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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 8: The Making of Europe

The Roman Empire collapsed halfway through the first millennium A.D. Out of this vacuum, three great civilizations and traditions emerged, each reflecting the legacy of Rome in its own unique way. This chapter, "The Making of Europe," explores the origins of two of these traditions—western Europe and Byzantium. Chapter 9, "The Islamic World, ca 600–1400," introduces the third. The following Internet activities will assist you in understanding not only the emergence of the western European and Byzantine tradition but also their ties to ancient Rome.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:
  • Examine Map 1. This map depicts a modern perspective of the continent of Europe. Now look at this physical map of Asia depicting a modern perspective of the continent of Asia. Why did these mapmakers make the division where they did? Are there really two continents? Obviously, the answer is no. Instead, it would be more accurate to refer to Asia and Europe as one large continent, Eurasia. Europe and Asia are more recent mental constructs developed by Europeans to distinguish their civilization from Asian civilizations. You will explore the origins of this European identity in the remaining exercises. This concept of Europe, or how Europeans viewed themselves as distinct from the rest of the world, will be an important theme throughout the rest of this course.
Activity Two:
  • Go to Map 2 and Map 3. These maps depict political boundaries in the sixth and seventh centuries. What change over time do they show? What do they reveal about political stability in Europe during this time period?
  • Compare and contrast these maps with Map 1. What obvious difference do you see? Why is part of what Europeans later called Asia and Africa included as part of Europe in Map 2 and Map 3? These maps demonstrate that Europe is more of a cultural concept than a geographic one.
Activity Three:
  • Now review Map of the Trade Routes found in Activity Six of Chapter 6, "The Glory of Rome." Compare how Europe is depicted there to how it is depicted in Map 2 and Map 3. By now you should be able to see that when the Roman Empire collapsed, most of Europe, except for the part governed by the Byzantine Empire (also called the eastern Roman Empire), lost its political cohesiveness.
  • Without the Roman Empire providing order and stability after the fifth century, Europe changed dramatically. One consequence was the migrations of the Germanic tribes.  Refresh your memory of these migrations my examining map 4.   Now build upon what you already know about these tribes by reading The Germanic Invasions of Western Europe.
Activity Four:

The Germanic tribes were not civilized, and one consequence is that they left no written records of their customs and traditions. Much of what we know about them comes from Roman observers.
  • Go to Medieval Sourcebook: Tacitus: Germania. Who was Tacitus? What qualities did he admire about the Germanic tribes? What qualities would play an important role in shaping a post–Roman identity in Europe? Also review pages 223-225 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). Write a paragraph summarizing your analysis.
  • Another strong influence of the Germanic tribes on post–Roman Europe was their legal tradition. Page 224 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition) refers to this tradition. For a more detailed account, click on Medieval Sourcebook: The Law of the Salian Franks. How does this primary source compliment McKay's treatment of Germanic law? Does it give any further insight? Write a paragraph summarizing your conclusions.
  • Another influence on the development of post–Roman Europe was the Christian church, an institution that survived the collapse of Roman political authority. The church continued to provide a common identity by promoting uniformity and converting the Germanic tribes to the Christian faith.
Activity Five:
  • Read The 4th & 5th Centuries: The Church in Radical Change. According to this secondary source, what major issues did the church confront as Roman authority collapsed in Europe?
  • One issue facing the church was uniformity. Review pages 209-210 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). How did the early church promote uniformity? You might want to review The Catholic Encyclopedia: The First Council of Nicaea as well. Write a paragraph summarizing your conclusions.
  • Another issue the early church had to deal with was conversion. Read the secondary source The Development of Christian Society in Early England. (Be sure to click on "continue" at the bottom of each page until you finish the article.) Keep a list of how the church managed to convert most of the people of the British Isles. This will help you better understand how the church was successful in its general conversion task.
  • The church had to reconcile Roman classical learning with the young Christian religion. No one person better demonstrates this task than Augustine, whom you encountered in Chapter 8 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).  Learn more about this important thinker and his legacy by reading Augustine of Hippo and Augustine Influences Christianity. What was his role in the development of Christian theology? Who did Augustine oppose, and how did his theological battles with these opponents shape his thought?
Activity Six:

While most of Europe was developing a new identity that synthesized Christianity, classical Roman learning, and Germanic traditions, part of the Roman Empire survived in the East. This civilization, know as the Byzantine Empire, developed a tradition different from that in the rest of Europe.
  • To refresh your memory of the political and religious divisions that evolved after the collapse of the Roman Empire, study map 5.  Notice the geographical locations of the Latin West and Byzantium, and their relation to Asia.  Keep this map in mind as you do the remaining activities.
  • Go to A Brief Summary of Byzantine History, a site sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Be sure to look at the artwork embedded in this site. While doing so, make a list of various aspects of Byzantine civilization that separated it from the rest of Europe. Pay special attention to politics and religion. You may want to review pages 225–234 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), as well.
  • The Byzantine tradition influenced western Europe mainly as a preserver of knowledge. In other words, Byzantine civilization preserved classical learning from the Roman Empire. Later, western Europeans were exposed to this tradition through their contacts with the Byzantine Empire. Also important, however, was the influence of Byzantine art and architecture.  Examine the following Byzantine works of art (you can click to enlarge each image), and then read about the basic themes of Byzantine art (make sure to go to each of the three theme pages).  What are those themes, and how did they shape the development of Byzantine art? What influence did the Byzantine artistic tradition exert on the neighbors of the Byzantine Empire?
  • Finally, consider an example of Byzantine architecture.  Built under the direction of the emperor Justinian, the cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was the crowning achievement of Byzantine religious architecture.  Examine the following images of Hagia Sophia in what is now Istanbul, Turkey.  You can click to enlarge each of the images.  (Notice the Islamic decorations, added by the Muslim Turks after they conquered Constantinople in 1453.)