Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe by Peter Heather - review by Christopher Kelly

Christopher Kelly

Birth Pangs

Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe


Macmillan 720pp £25 order from our bookshop

Popular support for the European ideal ebbs and flows; certainly politicians seem more committed to the EU than the people they represent. Historians too are enthusiasts. For some time there has been an academic race between distinguished professors each claiming that the ‘birth’, ‘formation’, ‘making’, or ‘emergence’ of Europe is rightly to be located in their specialist period. Each century in the last millennium now seems to have its passionate advocate. Peter Heather's new book pushes the competition even further back, situating 'the first European Union' and 'the birth of Europe' (to quote from the final two chapter titles) in the eighth and ninth centuries AD, times once derisively dismissed as belonging to the Dark Ages.

At first sight, Heather's test of Europeanness might seem rather underdeveloped: the emergence of 'not entirely dissimilar and culturally interconnected political societies clustering at the western end of the great Eurasian landmass'. But what matters is the sharp contrast with the imperial world of five centuries earlier. Then,

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