Read The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 by Chris Wickham Online


Drawing on a wealth of new material, this book aims to transform readers' ideas about Europe in the Dark Ages. From the collapse of the Roman imperial system to the establishment of the new European dynastic states, the book explores hidden achievements and eras of peace, as well as civil disorder, invasion and mayhem. Chris Wickham is Chichele Professor of Medieval HistorDrawing on a wealth of new material, this book aims to transform readers' ideas about Europe in the Dark Ages. From the collapse of the Roman imperial system to the establishment of the new European dynastic states, the book explores hidden achievements and eras of peace, as well as civil disorder, invasion and mayhem. Chris Wickham is Chichele Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College....

Title : The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000
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ISBN : 9780143117421
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 651 Pages
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The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 Reviews

  • Justin Evans
    2019-03-23 03:33

    Just to be clear: Chris Wickham does not believe that he can explain anything. He repeats this over and over, so you'll not get the wrong idea. Let's be very, very clear: nothing in history is 'inevitable,' everything is 'contingent,' and we'd be fools to write history with our hindsight. Nope, we should see things as they were seen at the time. Except for women: the political role of women in the early middle ages deserves about 15% of a book covering everything from the production of wheel-thrown pottery to the highest of the high adventures, moral and military. A historian friend of mine tells me these are the conventional pieties of professional historiography, and that I should just ignore them. But, at least in this book, they're so intrusive that it's impossible to do so. Chris Wickham obviously knows everything: from the tribes of Finland to the early Caliphates, it's all in here. He is, says the Literary Review, "a master of a pointillist narrative style." But if you add his immense knowledge to his pointillist narrative (i.e., = no narrative), you get page after page of fairly dull anecdote, none of which is put into any kind of context. Nothing can be compared to anything else without doing violence to the quidditas of the individual. Local experience is everything. If anyone has suggested the existence of a large scale trend (end of Roman civilization/ various crises/ the coming of feudalism) actually happened, Wickham has fifteen good examples to show why it didn't. This is because he disdains moralism in history (you know, the kind of thing where someone gets all huffy because King Wumba raped his mistress in 6th century Visigothic Spain. Evil Wumba! Well, fair enough). But our author is surely aware that these are not the only two ways to write history (see Maccullough, Diarmid; Judt, Tony et al...) Why doesn't he temper the mind-numbing nominalism (names of people, places and factions from the randomly chosen pp 294-5, excluding the ones most people can actually picture or point to on a map: Jubayr, Kufa, al-Farazdaq, Basra, Amman, al-Malik, Hisham, Sulayman, Gregory, Einhard, Synesios, Marwan, Khurasan, Yadi III, Al-Walid, Yamani, Qaysi, Marwan II, Kharijite, Hashimiyya, Quraysh, 'Ali, 'Abbas, Abu Muslim, Merv) with some comparison or generalization? Presumably because generalization has horns, a spade tipped tail, and makes idle hands its plaything. After this romanticizing folly, you'll be surprised to find that the final chapter is called 'Trends in European History.' It's 13 pages long. Unless you're riveted by the catalog of ships' names in old epic poems, you might want to skip straight to them in your library copy. If you're looking for information about individuals though, this book is great. Also great are the chapters on Islam and its impact on Europe, parade of names aside. Three cheers for that.

  • Dan
    2019-03-22 01:49

    The Roman Empire conquered Europe unchecked until it met the Germanic tribes beyond the Rhine. First, the Germans halted the Roman advance with Arminius’ victory in the Teutoberg Forest. Then, rampaging hordes of Germanic tribes swept across the whole of Europe, tearing down the decadant Empire as they went. Only the Christian church survived to continue Rome’s legacy as it gradually, yet steadily, converted Europe to Christianity – and by then, Europe was far more Germanic in character than Roman. So goes the popular understanding of Roman contact with the peoples of Germania. Germans and Romans are portrayed as antagonists in a clash of cultures, pitting free-spirited, vigorous Germanic tribes against the imperial oppression of Rome and in some cases the Church. But it is not an accurate view of the time. Despite Roman labelling, Germania was not a land of a single people, the Germans, nor was it even a land of various peoples who held in common a Germanic language as a source of identity. Rather, many of the so-called Germanic tribes were confederations of individuals and groups from various backgrounds who spoke a variety of languages, not just Germanic ones, and who united around charismatic leaders more so than cultural symbols. The decline and disappearance of the Roman Empire was not accomplished by the military might of those barbarian hordes, either. Rather, internal struggles over the office of emperor drew the Roman military away from the borders to fight in those struggles, thus allowing barbarian groups to raid into the Empire and in some cases move freely within it. Once within the weakened Empire on their own terms, many such barbarian groups were accomodated by the Empire and settled as overlords over particular regions. As time went by, those settled barbarian groups became the origins of later medieval kingdoms, but only after becoming far more Roman in culture than barbarian. From the height of Roman imperial power in the first two centuries A.D. through to Charlemagne’s reign and beyond, Roman ways of life and means of power were emulated by aristocracies both within and without the imperial borders, from the Vandal kingdom in north Africa to the later kingdoms in Denmark and Scandinavia. The barbarian relationship with Roman culture was not a clear-cut one of antagonism, any more than is the relationship of the rest of the world with American culture today. Just as with America now (or the West in general), Rome set the standards for both power and the good life. Whether rising through the ranks of the Roman military (even to become emperor) or ruling over their native people, barbarians sought the power and living standards of Rome, even while replacing Roman government with diverse barbarian kingdoms. This is a theme which comes through very clearly in Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome. It is also a theme which sounds distinctly similar to much of the earliest scholarship about early medieval history, in which Rome was the obvious ideal of civilization – a theme increasingly criticized from the turn of the 20th century and then replaced with an emphasis on the vitality (and validity) of Germanic culture. Wickham, however, draws upon neither the assumptions of Classical scholarship nor upon the assertions of nationalist German scholarship. Instead, he lets the evidence speak for itself, discarding ideology in favor of careful examination. As a result, one can see more clearly both the Roman and the barbarian influences on the cultures of the so-called Dark Ages. Wickham begins with an overview of the Roman Empire just before its decline, characterizing the Empire at its height and emphasizing that its failure was gradual and almost imperceptible during the lifetimes of its citizens. What held the Empire together was a civil administration devoted to tax which paid both the military and government officials. This centralized basis of pay encouraged loyalty (and a sense of belonging) to the centralized system itself, the Empire, rather than to local interests alone. Patronage and corruption were certainly alive and well in the Empire, with every citizen embedded in a hierarchical network of patron-client relationships of power and influence – but those relationships supported imperial coherence because the means of increasing personal wealth relied on the redistribution of wealth through the tax system. Imperial decline began with disruptions of the tax system, especially with the Vandal capture of Carthage which was the breadbasket of the western half of the empire. Thereafter, military and governing power devolved onto the accomodated barbarian groups like the Visigoths. From their inception, these barbarian-ruled regions developed land rents, in which the peasantry paid the rents with food and produce which was consumed by the ruling elite. In contrast, the imperial tax system collected money from the peasantry after they had sold their produce in local markets. As wealth became more localized through land rents, so the Empire gradually broke up into separate kingdoms whose elites had barbarian roots. The stable continuity of these kingdoms, often supported by the Catholic Church as in the case of the Franks, then influenced the creation of nation-sized kingdoms throughout the North, beginning with the Anglo-Saxons, then the Danes, then the rest of Scandinavia. Thus, early medieval Europe came about through multiple influences: the emulation of Rome, the spread of Christianity, and the one-up-man-ship of Germanic rulers. Wickham covers much more than this in his book, which is probably of more interest to medievalists than to Heathens. In addition to chapters covering Rome, its break-up, and the rise of the barbarian kingdoms in the wake of the Migration Age, he goes into similar depth for the Byzantine Empire, the rise of Arabic power, and the establishment of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire. Nor is there much about early Germanic religion, other than Aryan and Catholic Christianity. But if one is interested in how medieval Europe came to be, out of the mixture of Roman Empire and Germanic peoples, The Inheritance of Rome is an excellent read, elucidating the evidence from the period without grinding any one theoretical axe in the process.

  • José LuísFernandes
    2019-04-15 01:49

    Chris Wickham's "The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages" is a very good and witty survey of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages that shatters many kinds of misconceptions on the period, even if I think it's at some points overrated. Let me also add that this "enlightening" of the period is exactly what in many ways was promised (and even required) from this work, yet I think there's a partially missing field, as we'll see. In part I, Wickham exposes many features of Roman society and economy while also evaluating the impacts of the Christianization of the Empire and of its collapse in the western provinces in the 5th century. His exposition was very interesting, namely from the point of view of social and economic history, yet I think his revisionism of the late antique Roman Empire regarding its overall power goes a bit too far and there are a few "weaker" details, but perhaps the biggest issue is that it lacks an accompanying political/military perspective that might have been useful in analyzing the causes of the decline of the Roman Empire (these weren't covered enough in my opinion when these were mostly needed, or were a bit disregarded, namely in the case of the hugepost-Diocletianic bureaucracy).In part II, the early medieval West from 550 to 750 is investigated and unraveled wonderfully before the reader, from the "shadowy" regions of Britain and Ireland to the Lombard and Visigothic kingdoms. I also loved his emphasis on the study of the peasantry "in opposition" to the aristocracy of all those medieval societies (namely the Frankish), when the book could have easily have become just a history of the elites and the church. I also loved his ponderation of the "continuity vs. transformation" problem. Yet I must say that the comparison between the late Visigothic kingdom and the late Merovingians, although it's true we can't see events teleologically (the greatest fault of much books and even some good scholarship around), ends up being unfair since the Visigoths were in a period of unusual relative political stability in the second half of the 7th century. Moreover, the Visigothic kingdom was also starting to disagregate by the late 7th century (the duchies are one of the greatest signs of this), with royal authority not being respected in practice in several regions, namely on the northern mountains.Part III was probably the hardest to write for the author, since it dealt with areas almost completely out of his area of expertise (early and high medieval Italy), but he suceeds anyway in making a good introduction. He manages to make a nice, even if a bit stereotypical account of the medieval Roman Empire that suits just fine for a general survey and doesn't fall into the worst prejudices regarding this polity (he only shows some typical, old and baseless prejudices by "Byzantinists", but again, nothing that bad for an introduction). The Islamic world is treated a bit worse as Wickham just relies too much on later 9th century accounts which form the traditional narrative of the period, which has been challenged in the last decades by "Orientalists", so its value is a bit reduced, although it's decent as an introduction.Part IV is one of the best and worst of the book, depending on the chapter. Carolingian Francia, England and post-Carolingian Latin Christendom are very well explored in the period between the years 750 and 1000 on both political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic histories, yet the chapters on "Outer Europe" should have been better explored. I'll return to this issue at the final paragraph, since my wider critique is general to the work.Generally, this work has already a great scope and, considering it was written by a single man with a limited expertise (regional rather than continental, which would be practically impossible due to the impossibility of someone having a very deep knowledge of such vas a subject as late antique and early medieval Europe), it's a work of tremendous overall erudition and a monument of knowledge, that gives to the reader a very different picture from that promoted by popular culture. It also has the advantage of being written both as a potential university textbook and as a book of scientific divulgation,yet there are some flaws which I specified along the review that take one star, but I'll now develop my biggest objection to Wickham's effort. I hope that a Penguin History of Europe written by a great scholar (the author is clearly one) should try to leave the typical bias of writing mainly about western Europe (often accompanied by teleological history). While Chris Wickham powerfully manages to shatter the idea that western Europe, namely its northern and central regions, was destined to thrive and even rule the world during the much of the modern period, and manages to include the Mediterranean and the eastern polities in his narrative, still doesn't leave enough the old paradigm of looking mostly to western Europe, since eastern and northern Europe aren't adequately focused. There's just a single chapter on "Outer Europe" that tries to somehow compensate for it, but that isn't enough. Cultures like those of the Slavs, the Northmen (I refrain from the term "Viking"), the Huns, the Khazars,the Magyars, the Avars and also the peoples of pre-Frankish Germany (not in any chronological order, of course) should be much better covered given their overall interest to the History of the period and the fact they covered most of the continent. It's true that written records are much smaller for these regions if existent at all (often these records come from more sophisticated neighbours who wrote down biased accounts of them), yet a different kind of history, an archaeological, social and, when possible, religious one, should be written and I didn't see much effort at making it. I admit a single small chapter is already good for histories of this period, yet more is demanded of a brilliant work.Four solid stars.

  • Alex Telander
    2019-04-11 01:33

    Many people refer to the period of 400-1000 as the “dark ages.” After the fall of Rome, when society in Western Europe shut down, people went back to simple, primitive ways – terms like savages and barbarians are often used – as they squabbled and fought against each other, killing mercilessly for a bit of land; the only beacon of hope the growing light of Christianity. I’ve never been a fan of the term “dark ages,” or all the connotations, thoughts, and ideas that people – historians and laymen alike – infer from it. Thankfully there is Chris Wickham: a Chichele Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford and author of Framing the Middle Ages. Wickham has worked hard to educate those who are unsure or simply don’t that the period from 400-1000 was one of the most important growth period of ideas, invention, and thought in the history of Western Europe. The Inheritance of Rome does a fantastic job of explaining this in comprehensive detail with viewpoints from all of Western Europe, including the Near East with the Byzantine Empire. I won’t lie to you; this isn’t an easy summer read; it’s a heavy book in every sense of the word; but if you’re looking to educate yourself on what exactly was going on between the fifth and eleventh centuries in Europe, after reading The Inheritance of Rome, you will have amassed an impressive amount of knowledge and be able to defend yourself and the period against anyone who attempts to call it the “dark ages.”Wickham begins with a concise wrap up of the waning centuries of the Roman Empire, setting the stage for the focus of the book, which is divided into four parts: “Part I – The Roman Empire and its Break-up, 400-550”; “Part II: The Post-Roman West, 550-750”; “Part III: The Empires of the East, 550-1000”; and “Part IV: The Carolingian and Post-Carolingian West, 750-1000.” While the time periods of each part do overlap, this doesn’t prove to be a problem as Wickham is analyzing different areas, but also does a great job of linking what’s happening in a particular location with what was going on in another location in the previous chapter. The author uses maps, illustrations, diagrams, and photographs to illustrate points about the constant trade, migration and commingling of societies, cultures, and kingdoms that continued to thrive during this period and were instrumental in setting a foundation for the eventual High Middles Ages and beginning of the renaissance. Wickham does have a theme and clear point to make, which is in the title: most of Western Europe had at one time been either a part of or bordered with the most dominating and impressive empire the world has ever seen, so it makes perfect sense that most of these different cultures would try to maintain and emulate the ways of Rome, which helped spark a genesis for new forms of writing, new ways of trade and negotiation, new forms of farming, a new judicial system of laws and ways, and forced societies that had been sheltered, supported and lapped from the bosom of Rome for so long, to gain their independence and establish themselves as individuals, with unique technology, development, and cultural ways, which helped give rise to the likes of the Merovingians and Clovis, the Carolingians and Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, and many others.The Early Middle Ages has always been my most favorite period of history and I’ve never been able to explain succinctly why. It has something to do with the fall of Rome and leaving this vast world of different peoples and cultures to live on their own and develop their individuality whilst maintaining contact and trade with each other. It’s about the countries of Western Europe beginning, with the birth of many of the renowned cities we know today. The Inheritance of Rome helps fuel my interest and love for this period. And as more knowledge, evidence, and archaeology about the period is discovered, the more we learn that the “dark ages” is a great misnomer that should be stripped from this important period of discovery and development.For more reviews, check out the BookBanter site.

  • Lori
    2019-04-16 05:39

    If you want a layman's introduction to current thinking about the 'Dark Ages' of Europe (400-1000 AD) this is it. The various Penguin History series are all without footnotes and aimed at 'intelligent laymen' or undergraduate review course. The overarching theme is that each area responded differently to the changes of this time, and the more detail is known, the more localized each response becomes. At the beginning of the book (400 AD) is the Roman Empire and at the end (1000 AD) are the political entities that last for at least most of the next 500 years (although not their geographical extent). However, a map of Europe over 50 year intervals over this time period shows a lot of changes and they do not have a directionality. Europe in 600 AD looked as if it was on the verge of being reunited into one Roman Empire, 100 years later the Arabs/Muslims had a huge empire. It was like that for 600 years, which can be very confusing. The book is broken into four parts; the breakup of the Empire (400-550), early Western Europe (550-750), later Eastern Europe (550-1000) and later Western Europe (750-1000). If you want something simpler, try The Civilization of the Middle Ages.On top of that, the field of history over the last 30 years has been incorporating evidence other than written histories (registers, other written evidence, and most importantly archaeology). This has had major impact on this time period. This new evidence shows lots more continuity and lots less disruption and loss than believed 30 years ago, which has lead to the ‘Rome did not really fall’ extreme (gradualism) and the equally extreme ‘Rome did fall and it was horrific’ (catastrophism) camps. Wickham started out towards the gradualist extreme (his original area was northern Italy, an area with a lot less and much later change than others in western Europe) and has become much more centrist as he has widened his field. He has become the spokesman for the new unifying view. This new view acknowledges that there was a lot of change, but that it happened at different rates and in different ways. There are a lot of commonalities, but every area’s reaction/history depended a lot more on specific conditions than during the Roman empire. The biggest factor is the loss of an overarching unifying entity. Other factors include the rise of the Christian church as the overarching bureaucracy in the West; the split of the church and the development of the idea of heresy; the rise of Islam in the East (and its own inheritance of the Roman Empire); the change from the eastern Roman Empire to Byzantium; the migration of various people without government control throughout Europe; the overall change from a tax based government to a land based government in Western Europe; plus the increase of civilized areas (central government, literacy, etc.) in Western Europe.There is a chapter by chapter bibliography. If you want to read further, try The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph & Diversity 200-1000, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 and Britain After Rome.A quick note about paper. Penguin editions use the cheaper newspaper type paper for their paperbacks.

  • Pam Doyle
    2019-04-14 06:35

    I am really enjoying this book. It truly illuminates the Dark Ages and they weren't dark at all. Lots going on. I like the way the book is broken up into parts. I have read this book in segments as shown below. Part I - The Roman Empire and its Break Up, 400-550 (Summer 13)Part II - The Post-Roman West, 550-750Part III - The Empires of the East, 550-1000 (Winter 14)Part IV - The Carolingian and Post-Carolingian West, 750-1000It very interesting to learn about the Empires of the East: Byzantium and Arab during this time. Chapter 12 has a nice condensed/concise history of Mohammed and the Arab conquest of the Umayyad. Can't put the book down. Liked the history of the Byzantium Empire and the Persians.

  • Lorinda
    2019-04-06 01:32

    This book has more detail than any book I have ever read and almost no narrative. And yet I did read it and enjoy it almost every day for several months and finished it. For some reason I am currently obsessed with the early Middle Ages (or Late Antiquity). I feel that I should take a course in the subject (but not from Chris Wickham) so that I could really get a grasp on some concepts. The reviewer who mentions a pointillist writing style used a good term - except that with the painter Seurat the dots actually cohere into a composition. And yet it is difficult to find a really good book on this period of history.

  • Дмитрий Филоненко
    2019-03-27 05:45

    This book is so long that inevitably recalls some novels by Borges either about author of Don Quixote or about people of some empire who intended to create so detailed map of their country that it had to be the size of the country... While finishing this book on the pages devoted to XI century the very first chapters telling about V-VI centuries seemed to me so far away as these centuries really are to us, contemporary readers.The intention of the author is as huge as deserving any respect. Though sometimes the level of details could be way lower. Sorry for too many associations in this review but again this book sometimes falls into sort of Biblical chain of who born whom and how they all fought for a kingdom or an empire or a caliphate. These long periods were very tempting to skip. However while reading the similar lines about Medieval Scandinavia or Kiev Rus I realised that it might be exciting when the author writes about something relevant to a particular reader. It's always curious to look at such a view from outside: how 'they there' see 'our' part of history.I liked much an author's sober position to the subject: not to follow the catastrophist approach quite common among historians of the discussed period and not to look at it from the perspective of later epochs. History is exciting in itself, it develops without looking to the future, and it's wrong to assess any processes from the position of some future developments. As author claims the most developed region to the end of early Medieval age was Egypt, not Francia (the kingdom of Francs, not contemporary France), or England or even Byzantium. So if we would build any approximations we would definitely fail since high level in X century by no means had helped Egypt to sustain it's position in the changing world. And view on the Carolingian empire from the position of later development of France and Germany is the same wrong.It was a bit difficult to keep in memory all differences and nuances in political, economic and religious models of all discussed states and empires. But apparently the author fully realised this thus giving some useful summaries. For example, it was the Carolingian empire which first went for a tight unity of political and religious life. Both Byzantium and Arab Caliphate kept these two aspects quite separate from each other. Quite interesting observation with regard to current attitudes.Also this book deliberately covers in all available details the transition period after the Roman empire collapse (which was not a single moment event but rather a lasting process) and new state entities emergence.Well, it's difficult to restrain myself from mentioning here all valuable discoveries. I will just recommend this book. It's a really deep dive in the history of the period which is well known as Dark ages. This period is apparently not that dark!

  • Phil
    2019-04-05 05:51

    This is a superb book on the Dark Ages and a splendid introduction to the current state of this neglected field. Wickham introduces his work with a good overview of where the scholarship in the Early Middle Ages has gone in the last few decades. That was attractive to me because I had considered this field back many moon ago when I was contemplating grad school and when the field was beginning to experience a modest revival. His handling of the Late Antique material (with which I'm most experienced) was sensitive and illuminating as was his Byzantine material. My ability to judge the later periods and Islamic is rather more limited to my memory of studying mediaeval history back in my BEd. It seems sound and I like the breadth of vision in trying to incorporate Western, Byzantine and Islamic views. As a stylist, I enjoyed Wickham. He does like to introduce chapters with entertaining stories, but those stories do give an excellent hook to the reader. He manages to be entertaining without losing the scholarship. So, well worth the read, especially for those trying to learn or, in my case, re-learn the field. Thanks to my brother, Paul, who bought this excellent book for me as a Christmas present.

  • Steve Horton
    2019-04-18 23:28

    An incredible narrative of the impact of the Roman Empire on the Central Middle Ages. It is a superb survey of current historical thinking for this time period. It is insightful and well written, and a joy to consume.

  • Josef Sorm
    2019-04-07 22:47

    Demanding to follow all characters and story lines, very academic

  • Lisa
    2019-03-27 01:41

    Covering a whopping great 600 years of history, it's small wonder that this book took two months to read. Whilst some of that was at least partially the fault of my daily life becoming increasingly demanding and therefore not yielding up half as much reading time as I'd had before, it's also due to the staggering amount of information imparted. Taking us from the fall of the Roman Empire up until the year 1000 and the so-called 'Feudal Revolution', this took in the post Roman States and cultures that grew out of this fall, including looks at the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Vikings, the Merovingians and Carolingians, as well many more that I'd never even heard of before. Examining tax systems, religions, economies and exchange systems, iconography and much, much more, it seems that Chris Wickham left no stone unturned when writing this book. The only thing really missing is much on what life was like for the unpowerful (other than probably rather hard), thanks to the dearth of evidence on this aspect of life as contemporary chroniclers couldn't have given two shits about their lives and preferred to concentrate on the kings and other noblemen that were constantly blinding one another (apparently a preferred way of eliminating rivals for centuries, thanks to a commonly held belief that a ruler should be 'whole').The jumping around in time and place, along with the lack of any real common narrative drive sometimes helped to hinder my progress as I found myself having to concentrate far more on all of the incidental facts and opinions presented in order to make them stick (as it is, I'd still be hard pushed to tell you anything I learned with any sort of specificity, and would probably be reduced to statements like 'the Vandals were well lairy', and 'aristocrats have always been a complete shower of shits'), but it certainly succeeded in helping me to decide which groups I'm interested in reading more on (that'll be all the ones beginning with the letter V).**Also posted at Randomly Reading and Ranting**

  • Grady McCallie
    2019-04-04 23:45

    A excellent account of the Dark Ages, 400 through 1000, with a special focus on how patterns of political and economic organization changed over that time in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and in the Islamic world from the Middle East to Spain.After months of trying to dig into the text but bouncing off, I started underlining topic sentences, and the book came alive. For every assertion, Wickham offers detailed examples; when I stopped worrying about retaining those, the larger picture came rapidly into view. At base, Wickham argues, Western Europe saw a transformation from a civil society with a strong tax system, to a moralizing militaristic society where land ownership mattered most, to a fully feudal society with a 'caged' peasantry after 1000. Eastern Europe retained some taxes, and developed a two track governance: military and civilian officialdom, with much interaction and crossover between them. The Islamic caliphates retained a tax system, but since they relied on local leaders to collect and transmit the taxes, the governance structure was inherently fragile, and eventually collapsed into smaller states unified by common cultural, legal, and religious traditions. In the late chapters, Wickham argues that the strengthening of political control in the Carolingian empire forced communities on its border to centralize power, and those in turn caused a further ripple that eventually stretched to the northern and eastern corners of Europe.It's a judicious and comprehensive book.

  • Mark
    2019-04-17 04:51

    Wickham is a very active historian specializing in the post-Roman world up to about CE 1,000. This particular volume is part of new European History sponsored by Penguin Press. It is supposedly written for a broad audience but one needs some knowledge of the period. Don't read it for an overview.Wickham's identifies key points and analyzes the impact of these periods of change. Traditionally historians saw the "fall" of the Western Roman Empire as a pivotal moment in history. CE 476 is one of those dates that we all know. In recent decades historians have moved to viewing this date as not that important and stressing the continuation of the Roman world as the political apparatus changed. Wickham takes a slightly different approach. He agrees that 476 had little impact beyond the Roman court in Ravenna, but he attempts to show how the various areas of the Empire developing differently and how each evolved at a different pace. In this approach he also stresses that one needs to look beyond the traditional division of the post Roman world into Western Europe, Byzantium and the Caliphate and recognize the very different different experiences within various regions of these larger groupings.

  • Gavin
    2019-03-19 03:28

    Magnificent, in-depth survey of the time period between 400-1000 C.E. covering both the late antiquity and early Medieval perspectives (that means both continuities and discontinuities). Most chapters begin with a specific example from the source material and then demonstrates why or why not that example is typical of the age and region covered. Not just the big picture stuff (eg. the aristocracy, wars, religions, etc.) is in here but the small and pedestrian as well (eg. legal documents regarding peasants lawsuits against landlords, poetry, the lives of monks, etc.). A book with everything for the serioud student of the age. Changed my perspective on quite a few topics.

  • James
    2019-04-11 02:29

    I'm in megahistory mode, apparently. This is "Fall of Rome" territory, done with a more modern understanding. Which basically means: it's not exclusively concerned with Anglo/French/German pre-history, but covers all the post-Roman territories (Byzantium!), he steers between the classic understanding of "the dark ages were really really dark it all fell apart and there was no culture" and the slightly more recent "not much at all changed, he's trying to avoid teleology at all costs, and he plays up archeological evidence and plays way down battles and dates. It can be a little dry, but I found it fascinating.

  • Liviu
    2019-04-04 05:34

    Excellent book about the world of Rome after Rome so to speak - very well written and captivating, with great chapters on the Islamic world, on the Goths and later the Franks and on the structure of society and good ones on Byzantium - it took me about a month of sporadic reading to finish it, but it became a reference work to be consulted across time.Highly recommended as counterpart to both sensationalist account of the "fall of Rome" and the "darkness that came" on one hand, and "what fall, nothing really changed that much" on the other, as well as treating the subject without the benefit of hindsight and what came later, but in its own terms...

  • WarpDrive
    2019-03-31 22:44

    This is an exceptionally detailed and well thought out book.Fantastic read - a real pleasure.

  • Stone
    2019-03-29 01:24

    As a person who enjoyed reading late antiquity as much as I enjoyed watching football and drinking beers, this book hardly provoked any of my interests and it was truly a pain to even finish. The reason not being the author's incompetence or unknowledgeability, but the infusion of over-detailed anecdotes that become such a nuisance to time-treasuring readers -- of course I would appreciate being presented with exhaustive background stories about individuals who more or less related to the unfathomable theme of Wickham's historiographical Odessy, if I have the time to rest soothingly on my armchair and drink a cup of black tea in my sanctum surrounded by books and manuscripts from centuries ago. Unfortunately for any readers who attempt to "get" something useful and helpful in a timely manner, reading through the entire book would definitely be a disappointment. While I welcome adequate coverage of details and discussions of indirectly-related topics, they have to be done is an efficient and thought-provoking manners -- I find neither of those in Wickham's lengthy anecdotes. Wickham depicted himself as a firm opponent of moralism, which is totally fine to me as I personally detest moralist nutters who can't live a day without uttering empty moral judgments; the problem with the book is that while asserting his stance, Wickham seemed to approach the other extreme by completely rejecting any comparisons or generalizations. Make no mistakes -- some audience would be delighted to know that, but others (like myself) would feel deeply confused and occasionally outraged by some of the far-fetched conclusions reached in the book. Last but not least, most importantly, this book as an instrument meant to educate readers with late antiquity and early Middle Ages, did not achieve its goals, at least in my personal scenario. What the book achieved was rather a chaos, leaving me largely perplexed by plenty of unfamiliar details and disappointed as whether I really learned anything directly applicable. I have the habit of rushing directly towards the final chapter if I still couldn't arrange things in order after the first 100 pages -- and in this book's case it was a wise decision as I confirmed my belief that this author was himself somewhat confused and did not know how to tell history liking reconstructing a story, for which reasons I decide to drop the book immediately, and I do not recommend reading this book unless you are particularly interested in the individual details of, say, a 4th century Greek bishop, a 5th century Roman usurper, or some 9th century English aristocrats.

  • Lior Lichai
    2019-04-14 05:29

    Inheritance of Rome discusses Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, beginning with the "fall" of the Roman Empire in the West and transformation into the Byzantine Empire in the East and continuing through the series of political and economic shifts that took place around the beginning of the eleventh century. Dr. Wickham brings both a sense of humor and a lively flair for storytelling to his history of the era, touching on Christian hermits as the Roman equivalent of "Dear Abby" and what I like to refer to as the "Frankish Saint-Stealing Heist." He often talks about what primary sources he's basing his views on, a quality I find infinitely preferable to many other historians' tendency to write as if all their knowledge came from on high. Inheritance of Rome also discusses on people and personalities much more than a lot of other history books (apart from biographies, obviously).He does focus more on Christian countries, though there are some chapters about the Islamic parts of the Mediterranean. There's more information about the Byzantine Empire than many other general surveys of medieval history.The most striking difference is how much time he spends on peasants, slaves, "unfree workers," and other regular people, as opposed to most histories, which for the most part only discuss political, military, and religious leaders, and the occasional scholar or artist. I did have one kind of WTF moment when he said that most East Germans were totally happy under the East German government, and they only said differently after the fall of the Berlin Wall in order to distance themselves from the old regime. I did continue reading, though, because I didn't think this kind of willful political obtuseness would have an effect on his accounts on medieval history, but it was enough to make me a little skeptical about some of his views on the medieval European economy.Overall, however, I think it's an interesting, informative, and very readable history of Western Eurasia and North Africa's transformation from the Classical period to the medieval period, and I highly recommend it.

  • Peter Melancon
    2019-03-29 03:53

    Lots of information, this book was a beast for me to finish! The last hundred pages is the bibliography. However, the book itself is very detailed in how European and the Middle East changed from the domination of Rome to what would become the Middle Ages/Feudal Period beginning in 1000 AD or ACE. (whichever on you prefer) It is filled with land grabbing and treachery but the book is all about land changing and government. This is not a quick read as every chapter has a lot to say. I'd recommend this book for historians, sociologist or anthropologist academics. This was a serious book and very well written just dry for most people's taste. I give it 4 because it's a well written book but I wouldn't recommend the book looking for a quick lesson in history.

  • David
    2019-03-24 05:47

    To me, this is usually not an interesting subject. I'm easily bored by any history that doesn't have individual personalities and events to describe in detail, and a lot of primary source material and anecdote to quote (whether "Great Men" or "wo/man on the street"). But Wickham's persuasive analysis and flashes of humor make this one of the most readable books about this period I've found. He builds his arguments carefully, and is very frank about the limits of historical knowledge in describing early medieval Europe. The resulting book is going to a fixture of my bookshelf, a book I'll be returning to again and again to check his interpretations of this or that event. A great read.

  • Dana Robinson
    2019-03-19 00:36

    A dense but rewarding survey of Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic caliphates. Foregrounds the economic basis of political and social structures, with a less dominant interest in religion (although it appears as necessary). Emphasizes the diversity of the post-Roman world and strikes a good balance between respecting local particularities and identifying large-scale trends. The book is much more thematic in its structure than the traditional historical narrative. Follow the big ideas and the supporting details fall into place for a pleasant read even if the specifics of names and dates are unfamiliar (as they were for me in the later periods).

  • Martijn
    2019-04-04 01:25

    This is the second part of Penguin's History of Europe series, which I'm trying to read. It's not an easy book though and that's putting it mildly. It is very academic and tries to present many new ideas. For a non-expert reader like myself that made it a tough read. I am glad I read it though and it did change many of my views on this period in European history.

  • Ray Nimmo
    2019-03-26 22:31

    This is a very dense book. I highly suggest using a companion map like GeaCron to keep up with the many boundary movements and locations. If you don't dive too deep into the cultural ebbs and flows and focus instead on general concepts, this book will give you a great idea on the era 400-1000.

  • Jim
    2019-04-14 06:37

    I would have preferred more focus/explanation of climate, population (and disease), food/crop differences and consequences. This was a very politically focused history. If that's what you want then this was well done.

  • Arthur Sperry
    2019-04-10 00:29

    This is an amazing piece of scholarship and packed with a huge amount of detail. Not always the easiest book to read because of its specialized topics, but if you are interested in the early Middle Ages, you will find a wealth of info here!

  • Farzana
    2019-04-04 00:53

    Brilliant, extensive and readable

  • Steve
    2019-04-04 01:45

    Interesting period of history.

  • Arthur Brady
    2019-04-01 23:53

    If I could give this one 10 stars, I would. Not for the faint of heart, but indescribably worthwhile.