(My review on goodreads)
I didn’t finish this book. In fact, I only read it at all because I was on vacation and out of e-books that I wanted to read and found this on my Kindle because I had downloaded it at some time because it was free.
This is history as it was often written at the turn of the 20th century: a succession of conflicts between the leaders of factions or of principalities. No examination of social structure, no analysis of class conflict, no interest in cultural context. The simplest possible narrative of this or that coup or battle or treaty or alliance. A twisty little maze of passages all alike, continuing for four centuries.
I say “as it was written at the turn of the 20th century”, but should note that this style of history is still popular today, as witness the YouTube channel “Kings and Generals.” And in a period and place of cultural stasis, as the period from the 5th to the 10th century in Europe certainly was, it may be that a chronicle of the internal and pointless conflicts is about all that can be achieved.
Still, though, Europe was a different place by the 10th century than it had been four centuries earlier. For one, the Church had become largely unified around an imposed dogma and any questioning of that dogma was heresy punishable by painful torture and death. A large fraction of the classical cultural heritage had been destroyed or hidden away, and that which remained was interpreted along the lines of (confusing, contradictory, and opaque) Church doctrine. All vestiges of rational debate and analysis had been eliminated. By the 10th century the old Roman social structures of slavery and an established and centralized hierarchy had been replaced by a loose structure of localized feudal relationships. The dispersed nature of the social and political world, together with the by-then centralized structure of the Church, created the dynamic that led to the the inquisition beginning in the 12th century, as well as to the renaissance 200 years later, and the reformation a century after that.
So despite the evident stasis and stagnation, society evolved during this period. But this book says nothing about that (or at least, not in the first 40% that I read). This suggests that a proper history of the period would be akin to geology: to look at the really big picture and see what systemic changes occurred and to try to understand and explain what specific elements of society led to those tectonic shifts.