"When I was a student, in the early 1960s, the shape and significance of the earliest centuries of European history were quite clear. The emergence of “the barbarian kingdoms” from the wreckage of the Western Empire, under the beneficent guidance of the Roman papacy and its missionaries, culminated in the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor in 800. In this process could be seen the genesis of the leading nations of modern Europe – England, France and Germany. Italy and Spain hovered on the margins, while Celts, Scandinavians and Slavs waited their turn to be shepherded into the fold of civilization, and Greeks retired to the wings, yielding place to Arabs as the main rival to emerging Latin Christendom. The beginnings could be discerned of the religious and intellectual legacies by which Europe would be shaped, and the foundations of some of its formative institutions, such as feudalism and the conflict of Church and State."
Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800, by Chris Wickham (Oxford Univ. Pr., 990 p., UK£85) and Europe After Rome: A New Cultural History, 500-1000, by Julia M. H. Smith (Oxford Univ. Pr., 384 p., UK£25)