THE

RISE OF THE SARACENS

AND THE

FOUNDATION OF THE WESTERN EMPIRE

PLANNED BY J. B. BURY

EDITED BY

H. M. GWATKIN

J. P. WHITNEY

 

NICE READING

 

THE present volume of the Cambridge Medieval History covers the stormy period of about three hundred years from Justinian to Charles the Great inclusive.

It is a time little known to the general reader, and even students of history in this country seldom turn their attention to any part of it but the Conversion of the English. Hence, English books are scarce — Dr Hodgkin’ s Italy and her Invaders is the brilliant exception which proves the rule — and the editors have had to rely more on foreign scholars than in the former volume. Some indeed of the chapters treat of subjects on which very little has ever been written in English, such as the Visigoths in Spain, the organization of Imperial Italy and Africa, the Saracen invasions of Sicily and Italy, and the early history and expansion of the Slavs.

Professor Diehl begins with two chapters on Justinian, one dealing with the conquest of Africa and Italy by Belisarius and Narses, and the imperial restoration in the West, the other devoted to the administration in the East — the Empress Theodora and her influence, Justinian’s buildings and diplomacy, and government civil and ecclesiastical. The city of Constantinople is reserved for the same writer in Volume IV.

Dr Roby follows, with a general survey of Roman Law, of its history and growth, and of its completion by the legislation of Justinian. A survey of this kind has hardly been attempted since the famous forty-fourth chapter of Gibbon.

Then Professor Pfister takes up the story of the Franks at the accession of Clovis, where he left it in the first volume, and traces the growth and decline of the Merovingian kingdom to the deposition of the last of the rois fainéants. He then follows it up with another chapter on the political and social institutions of Gaul in Merovingian times — the King, the Mayor of the Palace, the Bishop, the origin of the benefice, the state of literature and commerce.

In the next chapter we turn with Dr Altamira to the Visigoths in Spain, and follow their stormy history from the defeat at Vouglé, through the Councils of Toledo, to the times of Count Julian and the Saracen Conquest, and to some further discussion of Gothic law.

The next writer is Dr Hartmann, who traces the early history of the Lombards and their settlement in Italy, their conversion and the story of Theodelinda. After her come Rothari and Grimoald, and the great king Liutprand, and parallel with the main narrative is traced the history of the duchies of Friuli and Spoleto. So he comes to the conquests of Aistulf and the Frankish intervention, and then to the reign of Desiderius, under whom the Lombard power seemed to reach its height —and vanished in a moment at the touch of Charles the Great.

The next section, also by Dr Hartmann, is on the Byzantine administration of Africa and Italy. Its special interest is the development of local powers in Italy — not only the Pontifical State, but Venice and other cities. We can see before the fall of the Byzantine power that Italy will be a land of cities.

Then Archdeacon Hutton takes up the life of Gregory the Great. He has to tell of Gregory’s administration and his measures for the defense of Rome from the Lombards, of his dealings with Emperor and Patriarch, of his relations with Brunhild and Theodelinda, and of his oversight of all the Western churches, reserving only the Mission to the English for a later chapter.

Then Mr. Norman Baynes gives a living picture of Justinian's successors — the unpractical Justin, the pedant Maurice, the crusader Heraclius, and of the tremendous vicissitudes of the Persian War, with Persians and Avars at one time besieging Constantinople, and Heraclius within two years winning the battle of Nineveh, and dictating peace from the heart of Media.

The next three chapters are devoted to Islam. If this is the most brilliant part of Gibbon's narrative, it is also the part which more than almost any other needs revision in the light of later research. Professor Bevan begins with the life of Mahomet, and Dr Becker of Hamburg follows with the expansion of the Saracens, relating in one chapter their conquest of Syria and Egypt, the overthrow of Persia, and the rise and fall of the Umayyads. In another he traces their westward course through Africa and Egypt to Spain till their defeat at Tours, and then turns to the formation of Muslim kingdoms, their conquest of Sicily and their attacks on Italy to the coming of the Normans.

Mr. Brooks takes the successors of Heraclius to the coming of Leo the Isaurian. The chief topics of this chapter are the advance of the Arabs and their attacks on Constantinople, the history of the Monothelete Controversy, and the fall of the Heraclian dynasty.

Dr Peisker takes us into a new region, describing the original country of the Slavs, their society and religion, and their modes of warfare. He then discusses their place in history, their relations to their German and Altaian conquerors, their spread on the German border and in the Balkan countries, and the new social conditions which prevailed when Slav states became independent.

Professor Camille Jullian’s section on Celtic heathenism in Gaul goes back to the times of Caesar, but it coheres closely with Sir E. Anwyl’s pages on Celtic heathenism in the British Isles. These are placed here rather than in the former volume for the purpose of bringing them into connection not only with Germanic heathenism but with the Christianity which replaced them. Our material, not rich for Gaul, is scanty for Britain: it is only when we come to Germanic heathenism—the section taken by Miss Phillpotts that we seem to see the living power of the religion.

The next is an analogous chapter devoted to Christianity. Mr Warren first tells us the little that is known of Christianity in Roman Britain, then relates the story of its spread to Ireland and Scotland.

In another section Mr. Whitney traces first the conversion of the English from Augustine's landing through the reigns of Edwin and Oswald to the decisive victory at Winwaedfield, followed by the Synod of Whitby and the coming of Theodore. He then turns to Germany, where the story gathers round the names of Columbanus, Willibrord and Boniface, and stops short of Charles the Great's conversion of the Saxons by the sword.

Mr. Corbett takes up the history and institutions of the English from Edwin's time to the death of Offa. The thread of his narrative is the growth of Mercia —the ups and downs of its long struggle under Penda with Northumbria, the revolt under Wulfhere, and the formation of the commanding power wielded by Aethelbald and Offa. Its overthrow by Ecgbert belongs to the next volume.

Mr. Burr contributes a short chapter on the eventful reign of Pepin — a man whose fame is unduly eclipsed by that of the great Emperor who followed him. Its main lines are the change of dynasty, the intervention in Italy, the Donation, and the conquest of Aquitaine. Then Dr Gerhard Seeliger surveys the Conquests and Imperial Coronation of Charles the Great. He begins with the destruction of the Lombard kingdom, the precarious submission of Benevento and the settlement of Italian affairs: then come the disaster of Roncevalles and the gradual formation of the Spanish March. After this the annexation of Bavaria, the break-up of the Avars, and the long wars with Saxons and Danes. There remain the idea of the Empire, the events which led to the Coronation and its meaning, and Charles’ relations to the Eastern Empire.

Professor Vinogradoff then discusses the foundations of society and the origins of Feudalism. He describes the various forms of kinship, natural and artificial, the organization of society, the growth of kingship, taxation, the beneficium, and the fusion of Roman and Germanic influences which resulted in Feudalism.

Dr Seeliger returns to the legislation and administration of Charles the Great. He marks the theocratic character of the Carolingian State, and proceeds to describe the king and his court, the royal revenues, the military system, the assemblies, the legislation, the provincial officials, the missi dominici, and the failure of the central power, and of the Empire with it.

Dr Foakes-Jackson concludes with a survey of the growth of the Papacy, chiefly from Gregory to Charles the Great of its relations to the Empire and the Lombards, of its negotiations with the Franks, of the Frankish intervention and the beginnings of the Temporal Power, and of the circumstances and significance of the Imperial Coronation. He covers much the same period as Professor Seeliger, but he puts the Papacy instead of the Franks in the foreground of his picture.

We are indebted to our critics for many hints and some corrections, and we gratefully acknowledge their appreciation of the splendid work done by Dr Peisker and others of our valued contributors: but on one important question we are quite impenitent. The repetitions of which some of them complain are not due to any carelessness in editing, but to the deliberate belief of the Editors that some events may with advantage be related more than once by different writers in different connections and from different points of view. Thus, to take an instance actually given, the sack of Rome by Gaiseric is a cardinal event in the history of the Vandals, and a cardinal event in that of the last days of the Empire in the West. In which chapter would they advise us to leave it out? Repetitions there must be, if individual chapters are not to be mutilated. Nor are we much concerned about occasional disagreements of our contributors, though we have sometimes indicated them in a note. Consistency is always a virtue in a single writer; not always in a composite work like this. We have often called the attention of one contributor to the fact that another is of a different opinion; but we see no advantage in endeavoring to conceal the fact that students of history do not always come to the same conclusions.

 

H. M. G.

J. P. W.

April 1913.