Thursday, 20 March 2014

Book Review: Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000, 2nd Edition By: Roger Collins

Pros: gives necessary background information, details available primary sources as well as what cautions need to be taken when using them, highly detailed information

Cons: you have to pay CLOSE attention or you’ll find yourself rereading pages to understand what’s going on

This is a fantastic history book describing Medieval Spain from 400 to 1000 CE.  Published in 1995, it’s an update of a book that came out originally in 1983.  While there has most likely been new discoveries that aren’t covered here, the breadth of the information and the amount of detail is still useful for anyone wishing to read up on an often ignored period and place.  Collins also mentions many controversies regarding primary sources and their interpretations, which afford the reader a glimpse of the deeper challenges involved in researching times wherein primary sources are scarce.

In order to give a complete picture of Spain during this time, the author starts with the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe originally from what’s currently Romania, and their migration and eventual conquest (along with several other tribes) of the Roman territories of present day Spain.  The various battles, major figures (mostly kings and bishops), and fluctuations in ownership are detailed.  At times the author must again go on tangents to explain information necessary to understanding the next stage of development, like glossing over the origins of Islam so the reader will grasp the political and cultural challengers when Muslims conquer the Southern provinces of Spain.

For several centuries there are only a few primary sources, or sources obviously written so long after the events they detail they’re functionally useless for deriving accurate information.  He mentions what the sources are and what cautions are necessary when applying them to the period.  

It’s a highly involved history, so you have to pay very close attention to each paragraph as sudden shifts in narrative can leave you lost if your mind wanders.

This book will give you a solid basis of early medieval Spain. 

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