Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade

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Princeton University Press, 1956 - History - 185 pages
6 Reviews

Henri Pirenne is best known for his provocative argument--known as the "Pirenne thesis" and familiar to all students of medieval Europe--that it was not the invasion of the Germanic tribes that destroyed the civilization of antiquity, but rather the closing of Mediterranean trade by Arab conquest in the seventh century. The consequent interruption of long distance commerce accelerated the decline of the ancient cities of Europe. Pirenne first formulated his thesis in articles and then expanded on them in Medieval Cities. In the book Pirenne traces the growth of the medieval city from the tenth century to the twelfth, challenging conventional wisdom by attributing the origins of medieval cities to the revival of trade. In addition, Pirenne describes the clear role the middle class played in the development of the modern economic system and modern culture. The "Pirenne thesis" was fully worked out in the book Mohammed and Charlemagne, which appeared shortly after Pirenne's death.

Pirenne was one of the world's leading historians and arguably the most famous Belgium had produced. During World War I, while teaching at the University of Ghent, he was arrested for supporting Belgium's passive resistance and deported to Germany, where he was held from 1916 to 1918. In 1922, universities in various parts of the United States invited him to deliver lectures: out of these lectures grew Medieval Cities, which appeared in English translation before being published in French in 1927.

  

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Review: Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade

User Review  - Katie - Goodreads

Henri Pirenne is a great historian and a great writer. His books are always really enjoyable to read, clear and approachable while still being very intelligent. This one isn't an exception. Medieval ... Read full review

Review: Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade

User Review  - Krishna - Goodreads

A little gem of a book, that presents what has been elsewhere called the "Pirenne thesis" -- that the Dark Ages descended on Europe not with Ostrogoths' capture of Rome in the 5th century, but with ... Read full review

Contents

THE MEDITERRANEAN
3
THE NINTH CENTURY
26
CITY ORIGINS
56
THE REVIVAL OF COMMERCE
77
THE MERCHANT CLASS
106
THE MIDDLE CLASS
130
MUNICIPAL INSTITUTIONS
168
CITIES AND EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION
213
BIBLIOGRAPHY
235
INDEX
241
Copyright

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About the author (1956)

Belgian-born historian Henry Pirenne spent most of his professional life as professor of history at the University of Ghent. During World War I, he was a leader of Belgian passive resistance and spent several years as a hostage of the Germans. As a historian Pirenne centered his attention on the urban development of the Low Countries during the medieval period. In Medieval Cities, published in 1925, he argues that medieval urban development grew out of regional fortresses. With the economic revival beginning in the tenth century, city and town life expanded. These communities created their own laws, allowing the development of individual freedoms. Pirenne is best remembered, however, for the "Pirenne thesis" about the foundations of European civilization, which he put forth in his 1937 work Mohammed and Charlemagne. The thesis is that the great event that pushed Europeans into the formation of their own civilization was not the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century but the Islamic conquest of much of the Mediterranean.

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