In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pre-Carolingian Western European Kingdoms

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals and Serials
  • Reference Works
  • Historiography
  • Primary Sources in Translation
  • Jews in Western Europe
  • British Kingdoms
  • Irish Kingdoms
  • Vandal Kingdom
  • Visigothic Kingdom
  • Ostrogothic, Lombard, and Papal Italy

Medieval Studies Pre-Carolingian Western European Kingdoms
Gregory I. Halfond
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0204


Between c. 500 and 750 CE western Europe experienced significant political transformation. In the centuries immediately following the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, a constellation of new polities evolved, merged, mutated, and, in a number of cases, vanished completely. While political change during these centuries is undeniable, cultural, social, and administrative continuities with a not-so-distant Roman past retained their potency. Certainly, few would argue that the Roman Empire rapidly declined and fell as a result of the deposition of the last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 476 CE. This dichotomy of continuity versus change has become a dominant paradigm in academic study of the early medieval centuries, regardless of whether specific topical studies emphasize the former or the latter phenomenon. While on the macro-scale, this dichotomy is perhaps less revealing, it nevertheless has led to some disparity in the periodization of this period. While the majority of scholars now reject the characterization of the centuries in question as constituting a “Dark Age,” marked by barbarism and cultural regression, depending on their preference they might utilize the labels of “Late Antiquity” or “Early Middle Ages.” Brown 1971, cited under General Overviews, popularized the former periodization, which implicitly emphasizes continuities with the classical past, particularly cultural. The latter periodization, in turn, suggests that these centuries constituted a transformative period leading to a new sociocultural epoch. As neither periodization is dated consistently scholars have the freedom to apply the terminology most appropriate to their topical focus or interpretive orientation, as reflected in the range of works below. The decision to end this bibliography with the Carolingian assumption of royal power in Francia is similarly subjective. It can be justified, however, by several factors: (1) the disappearance by the mid-8th century of many of the original post-Roman continental polities; (2) the political and administrative transformations instigated by Carolingian expansionism; and (3) the tendency among modern overviews of early medieval continental European history to distinguish between the Merovingian and Carolingian eras. While roughly half of the works below concentrate on specific peoples or polities, many of the remainder adopt a comparative approach. As emphasized recently by Wickham 2005, cited under General Overviews, such an approach has the tangible benefit of emphasizing the diversity of repercussions of, and responses to, the collapse of western imperial administration. Conversely, a comparative approach also can draw attention to similar trends across geographic space. Recent regional studies, such as Halsall 2013, cited under British Kingdoms, have emphasized the latter point, taking advantage of comparative data. Regardless of scope, the works contained in this bibliography demonstrate not only the sociocultural vitality of early medieval Western Europe, but also the dynamism of modern scholarship devoted to the period.

General Overviews

There are a number of excellent overviews of early medieval Western European history currently available to students and scholars. Some, while intended principally for classroom use, nevertheless offer original analysis. The classic example is Brown 1971, which helped to establish the periodization of Late Antiquity as a means of emphasizing cultural continuities between the late Roman and early medieval eras. Brown 2013 shares its predecessor’s emphasis on cultural and religious history, but with far greater elaboration and more focus on the Western Mediterranean. Smith 2005 likewise concentrates on culture within the context of social relations and organization. Wickham 2005, in turn, is primarily socio-economic in focus, while prioritizing more explicitly and at greater length a comparative perspective. Like Smith 2005 and Wickham 2005, McKitterick 2001 is organized topically, rather than chronologically, but its chapters are conceived of us as introductory essays aimed primarily at nonspecialists. In contrast, Innes 2007 and Collins 2010 adopt the form of traditional chronological textbooks, with the latter particularly focused on political and military events.

  • Brown, Peter. The World of Late Antiquity AD 150–750. Library of World Civilizations. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.

    A brief but seminal text, which popularized the nomenclature and periodization of Late Antiquity. Brown’s textbook has had the additional impact of establishing cultural and intellectual history as central to the historiography of the period.

  • Brown, Peter. The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, AD 200–1000. 3d ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2013.

    A survey text, lengthier and more detailed than Brown’s earlier attempt at a textbook, with a strong emphasis on cultural and religious history. Despite the title, Brown does include discussion of the Byzantine and Islamic worlds.

  • Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Europe, 300–1000. 3d ed. New York: Palgrave, 2010.

    A clearly written, chronologically organized, survey text with a particular emphasis on political history.

  • Innes, Matthew. Introduction to Early Medieval Western Europe, 300–900: The Sword, the Plough and the Book. London: Routledge, 2007.

    A synthetic work, organized chronologically and geographically, notable for its inclusion of topical and bibliographical essays interspersed throughout.

  • McKitterick, Rosamond. The Early Middle Ages: Europe 400–1000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    A brief and topically arranged introductory guide to the period, with chapters on politics, society, the economy, religion, culture, and Europe and the wider world.

  • Smith, Julia M. H. Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History, 500–1000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Eschews a traditional political narrative in order to prioritize social and cultural history. Topics covered include communication, kinship, gender, labor, and ideologies.

  • Wickham, Chris. Framing the Early Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199264490.001.0001

    A magisterial work. Wickham applies a comparative perspective to the social and economic history of the Mediterranean World c. 400–800 CE, providing wide-ranging discussions of statecraft, nobility, peasant society, urbanism, and commerce.

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