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The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonisation and Cultural Change, 950-1350.

Western Europe in the middle ages was steadily expanding, and the process brought changes to the character, not just of the newly included areas, but of Europe itself. Bartlett contends that the steady enlargement of the edges of western Europe through conquest and immigration, and the cultural changes inherent in this, led to an increasingly homogenous society. The process of expanding and Europeanizing western Europe was never completed, but scrutiny of it shows close similarities with later colonizing by Europeans in other parts of the world.

Bartlett begins by examining the expansion of Latin Christendom. This can be measured in the east by the numbers of new bishoprics founded on the frontiers. Elsewhere, however, newly conquered areas which were already Christian and so already had bishops (he uses the example of Ireland) might well be subjected by their conquerors to a process which was tantamount to reconversion, but which had the same effect of leading to greater uniformity in refiffious organization and practice.

The expansion of the Latin church was paralleled by what Bartlett calls the "aristocratic diaspora" - a movement among the predominantly Frankish aristocracies to acquire new and more substantial lordships in lands ranging from Sicily to Ireland, from Pomerania to Spain. He rightly rejects the traditional demographic explanation for the explosion in land-grabbing of the eleventh and twelfth centuries as too simplistic, suggesting that new family structures, working against inheritance by younger sons, had at least as much to do with the outward expansion of the European aristocracy as a population explosion. New military technology, including heavy armoured cavalry, crossbows and stone castles, was crucial to this outward movement. It made conquest possible and was then adopted in those lands of northern Europe which had been subjugated by means of it, or which saw its merits. The pattern, however, is less valid for the south, where the more sophisticated Mediterranean cultures were less eager to borrow from their west European rivals.

The aristocratic expansion was mostly characterized by conquest, often brutal, always assertive. At a lower level, however, expansion was perhaps more effectively achieved by migration and settlement. The latter often reflected the ethnic background and or legal arrangements (particularly with regard to urban law) of the immigrants.

Medieval colonists mere interested in extending the homeland, not exploiting the raw resources of the colony. The stronger monarchies of the fourteenth century actually put a brake on the expansion of Christendom, preferring to concentrate on taking territory from each other. Earlier it was knights, churchmen and merchants who combined to push back frontiers - and on the whole they created new political units rather than subordinating old ones.

The most distinct way in which they did so was by diffusing certain easily accepted forms - blueprints as Bartlett calls them - including the religious order, the town charter, the university. With these came other changes: the spread of the cults of some saints (and the near elimination of others), and the standardization of names, of charters and of coin types. Language was diffused as the newcomers moved in. Although some languages died out and others mere preserved by conscious efforts of native peoples to avoid assimilation, bilingualism and linguistic borrowing were common in frontier areas. This was true also of law, although most often incomers brought their law with them, usually to the disadvantage of the newly conquered. Similarly in the church, although there were serious efforts at accommodation, colonizers tended to dominate and churchmen were often among the most effective in spreading the cultural ideas of new arrivals. This tendency wa strengthened by papal demands for cultic and ritual uniformity and a widespread acceptance of the concept of a gens christiana and even of a territorial Christendom.

It was unusual, however, before the fourteenth century for colonizers simply to impose their government and way of life on the conquered (though the English tried just that in Ireland). In the late middle ages, by contrast, there was a growth in racism, including a new emphasis on biological differences, which was made to justify more domineering behaviour on the part of conquerors. The later attempts to impose the government and culture of the newcomers stimulated a reaction, however: later medieval western Europe was bordered in the east by militantly ethnic separatist political units. Bartlett might have set this tendency more fully in the context of developments in the universal church. While the latter was strong, it supplied a, adequate framework to link the new lands with the old: as it weakened, stronger governmental and political ties were needed, but were also deeply resented.

The book, perhaps inevitably, has some unevenesses. The author pays great attention to eastward expansion - into eastern Prussia, Poland, Lithuania, and the eastern Baltic in particular. The Spanish frontier and Ireland also receive extensive consideration, but although other peripheral areas are mentioned, the treatment is less fun. France, the heartland of most of the "blueprints" which ultimately gave a uniform character to Europe, seems to be under-discussed. The French had their own "colonizing" movement at the beginning of the thirteenth century, when northern France absorbed the Languedoc. The work of James Given, (State and Society in Medieval Europe: Gwynedd and Languedoc under outside Rule, Cornell 1990) perhaps appeared too.late for Bartiett to use, but provides an interesting comparison to his work. Given!s analysis of the English conquest of Gwynedd dosely resembles Bartlett's more general picture. Languedoc was rather different: the French govemment was less able to exploit it economicany and was obliged to adapt much more to what was ah-eady in place. Nevertheless, though Given does not emphasize this, Languedoc shared manv experiences with other frontier areas - the gradual conquest of its language, the implantation of new chartered towns, the foundation of universities (though admittedly the first attempt at Toulouse failed), the suppression of idiosyncratic tendencies in rel@on (and not merely of heresy) through the religious orders. Bartlett's definition of what is periphery and what is heartland at a particular moment is deliberately vague but the omission of the Languedoc misses an area which is very germane to his discussion.

I found the treatment of Angevin Sicily and southern Italy also a little disappointing. The Norman conquest of the south was much more successftd than that of the French under Charles of Anjou, but Charleg's incursion into southern Italy was arguably intended as a colonizing effort in Bartlett's sense of the term. Bartlett presumably prefers to see it as an internal struggle betymen European poviers, but it vvould have bome some discussion, if only as a focus for dealing with some of the inevitable imprecisions in Bartlett's treatment of expansion. Besides, it was another, and not unimportant step in the process of European homogenization.

The book is nicely produced and contains a large and easily consulted bibliography, but I hope that its style of references does not become generally adopted. The editor has decided to omit note numbers, so that the reader must identify the relevant endnote from a truncated quotation or summary of the text. This means that, while readers may expect that all quotations will have a reference, there is no way of knowing whether to look for a note on other material. For example, there is one on cerealization, referring to its second appearance in the text which is easy to miss, and distinctly conftising if found serendipitously. Do small footnote numbers really reduce the readability of a book so much?

These are slight objections, however, to a book which, in addition to providing a stimulating new approach to the history of medieval Europe, is brimming with fresh insights and ideas. Scholars and laymen alike should enjoy and benefit from it.
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Author:Small, Carola M.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1994
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