Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/51

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The slow decay of the Roman Empire did not at first affect the unity of Mediterranean civilization. There had been growing dissatisfaction with that civilization, but it had endured so long that it was not easy to conceive of an alternative way of life. The Germanic kingdoms of the West clung to the old forms as well as they could; they were not very civilized, but what scraps of civilization they possessed were Roman. The East was still united under the emperor at Constantinople, who governed through the old Roman bureaucracy under the forms of Roman law. Relations between East and West, while not intimate, were on the whole amicable. With the exception of the Anglo-Saxon rulers of Britain, the Germanic kings recognized the nominal suzerainty of the emperor, and he maintained the fiction of a united empire by conferring honorary titles on the barbarian monarchs. The pope was in close contact with the patriarchs of the East and maintained a representative in Constantinople. Syrian traders carried oriental goods into the heart of Gaul and even settled in small groups in the Loire River towns. Western Europe was more provincial than it had been in the great days of Rome, but it was still part of the Mediterranean world, not the seat of an independent civilization.

Yet within the Mediterranean unity, separatist tendencies were developing, and these tendencies were strongest in the East. The Germans had lowered the level of Roman civilization, but they had no rival civilization to set in its place. In the East there were rival civilizations, long suppressed but strangely potent. The Greeks and the Romans had ruled Syria and Egypt for over seven hundred years, and yet Graeco-Roman civilization had not stifled the old native cultures. It had formed a thin hard crust on top of a fermenting mass of old beliefs and institutions, and as the crust cracked under the strains of the third and fourth centuries the obscure folk-ways of the native populations began to bubble out into sight. Every student of the Late Roman Empire has noticed