Conquering Europe: Book Review

The Making of Europe, by Robert Bartlett.

Before Europe conquered the world, Europeans conquered Europe (950-1350).  More precisely, one group the Normans, or Anglo-Normans, after conquering England, went on to conquer and colonize Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Spain, Portugal, much of Italy and Greece, much of the Baltic, and even a lot of the Holy Land.  Besides personal ferocity, they brought important military technology: armored heavy cavalry, the castle, and the crossbow.  Their victims, especially in the British Isles and the around the Baltic mostly lacked these, though they were bloody enough warriors themselves: slavers, pillagers, and cattle rustlers.  Their blades and light armor were no match for a charge of heavy cavalry paired with swarms of archers, and their counterattacks were defeated by the castles built by the conquering Franks, as they came to be called.

The Muslims of Iberia, Sicily, and the Middle East had more sophisticated military technology, but at first, anyway, could not match them in ferocity.

So what propelled this colonization and conquest?  Bartlett mentions the widespread adoption of primogeniture.  This left younger sons, and knights without a fief, without property or marriage prospects, and provided a powerful impetus for those left out or just greedy for more to go adventuring.  the reward for successful conquest was land and enfeoffment.  Thus the feudal system spread over Europe.

I suspect that this history, which came to a close just as European ships rounded Africa and almost simultaneously the New World, was a major factor in Europe's subsequent colonization of much of the world.

I would not call Bartlett the most sparkling writer, and his maps suck, but the content is consistently interesting.  It does illuminate the Europe to be.


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