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The Transformation of Europe As a Eurasian Phenomenon

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That the period c. 1000-1300 CE was one of transformation in Europe, amounting to "the birth of Europe", is widely agreed among specialists in the region. The present paper argues not only that this transformation can be described in terms analogous to those held to amount to the "Axial Age" around 500 BCE or the "cultural constitution of modernity" around 1800, but that comparable transformations can be discerned in the other literate civilizations of Eurasia at the same epoch. It maintains, however, that these transformations were precipitated not by contacts between the civilizations, but by internal developments within each of the civilizations, arising from common exposure to the social and economic consequences of intensive economic growth, in particular as they affected the position and influence of the clerical elites. This common transformation has been less noticed and is more difficult to describe than those of the "Axial Age" or "modernisation" because the contrasting responses of the respective elites to these challenges sharpened the social, cultural and political differences between the civilizations and set them on diverging historical trajectories: its leading characteristic and consequence, therefore, was differentiation, rather than integration or homogenization.


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