The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History
Colin McEvedy

Colin McEvedy

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The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History



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In the medieval atlas, a date with the suffix R indicates a map devoted to religion (the geographical reach of branches of Christianity, although the commentary extends to Islam). The suffix E identifies an economic map, showing cities, trade routes, and products.

The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History

Copyright © Colin McEvedy, 1961

Introduction 2 The Shadings Used A classification by language is at first sight a poor substitute for the real requirement, a classification by race. This ideal has not been attempted, partly because so far no system based on physical characteristics has progressed much beyond the white–brown–yellow–black division of common observation. The apparently more scientific investigations, such as skull measurement and blood group determination, are only of real use in the study of small isolated populations and tend to give the same answer each time when applied to larger groups within the white race, the only one with which we are concerned. For that matter, anyone who in this day and age goes around measuring heads in the expectation of broadly applicable results invites a similar investigation, for, leaving apart the fact that skull shape is by no means entirely genetically determined, it is obvious that the concept of originally ‘pure’ races miscegenated by movements taking place in historic times is as obsolete as it is ancient.



The Basques, who make their first appearance on Map 476, have a great respect for their own antiquity, saying that when God needed some bones with which to make the first man, He took them from a Basque cemetery [...]
3 Limitations The best I can claim is that the uncertainties posed have been resolved in the maps with the maximum objectivity I can command. There has, of course, been no attempt to keep opinion out of the commentary, in fact although there is no wilfully unfair selection of facts, at times one can perhaps discern the subtle bouquet of prejudice.
4 Background Notes – The Fall of Rome The concept of a few eternal verities may be attractive, but there is a lot to be said for searching for new truths even at the expense of the old.
528R The importance of these subtle arguments lies in the adoption of dissenting views as a badge by people at odds with authority or by nations groping for a sense of unity. In those days of pragmatic political thought, an attempt to secede from the Empire on the basis of ‘Armenia for the Armenians’ would have been unthinkable. But the central power could be indirectly challenged by adopting the local patriotic heresy, and thus the Monophysitism so passionately adhered to in Egypt, Syria (which at first inclined to Nestorianism), and Armenia was really a sign of discontent otherwise inexpressible.




In 843 the Frankish Empire was divided between the three grandsons of Charlemagne, and in the next forty years there was a kaleidoscopic series of partitions and amalgamations reflecting Carolingian reproduction and mortality. Historians describe these divisions as significant when they correspond to modern frontiers and stigmatize them as typically dynastic when they do not, but by 885 a series of accidents had reunited the Empire, and it was in 887–8 that the definitive disintegration took place.

923 The unhappy condition of the West at the time is well shown in the history of Burgundy, a state which would appear to be comparatively inaccessible, but which within half a century was raped by Viking, Moslem, and Magyar in turn.
1028 A policy of all round aggression, however much it may influence people, wins few friends and these successes cast a shadow across the future of a state fundamentally weaker than any of its neighbours.



1028R The extreme Papal claims were expressed in a document purporting to be the will of the Emperor Constantine in which he left the temporal rule of the whole West to the Vicar of Christ. The Kings of the West were thus merely tenants of the Pope, and their position had to be ratified by him. The fact that this detail had never been observed was hardly surprising, as Constantine seems to have neglected to draw up his will until he had been dead for four hundred years; but, by seeking the Pope’s blessing for their usurpation of the throne of Clovis and by allowing the Pope to proclaim the Frankish Empire of the West, the Carolingians had put themselves in a difficult position. In the uncertain retrospect of the times these actions seemed to the following generation a tacit admission of the Papal suzerainty that had not been mooted when they occurred. Yet the darkness of the Dark Ages was a two-edged sword; if it made possible the acceptance of an obvious forgery, men were too illiterate and life too chaotic for any document to exert much effect.



The provinces of the Caliphate in many cases first seceded in the name of Ali (Spain is an exception, but the Umayyad cause was a sufficient distinction). Their independence soon passed beyond challenge and the second generation of Emirates, the Murabits, Zirids, and Samanids, returned to orthodoxy, readily acknowledging a community of culture with Baghdad, once doing so did not prejudice their freedom.
1028E Viking-Varangian activity, ranging from Iceland to the borders of Turkestan, from Constantinople to the Arctic circle, was of incredible vitality and daring, and it is sad that so much of the effort was wasted in plundering. The northern heroes did not deign to trade until they had failed to vanquish; they preferred bloodstained, glorious gold to a steady mercantile profit.

Many were actually entitled ‘atabegs’ (guardians), as they governed on behalf of infant Seljuk princes, but their inability to keep their charges alive soon outpaced the fertility of the Seljuk house. The atabegs are incomparable material for the professional rehabilitators, but, until such time as the partisans of Richard III are free to take up this challenge, it would seem safer to use the non-commital title of emir.

1173 Before his death, Zangi had taken Edessa (1145), and his son Nureddin easily rode out the pitiful second Crusade which was the Christian response. Its failure and the general ill success of later Crusades followed the assumption of Crusading leadership by the Kings of Europe, who could spend but little time in the East and were no substitute for the land-hungry, nothing-to-lose baronage of the first Crusade.
1278 It is un-Marxist to suppose that a merely human event some three and a half thousand miles away could influence the inexorable progress of history, and it is unlikely that the Mongols had the resources to impose the Tartar yoke further west than Russia for any length of time. Most of us bourgeois, however, feel that the Khan’s demise saved central Europe from a very nasty ravage.
1401 Sigismund has his place in history, for he led the last Crusade, but, though the logistics of Crusading had improved (Sigismund had only to cross his frontier to fight the infidel), leadership had not, and he was lucky to escape from the disaster that befell his army at the hands of Bayezid at Nicopolis (1396).
Timur’s military capacity and his political sterility were shown in his complete overthrow of Bayezid at Ankara (1402), after which he simply reinstated the seven Anatolian emirs, putting the Ottomans back where Bayezid had started from.

Two hundred years of struggle between German, Slav, and Balt culminated in the battle of Tannenberg (1411), where the Teutonic Knights were vanquished by the Polish-Lithuanian army. The Knights had, however, monopolized the sympathy of the West, which saw them as selfless crusaders in a heathen land – a view which would have been merely naïve when applied to the original efforts of the Knights, but which was quite absurd at the beginning of the fifteenth century.

1478 Briefly (1439–44) Hungary too had been united with Poland, producing one of those unreal agglomerations typical of the times. If they were in reply to the Turkish threat, they were ineffective, for, as Sigismund had discovered, war against the infidel needed armies, and a collection of crowns in itself produced little more than social éclat.

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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