In order to understand the economic revival which took place in Western Europe from the eleventh century onwards, it is necessary first of all to glance at the preceding period.
From the point of view which we must here adopt, it is at once apparent that the barbarian kingdoms, founded in the fifth century on the soil of Western Europe, still preserved the most striking and essential characteristic of ancient civilisation, to wit, its Mediterranean character.1 Round this great land-locked sea all the civilisations of the ancient world had been bom ; by it they had communicated with one another, and spread far and wide their ideas and their commerce, until at last it had become in a real sense the centre of the Roman Empire, towards which converged the activity of all her provinces from Britain to the Euphrates. But the great sea continued to play its
traditional r61e after the Germanic invasions. For the barbarians established in Italy, Africa, Spain and Gaul, it remained the highway of communication with the Byzantine Empire and the relations thus maintained enabled it to foster an economic life, which was simply a continuation of that of the ancient world. It will suffice here to recall the activity of Syrian navigation from the fifth to the eighth century between the ports of the West and those of Egypt and Asia Minor, the preservation by the German kings of the Roman gold solidus, at once the instrument and the symbol of the economic unity of the Mediterranean basin, and, finally, the general direction of commerce towards the coasts of this sea, which men might still have called, with as much right as the Romans, Mare nostrum.