The Origins of the Early Medieval State

Paul Fouracre looks at the states that formed after the Fall of Rome and the early historians who questioned whether the barbarians were oppressors or liberators.

Charlemagne has a statue of the Saxon god Krodo torn down, while a church is built in its place. Engraving by Matthäus Merian the Elder, 1630.Historians, it seems, like to complicate things. This is certainly the case with the early history of the states that formed in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Ian Wood’s recent book, The Modern Origins of the Early Middle Ages (2013), shows how the formation of the states that followed Rome was argued about for centuries, sometimes fiercely, according to the national concerns of each generation of historians. But Wood also shows how this subject was always discussed within a narrow range of agreed terms: Rome fell, barbarians took over and new states formed in the conquered areas, taking their names from the conquerors, thus England from the Angles, France from the Franks and Lombardy from the Lombards.

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