Europe Between the Oceans

by Barry Cunliffe

The author is an eminent archaeologist who has written many good books. This is a summation of everything that is known about European history from 9000 BC to 1000 AD. I enjoyed it. The most interesting thing I learned was a long-term historical trend that shows up only when you take a long view of history: population pressure was always from north and east towards the south and west. Innumerable steppe nomads migrated into Europe from central Asia, wreaking death and destruction. The Celtic peoples originated in central Europe and migrated southwards and westwards. The Germanic peoples migrated from the Baltic area southward and westwards. Always it was the same. Why? It seems unlikely that this represented relative population densities; after all, the lands around the Mediterranean were more productive than the steppes or the icy north. My guess is that the gradient was in the perceived value of life. For an inhabitant of barren lands, the fertile areas to the south and west were worth dying for. It was easy enough to die on the steppes; the risk of death invading better land was about the same as the risk of staying put. So they came: Huns, Alans, Pechenegs, Bulgars, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Lombards, Saxons, Angles, Danes, Vikings, and many others.

I’ve not been writing many book reviews, although I have continued reading new books. I don’t seem to have as much spare time these days.