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A Global View of the Early Middle Ages

Have you ever wondered how globally connected the pre-modern world was? Have you ever asked yourself what happened in the medieval period outside of Europe and the Mediterranean? Do early medieval Oceania, Korea, Tibet or other far-flung regions seem like fascinating topics that you would like to know more about? Are you in search of a book on medieval history that does not merely claim to be global, but actually covers the whole globe? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then A Companion to the Global Early Middle Ages will definitely be of interest to you.

Starting from East Africa, the first fifteen chapters of this Companion take the reader on a journey around the globe eastward via Southeast Asia to Japan and then westward via Inner Asia to the Sahara, western Europe and finally to Mesoamerica. Each of these chapters introduces the primary historical developments in the region in question during the seventh, eighth and ninth century CE. Secondly, they explore the topic of connectivity and demonstrate how interactions with distant societies shaped and informed each polity and culture. The final four chapters cover four themes—trade, migration, intellectual discourse, climate and disease—from a truly interdisciplinary point of view, integrating all the regions discussed in earlier chapters.

This Companion is the result of a collaborative research project that I started in 2015. I was inspired to create a book that would encourage medievalists to look beyond their own intellectual horizons without sacrificing from scholarly substance. It really was a great pleasure to be able to assemble a group of eighteen scholars from six different countries and three different continents who agreed with me that a global perspective on this period of history is overdue. Because they were each also experts within their own fields, we were able to strike a wonderful balance between depth and breadth. As a result, the stunning wealth of historical information about regions that I knew hardly anything about is something that stands out for me about this book. Whether one learns for the first time about the power struggle of the aristocracy in Silla on the Korean peninsula, the spread of Islam on the Swahili coast of East Africa or the fact that the longest early medieval journeys were performed by Austronesian groups on the Pacific Ocean: this Companion is a treasure trove of new information for every interested reader, regardless of their specialty and expertise.

The most important aspect of this book is the way in which it pushes its reader to think of a new and global narrative of the medieval world. It gives a wider context to local developments and discusses how distant developments and global processes affect local affairs. For example, the sixth-century eruption of the Ilopango in Mesoamerica had long-term climatic ripple effects that could be felt in the next century in North Africa and Inner Asia; and the ebb and flow of the trade cycles between Tang China and the Abbasid caliphate influenced polities in Southeast Asia and Western Europe alike. A Companion to the Global Early Middle Ages thus demonstrates to anyone interested in pre-modern history that the early medieval phase of nearly every region of the world was part of a web of connections that had global proportions.

by Erik Hermans