Two quotes from Henri Pirenne

Now that fall semester is over and I have time to read books not directly for academic purposes, I’ve started Henri Pirenne’s Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe. I have a few quibbles here and there, particularly how Pirenne doesn’t quite seem to understand the function of interest, but overall I am enjoying it. I will comment more when I finish it, but for now, here are two good quotes I’ve seen so far:

The tie which continued to unite these ports [several southern Italian cities and Venice] to the Byzantine Empire was, it is true, not very strong, and it grew steadily weaker. The establishment of the Normans in Italy and Sicily (1029-91) definitely broke it as regards this region. Venice, over which the Carolingians had been unable to establish their control in the ninth century, had been all the more willing to continue under the authority of the Basileus, because he prudently refrained from exercising it, and allowed the town to be gradually transformed into an independent republic.


The essential difference between the merchants and the artisans of the nascent towns and the agricultural society in the midst of which they appeared, was that their kind of life was no longer determined by their relations with the land. In this respect they formed, in every sense of the word, a class of déracinés. Commerce and industry, which up till then had been merely the adventitious or intermittent occupations of manorial agents, whose existence was assured by the great landowners who employed them, now became independent professions. Those who practised them were incontestably “new men.” Attempts have often been made to derive them from the servile personnel attached to the domestic workshops of the manor, or the serfs who were charged with feeding the household in times of scarcity and in time of plenty disposed of their surplus production outside. But such an evolution is neither supported by the sources nor probable. There is no doubt that territorial lords here and there preserved economic prerogatives in the nascent towns for a fairly long time, such prerogatives, for instance, as the obligation of the burgesses to use the lord’s oven and mill, the monopoly of sale enjoyed by his wine for several days after the vintage, or even certain dues levied from the craft gilds. But the local survival of these rights is no proof of the manorial origin of urban economy. On the contrary, what we note everywhere is that from the moment that it appears, it appears in a condition of freedom.


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