THE HISTORICAL PANORAMA of the previous eighteen chapters demonstrates that all the regions of the early medieval globe were connected through trade, diplomacy, and war. Although they were not aware of this, merchants, diplomats, and soldiers interacted with each other in a framework that was partly influenced by the global processes of climate change and trade cycles. One aspect of human societies that has not come to the fore in the previous discussions of these processes is the history of intellectual discourse; and with good reason. At first glance, the texts and ideas of the educated elites are hardly the tissue that connected distant societies. Nevertheless, although they pale in comparison to the exchange of material goods, there were instances of the transmission of higher learning across cultural and linguistic boundaries. I will therefore complete this companion's exploration of early medieval connectivity by briefly presenting these remarkable cases of intellectual exchange. Before I do so, however, I will explain why higher learning did not diffuse as widely as material goods.
The Limited Diffusion of Higher Learning
In the early medieval period, like in any other period of human history, ideas travelled wherever people travelled. Since there were very few places of the globe that had not yet been settled by humans by the seventh century, it is fair to say that the early medieval dissemination of ideas was a global phenomenon. The same is true to a lesser extent for intellectual discourse, which is here broadly defined as a discourse of ideas that transcended immediate practical needs, such as for economic, administrative, or liturgical purposes. No clear-cut separation between different types of human knowledge exists, but they can all be placed on a spectrum that runs from the intuitive and practitioner's knowledge via technological knowledge to scientific and higher-order knowledge. Here, I focus on the latter end of that spectrum. This chapter therefore does not include technological treatises and ideas, but it does discuss medical texts, since those were more closely related to philosophical debates in this period.
Intellectual discussions occur in every human community, including illiterate or nomadic ones.