Skip to comments.VANITY: Review of "Mohammed and Charlemagne" by Scott
Posted on 09/03/2012 11:42:26 AM PDT by chesley
In the 1938 Mohammed et Charlemagne by Henri Pirenne, a Belgian historian, was published posthumousy. In it he developed the thesis that a people, the Arabs, credited with saving Western civilization had in fact destroyed it.
This book that I wish to review, Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisted: the History Of a Controversy by Emmet Scott (2012) is not, as it says itself, history in the normal sense, but rather the history of a controversy, one that has raged for many years: What ended Roman civilization and brought about the Dark Ages?
To start off, I wish to say upfront that I am neither a historian, an archaeologist, nor a professional book critic. I do not have the expertise to really evaluate the accuracy of his statements of fact, nor the probablities that he has correctly interpreted their import. I can only say that he presented other ideas fairly, disposed of them with logic, stated where he was making assumptions, and wrote in a readable and interesting fashion.
To jump to the end of the story first, he agreed with the thesis of Pirenne that it was Islam, and not the Germanic barbarians that destroyed the culture of the Mediterranean world.
He reasons that when the Western Empire came to an end in 476, the culture did not die, as, up until the 18th century, had been the view of of scholars. As that century progressed, they noticed that the barbarian tribes had never intended to destroy Western civilization. So what did?
At they same time, they began to notice what a great debt medieval Europe owed to the Islamic world. They read accounts pointing to Spain and the Islamic Middle East being the source of all learning and real knowledge of the time.
But as we moved into the 20th century, archaeological evidence began to pile up to show that not only did the barbarians not intend to destroy Roman civilization in the West, they in fact did not do so. It became clear that classical civilization had survived the barbarian invasions of the 5th century and that in the 6th century there had been a revival of that civilization in Gaul and Spain.
Again skipping ahead, he notes that although the Roman world went into a decline at around AD 200, it had revived at some time after the adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire. He attributes this to the Churchs strong stance against abortion and infanticide, thus reversing the demographic decline of earlier decades.
At any event, although the West had never been the urban and literate area that the Greek portion of the Empire was, it was still, in the early 600s, at a considerably more advanced state that it was just a couple of decades later. The vast agricultural estates were abandoned, and new settlements were built on hilltops that could be defended. Within a couple of decades, classical civilization had died, and medieval civilization had begun.
He covers the archaeology of the time and notes that there is none for 3 centruies from the 7th to the 10th. Not just in the West, but also in the Eastern Empire. And not only that, but also in the Islamic world.
He covers the topics of jihad and the ancient Christian fight against slavery. And he states that the ancient Viking raids were not just because of a population increase in the North, but because the Vikings were capturing slaves for the Islamic trade.
He disputes the idea that the Arabs, or the Byzantines, preserved what we have left of classical literature. In fact, he states plainly that most of what is preserved of classical leterature was preserved by Christian monks in the West.
He denies that there ever was an Islamic Golden Age and asserts that the only classical knowledge that the Arabs preserved was the utilitarian.
He comes to a large number of other conclusions, including his speculations on what the world would be like today if Islam had never developed or if Charles Martel had failed to stop them at Tours. In this chapter I detected just a hint of politically correct thinking, but just a hint. I had to agree with most of what he said.
I wont try to give all his arguments, nor all his conclusions. First, Im not sure I couild get them all right, and second, then why would you need to read the book? I will just say that I found it fairly closely reasoned, if his facts are correct. It was well wwritten, and understandable by a layman. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in either ideas or history.
To turn the sublime into the ridiculous, I spotted this comment the other day:
“In 772 King Charlemagne started fighting the Saxons and the Frisians. After screaming at each other for three years, finally Charlemagne went into his Super Saiyan form, then used the Kamehameha attack against Frieza. This very strong radiation burst hit the earth and was recorded in tree rings, visible in a growth of 1.2% carbon-14 concentration and a mini-ice age.”
Well, that part is just silly.
Vikings raiding Ireland and England to get slaves they would then haul back to Scandinavia, across the Baltic, up and then down the Russian rivers to the Caspian and Muslim slave buyers.
Does that sound like a profitable venture to anyone, given the transportation technology of the time?
The Vikings raided because they could, and because population growth in the North had made it difficult to make a living there. Also because raiding is a lot more fun than plowing. And because the governments of western Europe weren't able to stop them.
The Scandinavians did indeed raid for slaves and sell them to Muslims, but not being idiots they raided Slavic tribes in eastern Europe for that market. Everybody raided the Slavs for slaves: Magyars, Germans, Norsemen, Byzantines, steppe tribes. The origin of the word slave.
There were still plenty of slaves in Europe and an active slave trade. Didn't need evil Muslims to create one.
As I stated, I really don't have the expertise to judge the accuracy of his facts, not of his interpretations. No doubt there are many nits that could be picked. This was a minor part of his thesis, however, and not necessary for the foundation of it to stand. Also, he had some evidence.
Read it for yourself.
Very interesting article. I am especially struck by the word “posthumousy.” For some reason it tickles me. Makes me giggle. I’m not a spelling Nazi: I just can’t resist a happy mistake, a “tee-hee typo.”
Thanks for your comments. I found it so interesting that I finished it in two days. Given that my time for reading is short most days, I had to give up something. I won’t tell you what, but I expect to get scolded by my trumpet te4acher next lesson.
But it is pretty funny :)
Would be interested in reading a survey of what the actual archaeological evidence from this period indicates. I am somewhat skeptical of authors desperately trying to find evidence for their theories, rather than developing theories based on the evidence.
It seems clear that the big agricultural operations fell apart at roughly this time. There are two likely reasons, most likely intertwined: collapse of the transport mechanisms for getting large agricultural surpluses to market, and collapse of the market due to cities losing their population.
There is no point in producing much larger amounts of grain than can be consumed locally if there is no way to get it to market, and nobody to sell it to when you get there. And of course a trade in bulks such as grain can’t exist without both a good surplus production in one area and a good market in another. And cities can’t survive without a market for their products and a source of food to feed them.
The Vikings were all over the Mediterranean and at various times had states in the Med. The most certainly raided for slaves to sell throughout the Caribbean. It was part of the pleas to God of the Christians- to save them from the barbarians. Western slaves were also taken down through Kiev for sale to the Arabs and, of course for their own use in the Kievan state which was Viking in origin as was ultimately the Russian state. The Volga River was pretty much a Varangian/Viking waterway for centuries.
correction. That’s MEDITERRANEAN>>>The Vikings were all over the Mediterranean and at various times had states in the Med. They most certainly raided for slaves to sell throughout the Mediterranean. It was part of the pleas to God of the Christians- to save them from the barbarians. Western slaves were also taken down through Kiev for sale to the Arabs and, of course for their own use in the Kievan state which was Viking in origin as was ultimately the Russian state. The Volga River was pretty much a Varangian/Viking waterway for centuries.
True but somewhat exaggerated. They made it into the Med, but their forays were not significant when compared to those into other areas. For fairly obvious reasons having to do with distance and logistics.
and at various times had states in the Med.
Untrue. Normans, who were partially the descendants of Vikings, established strong states in southern Italy and Sicily, and even, as a consequence of First Crusade, in the Levant. But the Normans were assimilated French Catholics by that time, 100 years or more after their settlement in Normandy, not pagan Vikings. They were no more Vikings than was William the Norman conqueror of England.
I am quite aware of the Viking history of early Russia, and that they traded luxury goods, including slaves, with the Muslims.
My point is that given the trade routes, shipping slaves from western Europe to the Muslim lands was not economically feasible. Would probably be a two-year journey, and slaves just weren't worth that much, with possible exception of the very loveliest women or boys. Much easier to obtain slaves from eastern Europe for trade with the Muslim states.
Great book, on the last chapter.
Good arguments of logic and reason.
Not P.C., Muslims were the cause of the “Dark Ages” in Europe and Levant. Proof is in the archeology.
He made a couple of comments about Christianity.
The French and Spanish and Italian slaves did not go to the Levant. They went straight to North Africa which was Mohammedanized very early. That slave trade continued all the way up into the 1800s and was a large part of the cause of the USA’s first naval war, the “shores of Tripoli” and all that.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.