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Mohammed and Charlemagne by Henri Pirenne

Mohammed and Charlemagne (original 1937; edition 1957)

by Henri Pirenne

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448533,379 (3.71)19
Title:Mohammed and Charlemagne
Authors:Henri Pirenne
Info:New York: Meridian
Collections:Your library

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Mohammed and Charlemagne by Henri Pirenne (Author) (1937)


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Showing 5 of 5
Scholars are still trying to punch holes in Henri's classic thesis. Some have been successful, some not so much, but what we must agree on, is that in order to develop a more accurate picture of the economies of the early middle ages, we must first deal with the persuasive arguments put forward by Mr. Pirenne. If you are interested in the Middle Ages at all, you HAVE to read this book, and all of his works. ( )
  Steve.Bivans | Jul 20, 2014 |
The Pirenne Thesis is one which has been much debated since this book was first published (as Mahomet et Charlemagne) in the 1930s. Pirenne's claim is essentially this: that Romanitas—Roman culture, trade, social order, etc—survived the disappearance of an emperor in the West and the Germanic invasions. European civilisation was still essentially Mediterranean and centred on the Mediterranean Sea. It was only with the emergence of Islam, which ended the unity of trade and of cultures around that sea and shifted the political and cultural centre of European gravity northwards, that Late Antiquity came to an end. From this new climate came feudalism, the medieval Church, and the Holy Roman Empire. In other words, without Mohammed, no Charlemagne.

It's an appealing idea in its neatness, and in its emphasis on the dependence between Western Europe and the areas around it, and the prose is astonishingly well-written for a first draft (Pirenne died before the book was finished, and it was ultimately published by his son). Of course, its very neatness should raise alarm bells. The archaeological evidence doesn't really accord with Pirenne's statements about it (and far more contradictory evidence has been found since he wrote), he's got some weird ideas about Islam (Muslims did trade with Christians and with other People of the Book without major issue for most of the medieval period, so far as I'm aware), and there's an anti-Semitic undercurrent to a lot of what he says about Jewish merchants. He also engages in a lot of special pleading to bolster his idea that Romanitas continued because some of its forms of government were adopted by new Germanic kings, or because popes dated their documents still according to imperial reigns. The latter in particular really doesn't tell us anything about the political situations on the ground—formal papal recordkeeping is an inherently conservative genre. That's like saying that the fact that the term "last will and testament" is still current means that most people could tell you the difference between a will and a testament.

Mahommed and Charlemagne is still a classic of the field, and important because it encouraged medievalists for the first time to really think about the implications of Western European/Middle Eastern contacts in the Middle Ages. It cannot, however, be read with unqualified acceptance. ( )
2 vote siriaeve | Jan 29, 2014 |
Henri Pirenne (1862-1935)
Edited by Jacques Pirenne assisted by F. Vercauteren. cf. Pref.
"Translated by Bernard Miall from the French of the 10th edition."
"First published in 1939."
  Muhammed_AlAhari | Sep 11, 2012 |
Now and again we have to fill in the holes in our education. This is a book I've talked about for a couple decades without actually having read it. The Pirenne thesis, that the true break between the ancient and medieval worlds and the true genesis of the West as we know it occurred with the Arab conquests in the Levant and North Africa and not with the Germanic conquests in Europe, has long been one of the core historical debates of the period, and a debate of particular interest for those of us with an interest in Islamic history and the history of the places caught between the Islamic and Christian worlds. While Pirenne is often on the losing end of the debate, and the specific arguments made by him are considered simply off base by most historians, the debate persists because Pirenne points out some fundamental dynamics of the age missing from Gibbon and his heirs and from other major historians of the period.

The book shows its age. A number of Pirenne's points are rather poorly argued, and the arguement throughout is plagued by insufficient support. It was a posthumous work, not finished and barely annotated at Pirenne's death, and in many ways is more of an outline for further work than a finished book. Indeed, the lack of detailed support makes Pirenne an easy target for more thorough though less brilliant scholarly opponents. All too often Pirenne gives us conclusions and tells us they're obvious, despite being highly controversial and difficult to support. As one example, as he talks about the role of the Jews in the late ancient world, his conclusions seem to belie his prejudices rather than his studies. He describes Jews as 'mostly' or 'substantially' engaged in banking and money lending, even while noting the significant size of the communities. The idea that the Jewish population was so thoroughly wealthy and so limited and ghettoized in its occupation seems unsustainable; given the size of the community, there would simply be too many bankers! What were his Syrians to do? Nonetheless, shining through what is at the core of a rather poorly argued work is a little bit of absolute genius, a twist of profound historical insight.

Oddly, having been exposed to the genius of the thesis for a long time, I almost find the flaws in the work more interesting than his presentation of the thesis itself. If it is the debate you are interested in, you can probably dispense with the original work laying out the theory; the kernel is here, but the analysis has long since left this book behind. But for pure historiographical interest, this one is a fascinating and fairly quick read. ( )
1 vote A_musing | Jul 18, 2009 |
Just finsihed this text. It kept me going 'till the sun came up...

http://tinyurl.com/cj2cs ( )
  hesperides | Nov 11, 2005 |
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pirenne, HenriAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Miall, BernardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pirenne, JacquesPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vercauteren, FernandEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Of all the features of that wonderful structure, the Roman Empire, the most striking, and also the most essential, was its Mediterranean character.
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Originally published in French (1937) with title: Mahomet et Charlemagne; first English ed. (1939): Mohammed and Charlemagne
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486420116, Paperback)

Remarkable classic that developed the revolutionary theory of how the advance and influence of Islam caused the Europe of the Roman Empire to evolve into the Europe of the Middle Ages. "An important...seminal book, worthy to close one of the most distinguished careers in European scholarship." — Saturday Review of Literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:20 -0400)

Remarkable classic that developed the revolutionary theory of how the advance and influence of Islam caused the Europe of the Roman Empire to evolve into the Europe of the Middle Ages. An important...seminal book, worthy to close one of the most distinguished careers in European scholarship. ? Saturday Review of Literature.… (more)

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