Slavery or freedom? The causes of early medieval Europe’s economic advancement
By Joachim Henning
Early Medieval Europe, Volume 12, Issue 3 (2003)
Introduction: After years of divergent interpretations and reinterpretations of predominantly well-known written source mentioning the commerce of early medieval Europe, Michael McCormick now presents new basic source material which puts discussions about a crucial question of medieval history on a new footing. Data on 669 travellers in the Mediterranean world between AD 700 and 900 turn out to be of surprisingly high relevance for reconstructing communications and routes between western and central Europe on the one hand and the Arab and Byzantine territories on the other. The most surprising observation is that in comparison with the centuries immediately following the decline of western Roman empire, between the eighth and the tenth century the number of long-distance routes can be proven to have increased, and with them the infrastructure for trading and commercial activities between the west and east evidently improved. Thus again serious doubts are raised about Pirenne’s theory that a breakdown of maritime trading connections occurred as a result of the Arab conquest of the eastern, southern and western parts of the Mediterranean world.