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THE MAKING OF EUROPE / EARLY EUROPEAN HISTORY

From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS

VIII. THE GERMANS TO 476 A.D.

Em. Macron, Rediscovering the Path to Europe
Em. Macron, Rediscovering the Path to Europe


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Page 16

GERMANIC INFLUENCE ON SOCIETY

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE GERMANIC INVASIONS

Classical civilization suffered a great shock when the Germans descended on the empire and from its provinces carved out their kingdoms. These barbarians were rude in manners, were very ignorant, and had little taste for anything except fighting and bodily enjoyments. They were unlike the Romans in dress and habits of life. They lived under different laws, spoke different languages, obeyed different rulers. Their invasions naturally ushered in a long period of confusion and disorder, during which the new race slowly raised itself to a level of culture somewhat approaching that which the Greeks and the Romans had attained.

RETROGRESSIVE FORCES

The Germans in many ways did injury to classical civilization. They sometimes destroyed Roman cities and killed or enslaved the inhabitants. Even when the invaders settled peaceably in the empire, they took possession of the land and set up their own tribal governments in place of the Roman. They allowed aqueducts, bridges, and roads to go without repairs, and theaters, baths, and other public buildings to sink into ruins. Having no appreciation of education, the Germans failed to keep up the schools, universities, and libraries. Being devoted chiefly to agriculture, they had no need for foreign wares or costly articles of luxury, and hence they permitted industry and commerce to languish. In short, large parts of western Europe, particularly Gaul, Spain, and Britain, fell backward into a condition of ignorance, superstition, and even barbarism.

PROGRESSIVE FORCES

But in closing our survey of the Germanic invasions we need to dwell on the forces that made for progress, rather than on those that made for decline. Classical civilization, we have already found reason to believe, had begun to decay long before the Germans broke up the empire. The Germans came, as Christianity had come, only to hasten the process of decay. Each of these influences, in turn, worked to build up the fabric of a new society on the ruins of the old. First Christianity infused the pagan world with its quickening spirit and gave a new religion to mankind. Later followed the Germans, who accepted Christianity, who adopted much of Graeco-Roman culture, and then contributed their fresh blood and youthful minds and their own vigorous life.

 

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THE MAKING OF EUROPE / EARLY EUROPEAN HISTORY: Table of Contents

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Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy

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