Comparative European, Mediterranean and global medieval history
Social history and archaeology
I have worked on a range of topics in medieval history: detailed rural/regional analyses in an Annales tradition, and also urban histories, of Italy up to the early thirteenth century; comparative history, of socio-economic and socio-political patterns, particularly in late Antiquity and the early middle ages, but later on as well; socio-legal history; the study of social memory in Europe and more widely; and the interface between history and archaeology.
My current research focusses on the Mediterranean in a long eleventh century and the development of exchange/commercial patterns in that period, from Spain to Egypt; web-based publications of Egyptian texts, and some notably active archaeology in both Spain and Sicily, have very recently made this possible. I am using archaeology, legal documents and letters, to try to get at how regional exchange fits together with long-distance exchange. Here my aim is to figure out, not only how the Mediterranean economy worked in this period, but also how the logic(s) of pre-capitalist economic systems operated on the ground.
Medieval Europe (October 2016)
The millennium between the breakup of the western Roman empire and the Reformation was a long and hugely transformative period – one
not easily chronicled within the scope of a few hundred pages. Yet distinguished historian Chris Wickham has taken up the challenge in this landmark book, and he succeeds in producing the most riveting account of medieval Europe in a generation. Tracking the entire sweep of the middle ages across Europe, Wickham focuses on important changes century by century, including such pivotal crises and moments as the fall of the western Roman empire, Charlemagne’s reforms, the feudal revolution, the challenge of heresy, the destruction of the Byzantine empire, the rebuilding of late medieval states, and the appalling devastation of the Black Death. He provides illuminating vignettes that underscore how shifting social, economic and political circumstances affected individual lives and international events. Wickham offers both a new conception of Europe’s medieval period and a provocative revision of exactly how and why the Middle Ages matter.
Administrators’ time: the social memory of the early medieval state, East and West
Sleepwalking into a New World
Amid the disintegration of the Kingdom of Italy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a new form of collective government—the commune—arose in the cities of northern and central Italy. Sleepwalking into a New World takes a bold new look at how these autonomous city-states came about, and fundamentally alters our understanding of one of the most important political and cultural innovations of the medieval world.
Chris Wickham provides richly textured portraits of three cities—Milan, Pisa, and Rome—and sets them against a vibrant backcloth of other towns. He argues that, in all but a few cases, the elites of these cities and towns developed one of the first nonmonarchical forms of government in medieval Europe, unaware that they were creating something altogether new. Wickham makes clear that the Italian city commune was by no means a democracy in the modern sense, but that it was so novel that outsiders did not know what to make of it. He describes how, as the old order unraveled, the communes emerged, governed by consular elites "chosen by the people," and subject to neither emperor nor king. They regularly fought each other, yet they grew organized and confident enough to ally together to defeat Frederick Barbarossa, the German emperor, at the Battle of Legnano in 1176.
Sleepwalking into a New World reveals how the development of the autonomous city-state took place, which would in the end make possible the robust civic culture of the Renaissance.
Open access journals in Humanities and Social Science
The 'Feudal revolution' and the origins of Italian city communes