chapter  I
Pages 12

YOU see before you the wrath of the Lord breaking forth…. There is naught but towns emptied of their folk, monasteries razed to the ground or given to the flames, fields desolated…. Everywhere the strong oppresseth the weak and men are like fish of the sea that blindly devour each other.’ Thus, in 909, the bishops of the province of Rheims assembled at Trosly. The literature of the ninth and tenth centuries, the charters, and the deliberations of councils are full of such lamentations. When all allowance has been made both for exaggeration and for the pessimism natural to religious orators, we are forced to see in this incessantly recurring theme, supported as it is by so much contemporary evidence, the proof of a state of affairs regarded as intolerable even in those days. Certainly it was a period when those who were capable of observing and making comparisons, the clergy in particular, felt themselves to be living in a hateful atmosphere of disorder and violence. Feudalism was born in the midst of an infinitely troubled epoch, and in some measure it was the child of those troubles themselves. But some of the causes which helped to create or maintain this disorderly environment were altogether foreign to the internal evolution of European societies. Forged several centuries earlier in the fiery crucible of the Germanic invasions, the new civilization of the West, in its turn, seemed like a citadel besieged-indeed more than half overrun. It was attacked from three sides at once: in the south by the devotees of Islam, Arabs or their Arabized subjects; in the east by the Hungarians; and in the north by the Scandinavians.