but-related essays and a conclusion. The first three essays are historiographical, and tackle in order: the meaning of "Migration Age," the thesis that the invasions caused Rome's fall, and the myth that a German consciousness existed prior to the Middle Ages. The next four essays deal with four aspects of the late Roman Empire and its responses to the "barbarians": "Jordanes' Getica and the Disputed Authenticity of Gothic Origins from Scandinavia"; "The Great Rhine Crossing, A.D. 400-420, A Case of Barbarian Migration"; "The 'Techniques of Accommodation' Revisited"; and "None of Them Were Germans: Northern Barbarians in Late Antiquity." The final essay draws all these disparate threads together to offer an explanation of Rome's "fall" and the emergence of medieval civilization. Goffart acknowledges that he only uses the literary sources in his discussion, ignoring (for the most part) recent archaeology and ethnographic studies because he feels that, while they can discern material conditions, they can't differentiate linguistic or political change. To the extent that we can, we are limited to the textual survivals.
The "Migration Age" is the latest English translation of the German Volkerwanderung. The reader should understand that it's German historiography and the paradigm that it established that underlays much of our understanding of Ancient and Western history, and certainly the general citizen's understanding. To wit: The Roman Empire endured centuries of pressure and conflict with Germanic barbarians on its frontiers. In the early 5th century AD, pushed by Hunnic tribes migrating from Central Asia and attracted by the decadent weakness of the late Empire, these tribes achieved substantive breakthroughs along the Rhine and within a century had destroyed the Western Empire and nearly so the Eastern. Furthermore, it's possible to trace a connected line of migrations for distinct Gothic, Vandal, Frankish and other peoples. In it's most extreme manifestations, some patriotic German historians have found Germans as far back as the Bronze Age and into the Neolithic.
Goffart identifies 3 traditions of the migration paradigm. At first glance, the most plausible is the "core" theory, which posits a fairly limited Volkerwanderung in both time and space and doesn't claim more for the sources than warranted. The second theory is the "Asian," which emphasizes the "domino theory" of barbarian movements: Somewhere in Central Asia a tribe (for some reason) migrates from its ancestral home, and pushes the neighboring tribe out of theirs and so on in a cascade of dominoes until it reaches the Rhine-Danube valleys and brings down the Romans. One tenet of this theory is the Huns are the direct descendants of the Xiong-nu, a tribal confederation that troubled Han China from the 3rd century BC, and eventually crossed Asia to show up at Rome's doorstep in the 5th century AD. All this ultimately based on a passing resemblance between "xiong-nu" and "hun." Finally, there's the "Germanic" strain, which claims to be able to trace the "German" race (or, more PC, the ethnicity) back through the mists of time to a fantasy homeland in Scandinavia.
All three strains are inadequate to describe what happened along Rome's frontier. The tribes under discussion were nearly all sedentary agrarians (w/ exceptions like Huns and Avars, who really did begin as nomads). When migrations occurred, they were small scale in time and space - not vast, centuries-long wanderings. Goffart's historiographical essays make the following claims, offering an alternative view of what transpired (pp. 233-4): (1) The tribes of the Migration Age were not "wandering" peoples - they moved from a specific place and for a specific reason. There was no significantly greater tribal movement in the 5th century AD compared to the 2nd (for example); the difference was in Rome's capacity to respond. (2) "Germans" did not overthrow the "Roman" empire. Most tribes were destroyed (anyone remember the Scirians?) and the surviving peoples settled on Roman soil as "adherents to the Roman religion, defenders of Roman populations and laws, and preservers of the Roman language." (3) There were no "Germans" until the Middle Ages, and the notion of Vandals, Goths, etc., as foreigners from a distant, far northern homeland is a fiction born in Justinian's campaigns to restore the empire in the 6th century.
This last point is the focus of chapter 4, where Goffart demolishes the myth of Gothic origins by arguing that Jordanes' Getica was written by a Constantinopolitan who may not even have been a Goth, based on the work of Cassiodorus, an Italian at Theodoric's court in Ravenna. In point of fact, there's no reason to believe the people identified as "Goths" came from Scandinavia nor even that there was a consciousness of continuity between any putative northern origin and the people who invaded the empire.
In the 5th chapter, Goffart tackles the Rhine crossing on Dec. 31, 405/Jan. 1, 406, when a confederation of mixed tribes crossed the frozen Rhine, denuded of defenders called back to the hinterland to serve in the civil wars racking the empire at the time. Goffart doesn't attempt to ascertain motive - he can't. No one really can as the evidence doesn't exist. Consensus says it was Hunnic pressure from the east but there's no real evidence for this; it could have been internal pressures unremarked in later writings; it could have been provoked by Constantinople in its rivalry with Ravenna; or it could have been all or none or some of the above. "What decided the Danubians to combine with Alans and launch a one-way invasion across the Rhine is beyond our powers to determine. We can only be certain that...their behavior was hardly anomalous. Although the Empire left itself open to attack, it mattered more that barbaricum seemed worthy of being abandoned for a better if more perilous life" (p. 237).
Chapter 6 is a dense explanation of how barbarians were settled in the empire without too much social and economic disruption. It's based on Goffart's earlier work, Barbarians and Romans, A.D. 418-584, which stirred controversy because it turned common understanding - that Rome gave direct ownership of land to barbarians - upside down. Instead, the fractions of "land" allotted to barbarians refer to tax revenues. In order to finance barbarian settlements and do so in a manner that didn't generate massive unrest "imperial authorities abandoned a complex military system based on the collection of taxes and their redistribution to soldiers as rations and pay, and exchanged it for a scheme in which taxpayers and their assessed properties were directly assigned to individual soldiers as the permanent, hereditary source of their sustenance" (p. 236).
Chapter 7 is a series of case studies about some of the lesser known barbarian tribes, and a reflection on Gothic identity in Roman Italy. The thrust of the first part is that ethnic identity was fluid, fixed only in subsequent, more settled centuries looking to solidify their own ethnicity. The reconquest of Italy by Justinian is a prime example of that: There was no "Gothic" consciouslness. Totila, the last Ostrogothic king, fought to be recognized as the legitimate representative of the nomen romanum in Italy.
(End part one: I ran out of characters so my final thoughts are continued in the first comment.)...more
I would describe this book as a professor's collection of undergraduate-level lectures about the Dark Ages - which, as he correctly points out, weren'I would describe this book as a professor's collection of undergraduate-level lectures about the Dark Ages - which, as he correctly points out, weren't quite as "dark" as the general public might think. Of course, John & Jane Q. Public don't often consider the Dark Ages except when they're watching scurrilous TV shows or movies, and then, do they care?
Among the cognoscenti of amateur and professional Late Antiquity/Early Medieval historians, Wells is not exactly breaking new ground.
Among this collection of lectures, he does present some interesting information about the evidence for trade and culture and wealth that refutes the hoary notion of howling barbarians, burning cities, ravished populations and empty landscapes.
If I had come across this book in high school or early in college, I'd probably be more excited about it. As it is, I've read this before and at much greater and incisive depth (Goffart's Barbarian Tides and Whittaker's Frontiers of the Roman Empire immediately come to mind)....more
When I began my undergraduate career I was part of an honors seminar where this was one of the books we read.
It was an eye-opening experience and probWhen I began my undergraduate career I was part of an honors seminar where this was one of the books we read.
It was an eye-opening experience and probably did as much as anything at that time in propelling me to specialize in Medieval history. Montaillou was a village in southern France that suffered an inquisitorial investigation in the mid-14th century because of a recrudescence of the Cathar heresy (which had been "eradicated" in the previous century, or so the Church believed). The book's fascination and brilliance lies not so much in its discussion of the inquisition but in the insight the inquisition's depositions (that it took from the peasants) gives into the lives of the people of Montaillou.
LeRoy Ladurie is a major figure in the Annales strain of Medieval historiography, which focuses on such sources to tease out how people lived and thought, and Montaillou is one of the better examples for a general reading audience to enjoy.
It's been 20 years since I read this book but I can still remember the sexual peccadillos of the village cleric, Le Clergue, and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the period and looking for something other than a history that relies upon the usual sources - monastic chronicles, primarily - and talks about the usual "stuff" - politics & economics....more
I wonder why Rodney Stark wrote this book. He claims there is a “sinister” (p. 4) trend in Crusader studies that characterizes the Muslim world as theI wonder why Rodney Stark wrote this book. He claims there is a “sinister” (p. 4) trend in Crusader studies that characterizes the Muslim world as the innocent and culturally and morally far superior victim of this first manifestation of European colonialism. That “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam” (p. 8).
Twenty years ago I was entering the world of Medieval Studies as a UCLA grad student. In fact, the period under discussion (c. 1100-1400) and this very region (the Mediterranean) were the areas I was interested in. Even back then, there was no serious expert in the field who would argue that provocations, massacres, brutality, looting, rape, etc. didn’t occur on all sides, that anyone had the moral high ground. Nor would any student of the period argue that purely material interests motivated the Crusaders. Did the Marxist/materialist interpretation dominate a certain era of historiography? Sure. But like all academic fevers, this too passed (though not without a lot of groundbreaking and revelatory data in its wake). A new generation came up through the ranks that accommodated the less material, more idealistic motivations. So Stark’s cabal seems to be a straw man. It’s illustrative that the handful of specific authors he cites as evidence of a conspiracy are all nonexperts in the field. In particular, his bete noire Karen Armstrong, a fine scholar in her own right but not immersed in the sources as a specialist would be. Though, perhaps, she too is as guilty as Stark of slanting her own interpretations. (I tend to agree with Stark’s assessment: IMO, Armstrong, in her recent work on Islam, has evinced an annoying tendency to whitewash its “sins” in comparing it to Christianity. An argument against selecting facts to fit a political/philosophical agenda, but not evidence of an academic conspiracy to demonize Christianity.)
My problem may stem from the book’s subtitle: “The Case for the Crusades.” The case for the Crusades? Is he seriously arguing that a religiously motivated military campaign (jihad) is justified? Is he hypocritically arguing that you shouldn’t use selective data to support one’s opinion yet does so to exonerate Urban II and his successors? Or is his objective of a more contemporary nature? A backhanded justification for the West’s (primarily America’s) response to recent Islamic fundamentalist terrorism? If so, then the facts of his own book doesn’t support his interpretation. If anything, they argue against a military response: Despite better technology and amazing logistical capability on the part of the European princes, no Crusade after the first achieved any lasting success and most were utter debacles*).
*The Fourth Crusade, indeed, perpetrated one of the worst cultural and political crimes in medieval history – the sacking of Constantinople and the utter ruin of the Byzantine state, threatening nary a Saracen.
When Stark sticks to the facts and doesn’t attempt any interpretation, he’s generally spot on. It’s his interpretations that I found fault with in his latest work. I am still amazed and enthralled by The Rise of Christianity How the Obscure Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ..... He marshaled ancient sources and applied modern sociological research on religious conversion to present a powerful case for how and why Christianity prospered even in the face of sporadic but usually fatal persecutions. And his description of life in ancient Antioch, in the same book, is still one of the most harrowing and interesting I’ve read. For the first 2/3rds of Discovering God The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief, he presents a cogent argument for how and why the concept of God developed across time. Then in the final 1/3rd, he begins proselytizing, abandoning the admirable evenhandedness of the first part to shill for the Christian version of deity, and he lost me.
In this book, too, Stark marshals the facts to lay out a mildly revisionist history that brings a more balanced viewpoint to the general reading public. I’ll cite two examples here: First, he debunks the notion of a “dark age” in Europe (already pretty thoroughly a relic in academe, starting with 19th century historiography!) but it never hurts to reemphasize the technological, economic and political innovations that were transforming ancient society from the 5th century on and earlier. He also correctly, IMO, points out that the brightest intellectual lights in the Islamic firmament were often Christians (though not Latin), Jews or otherwise non-Arabs, and that quite soon an intellectual rigidity set in which retarded any exploitation of their insights. He scants a similar, if later, phenomenon in Christianity – though in that case happily, the Church was too weak and intervened too late to do more than delay the advent of the modern world.
A second example is Stark’s corrective to the overly materialistic interpretation of the Crusades, which reduced the movement to a matter of economic and social factors forcing humans to act as they did. For many knights, going to the Holy Land was anything but in their best economic interests. But their zeal (fanaticism, to be less charitable) fueled both their personal ventures and profound economic and political changes in Medieval Europe.
There are some indications of a less-than-complete grasp of regional histories as, for example, when Stark mentions the “oddity” of Charlemagne attacking the Basque (Christian) city of Pamplona in 778. Knowledge of the enmity between the Basques of northern Spain and the Franks of southern France may have made the soon-to-be emperor’s actions less “odd.” Or there is the arbitrary decision to exclude the non-Levantine crusades (i.e., the Reconquista or the Albigensian Crusade) as unrepresentative of the “true” Crusading movement, which goes unjustified.
As a corrective to overly materialistic interpretations of the Crusades, Stark deserves at least 3 stars, and general readers could do worse than to learn a bit about the period from this book.** However, for his conspiracy theories of malfeasance and his (possible) attempt to justify modern “crusades,” he loses a star.
**They might be better served, however, by reading experts in the field like Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades, vols. 1-3, dated in many respects but still a brilliant, exciting, well written narrative of the campaigns; Kenneth Setton; or Christopher Tyerman’s recent God's War A New History of the Crusades. And, while Wikipedia is never to be trusted as a source itself, the bibliography sections of the Crusade entries can direct interested parties to interesting books (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_cr...).
A final thought that has nothing to do with my praises, objections or opinions of the book but which came to me as I was reading: Stark’s discussion of why Crusaders took up the cross and justified their actions reminded me of Wendy Doniger’s discussion of a similar moral dilemma that faced the kshatriya caste in her book The Hindus - see my review: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52.... In the “Bhagavad Gita,” Krishna explains to Arjuna that though the warrior’s dharma (to commit acts of violence and murder in service to his ruler) goes against general dharma and accumulates bad karma, the warrior who can act (karma) without desire (kama) can satisfy both dharmas and avoid bad karma. It seems to me that, in a similar vein, Christianity resolved the problem of controlling its warrior class with theories of “just wars” and plenary absolution of sins committed....more