Book Review: The Dawn Of The Middle Ages

The Dawn Of The Middle Ages, by Michael Grant

By and large, I have become familiar with Michael Grant through his writings relating to ancient and early medieval history [1], especially as they relate to art and culture, and for the most part, this book falls along those lines.  I would not consider this book to be something I greatly appreciate, because the author clearly lacks something of the biblical viewpoint when it comes to icons and idolatry and related subject, and because his sympathies are far more with the polytheistic pagan world than with the ethical and moral demands of Christendom.  Even so, this book does at least offer some classical scholarship in an accessible way and plenty of beautiful pictures of art and material culture for a wide swath of cultures over the period of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages up to the death of Charlemagne in 814.  And if you are looking for a better understanding of this period from a cross-cultural point of view that focuses on art and that provides a great deal of understanding of political and religious history as well, this book is certainly of worth on its breadth alone.

In a bit more than 200 very large pages, this particular book provides a comprehensive look at the history of the early Middle Ages over a wide span of the world.  The author begins with a discussion of the dark ages and why he considers this view to be inappropriate.  After that the author spends some time looking at the Byzantine Empire during this period, including the reign and achievements of Justinian, the crisis of the seventh century, and the iconoclasm controversy as well as the early stages of the Isaurian and Macedonian recovery (1).  This is followed by a discussion of the rise and fall of Sassannan Persia and the birth and early expansion of Islam through the beginning of the Abassid period (2).  After that comes a discussion of the German kingdoms (3) including the Ostrogoths, Lombards, Visigoths, and the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties of the Franks.  The author then discusses the life of the Jews as a minority people in Asia and Europe under Christian and Muslim rulers (4).  After this the author discusses various peoples of the North (5), including the Anglo-Saxons and the eventual unification of England under their rule, the Irish, and the Scandinavian peoples of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.  Finally, the author closes with a discussion of the rest of Eurasia from Eastern Europe to East Asia (6), starting with the demographic expansion of the Slavs, then moving on to the Avars and Bulgars, Khazars, White Huns and Turks, T’ang China, and medieval India.

Although the book is very good, it is not perfect.  For example, some readers will fault the neglect of Japan, Southeast Asia, Africa (with a slight mention of North Africa and Axum), as well as the Americas.  Other readers will think that the author is a bit too kind to Islam when it comes to their moral behavior as well as their treatment of non-Arabs and non-Muslim peoples.  In addition to that, the author has a clear bias towards philosophical paganism as opposed to Christianity, and that is the sort of bias that I view as problematic at best when it comes to someone who takes it upon himself to talk about the early Middle Ages.  Be that as it may, this book is at least written with the desire of speaking widely and with some insight on a period of history that is not well understood especially in context as it relates to others.  This book is at least a good start in understanding the Middle Ages, and that is worth something.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: The Dawn Of The Middle Ages

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Sailing From Byzantium | Edge Induced Cohesion

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