The Roman Empire, the greatest European empire of all time, slowly collapsed during the fifth century. By the time Augustine died, he and others in his generation were aware that the vast international structure under which they had lived their lives was disintegrating. Roman legions withdrew from various provinces—Britain and Spain, for example; chaos and confusion grew in all the border regions; and the citizens in the capital became less and less committed to the Roman political responsibility. In the outlying regions of what had been the Empire, new local arrangements to provide security and community sprang up. This process was different in every region. In what had been Gaul, a new Frankish state appeared. In Spain, a new Visigothic state arose. In northern Italy, a new Lombard state led by "The King of Italy" appeared. The most important aspect of this new situation was that no new empire replaced the old one. In this new world there would be many competing states, and these would constitute the emerging Medieval Europe. This development was creative and positive; it meant new institutions, new languages, new styles of literature, and new religious structures. This reordering is our subject for week 12.
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This book by Henri Pirenne is one of the great interpretations of the Dark Ages. Pirenne was a Belgian Medievalist who was fascinated by the role of Islam in Medieval history.
Mohammed and Charlemagne,
Meridian Paperback, 1959,