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Post Roman European Cultural and Economic Development

Info: 4046 words (16 pages) Introduction
Published: 17th Jun 2021

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Tagged: Cultural StudiesEconomicsEuropean Studies

Charles Colbeck. 1905. Europe at the death of Charlemagne.

The Public Schools Historical Atlas. Longmans, Green; New York; London; Bombay. 1905.

The dynamics of the economy of Carolingian Europe 700-950 AD.

(Climate change, Settlements, hierarchy, and trade)


The final demise of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD produced a series of successor states around Europe. The Frankish Empire was the most prominent kingdom in Western Europe. The central Frankish lands within the former Western Roman Empire were adjacent to the rivers Rhine and Maas in the north. When small kingdoms collaborated with the remaining "Gallo-Roman" authorities in the south, a single kingdom unified them, established by Clovis I. in 496 AD. Clovis's dynasty, the Merovingian, ultimately was replaced by the Carolingian dynasty in 751 AD.  As a result of the Frankish rulers' almost constant war, the most significant expansion of the Frankish Kingdom changed the geographical picture of Europe in the early ninth century at that time under the name of The Carolingian Empire (Figure 1).  During the rule of these two dynasties, the Frankish Empire included several mostly autonomous states, and there was a profound distinction between the eastern and western realms. The Eastern part was originally called Austrasia, based on the Rhine and Meuse Rivers, and spread eastward to Central Europe evolved into the Holy Roman Empire. The Western side took place in northern Gaul, and as the original Merovingian kingdom, it came over time to be described to as Francia, now France (Fehr, 2010)

This paper aims to provide an archaeological overview of the socio-cultural and economic developments of the first post-Roman North-West European Union's communities under the 'Frankish' rulers between 700-950 AD. The chronological range of this paper summarises the period of Carolingian dynastic supremacy. By this range, it is possible to analyse the textual sources that often outline a short period or one particular event and the material culture, which regularly results from a compilation of socio-cultural actions from a different time-scale (Loveluck, 2005). In terms of structure and methodology, the first paragraph will discuss by relying on academic studies, how the Carolingians expressed themselves across Europe through the use of Roman Imperial identities, and how their acts impacted the wider rural world and towns concerning social hierarchy. The second part will offer a new perspective to understand the complexity of Carolingian Europe's economic changes. New scientific results such as ice-core analyses force present-day scholars to revisit outdated assumptions and ideologies and integrate the conclusions of medieval climate change evaluations into archaeological interpretations.  The third part of this paper aims to picture better the complexity of the larger-scale trade, exchange, and socio-cultural interactions between 700-950 AD by reconsidering historical textual sources and archaeological material culture.  In the end, the conclusion will summarise the main points of the arguments and their evidence.

Figure 1. The map represents the Frankish Kingdom and its changes (Western, Central and Eastern-parts) between 768-843 AD. http://images.classwell.com/mcd_xhtml_ebooks/2005_world_history/images/mcd_awh2005_0618376798_p356_f1.jpg

Rural settlement hierarchy from the Carolingian court to peasant societies

The Carolingian dynasty ruled the Frankish Kingdom and its successor states during the 8th-10th centuries after overcoming the Merovingians in 751 AD. Textual sources provide a comprehensive overview of the political events from this period. However, they offer limited evidence of the hierarchy and relations between rural settlements (Loveluck, 2013).

For this detail, we can refer to the archaeological record to provide evidence of the structure and character of hierarchical relationships that may have occurred in and between various forms of settlement in Carolingian Europe. That evidence can demonstrate long term settlement changes and provide a large-scale perspective for scholarly researches. Archaeological material culture (such as buildings, dress accessories, bioarchaeological remains, coinage, pottery, grave goods) highlight the definition of settlement features, including the nature of their productions and structures, local and long-distance trading activities, burial practices and socio-cultural framework. However, to accurately explain what material culture represents, they should be examined in a larger interpretative sense, including the scope of inclusive scientific and textual data (Loveluck, 2013).

The Carolingian Frankish kings/emperors in alliance with the Papacy in Rome directly copied Roman imperial representations/identities to stabilise their reign and legitimate their new social and political status. The Western Roman Empire itself was the symbol of power, the wealthy lifestyle, and produced a high quality of arts worldwide. It is understandable the aristocracy of the successors after its final demise used Roman technology and political practice (use of imperial materials, titles, and striking of gold solidus coinage) to consolidate their position across Europe (Coupland, 2014). The stone-built complex in Aachen, Germany (Figure 2) represents a wild variety prove of the appearance of the Roman period's symbolism.  The palace, which Charlemagne chose, became the symbol of the Carolingian Empire's power, located today in the German land of North-Rhine, Westphalia. The palace borrows several Roman Empire features: the 'aula palatina' follows a basilica-type plan. Basilicas in ancient times were public buildings where the local people's conflicts were solved. The chapel follows models from ancient Rome: grids exhibit classic decorations, and Corinthian capitals exceed pillars. The marble sarcophagus decorated with a depiction of Proserpina's abduction gives Charlemagne a resting place, in the Palatine Chapel. The massive towers directly take attention to the building complex, which is also Roman design (Airlie, 2000, p. 3).

Figure 2 represents Aachen Palace- (Germany) building complex  down, and on the left upper corner the floor plan of Aachen Cathedral with Charlemagne's palace chapel highlighted in the center. By G. Dehio and G von Bezold (1888). Die Kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlands, Lithograph.

Imperial palaces were established around the Carolingian Empire with very similar features as the Aachen palace. They also take designs from the Classical world, such as Paderborn from east of the Rhine, Westphalia, Germany or Palace- Monastery- Saint-Denis in Paris (Hodges, 2000); (Loveluck, 2005).

The significance of political centres consists of more than artistic expressions. Airlie, through textual based evidence, outlined the importance of the courts in the Carolingian period. The political centres were the place of values and theological beliefs, the structure of socio-cultural activities and vital, continuously evolving institutions of authority among the Carolingian elite. The court was a very sophisticated system which attracted people and resources from all over the empire. Peasant went there to seek protection from their lords, and young nobles learned military and courtly arts in those places. Monks from the most splendid abbeys also knew that they needed a high status born candidate because just a well-connected individual could work for them as a patron at court. The Carolingian Empires' rulers often visited their palaces and courts located in specific areas of well-populated royal force such as the Oise and Aisne valley, the lower Meuse area, Rhine valley and Regensburg. With this method, they had a broader opportunity to control the socio-cultural and economic events among the empire  (Airlie, 2000). In a reflection of archaeological material culture, the range of continental settlement forms to address is still highly debated among present-day scholars. There is a general tendency to label towns, villas and villages in a variety of ways such as rural, secular estate centre, emporia and other denominations (Davies, 1988); (Sykes, 2004); (Loveluck, 2005). The degree to which these definitions can be used as normative terminology has not been apparent within archaeological data, which has indicated a broader spectrum of ambiguity in terms of settlement character and hierarchical status over the site's lifetime. There is a variance in the definition of 'urban' but generally, settlements of this period are more likely to be defined as a more practical concept as the archaeological view has shifted towards a more functionalist approach at a settlement definition that stresses the more expansive economic feature of settlements.  What defines a 'town' in the early mediaeval era has been widely debated. It has increasingly become proposed that the concept could fit into what the individuals of current societies perceived to be a town or urban  (Loveluck, 2005). The ideology in previous researches that significant settlement changes in the studied region started only from the seventh century seems to be overturning. Loveluck outlined evidence from northern France Lorren and Perin, which shows that new settlement agglomerations took places from the end of the six century through the seventh century. The newly established settlements were not close to earlier periods' cemeteries nor the already existing socio-cultural focal points. More likely, they can be viewed as subsistence settlements with husbandry and agricultural specialisation, which may produce surplus and taken part in inter-regional trade and exchange (Loveluck, 2005). The possible reasons for these nucleated and sporadic type settlements will be discussed later in this paper.

Settlements were continuously expanded (Rijnsburg), abandoned (Gondelancourt-Les-Pierrepout and Brebieres) relocated or actively occupied (Mondeville, Villiers-Le-Bacle) in a reflection of economic and ethnocultural changes throughout the Carolingian time which process can be traceable only by using extensive cross-departmental scholarly evidence (Loveluck, 2005); (Verhaeghe & Loveluck, 2005); (Curta, 2019).  According to Loveluck and Verhaeghe's studies, Northern France and Flanders provided limited evidence through archaeological excavations regarding smaller settlement characteristics and development (Verhaeghe & Loveluck, 2005). Are they entirely self-sustaining or they are a part of small hamlets or larger settlement clusters? The sand regions of the southern Netherland offered valuable information considering these particular matters. Theuws in his research argued that the farmsteads until the mid-seventh century, evidence from Reusel-De Mierden and Geldrop, developed into a more significant hamlet agglomeration included more than five farm units with centralised earth-fast and ancillary structures (Theuws, 2019). A similar tendency can be seen in the case of Venray’-s Brukske in the Limburg region of the Meuse valley were a continuous transformation was investigated by Theuws from between the fifth to seventh and the eighth-century settlement site to twelfth-century hamlet (Theuws, 2007). Doesburg also added some compelling evidence concerning medieval settlement dynamics from western, central and northern Netherland's peatland reclamations represented in Figure 3 (Doesburg, 2019). The people who settled these landscapes established both dispersed and nucleated settlements.

Figure 3 represents the Neatherlands and the massive peat areas in the western, central and northern part of the country . (Doesburg, 2019, p. 209)

The earliest reclamations were thought to have been carried out in the tenth century in the north of Noord-Holland Province, from they scattered the other parts of northwestern Europe. In modern days, this perspective shifted significantly. The archaeological examinations evidence that the earliest peat reclamation was occurred in the Iron Age and Roman period, whenever settlers stayed along the edges of peat marsh. The medieval reclamations also took places at an earlier time than previously assumed more precisely in the 6th and 7th century, which thesis coincide with Loveluck's theory who also assumed the beginning of the settlement changes at the same period (Doesburg, 2019). So, the peat margins were occupied first, but settlers went deeper into the Carolingian era's wetlands. Several nucleated settlements by the time evolved into villages with a church and grassland. In other peat areas, reclamations led to more vibrant settlement arrangements. Settlements changed once or multiple times within the reclamation area, creating abandoned places or secluded medieval churches and churchyards not too far from the modern places (Doesburg, 2019). This ideology supports Theuws's research. He noted that male funerary materials from Geldrop and Dommelen offered belt sets and paralleled them with archaeological artefacts from Mosel and the middle Rheine regions. Theuws linked the establishments and the development of the existing hamlets with territorial relocation and population growth with the changing of a more significant estate and the occurrence of new elite identities into the socio-cultural related material culture which may not have been local to the region (Loveluck, 2005). For example, in the case of the stone church of Valkenburg from the 9th century located in the Rhine delta which provided male grave with weapons. It can suggest a higher status representation for this settlement in comparison with sites like Geldrop and Dommels within a hierarchical context (Loveluck, 2005); (Theuws, 2007); (Theuws, 2019).

After all, it can be seen that rural settlement hierarchy shows a complex picture in terms of its characteristic, ethnocultural and socio-political transformations through the Carolingian period.  The next part will take a closer look at the possible reasons why these various settlement patterns occurred in and around Carolingian Europe through a scientific approach.

The impact of Climate changes on Carolingian Europe: cattle pestilence, cereal failures and diseases

The question of what caused the occurrence and various characteristics concerning settlements, some of them isolated but others established close to a politically and culturally more significant places in Carolingian Europe still controversial. The understanding the nature of this continuously evolved period, with a large-scale commercial interest and complex social system, provide a constant challenge for the modern-day scholars. Now in a reflection of rapid developments of new technological devices and methodologies, the various scientific departments' participants more often collaborate for the sake of a more precise representation of the human past. Of course, this is quite a new approach, but it is increasingly considered accepted among both local and international academic environments.

The case studies which are connecting new palaeoclimatology evaluations with the history of the medieval period, including the Carolingian era, revolutionised the current knowledge of the medievalists (Burri, 2011); (Buntgen, et al., 2016); (Clifford, et al., 2019); (Loveluck, et al., 2018). McCormic, in one of his research, surrounded the possible effects of climate change, specifically on Carolingian Europe (McCormic, et al., 2007). He explored paleoclimate data from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2) and compered with textual sources of climate events in Europe from the eight to the tenth centuries. Historical written data between 750-950 AD provided a rich representation of climate anomalies, including volcanic eruptions, flooding, famine, various diseases and cattle pestilence (McCormic, et al., 2007). McCormic and his team distinguished eight major volcanic events. This part of the paper will investigate the possible reasons for settlement occurrence and changes in Carolingian Europe along with these climate anomalies.

Loveluck and Doesburg argued that new settlement establishments and changes started in the six through the seventh centuries not later as it was suggested previously by other scholars. McCormic outlined as the first event of his study a historically well supported harsh winter across Northern England, the new Carolingian power centre Austrasia and the western Byzantine Empire between 763-764 AD.  According to the historical sources analysed by him, the extreme weather caused numerous problems concerning trading activities, crop failures, and famine death in the next years. Not directly but as a result of this weather anomaly, it is more than possible that the Carolingian elite moved to safer and economically stable places of the empire. For their survival, the lower class, free citizens and slaves also chose to move (or escape) for those areas where they found their livelihood more secure. However, such events also occurred not just in the eight but also in the sixth century. Büntgen and his team analysed tree ring chronologies from the Russan Alpai Mountain, which evidenced an unprecedented long-term cooling period due to large volcanic eruptions in 536, 540 and 547 AD. He named the period between 536 and 660 AD as the Late Antique Little Ice Age (Buntgen, et al., 2016, p. 231). Büntgen argued that this cold phase could be considered an additional environmental factor to the Justinian plague's spread, cattle pestilence, the movements out of the Asian steppe and Arabian Peninsula and the political power shifts in China (Buntgen, et al., 2016). The eruptions affected the whole Northern Hemisphere, explaining a periodically increasing and decreasing population patterns, the migrations,  the societal changes and abandonments of particular areas and establishment of new settlements in early medieval Europe. It can be taken as a parallel concerning eighth-century historical events and support the ideology that settlement pattern changes began in the sixth-century through the seventh-century.

The second and third climate anomaly evaluated by McCormic describes two another extremally harsh winters in 821-22 and 823-24 AD which significantly affected the Frankish Empire, most of western Europe bounded by the Baltic, the Atlantic, the Elbe, and the Pyrenees and Alps (McCormic, et al., 2007, p. 881). According to the combined results of GISP2 and written textual sources, he argued that the period of 820 to 24 was an 'exceptional succession' of wet and cool summers in 820 and 21, followed by freezing winters in 821-22 and 823-24 AD (McCormic, et al., 2007, p. 883).

The summer of 820-21 AD was wet and cool, which caused a weak and less abundant wine harvest, cattle pestilence, crop failure, and in some places, lowlands overwhelmed by flooded rivers (Newfield, 2012). It explains two things in about settlements firstly why the settlers in the Netherlands moved deeper into the wetlands around that time and secondly why it was vital to abandon and relocate settlements in Carolingian Europe and why those transformations affected some areas better than others. It was hard to manage resources, so lower-class people tried to move closer to the courts where they hoped to get some shelter, job and help from the elite or the local churches and monasteries.

Climatological Event four and five identified by McCormic represents two remarkably icy winters over period 855-56 and 859-60 AD, which affected France, Germany and northern Italy the most. Prudentius bishop of Troyes reports that the winter of 855-56 was extremally cold and accompanied by an intense infection which destroyed a big part of the population (McCormic et al., 2007, p. 884). In his study, Newfield analysed the possible extent and impact of the early ninth century cattle pestilence. He used textual evidence, the Annual Fuldenses from 870 AD and others from Carolingian Europe, mentioning mid-eighth to the mid-tenth century between ten and fourteen livestock plagues mostly affected cattle.  Cattle pestilence were reported in 801, 809-10, 820, 860, 868-70, 878,  939-42 AD. Disease affected both cattle and sheep were noticed in 842-43, 849, 887, 896 (Newfield, 2012, p. 200). It can be seen that the second, third and the fifth climate anomaly event of McCormick's study coincide with Newfield's report about panzootic events.  The scale and mortality of several pestilences were possible greater than it can be traceable through those textual sources. Several hundred thousand domestic felines likely have died, negatively impacting food development and distribution, and human health (Newfield, 2012).

From the economy and political point of view, Hodges ideology was that the Scandinavian raiding and conquest caused the rapid changes in the networks of coastal societies and emporia ports such as York or Dublin. The transformation affected the southern part of the North Sea, the Channel to the Baltic, Irish Sea and the North Atlantic regions (Hodges, 2000). Loveluck outlined that these settlements were already in decline on both sides of the North Sea and Channel by around 850 AD based on textual and archaeological data (Loveluck, 2013). The mariners from the British Isles, France, Frisia and western Scandinavia had been connected by the same network of maritime hubs and coastal groups between the seventh and mid-ninth centuries (Loveluck, 2013). As it was discussed before, several cattle pestilence and various diseases occurred between 800 and 942 AD caused by several climate anomalies. According to Févre's study, it is worth mentioning here domestic, and wildlife animal population movements and trade legal or illegal are vital in the spread of diseases. Infectious diseases are transmitted between hosts in many ways, including direct, airborne and vector-borne transmissions (Févre, et al., 2006). In the medieval period, without international standards concerning animal trade, such diseases spread quickly not just locally but regionally and globally. The Scandinavian invasion was mainly caused by the continuous disasters of these terrible weather conditions. Such natural events affected the Earth's sensible flora and faunal environments in short and long timeframe. People fled the densely populated maritime ports where both humans and animals' infections become more widespread than isolated, less occupied settlements. Others moved within defensive enclosures to preserve the remaining food and values because the famine forced some smaller groups to commit robbery and homicide. Doerested, Ribe and Kaupang mentioned by Loveluck were massive trading sites and well connected by other regions, so they are declined way faster than the smaller isolated ports (Loveluck, 2013). Those less connected settlements become more relevant economically and show continuous growing perhaps because the elite relocated its headquarters on those areas for the sake of their health safety and to maintain their high standard of living. After decreasing floods and diseases, people returned to their abandoned places over time or created new settlements close to them. The irregular occurrence of climatic events and their time-varying effects can be a significant reason for the fluctuating dynamics of settlements, both formally and in terms of population. In light of the above, the following section examines long-distance trade and its implications on Carolingian Europe.

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