Journal of World History 7.1 (1996) 143-145
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In 1932 the British scholar Christopher Dawson published The Making of Europe (revised edition, 1956), which focused on northwestern Europe in the period c. 300-1000. In that work, while acknowledging Byzantine and Islamic influences, he argued that three constituent elements went into the formation of European civilization: the classical heritage of Greece and Rome, Christianity, and the customs and traditions of the Germanic peoples. Although once described as "a brilliant amateur," Dawson held a chair at the Harvard Divinity School, and [End Page 143] his thesis has dominated the teaching of early European history in North America since the 1940s. He was correct in attributing medieval people's sense of identity to their religion, as Judith Herrin's very important study The Formation of Europe (1987), confirmed, but Herrin appreciated the Greek and Islamic worlds and their impact on Europe far better than Dawson. She stressed that the Byzantine check on Muslim expansion allowed Western Christendom to come into existence. More recently and equally powerfully, John Hale's Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance (1993) demonstrates that the concept of Europe as a geographical region with a distinct civilization emerged only in the fifteenth century, and only in the sixteenth century did the name Europe enter general linguistic usage. Until then, Europe had been Christendom.
In The Making of Europe, Robert Bartlett explores "the conquest, colonization, and associated cultural changes in Europe and the Mediterranean in the period 950-1350" (p. 3). His theme is colonial conquest, immigration, and the creation of a culturally homogeneous society. The book rests on a rare knowledge of the printed German, Irish, Spanish, French, and English sources, as well as the vast secondary literature—all of it very imaginatively used.
Bartlett explores "the aristocratic diaspora" of Frankish knights to Ireland, Brandenburg and Silesia, Spain, southern Italy, Syria, and, after the fourth Crusade of 1204, the Byzantine empire; the migration of burgers to northern Spain, Mecklenburg in northeastern Germany, and the Crimean region of Russia, with the resulting colonial towns and trading networks; slavery; and castles and military technology. Especially fascinating are the chapters on "race relations on the frontiers of Latin Europe." Bartlett makes clear that when medieval people used the term race (Latin gens), they referred to ethnic differences— language, custom, and law. Race was not the socially constructed color racism of the United States that rests on biological differences.
How were newly colonized regions, such as Hungary, Ireland, and the Iberian peninsula, "Europeanized"? That is, how did such territories develop into a society culturally homogeneous with that of the geographical heartland of Europe? Through the Roman papacy's insistence on uniformity of public worship (liturgy) everywhere and on institutional loyalty; through the spreading popularity of certain saints and certain names; through the diffusion of the monastic and mendicant orders; and through the slow proliferation of that distinctly European institution, the university. The result was that the geopolitical area of Latin Christendom virtually doubled between 950 and 1350. The European Christians who sailed to Asia, Africa, and the Americas [End Page 144] in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had had long experience in colonization and cultural conquest. Although one would have welcomed information on trade across the great silk road and Western contacts with central Asia, the book represents medieval European history in a world perspective.
The strength of this magisterial achievement rests on the important questions it raises; on its reflection of prodigious learning lightly worn but creatively used; on its vivid, sensitive, and exciting prose; and on its broad perspective, which always appreciates Muslim influences on Mediterranean regions as well as pagan influences on the Baltic. If the book is perhaps too sophisticated to be put in the hands of American undergraduates, graduate students, scholars, and teachers will ignore it at their peril.
Bennett D. Hill