Episode 9 AD 960-1070

The slow but definite Renaissance/Re-Birth of the West

Two centuries after the commencement of the great Islamic irruption into the civilized world, and of the inundation of steppe peoples into Hungary and the Balkans, the old Mediterranean world gradually recovered its poise and began to rebound.

The Roman Empire of Constantinople underwent an all-round renaissance and between 850 and 1050 was in full political, as well as cultural, expansion. It looked like the Empire as it had been under Justinian the Great would be reestablished. The resurrection of the Empire’s fortunes provided the framework and much of the impetus for the resuscitation of the West.

In the Occident new shoots of growth and expansion appeared everywhere from the late 900s onwards. But this was on an entirely different political basis: whereas in east Rome there was a capital city and a central government, in the West there was thoroughgoing political fragmentation. Into this authority vacuum stepped the regional counts and dukes, and above them the still thinly-based western Emperors in Germany, and, ever more firmly, the Roman papacy.

Here we attempt to capture some of the complexity of these processes, most of them moving in a positive, upward direction.


  • History shows that identities can change. There was a time when there were no nations in Europe.
  • Francia was once a country. Asymmetric responses to the century of invasions created the conditions for it to split into East and West Francia (Germany and France).
  • A distinct Latin Christian form of political and religious society had spread across central and eastern Europe by 1000 AD.
  • With renewed security, the renaissance of cities, in the north and in northern Italy, gave a new impetus to local and long-distance trade.
  • The rise of city burghers, opposing the impositions of bishops and nobility.
  • Reopened pilgrimage routes merged with merchant traffic, uniting northern Europe with Italy. Italian cities became the emporia for renewed trade with Constantinople.
  • The build-up of the naval and mercantile power of Venice.
  • From the mid-800s the Graeco-Roman society at Constantinople experienced a recovery, economically, politically, culturally and militarily. Conversion of the Bulgar and Ukrainian elites to Orthodox Christianity.
  • The rise of the maritime republics of Amalfi, Genoa and Pisa.
  • Northern France a patchwork of counties and dukedoms, in a state of chronic civil war, overshadowing the Frankish king. The systematic building of castles across Europe.
  • Emergence of the Norman dukes and nobles as formidable military forces. England was torn between Normandy and Denmark. The showdown for which of them was to conquer it came in 1066.

Now with the audio-only version included

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