Europeanisation of Europe

Diebold Schilling (1445-1485), miniature of the Battle of Tannenberg, 1410. Photo: Wikipedia. Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin.

Once upon a time, one thousand years ago, Europe was a backward continent compared to the Arab world and the Islamic Penisula. The great Roman and Greek legacy was kept alive by monastries and in Arab libraries.

This changed after the new millenium however. From the 12th century, the Europeanization of Europe, in so far as it was the spread of one particular culture through conquest and influence, had its core areas in one part of the continent, namely France, Germany (West of the Elbe) and north Italy, regions which had a common history as part of Charlemagne’s Frankish empire.

It was from this part of Europe that expansionary expeditions ( leaving aside the crusades) were launched in all European directions and by 1300 these wars had created a ring of conquest states on the peripheries of Latin Christendom. Hungary, Prussia and Baltic states are among the conquered and christianized states.

The French king centralized its Kingdom and Italian city states were active on the Balkan (and against Byzantium). The Iberian peninsula conquered the Islamic territories in a steady process.

The victorious and dramatic advance of western military power in the High Middle Ages and the outward migration of rural and urban settlers that accompanied it, produced a different map of Europe within a few generations.

There might be an interesting parallel with the Islamic and Arabic conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries, although the Arab conquerors were often more tolerant towards other religions. Many regions in Europe were exposed to the Christian religion, culture and assimilation by force.

One other aspect is the role of the Ottoman empire in Europe. After the fall of Bagdad in 1258, the Arabs lost their supremacy, the Ottoman empire filled the gap. Seven of present-day members of the European Union have an Ottoman past and this legacy is an integral part of European history.

The discussion about Turkey´s membership of the European Union is a different aspect, but the long relations, exchange and interdependence can not be neglected. (Source: R. Bartlett, The Making of Europe (London 1994).