Año: 2020
Formato: EPUB

The Merovingian world (481–751) has become more visible in Anglophone historical scholarship in the past two decades, and, for better or for worse, it has become more firmly rooted in the narrative of a long Late Antiquity. Modern interest in the social and economic networks of empires and modes of communication has begun to change older frameworks that viewed these centuries in terms of decline and characterized them as the “Dark Ages”. Rather than being viewed as an era of stagnation, as was the case in the nineteenth century, recent studies have highlighted the vitality and importance of Western Christendom from the fifth through the eighth centuries, not only in Europe but also in other parts of the late Roman world.

Indeed, studies of the Merovingians and their world have come to play a critical role in the generation of new insights into the transitional period between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Once overlooked as a chaotic and obscure interlude between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginnings of the medieval world, and named for a dynasty with a reputation for few accomplishments and even fewer memorable kings (in nineteenth-century France, they were long known as les rois fainéants, or the “do-nothing kings”), the Merovingian era is now a field that is growing in its own right. In part, new interest in this period has arisen as scholars of cultural and religious history in Late Antiquity have demonstrated greater flexibility in working horizontally in a decentralized world and in seeing beyond the political developments that until recently were the bread and butter of most historians. Another source of renewed interest in the Merovingian world is the rise of new and more comprehensive archaeological approaches to the period; rather than echoing the historical sources, scholars of material culture are showing that it is possible to question the written sources and shed new light on subjects that previously were inaccessible. Above all, in digging into the local, regional, and contingent nature of the lived environment in these centuries, the Merovingian period has become something more than a simple or hasty response to an older paradigm of decline, emerging as a period in its own right and with its own peculiarities. In casting our view over recent developments in a wide array of disciplines and perspectives, we can attempt to slow the rush to the Middle Ages and assess the evidence without recourse to the discursive imperatives of stagnation, decline, transition, transformation, or rise.

In gathering essays for this handbook on the Merovingian world, we have built around the modern understanding of the Merovingian territories as being at once a coalescence of regional interests and the center of a far-flung network of interconnected political and economic interests.

The Merovingian elite, through the exchange of goods and ideas, their letters, laws, culture, and religion, as well as through military actions and familial alliances, sat at the center of an intensely connected world. From the Byzantine-controlled territories to the south and east, to the politically fragmented lands to the north (including the British Isles and Ireland), the Merovingian kings and their peoples touched the peoples and cultures around them —sometimes in bonds of amity and exchange, sometimes (as in the case of the Byzantine emperors) as wary allies, and sometimes as hegemonic overlords. Their place in the post-Roman world was not always secure, as may be seen in the case of Clovis’s competition with Theoderic for Byzantine titles and accolades in the early sixth century. However, their footprint was large, and they interacted with political entities on every side. We are now learning that trade, even if indirect, extended the reach of the inhabitants of the Merovingian kingdoms even further, as far afield as Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea. The world of the Merovingians was intrinsically connected to contemporary developments not just among the Burgundians, the Visigoths, and the Alamanni with whom they shared and contested borders, but also among the Byzantines, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Thuringians, Avars, Bavarians, Anglo-Saxons, Frisians, and the Irish, peoples who, like the Merovingians, were once viewed in isolation.

It is this highly connected world that we present in this collection of forty-six essays from both junior innovators and leading scholars of the Merovingian world. In striving to achieve a panoramic view of this networked entity of intersecting and (and sometimes conflicting) identities, political interests, religions, economies, patronage, and cultures, and how these have changed our understanding of this complex period, it has been necessary to bring together many disciplines of study. Nonetheless, space constraints and unanticipated obstacles to achieving our original vision of the volume in 2014 have made it impossible to include every possible topic, and we are all too aware of lacunae with reference to important fields like Merovingian manuscript studies, biblical studies, onomastics, and the emerging and contested ground of DNA research. Similarly, areas of rich possibility such as the eighth-century transition to the Carolingian period, are not addressed in full. Although many of these topics are touched upon in related essays, each could easily have been the subject of an independent examination.

Pushing back against myths of Frankish barbarism and cultural decline, the essays presented here on the history and archaeology of the Merovingian era explore a world that was complex, changing, but mostly stable: bureaucratic, innovative, and adaptive in some arenas, yet disrupted, conservative, and limited in others. Our knowledge of the Merovingians is growing rapidly from evidence gleaned from an assortment of texts, coins, architectural remains, inscriptions, cemeteries, skeletal matter, and refuse pits. Indeed, the resilience of Merovingian rule over two and a half centuries is particularly impressive in light of the challenges of climate and disease that prevailed across Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries and that we have only begun to fully appreciate. The arrival in Europe of the “Justinianic Plague,” one of the most well documented instances of bubonic plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is described in Merovingian sources but its impact is debated. Furthermore, from the fifth to the late seventh centuries, Europe experienced climate changes as the result of what is now termed the “late-antique little ice age”. Catastrophic events on such a scale would challenge most regimes, yet the Merovingian dynasty endured. Therefore, it has been important for the organization of this volume to recognize that, whereas our view of the Merovingians was once dominated by the perspectives of the extant written sources and their focus on kingship, migration, and war, new evidence is offering original perspectives and allowing us to ask questions about climate, disease, environment, and the trading decisions of distant polities. The more we learn about the cultural and economic contributions of the Merovingians and the challenges they presented and overcame, the more nuanced our view of early medieval history becomes. These important developments are generating new audiences for the study of the Merovingian period.

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