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Framing the Early Middle Ages

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Chris Wickham’s important intervention in debates about the transformation of the Roman world from the fifth century onwards presents a vast array of evidence about the nature of social relations, the economy and the late-Roman and early-medieval state across the Mediterranean and Western-European world. Wickham is successful in taking into account both the high level of regional variation and differentiation across the Roman world and, at the same time, the various key unifying elements which bound these regions together. But, in arguing that the nature of the fiscal apparatus and structures of extraction, redistribution and consumption of surpluses of the late-Roman state were formative in the structure and appearance of the late-Roman élites in East and West as well as in the evolution of their early-medieval successors, a number of structural tensions in the model become apparent. This discussion highlights some of the issues at stake, while, at the same time, affirming the critical importance of the book, more especially its emphasis on the structural force of late-Roman institutions and social relations for the successor-states of the early-medieval West.

Affiliations: 1: Princeton University, Email:


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