Virginia Cole

title.none: Goldberg, Struggle for Empire (Virginia Cole)

identifier.other: baj9928.0705.011 07.05.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Virginia Cole, Cornell University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Goldberg, Eric. Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817-876. Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. xxi, 385. $47.50 (hb) 0-8014-3890-X (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.05.11

Goldberg, Eric. Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817-876. Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. xxi, 385. $47.50 (hb) 0-8014-3890-X (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Virginia Cole
Cornell University

Eric Goldberg's Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817-876 is not a published dissertation. It is a deeper and broader work of scholarship which draws from research done for the 1998 thesis and later articles.

The book is clear, engaging, and sensibly organized. The book's presentation is also quite attractive. Included are photographs of art work, manuscripts, buildings, and models of forts and complexes from Louis' reign drawn from a variety of, sometimes not well known, European museums and archives which enhance and support Goldberg's argument. Less eye-catching but very useful are a preface explaining terminology and names and appendices of maps of pertinent regions and detailed genealogies. Such qualities as readability and attractiveness will, I think, help make a relatively inaccessible period of German history more accessible to a much wider audience of students and non- specialists. However, the book is also substantial with lots of grist for the specialist's mill.

Louis the German was the grandson of Charlemagne and the son of Louis the Pious. Louis became known as "the German" because he was awarded the Eastern territories of the Carolingian Empire upon his father's death. Goldberg believes the name has contributed to a fundamental misunderstanding about Louis who is often dismissed and overlooked particularly in much non-German scholarship. Goldberg argues that Louis' goals, ambitions, and self-image were that of a Western Carolingian Emperor like his grandfather Charlemagne.

The introduction is historiographical, situating the book within Carolingian scholarship. Goldberg draws from a greater variety of sources than previous historians, citing in particular the pitfalls of relying too heavily on the biased Annals of Fulda. And he makes good on his promise. Even so, more explicit, albeit brief, discussion of the biases of the other texts when pertinent might have been helpful. One of the many strengths of the book is not only Goldberg's mastery and close reading of textual sources, but his willingness to incorporate architecture, numismatics, ritual studies, archaeology, art, etc. The introduction and rest of the book synthesizes secondary scholarship on the Carolingians but it is also liberally sprinkled with fresh insights derived from careful attention to detail, such as Goldberg's use of Louis' itineraries on page 224.

Goldberg unabashedly admits the work is narrative and chronological, rather than thematic. I agree with Goldberg that this is a valid approach which makes a valuable companion to thematic studies. The overall organization of the book is biographical, though Goldberg avoids that term. The book is not the first biography, if it can be called biography, but it is a much needed reinterpretation of earlier, chiefly German works. Goldberg's approach is contained and balanced. He sees the flaws as well as strengths of Louis. He avoids hero worship, nationalistic biases, and wisely refrains from speculation that medieval sources often elicit.

Part one, "Winning a Kingdom" takes us from Louis' birth, childhood, and adolescence into adulthood and kingship up to the Treaty of Verdun in 842 which Goldberg reinterprets and recontextualizes. I like Goldberg's focus on the opening stages as well as the closing stages of Louis' life and his weaving the personal and psychological in with the political. Also, Goldberg has a good feel for the nuances and geopolitics of political ritual (i.e., the discussion of Louis' 838 temporary disinheritance and fall from the favor of his father, the elderly Louis the Pious on page 84).

Goldberg departs from the strictly chronological narrative in part two. The three chapters of "King in East Francia" provide background by discussing the functioning of Louis' government, his role in Church reform, his role in artistic and intellectual flowering, and the importance of warfare. Each of these discussions strengthens the central argument that Louis the German governed according to traditional Carolingian models of empire and explores Goldberg's theme of how a successful medieval ruler manages conflict and crisis.

The final section, "Visions of Europe" deals with the aging Louis and his determination to recreate a Carolingian empire which, Goldberg argues, was Western focused rather than on consolidation of "German" territories and expansion to the East. Goldberg's detailed discussion of the economic and geopolitical factors that figured into Louis' failed invasions of the West were some of the most compelling parts of the book. For me it also raised some interesting questions about what Louis hoped to achieve for his sons after his own death.

I have a minor quibble with Goldberg's occasionally flippant translations. For instance, Carloman as a "real ass-kicker" (bellicosissimus, 247) seems to have sneaked in from the classroom. The book's life has every chance of outliving such expressions' currency.

I predict the book will be a classic and a welcome addition to the growing body of outstanding new scholarship on the Carolingians and I look forward to Goldberg's future contributions to the field.