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This week, we're spending three class periods to get from 1842 to 1860 because, just as you can't understand how the South is different without understanding the impact of slavery, you can't understand California's history (and, if I may, its exceptionalism) without understanding the implications of the Gold Rush. I wrote two diaries on the Gold rush in the fall, and this week, we'll look at why, if gold was discovered early in 1848, the football team in San Francisco is called the 49ers.

Our Western Civ material will cover the whole issue of "barbarian" control of Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire by looking at some of the successor societies and the impact they had on the parts of the Roman Empire they occupied. This will take us roughly from 410 to 850, as we examine the Visigoths, a group my textbook calls "the first new society," and the Merovingian Dynasty, the founders of the Holy Roman Empire.


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I really didn't get very far into any of this during the fall. I discovered I had no notes WHATSOEVER on the Visigoths and a whole bunch of cut and paste stuff on Charlemagne. So this is going to be fairly impressionistic and probably not the incisive analysis you've come to expect from me.

Here's Southern Europe between 476 and 526:

Even my textbook calls the Visigoths barbarians who united under the leadership of Alaric and sacked Rome in 410. Eventually, the ever-weakening Western emperors settled these barbarians in southern Gaul where the organized a political state and ran it using the only model available to them, that of Roman tradition and codes of law. This, apparently, was a one-size-fits-all model, and the local Roman elites took this, probably mistakenly, as a "civilizing" process. The Ostrogoths did the same thing in Rome itself. What's significant about this is that this worked for a number of years for both the eastern and western Goths.

Unfortunately, the new Gothic kingdoms didn't pay much attention to the traditions of classical learning, and it fell to the Eastern, later called the Byzantine, empire to preserve them. As it happens, the Moorish invaders who displaced the Visigoths brought a respect for classical learning with them, and I think I'm going to discuss the three important non-Christian thinkers who flourished in Moorish Spain -- Avicenna, Averroes and Moses ben Maimon -- next week.

And here's another map.

This is Europe 150 years later. It's easy to see what happened to the Ostrogoth territory, and the Visigoths were supplanted by the Ummayad Caliphate. Muslims would control at least part of Spain for the next 750 years, until the Christian reconquest was completed in 1492 and the Jews were expelled from Spain as well. North of Spain, the Franks (the people for whom France is named) came to power in 697, and in 714 Charles Martel gained control. 22 years later, in 732 he defeated the Saracens, the military arm of he caliphate, outside Poitiers in southwestern France. Martel was succeeded by his son Pepin in 741, and Pepin was succeeded in turn by his son Charles, who we know today as Charlemagne. We have to give Charlemagne credit for the fact that Northern Europe emerged as the dominant political and cultural force in the West in the late Middle Ages

I guess we know (and the map shows how) that Charlemagne's territorial expansion created the Holy Roman Empire, which included all of Christianized Europe except the British Isles. He built his capital in Aachen, where the cathedral shows both Byzantine and European medieval (I'm staying away from the term "Gothic" here, which was used by Renaissance historians to show their contempt for medieval architecture) influences.

It's also a mistake to think that Spain and Ireland were the only places where Classical culture was preserved. Charlemagne, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800, also supported the arts and letters. In part this was to produce educated clergy to act as administrators of the empire, and in part it was to maintain an orthodox doctrine in opposition to the Eastern Orthodox church. His support involved bringing scholars to his court from northern Italy and from England, most notably the scholar Alcuin of York, who prepared an improved edition of the Vulgate, the Latin Bible initially translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic by St. Jerome at the end of the fourth century, and became Charlemagne's chief adviser.
(Charlemagne receiving Alcuin, Victor Schnetz, 1833, the Louvre Museum, Paris)

Thus, the work of understanding and preserving the work of the past continued in Charlemagne's Europe. Alcuin's liturgical guide, which he produced for Charlemagne, served as the basis for the Roman Catholic Missal until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Not exactly the Dark Ages, this.

I'm not pretending to be an expert on any of this, since the last time I studied this material in an academic setting was the fall of 1967, but I think it demonstrates a degree of continuity from at least Christianized Rome through the years after the Western Empire "fell" that I'm not sure we all think of when we consider the medieval period.

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