Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/59

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43
THE MAKING OF EUROPE

and Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire were more or less in the position of cousins, each of whom thinks the other is betraying the family tradition. This difficulty did not end with the Middle Ages; even today we implicitly assume that Russia and the Balkans are bound by the western tradition, in spite of their heritage from Byzantium and their long exposure to oriental influences. As a result, we experience the same sort of deceptions which poisoned relations between East and West during the Middle Ages.

Western Europe was the weakest and poorest of the three areas which emerged from the old Mediterranean world. It had always been backward, both economically and intellectually, but in the classical period it had been able to draw on the East both for supplies and ideas. Now it had to face its own deficiencies without outside aid. The southern shores of the Mediterranean had become, and were to remain, a completely foreign region, while mutual suspicion between Westerners and Byzantines made it impossible to rely on Constantinople for leadership. The dangers of Mediterranean travel reinforced the psychological obstacles and threw the West back on its own resources.

These resources were not very great. On the material side, the West was an almost exclusively agricultural region. It contained some of the best farming land in the world, but much of this land was not yet cleared, and the part which was used was cultivated by inefficient methods. A few Italian towns, such as Venice and Amalfi, kept up a hazardous trade with the East, and the Scandinavians managed to import some oriental luxuries across the plains of Russia; otherwise there was little commerce. Industry was at an even lower level; few craftsmen produced for more than a limited, local market. As a result the population was thin, poor, and scattered. The governments of the Germanic kingdoms were weak and unstable, unable to prevent disorder at home or to ward off attacks from the outside. Intellectually and spiritually the situation was almost as bad. The West had retained only part of its legacy from Rome, which at best was only part of the whole