The birth of the Middle Ages, 395-814

by H. St. L. B. Moss

Other authorsDonald Matthew (Introduction)
Hardcover, 1998

Status

Available

Publication

London : Folio Society, 1998.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tangborn
I read this book in preparation for attacking Gibbon's Decline and Fall. It covered the final years of the Empire and the many small kingdoms that sprang up in its wake. It did cover a good deal of material, and at times introduced terminology without really defining it. But it is a clearly written and complete summary of the early middle ages. I found the discussion about the differences between the different kingdoms (Lombards, Visigoths, etc) to be interesting and helpful in understanding how Europe evolved during this period.… (more)
LibraryThing member zappa
I really should have read this book 30+ years ago, when I was studying ecclesiastical and cultural history. I was bequeathed this Folio edition many years after that, but still it gathered dust, until finally a two-fold impetus motivated me to reach for it. In the first place I have this fear that far too many Folio editions merely sit around looking pretty. In the second place I had a guilty sense that I had for too long neglect the history of the (relatively) ancient world and it was time I got of my butt and did something about it.

I'm so glad I reached for Moss. In the Folio Introduction D. J. A. Matthew describes Moss (Henry St Lawrence Beaufort Moss, 1896-1960) as "a gentleman of private means" (xx). Apart from a work - perhaps more - co-produced with Norman Baynes, Moss slides off the publication radar: others may no more about him that I do. But this book was a classic, and certainly it was familiar to me from theological study days when I reached for it last August. But only in the abstract, not the reality, and the reality, in true Platonic form, was so much more meaty. Moss wrote beautifully (he was unable to lecture because he had a profound stammer) and with an obvious love of his subject. An obvious love and an encyclopedic knowledge. He carefully narrates a history leading from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Great Wall of China, from southern Ethiopia to Hadrian's Wall, and from 395-814. He dismisses the notion of "the Dark Ages," long ahead of his time (the book was first published in 1935) in reminded us that the darkness was only the darkness of modernity's laziness. He manages to weave in and out of agrarian and tribal and artistic and theological history with consummate ease, introducing this reader to vast arrays of people movements that had been a blur if visible at all. He introduces us to corruptions and redemptions, imperial and tribal and mayoral and ecclesiastical, and leaves us - or at least me - with a timely reminder that Europe's DNA is a fallible mishmash at best.

He is of course a product of his time, and that era's use of the word "Mohammedan" jars to a post 1979 reader, but while he writes of the rise and spread of Islam a little more skeletally than of other great passages of European history, he nevertheless does so respectfully and sensitively. This is a book to satisfy the appetite of the mildly curious, tantalize the appetite of the newly acquisitive, and provide useful framework and precedent for the fiercely academic student of those much neglected centuries of European history that laid post-Roman foundations of the world today.
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