Book Summary: The Making of Europe… 950-1350” by Robert Bartlett

The Making of Europe

Title: Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 1350-1350
Author: Robert Bartlett
Scope: 4 stars
Readability: 3 stars
My personal rating: 5 stars
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Topic of Book

Bartlett describes the expansion of Western European culture throughout the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages.

If you would like to learn more about how Europe expanded and became rich, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

My Comments:

Generally, when one thinks of the expansion of Western Europeans, one thinks of the world-wide empires from 1500 to the 20th Century. There is another period, however, which is at least as important: the Middle Ages.
During the Middle Ages, what we now think of as European culture and institutions emerged and spread across the continent. Without this expansion, the later conquests would not have been possible.

Key Take-aways

  • What we now think of as Western European culture originated in Francia (northern France and Belgium), the heart of the Carolingian empire.
  • The economic basis of this expansion was a new type a agriculture, based upon a heavy iron plows pulled by teams of ox or horses and cereal production.
  • This new system of agriculture lead to a very large expansion of population that fueled migrations and military conquest in all directions.
    • Northern Franks to the rest of France, England (Norman conquest) and northern Spain.
    • English to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland
    • Germans to Central, Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries
    • Spanish conquest of Spain and Portugal (reconquista)
    • Crusaders to the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East.
  • Key institutional innovations emerged in Francia and then spread outwards:
    • Towns
    • Universities
    • Representative counsels
    • Roman Catholic Church
  • This expansion was generally led not by great armies, but by individual feudal knights and aristocrats migrating in search of lands to conquer.
  • Peasant settlers then followed these knights to settle those lands.
  • These settlers brought their language, religion, culture and institutions with them.
  • By 1400 Western European culture spanned most of the continent.

Important Quotes from Book

“from the eleventh century a period of exceptionally intense creative activity began within western Europe. The invasions that had marked the earlier period (Viking, Magyar and Saracen) ceased; and from the eleventh century until the slump and crisis of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries stretch the High Middle Ages, an epoch of economic growth, territorial expansion and dynamic cultural and social change.”

“The vitality of European society between the late tenth and early fourteenth centuries can be seen in many spheres of life. The scale and speed of production and distribution were transformed: the population grew, the cultivated area expanded, urbanization and commercialization restructured economic and social life. Alongside the spread of money, and of banking and business devices, there developed in some areas a level of manufacturing activity that had never previously been attained. The same creativity is found in social organization. In many areas of life fundamental institutions and structures were given their decisive shape in these centuries: the incorporated town, the university, central representative bodies, the international orders of the Roman Catholic Church – all date from this epoch.

By the year 1300 the European world was relatively densely settled, productive and culturally innovative.”

“the establishment of states by conquest and the peopling of distant countries by immigrants along the peripheries of the continent: English colonialism in the Celtic world, the movement of Germans into eastern Europe, the Spanish Reconquest and the activities of crusaders and colonists in the eastern Mediterranean. It asks what developments in language, law, belief and habit accompanied warfare and settlement.”

“The situation in the Mediterranean was very different. Here, unlike in the east or north of Europe, Latin Christians encountered cultures that were at least as literate and civilized as their own.”

“Frankish Europe’, as we may call it, the lands ruled by the Carolingians, was the heart of the West.”

“all the indirect evidence suggests that a zone running roughly from south-east England to central Italy would possess a higher concentration of population and higher levels of economic activity than elsewhere. In particular, northern France and northern Italy proved extremely innovative regions. Most of the new religious orders of this period, for example, originated here and spread outwards. Northern France, the birthplace of Gothic architecture, scholasticism and Arthurian romance, gave thirteenth-century civilization much of its distinctive flavour.”

“The incursion of a feudal cavalry élite, the immigration of peasant settlers, the formation of chartered towns, the introduction of a more widely diffused documentary literacy and coinage – all these aspects of Irish history can be paralleled in other areas experiencing the expansionary wave of the High Middle Ages.”

“The expansion of the High Middle Ages was a matter not simply of Latin Christendom growing, but of the territorial growth of a certain kind of society. It tended to describe itself as Roman and Christian, but also recognized the Celtic lands as alien to it.”

“One of the more striking aspects of the expansionary activity of the tenth to thirteenth centuries was the movement of western European aristocrats from their homelands into new areas where they settled and, if successful, augmented their fortunes. The original homes of these immigrants lay mainly in the area of the former Carolingian empire. Men of Norman descent became lords in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, in southern Italy and Sicily, in Spain and Syria. Lotharingian knights came to Palestine, Burgundian knights to Castile, Saxon knights to Poland, Prussia and Livonia.”

“agricultural profits were the indispensable foundation for both their local position and their far-flung ventures”

“Knights and magnates from France were especially well represented in the crusades and not only participated in new conquests in southern Italy and the British Isles, but also contributed to the Reconquest in Spain.”

“The chief zone of German expansion in the High Middle Ages was eastern Europe. Here German aristocrats established themselves over an immense area. Knights from Saxony could be found in Estonia on the Gulf of Finland, in Silesia along the Oder and throughout Bohemia and Hungary. New family fortunes were made east of the Elbe. Just as the British Isles, the southern part of the Italian peninsula and the eastern Mediterranean witnessed the arrival of aristocrats from the kingdom of France (and Lotharingia, the French-speaking region in the western part of the Holy Roman Empire) in these centuries, so eastern Europe saw knights and magnates pushing eastward from the German kingdom.”

“By the late Middle Ages 80 per cent of Europe’s kings and queens were Franks.”

“the need for expansion inherent in a developing feudal society… “two main elements: the demand of vassals for fiefs and the desire of lords for fighting men. There was a circularity to this system. The more land one had, the more knights one could enfeoff, and the more knights one had, the easier it was to conquer new lands.

“The decline in opportunities for some members of the military aristocracy – notoriously, of course, younger sons – may have been the impetus to emigration.”

“The successful conquerors or warrior-immigrants of the High Middle Ages expected a reward and that reward was typically what they called a fief,”

“It was not only the conquest principalities that saw the imposition of feudal forms. Native dynasties that brought in foreign knights also created a network of fiefs to support them. The immigration of Anglo-French and Anglo-Norman knights into Scotland at the invitation of the native royal dynasty”

““Marriages between incomers and natives were sometimes common… intermarriage was usually between immigrant men and native women. Marriage into powerful local families was indeed one way newcomers could establish their position, since they would immediately acquire kin, property and patrons”

“The long-term impact of aristocratic immigration was largely determined by issues of manpower. Where the immigrants were few in number it would prove impossible to pursue a policy of expropriation and expulsion.”

“The medieval aristocracy was primarily a military aristocracy… As a consequence the spread of the Frankish aristocracy entailed diffusion of a military technology – armaments, fortifications and methods of waging war – from its place of origin in the old Carolingian heartlands (to which one may add England after the Norman Conquest of 1066) into other parts of Europe. The expansive power of these aristocrats and the eagerness with which rulers recruited them is partly explicable by the military edge their technique of war gave them.”

“Within the central parts of north-western Europe there were three main characteristics of warfare in the period 950–1350: the dominant position of heavy cavalry, the ever-expanding role of archers, especially crossbowmen, and the development of a particular kind of fortification – the castle – along with the countervailing siegecraft. Knights, bowmen, castles”

“the heavy cavalry formed a military élite”

“the most important distinction seems to be between those areas that had heavy cavalry and castles by around 1100 and those that did not. A sketch map of military techniques in non-Mediterranean Europe around the year 1100 would show three zones. The first would be the region already described, including northern France, Germany and England. In this zone warfare centred around heavily armoured cavalry, castles, siegecraft and, increasingly, bowmen. There were two other zones. One of them was the zone where foot soldiers predominated. This included Scotland, Wales and Scandinavia. Here men fought on foot with spears and bows, axes and swords.”

“The final zone was a region of cavalry, but of light, not heavy, horsemen. Eastern Europe, including the lands of the West Slavs, the Baits and the Hungarians, made up the largest part of this zone, but warfare in Ireland seems to have been similar, in its basic outlines, too. The Irish horsemen were notably the lightest in Europe, having neither stirrups nor true saddles and acting as mounted spearsmen or javelineers, but the eastern Europeans too employed a lighter cavalry than that of Germany or France.”

“the contrast between western and non-western forces in the Mediterranean was less striking and the westerners’ superiority less clear-cut than in non-Mediterranean Europe.”

“Only at sea did the westerners attain and preserve an enduring and decisive advantage in the Mediterranean.”

“One of the most central developments of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was the expansion of this world of knights and castles into that other world. The diffusion of the new technology had profound political repercussions; it transformed Celtic, Scandinavian and eastern European society.”

“Military technology spread in three, closely related ways. The first was conquest… “The second way the technology spread was a direct consequence of the first. As the aggressive forces threatened the supremacy of native rulers and aristocracies, so these countered in the most effective way – by imitation. By the mid-thirteenth century the rulers of, for instance, Wales or Pomerania had become virtually indistinguishable from their foes in armament and methods of waging war (as in much else). The third path of military diffusion was a variant of the one just mentioned. Many rulers in the Celtic world, in the north and in the east of Europe adopted the military techniques and organization prevalent in England, France and Germany not simply as a desperate defensive measure, but as part of a conscious, intentional policy of developing their power”

“If the Germans (or the Danes, who also invaded at this time) wished to establish hegemony in the region, they had to use local people. They needed them not only as agricultural producers, paying tribute and tithe, but also as military auxiliaries. There were not enough foreigners to support an autonomous military establishment. Yet, if the native forces were to be effective auxiliaries, they had to have at least some contact with the superior techniques of warfare of their German leaders. In this way, the seepage of technical knowledge began.”

“the technical gap was not so immense that the natives could have no hope of ever catching up.

“Difficulties of terrain often muffled the impact of the heavy cavalry of western Europe, not only in Wales and Ireland but also in eastern Europe.”

“If native rulers encouraged the transformation of their own society, they could maintain their power against external threats. It was a kind of inoculation. It was a process which took place in several countries – Scotland, the West Slav principalities of Pomerania and Silesia and the Scandinavian countries – and it involved various related changes. A native aristocracy would have to be won over and transformed or else rendered harmless; foreign immigration would be encouraged; a new aristocracy might be created; relations with external powers might be fundamentally modified.”

“In the High Middle Ages the population of Europe was not only growing, it was moving. Some of this movement was over short distances, as the new towns were filled with migrants from nearby villages, or rural colonists established daughter hamlets or farmsteads a walking distance from their original homes. Also, however, there were movements of population, by land and by sea, that took settlers hundreds or even thousands of miles from their birthplaces, sometimes into environments that were climatically or culturally utterly strange to them.”

“the overall redistribution of the European population is clear. As population grew, there was a movement of people outwards from the western central European core into the continental peripheries that adjoined it on all sides, the Celtic lands, the Iberian peninsula, scattered parts of the Mediterranean and, especially, Europe east of the Elbe.”

“For most of the Middle Ages and in most parts of Europe it was more common for lords to have land and lack men to work it than the reverse.”

“The vast movement of new settlement, migration and colonization that took place in the High Middle Ages was based on this model of labour recruitment, not on enserfment or capture. The free village, consciously designed to draw new settlers, could be found everywhere, most notably in the parts of Europe, such as the Iberian peninsula and the lands east of the Elbe, which were opened up to large-scale immigration in this period”

“The settlers who came to newly established villages had to be given special conditions and privileges, both to encourage them to come and to enable them to establish themselves. There had to be compensations for the long journey, the severance of family and local ties and, perhaps, the disposal of other property. The new conditions and status that were offered to them on the frontiers of settlement must be a magnet strong enough to break the bonds that held people in place. Then, when the migrants reached their new destination, the early years might be hard and precarious,”

“In the first years of settlement it was customary that rents and tithes should be lower than usual or even waived completely”

“The most obvious thing that lords were offering and migrants seeking was land. In the crowded parts of the Rhineland, Flanders or England population increase was gradually but relentlessly diminishing the size of the peasant holding, or the prospect of obtaining one at all; in Europe east of the Elbe and Reconquest Spain there was land for the asking.”

“In general, new settlers were not subjected to labour services (the duty to work on the lord’s land) but paid rent in cash or produce,”

“The word that summed up all these rights and privileges was simple but pregnant – freedom.”

“The weight of the evidence, however, despite the German triumphalism of it all, is that the Germans introduced a heavy, asymmetrical plough to a Slavic and Prussian world that had previously known only the ard.”

“The new settlers, new ploughs and new mills meant ‘improvement’ (melioratio terrae), and ‘improvement’ meant the expansion of cereal cultivation. What was involved was thus not simply a shift from wild to tamed, but a move to a highly particular form of land use.”

“Standardized sets of legal provisions were available by the twelfth century. At the most general level there were some basic principles of urban liberty, such as free status, exemption from tolls and the grant of limited monopolies, which were intrinsic to the very concept of a chartered town. On a more specific level, whole bodies of positive law regarding town administration, civil and criminal procedure and the regulation of economic activity could be borrowed by one town from another. The result was the creation of families of town law, groups of urban settlements whose legal arrangements were, at least initially, modelled on a ‘mother town’.”

“It was not until the late Middle Ages, however, that the princely assault on urban autonomy became widespread or effective. Between the late fifteenth and the mid-seventeenth centuries the appellate jurisdiction of Lübeck collapsed as the towns were jurally integrated into the territories of neighbouring rulers or reduced to submission by their nominal overlords.”

“Urban networks – of trading contacts and family ties as well as legal bonds – had their places of origin in the core areas of central western Europe and extended outwards geographically. The very earliest sets of urban privileges arose in the lands around the Rhine, with those of Huy on the Meuse being one of the most explicit and well known. Towns elsewhere then began to borrow from Lotharingia and the Rhineland. The lines of influence radiate outwards, from Normandy to England to Wales to Ireland, or from Westphalia to Holstein to Estonia, or from New Castile to Andalusia. Scottish urban law originally derived from that of Newcastle upon Tyne, and the first constitutions in Bohemia draw on the Saxon models.”

“Many of the bigger trading cities of eastern Europe were either partially Germanized in this way, or (like Riga, discussed below), were entirely new foundations of German settlers.”

“The German colonial settlement in eastern Europe was fundamentally different from the other great new trading network of the High Middle Ages, that of the Italians in the eastern Mediterranean, because of the existence of towns like Gadebusch, Parchim and Kröpelin, small market centres deeply involved with the surrounding countryside, whose burgesses were German-speaking traders and artisans of strictly limited horizons. It was the small market town that was the vehicle of ineradicable cultural transformation in the great land spaces of Europe.

Just as urbanization and Germanization went together in eastern Europe, so urbanization and anglicization accompanied one another in the Celtic lands. The new chartered towns that arose in Scotland, Ireland and Wales in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were marked out by their immigrant, mainly English population.”

“one of the clearest instances of an expansionary movement in the High Middle Ages is the spread of western seaborne commerce from the limited sphere within which it was constricted in the tenth century to the far-flung trading network of the Italian and German Hanseatic merchants that existed in the fourteenth century. The transformation took place gradually, but with a discernible quickening of pace in the eleventh century.”

“It was eastward, however, via the Baltic, that the most innovative and exploratory trading world was created. The crucial step in this expansion was the definitive foundation of Lübeck, the German gateway to the Baltic, in 1159.”

“when the Germans came to the eastern Baltic they found lands which had only a limited urban development. Here, along the trade routes, they planted cities whose topography and legal structure were modelled on those familiar to them from Lübeck or Soest – colonial cities, in the medieval sense of the word ‘colony’, new settlements rather than political dependencies.”

“The university was one of the most powerful instruments of cultural homogeneity to arise in the High Middle Ages… these international centres of learning and education had, by the thirteenth century, acquired something like their modern form: corporate, degree-granting institutions run by teachers who lectured to, disciplined and examined students. Their geographical distribution was very uneven. France and Italy were easily predominant both in numbers of universities and in the fact that each possessed one of the outstanding academic centres of the Middle Ages – Paris, for arts and theology; Bologna, for law.”

“Beyond this area – which would be roughly included in a triangle with its angles at Cambridge, Seville and Salerno – there were no universities before 1350”

“Between 950 and 1350 Latin Christendom roughly doubled in area, and, while this religious expansion did not always involve either conquest or immigration, it often did.”

“All along the borders of Latin Christendom there was thus a dramatic reversal of the pattern of victimization. Places like Hamburg, Pisa and Barcelona lost their frontier status and became instead prosperous centres of colonizing and mercantile activity.

From the eleventh century the mariners of western Europe showed a power they had not previously possessed, the ability to land armies at almost any point in their known world. ”

“The commercial expansion of the High Middle Ages took the form of a gigantic double pincer movement, hinged on Hamburg and Lübeck in the north and Genoa and Venice in the south, whereby Italians stretched eastwards to Egypt and Russia and westwards to north Africa and the Atlantic, while Germans entered Eurasia via the Baltic rivers as well as trading west to the cloth towns of Flanders and the wool markets of England. The trading cities of Germany and Italy simultaneously expanded and integrated the economy and culture of the West.

“The long frontier of Catholic Europe, which extended from Spain to Finland, consisted of two very distinct zones. In the Mediterranean, Catholics confronted Muslim (and Greek) societies which were at least as wealthy, as urbanized and as literate as their own.”

“The situation in eastern and northern Europe was entirely different. Here Catholics encountered less populous, less urbanized and non-literate societies, whose religions were local, polytheistic and idolatrous.”

“the local pattern of race relations was shaped by the extent and nature of foreign immigration. It made a great deal of difference whether the immigrants were conquerors or peaceful colonists, an overwhelming majority or a thin trickle, landowners or labourers, capitalists or ecclesiastics. One large zone of ethnic intermingling was eastern Europe, as it was transformed in the High Middle Ages by the eastward migration of Germans, the so-called Ostsiedlung.”

“Further east, in parts of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia, German immigration was more limited and concentrated especially in the towns. In these kingdoms the majority of the rural population, substantial minorities in the towns and the aristocratic and royal dynasties remained Slavic or Magyar. German burgesses formed a scattered, privileged class, often relying on the support and patronage of native kings:”

“All around the fringes of Europe garrison societies could be found.”

“The introduction of an alien castle-building cavalry élite into the Celtic lands and eastern Europe was followed by peasant immigration, a rise in the importance of cereal farming, the establishment or tighter organization of the Church and urbanization.”

“In many of these [non-Western] societies direct predation had been an important structural feature. It was not the occasional excess of the lawless but the prime activity of the free adult male population; not a sideline, but an essential method of obtaining goods and labour; not a cause for shame but, if successful, a source of pride. The primary purpose of such predation was the kidnapping of people and livestock from neighbours… But the main purpose of the warfare practised by the Irish kings or the Lithuanian chiefs was to obtain cattle, horses and slaves.”

“Just as the immigrant knights came to seek fiefs rather than plunder, so the Church saw the possibility of tithes – guaranteed extraction from a new sedentary Christian population. All around the peripheries the High Middle Ages saw the new enforcement of tithes.”

“Linked with the declining importance of direct predation and its replacement by extraction of rent and tithe was a shift from an economy in which slavery was important to one in which it was peripheral.”

“The colonialism of the Middle Ages was quite different [from later European Imperialism]. When Anglo-Normans settled in Ireland or Germans in Pomerania or Castilians in Andalusia, they were not engaged in the creation of a pattern of regional subordination. What they were doing was reproducing units similar to those in their homelands. The towns, churches and estates they established simply replicated the social framework they knew from back home. The net result of this colonialism was not the creation of ‘colonies’, in the sense of dependencies, but the spread, by a kind of cellular multiplication, of the cultural and social forms found in the Latin Christian core. The new lands were closely integrated with the old”

“It was thus the knightly–clerical–mercantile consortium, not the apparatus of kingly power, that orchestrated the most characteristic expansionary movements of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.”

“With the exception of Ireland – which can perhaps be termed a colony in the modern sense – the eventual result of the outward movements of the Middle Ages was never the permanent political subordination of one area to another.”

“Codifiable blueprints such as the chartered town, the university and the international religious order crystallized in the West between 1050 and 1200”

“The world of the early Middle Ages was one of a diversity of rich local cultures and societies. The story of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries is of how that diversity was, in many ways, superseded by a uniformity. The cultural and political forms that spread in this period were marked, like the alphabet, by a lack of local association and resonance: the western town and the new religious orders were blueprints, and that means they were neither coloured nor constricted by powerful local ties.”

“By the fourteenth century a large part of Europe, including England, France, Germany, Scandinavia and northern Italy and Spain, had come to possess a relatively high degree of cultural homogeneity. The whole fringe around this area, however, was characterized by a mixture of, and often conflict between, languages, cultures and, sometimes, religions.”

  1. “Why the West Rules-for Now: The Patterns of History” by Ian Morris
  2. “Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity” by Walter Scheidel
  3. “Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850” by Joel Mokyr
  4. The WIERDest People in the World” by Joseph Henrich
  5. “A Culture of Growth” by Joel Mokyr
  6. “Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World” by Deirdre McCloskey
  7. “The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created” by William J. Bernstein
  8. “Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World” by Deirdre McCloskey
  9. “Why Europe?: The Rise of the West…” by Jack Goldstone
  10. “Why did Europe Conquer the World?” by Philip Hoffman

If you would like to learn more about how Europe expanded and became rich, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

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