Mohammed and Charlemagne

Henri Pirenne

Introduced by Averil Cameron

Distinguished historian Averil Cameron introduces this seminal book about the origins of the Middle Ages. Numerous photographs show a fascinating array of archaeological sites, illuminations and mosaics.

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Mohammed and Charlemagne

In 1937, two years after its author’s death, Henri Pirenne’s Mohammed & Charlemagne appeared, challenging Edward Gibbon’s view of the fall of the Roman Empire and the development of early Medieval Europe. The ‘Pirenne thesis’ held that ‘the cause of the break with the tradition of antiquity was the rapid and unexpected advance of Islam.’ The questions that he raised – particularly about how we view and define our past – remain critical to our understanding of the world we live in. For him, the Germanic invaders were neither simply the progenitors of Western Europe, nor were they responsible for the final collapse of the Roman Empire. To Pirenne, once the Romans ‘abandoned the struggle’, the barbarians in effect became assimilated with the civilisation they had invaded.

Production Details

Mohammed and Charlemagne book

Bound in cloth.

Blocked with a design by Neil Gower based on a T and O map, with Arabic calligraphy by Josh Berer.

Set in Dante with Charlemagne display.

288 pages.

Frontispiece and 16 pages of colour plates.

Book size: 9½" x 6¼".

A fresh insight into the origin of the Middle Ages

Part One, ‘Western Europe before Islam’, begins in the 4th century and explores the identity of the region during and after the Germanic invasions, concluding that its ‘essential character’ remained Mediterranean. In Part Two, ‘Islam and the Carolingians’, Pirenne looks at how Mohammed’s Islam united the people of the Arabian peninsula, laying the foundation for a ‘lightning-like’ expansion across the Mediterranean after the prophet’s death in 632. By the beginning of the 8th century, the Western Mediterranean was cut off from the East by the Islamic bulwark. In its wake, Charlemagne (742-814) established an ‘original Romano-Germanic’ civilisation, leading Pirenne to the conclusion that ‘without Islam, the Frankish Empire would probably never have existed and Charlemagne, without Mohammed, would be inconceivable.’

‘An important ... seminal book, worthy to close one of the most distinguished careers in European scholarship’

Introducing this edition, distinguished historian Averil Cameron writes that ‘Pirenne was ahead of his time in placing the Germanic invasions within a context that embraced the whole of the Mediterranean ... Reading Pirenne today reminds us that history is written by human beings. It warns against the dangers of nationalist interpretations and brings home the part played by personal and subjective issues in formulating historical ideas.’ Numerous photographs illustrate the text, depicting a fascinating array of archaeological sites, illuminations and mosaics. The endpapers are printed with a map of the Mediterranean World.


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Review by bpthorne on 12th May 2017

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 3/5

"There is much that is fascinating in this text--the extraordinary rise of Islam, the decline of western Europe into a feudal society. Unfortunately, the reader gets there only after wading through a ..." [read more]

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