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The Birth of Europe as a Eurasian Phenomenon1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2008

R. I. Moore
University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Although they still differ considerably in their willingness to acknowledge it, specialists in the history of north-western Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries CE are increasingly treating it as that of the emergence of a new civilization in what had previously been a peripheral region of the Mediterranean-based civilization of the classical west, rather than as a continuation or revival of that civilization itself. In this light Europe, or Latin Christendom as it saw itself, offers a number of striking resemblances to the developments which Lieberman discusses. The most dynamic regions of the new Europe—north-western France, Flanders and lowland England, north-eastern Spain, northern Italy, southern Italy and Sicily—were all peripheral, though in various senses, both to the long-defunct classical civilization and its direct successors, the Byzantine and Abbasid Empires, and to the transitional and much more loosely based ninth-and tenth-century empires of the Franks and Saxons (Ottonians). To this one might add that by the end of the twelfth century the remaining rimlands of the Eurasian continent in a purely geographical sense—Scandinavia, including Iceland, and still more the southern coast of the Baltic and the areas dominated by the rivers which drained into it—were developing very rapidly indeed.

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2 Outstanding general accounts include Goff, Jacques le, Medieval Civilization (1964, Engl. trans., Oxford, 1988);Google ScholarBarber, Malcolm, The Two Cities: Medieval Europe, 1050–1320 (London, 1992);Google ScholarFossier, Robert, Enfance de l'Europe, Xe—XIIe siècles: aspects économiques et sociaux (2 vols, Paris, 1982);Google ScholarPoly, J.-P. and Bournazel, E., La mutation féodale (Paris, 1980,Google Scholartrans. The Feudal Transformation, New York, 1991), all with excellent bibliographical information.Google Scholar

3 Lieberman, this volume.

4 As summarized by Bayly, C. A., Imperial Meridian (London, 1989), pp. 3574.Google Scholar

5 That is to say, in the sense of Childe, V. Gordon, What Happened in History? (Harmondsworth, 1942), meaning the appearance of ‘citied’ or complex civilization, though not with all the implications of Childe's rather mechanistic Marxism. For most European medievalists the phrase ‘urban revolution’ evokes, more straightforwardly,Google Scholarthe world of Pirenne's, HenriMedieval Cities (trans. Halsey, F. D., Princeton, 1925, revised 1952).Google ScholarFor current vigorous debate on the distinct but related argument whether there was a ‘feudal revolution’ around the year 1000, as adumbrated particularly in the writings of Duby, Georges (e.g. The Three Orders, Chicago, 1980)Google Scholarand Bonnassie, Pierre (e.g. From Slavery to Feudalism in Northwestern Europe, Cambridge, 1991),Google Scholara view now powerfully challenged by Barthélmy, Dominique, ‘La mutation féodale, a-t-elle eu lieu? (Note critique)’, Annales ESC xlvii (1992), 767–77;Google ScholarLa société dans la comté de Vendôme de l'an mil au XIVe siècle (Paris, 1993),Google Scholarsee Bisson, Thomas, ‘The Feudal Revolution’, Past and Present 142 (1994),Google Scholar and discussion by Barthélmy, D., White, S. D., Reuter, T. J. and Wickham, C. to appear in Past and Present, nos 152–4 (19961997).Google Scholar

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47 Southern, R. W., The Making of the Middle Ages (London, 1953).Google Scholar The once greater temptation represented by the title of a similarly classic account of the European experience, Bloch's, MarcFeudal Society (Paris, 1941, Engl. trans., London, 1963) raises even greater difficulties as a general description, whether the word feudal is employed with its Marxist connotationsGoogle Scholar (as by Wickham or Anderson, Perry, Passages from Feudalism to Antiquity (London, 1974)), or as Bloch preferred, with reference to a shared set of legal principles relating the tenure of land to the holding of public office and the performance of public obligation, which is no longer generally thought applicable even to western Europe itself in the period under discussion:Google Scholar cf. Reynolds, Susan, Fiefs and Vassals New York, 1994).Google Scholar

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