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Medieval Cities

Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade

Translated from the French by Frank D. Halsey
With a new introduction by Michael McCormick
Copyright Date: 1980
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 208
  • Book Info
    Medieval Cities
    Book Description:

    Nearly a century after it was first published in 1925,Medieval Citiesremains one of the most provocative works of medieval history ever written. Here, Henri Pirenne argues that it was not the invasion of the Germanic tribes that destroyed the civilization of antiquity, but rather the closing of Mediterranean trade by Arab conquest in the seventh century. The consequent interruption of long-distance commerce accelerated the decline of the ancient cities of Europe. Pirenne challenges conventional wisdom by attributing the origins of medieval cities to the revival of trade, tracing their growth from the tenth century to the twelfth. He also describes the important role the middle class played in the development of the modern economic system and modern culture.

    Featuring a new introduction by Michael McCormick, this Princeton Classics edition ofMedieval Citiesis essential reading for all students of medieval European history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5120-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxxii)

    Globalization has a deep history. The Belgian historian Henri Pirenne (1862–1935), educated in Belgium, Germany, and France, cast in the twentieth century a long shadow over medieval studies and the history of the European economy.Medieval Cities,originally published in 1925, resulted from lectures that the celebrated medievalist and German war detainee gave in leading American universities on both coasts and in between (Keymeulen and Tollebeek 2011, 76–84). These lectures were an early synthesis of Pirenne’s broad vision of the end of the ancient world, the rise of medieval Europe, and the origins and enduring impact of medieval...

    (pp. xxxiii-xxxiv)
    F. D. H.

    Medieval Cities,by Henri Pirenne, was first issued in its English text in 1925 and it was not until two years later, curiously enough, that the book was published (in Brussels) in the language in which it had been written. The English version was reprinted in 1934, and the continuing interest in this stimulating book has now made a new and slightly revised printing advisable.

    The occasion has therefore led the translator to reread, for the first time in nearly fifteen years, the original French text. He has as a result been impressed afresh with the author’s clarity of thought...

    (pp. xxxv-xxxviii)
    H. P.
    (pp. 1-15)

    The Roman Empire, at the end of the third century, had one outstanding general characteristic: it was an essentially Mediterranean commonwealth. Virtually all of its territory lay within the watershed of that great land-locked sea; the distant frontiers of the Rhine, the Danube, the Euphrates and the Sahara, may be regarded merely as an advanced circle of outer defenses protecting the approaches.

    The Mediterranean was, without question, the bulwark of both its political and economic unity. Its very existence depended on mastery of the sea. Without that great trade route, neither the government, nor the defense, nor the administration of...

    (pp. 16-34)

    The tremendous effect the invasion of Islam had upon Western Europe has not, perhaps, been fully appreciated.

    Out of it arose a new and unparalleled situation, unlike anything that had gone before. Through the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans, Western Europe had always received the cultural stamp of the East. It had lived, as it were, by virtue of the Mediterranean; now for the first time it was forced to live by its own resources. The center of gravity, heretofore on the shore of the Mediterranean, was shifted to the north. As a result the Frankish Empire, which...

    (pp. 35-48)

    An interesting question is whether or not cities existed in the midst of that essentially agricultural civilization into which Western Europe had developed in the course of the ninth century. The answer depends on the meaning given to the word “city.” If by it is meant a locality the population of which, instead of living by cultivating the soil, devotes itself to commercial activity, the answer will have to be “No.” The answer will also be in the negative if we understand by “city” a community endowed with legal entity and possessing laws and institutions peculiar to itself. On the...

    (pp. 49-67)

    The end of the ninth century was the moment when the economic development of Western Europe that followed the closing of the Mediterranean was at its lowest ebb. It was also the moment when the social disorganization caused by the raids of the barbarians and the accompanying political anarchy reached a maximum.

    The tenth century, if not an era of recovery, was at least an era of stabilization and relative peace. The surrender of Normandy to Rollo (912) marked in the west the end of the great Scandinavian invasions, while in the east Henry the Fowler and Otto I checked...

    (pp. 68-83)

    Almost always, in questions of origin, the amount of information available is far from satisfactory. It is therefore impossible to reconstruct an exact picture of the rise of the merchant class which inspired the commercial movement and caused it to spread over all Europe.

    In certain countries, trade appears as an original and spontaneous phenomenon. This was the case, for example, at the dawn of history in Greece and Scandinavia. There, navigation was at least as old as agriculture. Everything led men to engage in it: the deep conformation of the coast-lines, the abundance of harbors, and the subtle attraction...

    (pp. 84-108)

    In no civilization is city life evolved independently of commerce and industry. Neither antiquity nor modern times show any exception to this rule. Diversity of climates, peoples or religions is as immaterial as diversity of eras. It is a rule which held true, in the past, in the cities of Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and the Roman and Arab Empires, just as in our day it has held true in the cities of Europe, America, India, Japan, and China.

    Its universality is explained by exigence. A city group, in fact, can live only by importing its food-supply from outside. But with...

    (pp. 109-137)

    Cities, in their formative period, found themselves in a singularly complicated situation. They were faced with problems of all sorts. In them there existed side by side two populations which did not mix, and which presented all the contrasts of two distinct worlds. The old demesnial organization with all the traditions, all the opinions, all the ideas which may not have been born of it but which received from it their particular stamp, came to grips with wants and aspirations which had taken it by surprise, which went counter to its interests, to which it was not adapted and which,...

    (pp. 138-152)

    The birth of cities marked the beginning of a new era in the internal history of Western Europe. Until then, society had recognized only two active orders: the clergy and the nobility. In taking its place beside them, the middle class rounded the social order out or, rather, gave the finishing touch thereto. Thenceforth its composition was not to change; it had all its constituent elements, and the modifications which it was to undergo in the course of centuries were, strictly speaking, nothing more than different combinations in the alloy.

    Like the clergy and like the nobility, the middle class...

    (pp. 153-156)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 157-168)