The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000

by Chris Wickham

Hardcover, 2009



Call number




Allen Lane (2009), Hardcover, 720 pages


Historian Chris Wickham defies conventional views of the "Dark Ages" in European history with a work of rigorous yet accessible scholarship. Drawing on a wealth of new material and featuring a thoughtful synthesis of historical and archaeological approaches, Wickham argues that these centuries were critical in the formulation of European identity. Far from being a "middle" period between more significant epochs, this age has much to tell us in its own right about the progress of culture and the development of political thought. Wickham focuses on a world still profoundly shaped by Rome, which encompassed peoples ranging from Goths, Franks, and Vandals to Arabs, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings. Digging deep into each culture, Wickham constructs a vivid portrait of a vast and varied world stretching from Ireland to Constantinople, the Baltic to the Mediterranean--the crucible in which Europe would ultimately be created.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member fist
This book deals with a fascinating and often neglected period in the history of Europe. Sadly, it is a very hard read. Unlike, say, John Julius Norwich, the author is hardly able to paint the larger picture in which to add the details. Combined with a writing style that is almost a parody with its
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double negations and sentences that turn around on themselves, this makes it almost unreadable as a non-fiction book, but turns it into a dense textbook where almost every sentence needs to be parsed and analysed to acquire its full meaning. Wickham is certainly a knowledgeable academic, but he is lacking the skill of successfully sharing this knowledge with the public.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
This is a narrative history version of Wickham's Framing the Middle Ages designed for a wider audience and part of Penguin's new multi-authored history of Europe series. It represents the latest views on the period and covers not only Western Europe but Eastern as well as North Africa and the
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Middle East. It's impossible to cover 400-1000AD across such a large geographic area of time with any meaningful generalization so Wickham broke it down by time and place. In the process he discredits traditional narratives and shows the period to be much richer and more diverse than generally thought (ie. myth of a "Dark Ages").

One of the ways I test a survey history is to ask how well it covers things I already know about in depth, and then put myself in the shoes of a newbie and ask myself if this is a good introduction to the material. Unfortunately I think Wickham failed in this regard - he seems to know so much that he can't help skimming over the core stuff and expanding on ideas that are subtle and difficult for a beginner to understand without context. The books value for me is in the Introduction, the first 100 pages or so, and the last chapter, in which he goes into historiography and the changing nature of the field. As well the bibliography is excellent. Certainly there is a lot to be gained from this volume and it's important but I still look forward to a more accessible history of the period.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
Just to be clear: Chris Wickham does not believe that he can explain anything. He repeats this over and over, so you'll not get the wrong idea. Let's be very, very clear: nothing in history is 'inevitable,' everything is 'contingent,' and we'd be fools to write history with our hindsight. Nope, we
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should see things as they were seen at the time. Except for women: the political role of women in the early middle ages deserves about 15% of a book covering everything from the production of wheel-thrown pottery to the highest of the high adventures, moral and military.

A historian friend of mine tells me these are the conventional pieties of professional historiography, and that I should just ignore them. But, at least in this book, they're so intrusive that it's impossible to do so. Chris Wickham obviously knows everything: from the tribes of Finland to the early Caliphates, it's all in here. He is, says the Literary Review, "a master of a pointillist narrative style." But if you add his immense knowledge to his pointillist narrative (i.e., = no narrative), you get page after page of fairly dull anecdote, none of which is put into any kind of context. Nothing can be compared to anything else without doing violence to the quidditas of the individual. Local experience is everything. If anyone has suggested the existence of a large scale trend (end of Roman civilization/ various crises/ the coming of feudalism) actually happened, Wickham has fifteen good examples to show why it didn't. This is because he disdains moralism in history (you know, the kind of thing where someone gets all huffy because King Wumba raped his mistress in 6th century Visigothic Spain. Evil Wumba! Well, fair enough). But our author is surely aware that these are not the only two ways to write history (see Maccullough, Diarmid; Judt, Tony et al...) Why doesn't he temper the mind-numbing nominalism (names of people, places and factions from the randomly chosen pp 294-5, excluding the ones most people can actually picture or point to on a map: Jubayr, Kufa, al-Farazdaq, Basra, Amman, al-Malik, Hisham, Sulayman, Gregory, Einhard, Synesios, Marwan, Khurasan, Yadi III, Al-Walid, Yamani, Qaysi, Marwan II, Kharijite, Hashimiyya, Quraysh, 'Ali, 'Abbas, Abu Muslim, Merv) with some comparison or generalization? Presumably because generalization has horns, a spade tipped tail, and makes idle hands its plaything.

After this romanticizing folly, you'll be surprised to find that the final chapter is called 'Trends in European History.' It's 13 pages long. Unless you're riveted by the catalog of ships' names in old epic poems, you might want to skip straight to them in your library copy. If you're looking for information about individuals though, this book is great. Also great are the chapters on Islam and its impact on Europe, parade of names aside. Three cheers for that.
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LibraryThing member TomMcGreevy
The Dark Ages are not as 'dark' as I had assumed. That said, this is a difficult book to read. It covers 600 years of history across Europe, the Middle East, and Turkey - in only 550 pages. Altogether, a great deal of history in a limited space.
I learned in particular that this is the period in
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which Christian morality entwined with the practice of government raising the issues which we continue to confront today. Additionally the aristocracy and royalty differentiated themselves from the peasantry by systematically disenfranchising them progressively throughout this time.
The history presented is not monolithic and the work overall is a good introduction to the complexity of the period, but only an introduction...
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LibraryThing member GlennStreet
I'm sure that there is a great deal of learning behind almost every sentence. However, the book is full of long tracts of boredom, punctuated with the occasional interesting paragraph. Too bad the author thought it necessary to provide an old-school list of names and dates without enough context.
LibraryThing member le.vert.galant
The reviews I read of this book were not promising; however, I found it to be readable, interesting, and as comprehensive a survey of this vast stretch of time as could be hoped for. The author's approach of writing history "in its own terms, and without hindsight" gives a proper complexity to the
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period's events. This is not the retrospective story of how the European nations formed but rather an analysis how the legacy of Rome was carried forward for the first 600 years after the collapse of the Western Empire.

The book gives a grand overview of the early Middle Ages, with excellent notes for further reading to flesh out the details only alluded to in passing.
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LibraryThing member jerry-book
Why Rome was important and what Rome passed on?
LibraryThing member jkdavies
Dipping in and out to be fair
LibraryThing member Paul_S
I know there's very little information available but that's no reason to latch on to any of it that is concrete and start listing names and dates I will forget two sentences later just because you have that information.

Additionally, if you removed all the repeated caveats of "we cannot be sure" and
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"this could have happened but maybe it didn't" this book would be 20% shorter. I get it. Too few written records, lots of guesswork - explaining that once is enough.
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Original publication date


Physical description

720 p.; 9.29 inches


0713994290 / 9780713994292
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