Once again Peter Heath has written an extraordinarily complex and nuanced account of Europe in the first millennium AD, a period when the modern found...moreOnce again Peter Heath has written an extraordinarily complex and nuanced account of Europe in the first millennium AD, a period when the modern foundations of European society were established. He focuses on migration and its role in transforming the Mediterranean-centered world of Late Antiquity into the Atlantic-centered one of the Medieval and Modern eras. Toward that end, the author looks at the drift of Germanic tribes ever westward into the Roman Empire (to c. AD 600); their replacement by Slavs in north and central Europe (after AD 400); and the last great migrations of the Vikings (AD 700-1000). Up to the 1960s, the theory – influenced by 19th Century ideas of nationalism and, frankly, racism – of mass migrations of large, coherent “nations” of peoples sweeping through the old provinces of Rome and exterminating or pushing all before them dominated the historiography. As textual and archaeological evidence accumulated, this view grew more and more inadequate. It engendered a reactive scholarship that emphasized internal transformations on both sides of the frontier rather than migrations as critical factors (Preface and Chapter 1, “Migrants and Barbarians”). Walter Goffart is a good (and intimidating) example of this school.* Heather argues that neither extreme is terribly productive in explaining what happened, and we should take a more nuanced view that incorporates the very real internal transformations that made Constantine’s empire very different from Augustus’ and Fritigern’s Germania very different from Arminius’ and the external migrations of significant populations that certainly took place (p. x).
In his zeal to restore the good name of “mass migration,” Heather may himself stray into the pitfall of overemphasis but not too often and not too deep.
A reader hoping to understand or find out about the anti-migration argument will be disappointed but I’d refer you to Heather’s earlier book, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, or (better since it’s from a proponent) Goffart’s work.** That aside, Heather’s argument for restoring a balance in our perceptions of a nascent European culture is valid, and the evidence he martials for his case, impressive. And eye-opening. Heather has a particular facility in evoking the society of late Antiquity and making the reader see events through the eyes of the participants.
Heather begins the book by looking at the difference between the social and economic development of “Germania” from our first glimpse of it in Roman literature (primarily Cornelius Tacitus) to the Frankish hegemony of the 8th Century (including the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Celto-Roman Britain) (here the primary text is Ammianus Marcellinus). He then looks at the Slavicization of north and central Europe in the wake of the Germanic migration. And he rounds off his survey by examining the Viking migrations that crowned the last few centuries of the first millennium AD. The basic argument for all of these developments is this: Migration is motivated by negative factors such as war and political turmoil but also by positive factors such as economic opportunity. People look toward wealthier economies for the promise of a better life. In the face of a strong polity like Rome before c. 400, a four-tier zone developed: (i) Rome proper, relative to others a highly developed, mature, wealthy economy; (ii) an inner periphery of barbarian polities intimately tied to Rome in trade and politics; (iii) an outer, less developed periphery; (iv) a zone with little or no direct contact with even the inner periphery much less Rome where the levels of technological, political and economic development remained at an Iron Age level (or less). A paradox of this development is that in pursuing its own economic interests, the more advanced culture sows the seeds of relative (if not absolute) decline. In the face of Roman aggression and manipulation, the barbarians on the Empire’s frontier developed more complex and richer economies and equally complex and more powerful political organizations. In 9, Arminius led a coalition of tribes that annihilated three Roman legions (c. 18,000 men) yet within a decade punitive campaigns had thoroughly pacified the frontier and at no time was the Rhine border or the provinces behind it seriously threatened. The situation was different 150 years later when Marcus Aurelius faced the well organized alliance of the Marcomanni in a devastating 10-year war. And the tipping point had been reached by 378 when Tervingi and Greuthungi Goths annihilated another Roman army at Adrianople. At that time, the frontier was fatally breached and the Empire was never able to completely regain its dominant position.
A similar paradigm governed all the migratory movements of the first millennium. There are differences in detail, of course. For example, in the case of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain, elite replacement was a more influential factor than in the Gothic and Frankish conquests of Gaul. Historical accident plays a role and you can’t hitch your star to any single (or simplistic) explanation for outcomes. Migration played an enormous role in the development of Europe but that role diminished over the course of time as other developments came to the fore. By the end of the millennium, Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals was sufficiently advanced socially, economically and politically that subsequent migrations such as the Magyars and the Mongols were the assimilated rather than the assimilators.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and highly recommend it to Roman and European history buffs. I do have several caveats, alas:
1. As mentioned in another review, Heather’s authorial tone is – at times – too folksy and colloquial. I’ve complained before in other reviews, and I’ll continue to do so, but this is not acceptable for a serious book of this nature. I’ll continue to read future works by Heather but I’ll hope (probably in vain) that the tone will be closer to his earlier books.
2. Typos: I’m a copy editor. I’m not obsessive about typos; I make enough of my own not to take too high a position on moral grounds; I’m willing to overlook one or two in a 700+ page work (though I shouldn’t). But in a professionally published, scholarly work such as this there were far, far too many to excuse. Some examples are inconsistent spellings, i.e., “Rurikid” vs. “Riurikid” or “Vojnomer” vs. “Voinomer,” and straight out (and easily avoided) misspellings, “itineration” vs. “itiration.”
3. And my crowning complaint: At many points in the narrative, Heather refers to photographs and there’s a “picture acknowledgements” page but nowhere is there a section of photographs. Nowhere! This is beyond inexcusable. That quality control failed so spectacularly in this print run of the book leaves me spluttering in indignation. I can’t convey how frustrated I feel…argh!
Maybe the paperback edition will correct these mistakes. If you’re interested in reading this book, I’d wait for it.
* Full Disclosure: I respect and admire Goffart and, in the face of his erudition, it’s hard for the dilettante historian such as myself to resist his arguments but I think Heather’s point about ignoring the role of migration is valid.
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 the...moreI 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.(less)
A People’s History of Christianity is not so much a “history” (either scholarly or general) as it is an argument for a return to the roots of Christia...moreA People’s History of Christianity is not so much a “history” (either scholarly or general) as it is an argument for a return to the roots of Christianity that finds fault with both modern expressions of “liberal” and “conservative” religion. As Bass argues in her introduction, liberal theologians and congregations tend to lose their “devotional” memories; their conservative cousins lose their “ethical” memory. The result is a liberal tradition that’s often little more than a social club; and a conservative tradition that’s often reactionary and mean spirited.
Bass comes from an unabashedly liberal perspective by which I mean she rejects – or is, at least, chary of – Christologies used to justify the state, the Church (in the “big C,” institutional sense), church wealth, war, etc. Her Christ is the preacher who counsels the rich young man in Mark 10:21 to “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” and says in 12:29-31, “The first of all the commandments is: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. / And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind, and will all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. / And the second, like it, is this: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these”; or the Church as represented by the spirit of Vatican II (though Bass isn’t Catholic herself – I gather she was raised Methodist, and now professes Episcopalianism).
I am not the audience for this book, or not the primary audience. There’s too little in the way of history to engage my interest, and too much theology whose foundation I reject. Full Disclosure: I was raised Catholic in a thoroughly secular, middle-class American family in Missouri. Before my parents’ divorce, we didn’t even go to church. When mom did begin taking us and enrolled my siblings and me in weekly religion classes, I fell in love with Catholic ritual, history and tradition, and the cool robes the priests got to wear, but I was not wedded to (nor even terribly aware of) its theology until I got interested in such topics in college, and then I became an Origenist. It’s been downhill (from the Vatican’s POV) since then.
Which is not to say that I didn’t get something from reading this book. I have scads of post-it notes littering its pages reflecting what I learned of the variety of ways Christians have interpreted Christ’s teachings through the ages, and how the “popular impulse” – often co-opted or suppressed by the institutional Church (cf., the Franciscans** or the Beguines, respectively) – keeps bubbling up to the surface to discomfit the privileged and the comfortable.
**If you want to learn more than you could ever possibly want to know about the medieval Franciscans and the related popular movements that bedeviled the Roman Church, I can’t recommend enough Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.
After the Introduction, Bass divides her narrative into five parts:
“The Way” – Early Christianity (AD 100-500) “The Cathedral” – Medieval Christianity (AD 500-1450) “The Word” – Reformation Christianity (AD 1450-1650) “The Quest” – Modern Christianity (AD 1650-1945) “The River” – Contemporary Christianity (AD 1945-present)
And within those sections (except for the last), each is further divided into a look at “devotion” and at “ethics” – How Christians interpreted the New Testament and how they implemented what they learned in the real world.
For example, in the “Ethics” of “The Way,” Bass recounts how early Christians lived a Christ-centered life: 1. hospitality - all comers were welcome; 2. communalism - all property was held in common by the faithful; 3. peace making - early Christians were pacifists by and large*; 4. aliens - all humans were “neighbors,” even if they remained outside the church.
*St. Valentine, whose feast day we recently celebrated, was a soldier who refused to fight, as was St. Martin of Tours; and one of the chief “crimes” committed by Christians was their refusal to serve in the legions.
An example of some insights found in Bass’s “Devotion” sections: In “The Cathedral,” she devotes much ink to Peter Abelard and Heloise, arguing that they were representative of the interpretation of Christ’s Crucifixion as an expression of God’s infinite love for Man, and not a sacrifice to atone for his myriad sins and to satisfy justice.
There were some fascinating figures in modern Christianity whom I had never heard of such as Vida Scudder (1861-1954). This woman’s interpretation of Christ’s life resulted in a Christian socialism – a vision of an extended monastic society where extremes of wealth and poverty were eliminated so all could pursue devotional works without hindrance. Or Harry Fosdick (1878-1969), who preached “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” in 1922 and embraced evolution because it makes Christianity a religion of hope, implying (as it does) that people can bring about positive change. Evolution leavened with religious yeast transforms humanity’s material existence into human life. (This reminds me of the Buddhist idea that knowledge unguided by wisdom is dangerous. It also reminds me of a short story I read ages ago (written in the ‘50s) where a scientist is convinced to not develop a devastating new technology when an alien gives his toddler a gun and asks him, “Would you give a child a gun?”)
Each period deserves, at a minimum, a book-length treatment of these subjects.(less)