Medieval history begins with the dissolution of the
Western Empire, with the abandonment of the Latin world to German conquerors.
Of the provinces affected by the catastrophe the youngest was Britain; and even
Britain had then been Roman soil for more than three hundred years. For Italy,
Spain, and Gaul, the change of masters meant the atrophy of institutions which,
at first reluctantly accepted, had come by lapse of time to be accepted as part
of the natural order. Large tracts of Europe lay outside the evacuated
provinces; for the Romans never entered Ireland or Scandinavia or Russia, and
had failed to subjugate Scotland and the greater part of modern Germany. But
the Romanised provinces long remained the dominant force in European history;
the hearth-fire of medieval culture was kindled on the ruins of the Empire.
far the victorious Teuton borrowed from the conquered provincial is a question still
debated; the degree and the nature of Rome's influence on the new rulers varied
in every province, indeed in different parts of the same province. The fact of
the debt remains, suggesting a doubt whether in this case it was indeed the
fittest who survived. The flaws in a social order which has collapsed under the
stress of adverse fortunes are painfully apparent. It is natural to speak of
the final overthrow as the judgment of heaven or the verdict of events. But it
has still to be proved that war is an unfailing test of worth; we have banished
the judicial combat from our law courts, and we should be rash in assuming that
a process obviously absurd when applied to the disputes of individuals ought to
determine the judgments of history on nationalities or empires.