The Pirenne: The Decline Of Sea Trade

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The Pirenne thesis states that sea trade was crucial to the survival of the Roman empire, and the increase of Muslim invasions in the seventh and eighth centuries severed the unity of trade between the Western countries in the Mediterranean. This led to a steady decline of the Roman empire as it was unable to sustain itself through trade. There are differing opinions between modern historians as to the accuracy of the Pirenne thesis, with most historians arguing it is no longer a valid explanation for the demise of the Mediterranean trade route. Instead, historians choose to include other factors such as the rise of Vandals in Tunisia and Africa, and the loss of land from the empire due to the Barbarians.

The Pirenne thesis was first introduced in his book, Mohammed and Charlemagne. He compares the
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1 When Henri Pirenne’s thesis was first published it was certainly believed by most scholars. This could be due to a number of factors, such as less advanced scientific methods of dating artifacts, or a lesser focus on archaeological discoveries. However in more recent times the Pirenne thesis has come under criticism from historians, with some arguing he has exaggerated some pieces of evidence and completely ignored others. One of the main exaggerations Pirenne makes is the extent of trade in the Mediterranean, as is pointed out by historian Norman Pounds in his book An Economic History of the Middle Ages. Pirenne claims that the Islam advance destroyed all trade in the Mediterranean, using a port in Marseille as an example of the decline. He states that previously the port was the hub of Western trade, but since the Islamic invasion it was left empty. 2 At the time of publication, this was likely to be an acceptable answer due to the lack of advanced technology now available to historians to help them discover and date artifacts. Writing in 1994 however, Pounds

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