03.01.03, Reuter, ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History III

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John Howe

The Medieval Review baj9928.0301.003


Reuter, Timothy, ed.. The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 3 (c. 900-c. 1024). The New Cambridge Medieval History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. xi, 861. ISBN: 0-512-36447-7.

Reviewed by:
John Howe
Texas Tech University

When The Cambridge Medieval History first appeared (1911-36), it consisted of eight thematically described volumes which split the tenth century between the third volume on Germany and the Western Empire and the fourth on East Rome. Now, in The New Cambridge Medieval History (hereafter NCMH III), the "long tenth century" from c. 900-c. 1024 occupies the entire third volume. Although the editor, Timothy Reuter, like other editors of this series, expresses reservations about the original project's positivist political orientation, he then adopts much of its basic framework faute de mieux. Nevertheless, this political history is broader, less nationalistic, and more concerned with events that occurred beyond the traditional historiographical heartland of England/France/Germany. Additional thematic chapters relate to social, cultural, and intellectual history. Many of the contributors discuss more explicitly the nature and the limitations of the historical sources they use. The resulting work of synthesis is generally well written and well edited. It is a benchmark against which research on the tenth century will now frequently be measured.

The volume is organized differently than its predecessors. Expanding on a practice already introduced in NCMH II, the most important historical sources and some major ways of interpreting them are described in Reuter's "Introduction: reading the tenth century." Beyond this essay's proximate role here, it also works well as a graduate-class introduction to tenth-century research materials. Part I: "General Themes" features Robert Fossier on "Rural economy and country life"; Peter Johanek on "Merchants, markets and towns"; Janet L. Nelson on "Rulers and government"; Rosamond McKitterick on "The Church"; Joachim Wollasch on "Monasticism: the first wave of reform"; Claudio Leonardi on "Intellectual Life"; and Henry Mayr-Harting on "Artists and patrons." Part II: "Post-Carolingian Europe" includes Eckhard Mueller-Mertens on "The Ottonians as kings and emperors"; Gerd Althof on "Saxony and the Elbe Slavs in the tenth century"; Herwig Wolfram on "Bavaria in the tenth and eleventh centuries," Michel Parisse on "Lotharingia"; Constance Brittain Bouchard on "Burgundy and Provence, 879-1032"; Giuseppe Sergi on "The kingdom of Italy"; Jean Dunbabin on "West Francia: the kingdom"; David Bates on "West Francia: the northern principalities"; Michel Zimmermann on "Western Francia: the southern principalities," and Simon Keynes on "England, 900-1016." Part III: "Non-Carolingian Europe" consists of Thomas S. Noonan on "European Russia, c. 500- c.1050"; Jerzy Strzelczyk on "Bohemia and Poland: two examples of successful Western Slavonic state-formation"; Kornel Bakay on "Hungary"; Jonathan Shepard on "Byzantium in equilibrium, 886-944," "Bulgaria: the other Balkan 'empire'," "Byzantium expanding, 944-1025," and "Byzantium and the West"; G. A. Loud on "Southern Italy in the tenth century"; Hugh Kennedy on "Sicily and al-Andalus under Muslim rule"; and Roger Collins on "The Spanish kingdoms." The volume includes 15 maps and 21 photographic images of tenth-century artifacts. Its appended 26 pages of genealogies will probably earn reference tabs in many privately owned copies. Its 94 pages of bibliography contain a convenient "List of primary sources" and a less helpful "Bibliography of secondary works arranged by chapter" (an arrangement handy for expanding the footnotes but awkward for other purposes).

The NCMH III's major contribution to historiography is that it continues the rehabilitation of the tenth century. At the time when the first CMH was written, the tenth century was still sometimes viewed as the darkest of the Dark Ages. But that alleged darkness overshadowed terra incognita in which today's historians now wish to situate the "European awakening." According to this volume's "Part I: General Themes", the tenth century was a "golden age of hagiographic production" (Reuter, 3). It witnessed "the birth of the seigneurie" (Fossier, 50). Here lie "The beginnings of the European town in the form known to us from the late middle ages"; "the height of Islamic power in the western Mediterranean"; "the opening of the countryside for the exchange of goods at markets...[which] seems to have reached its height in the period around 1000"; and even "the foundations for the later-medieval trading history of northern Europe" (Johanek, 64, 68-69, 85, 92). In the course of tenth century, the office and jurisdiction of bishops was "increasingly emphatically defined"; in the tenth and early eleventh century, charters "attest to the degree of habitual reference to the papacy and its authority on a steadily increasing scale" (McKitterick, 131, 135, 138). Office books proliferated around the millennium (Wollasch, 165). Because of more individual manuscript collecting, tinkering with finished works, and personal control over book production, "it could be argued...that the forerunner of the modern intellectual was the tenth-century author" (Leonardi, 189). The work of Gerbert, inspired in part from Spain and Italy, "shows how far Carolingian culture had now been left behind" (Leonardi, 209).

The political chapters also view the tenth century as a time of innovation. What scholars once saw as a decline in kingship they now see as an experiment in decentralization. The balance of power shifts strongly to the princes, whose own rule is often being undercut by encellulement and new economic growth (Zimmermann, 452). Yet, paradoxically, royal controlled new model armies appear in Saxony (Mueller-Mertens, 242), the Byzantine Empire (Shepherd, 591), and in the Caliphate of Cordoba (Kennedy, 649); the caliph of Cordoba has a "Versailles" (Kennedy, 651) and Otto III gives Rome a Byzantine court on the Palatine (Shepard, 616-21). Across Europe, tenth-century electoral communities opted for undivided realms, creating principalities that foreshadow the nations of today (Nelson, 103). Hindsight shows the increasing cohesion of the unit that was later to emerge as "France" (Dunbabin, 372). Eastern Europe sees the creation of "'national' churches...in the fullest sense" (Strzelczyk, 534). These chapters vary in the degree to which they conflate politics and culture: some such as Loud on southern Italy, keep largely to political developments; others, such as Jonathan Shepard on Byzantium, give greater emphasis to culture.

Reference books such as this tend to privilege historiographical synthesis over brilliant reinterpretations, competence over originality. Thus it is not easy to single out individual contributions for special praise. In judging such matters, one's own research interests play a role. I myself especially enjoyed Nelson's wide ranging ideas on rulers and government; Bates's summary of the historiographic debates relating to France's northwest; and Zimmermann's ability to convey a coherent image of France's southwest. Thomas Noonan's study of early medieval European Russia is among the best such syntheses in English. Shepard's four articles on the Byzantine east effectively use details from books and inscriptions to convey the Greek ethos. The extent of documentation varies widely, ranging from the 126 notes in Claudio Leonardi's "Intellectual Life" to the eight footnotes in Strzelczyk's "Bohemia and Poland."

There are some pitfalls in the NCMH III. Thanks to very solid editing and strong contributors, uninformed generalizations have been kept to a minimum, although one could quibble, for example, about the unqualified assertion that "the musical stave was only invented in the eleventh century" (Mayr-Harting, 213); or about a discussion of the antecedents of Bohemia and Poland that misses the lively current debate over the location of Greater Moravia (Strzelczyk, 514). The major hazard posed by this hefty volume -- and the other volumes of the NCMH -- is that they can easily mislead the unwary reader who consults them in regard to particular subjects. This reviewer has now developed some existential sympathy for those who avoid reading these volumes from cover to cover. But the selective reader who reads only isolated chapters implicitly assumes that these chronologically sequential volumes and the chapters within them constitute free-standing units. This is not so. The editors and contributors have carefully parceled out their material in order to avoid duplications and omissions. This volume, for example, handles all of early medieval Russian history, from c. 500-c. 1015. But a reader interested in the tenth-century Celtic and Scandinavian worlds would need to look for them in the NCMH II. A reader interested in tenth-century Judaism will presumably look to a future volume (a contributor's death aborted the article originally scheduled for this volume). Few difficulties are likely to be caused by the aribitrary division between "Post-Carolingian Europe" and "Non-Carolingian Europe" which is based upon cultural rather than political hegemony (thus assigning Saxon England to the Carolingian world). Yet related material has been divided up among individual articles in ways which are not always intuitive: a reader interested in the politics of the early tenth-century Byzantine Empire will find less information in "Byzantium in equilibrium, 886-944" than in "Bulgaria: the other Balkan 'empire'." Readers, therefore, should take care to use the indexes provided by this and other volumes. The general index for the entire project will be greatly appreciated.

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John Howe

Texas Tech University