Wow. Check this out and then read the whole article:
Pirenne stressed that the source of the Roman Empire’s vitality cannot be disassociated from its essentially Mediterranean character and orientation; that clearly remained intact for quite a while. Western trade flourished as before, connected with the great cities of the East – where prosperity, population, and learning were concentrated. The overall features of life throughout the region in 600 were similar to what they had been in 400.
It was not until the advent of Islam in the 7th century, precisely then and only then, that destruction really arrived. Recurrent Islamic raids altered the very orientation of the littoral peoples; they fled the Mediterranean and for the first time looked to the north. East was severed from West, and the previously unified Mediterranean, “having become a Musalman lake, was no longer a thoroughfare of commerce and of thought which it always had been.”
Unlike the German invaders, wherever the Arabs went they ruled. This was a dimension of their religious claims. They sought not conversion per se, but demanded subjection, creating an insuperable barrier between the conquered and the Muslims: “What a contrast between them [the Arabs] and Theodoric, who placed himself at the service of those he had conquered, and sought to assimilate himself to them!” The whole region was thereby transformed, as the Arabs ushered in “a complete break with the past.”
Egyptian papyri, which had been widespread in the West (and a solid indicator of literacy), disappeared, as did distinctive coins that were in use right up until the Arab conquest – leading to the barter system. Despite the literary and archaeological sources, however, Pirenne’s arguments were dismissed in favor of the view that Islam had been (unlike “repressive” Christianity) an enlightening force.
A brilliant and important article. Read it all HERE.