The Donkey and the Boat: Reinterpreting the Mediterranean Economy, 950-1180

Review

Richard Tuttle
by
published on 09 June 2023
The Donkey and the Boat: Reinterpreting the Mediterranean Economy, 950-1180
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Title: The Donkey and the Boat: Reinterpreting the Mediterranean Economy, 950-1180
Author: Chris Wickham
Audience: Professional
Difficulty: Medium
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 2023
Pages: 848

"The Donkey and the Boat" is a comprehensive and groundbreaking study. Wickham argues that our understanding of this period has been hampered by outdated assumptions and restricted data sets. It is a major contribution to an understanding of the Mediterranean economy during the Middle Ages and is highly recommended to readers with an interest in this field of study.

Primarily aimed towards scholars who have an interest in the economies of the Mediterranean region during the Middle Ages, Chris Wickham’s newest publication, The Donkey and the Boat: Reinterpreting the Mediterranean Economy, 950-1180, is a comprehensive and groundbreaking study. Wickham argues that our understanding of this period has been hampered by outdated assumptions and restricted data sets. He uses a wide range of sources – including multilingual documentary evidence, archaeological data, and economic theory – to paint a detailed and nuanced picture of the Mediterranean economy during the time period covered, as well as filling the book with many insightful maps that can easily be used as excellent visual materials.

He uses a wide range of sources... to paint a detailed and nuanced picture.

Wickham's book is divided into three parts: the first part provides an overview of the Mediterranean economy in the 10th to 12th centuries – what he refers to as the “long eleventh century" and conveys that this period was one of economic growth and expansion (1). He points to the rise of new cities, the development of new trade routes, and the growth of agricultural production as evidence of this growth. The second part of the book focuses on the individual economies of the Mediterranean region, where Wickham examines the economies of Egypt, Tunisia, Sicily, the Byzantine Empire, Islamic Spain, and north-central Italy. He argues that each of these regions had its own unique economic system. The third part of the book studies the relationship between the economies of the Mediterranean region as a whole, where Wickham shows that they were interconnected through trade, migration, and warfare. The author further presents how the rise of new trade routes and the growth of agricultural production led to increased economic integration in the Mediterranean region.

Wickham researched and wrote this book because he felt highly dissatisfied with “the traditional narratives of the ‘commercial revolution’ of the central middle ages in Europe and the Mediterranean, and above all of its origins" (2). Wickham’s book, like most others, has both strengths and weaknesses. The overall strengths are his use of a wide range of sources that provide a comprehensive and nuanced view of the Mediterranean economy. His analysis of the individual economies of the region is very insightful, and his discussion of the relationship between the regions is thought-provoking. The weaknesses are few and, some will concede, minima. The book is long and can be challenging to read at times, and some of Wickham’s arguments are complex and may be challenging to follow for readers without a background in economics.

Chris Wickham is Chichele Professor of Medieval History Emeritus at the University of Oxford. Another influential title by him is Medieval Europe (2016). The Donkey and the Boat is a major new contribution to understanding the Mediterranean economy during the Middle Ages. Wickham's book is well-researched, well-written, and thought-provoking. It should be essential reading for anyone interested in Mediterranean history or the development of the European economy.

Buy This Book

$20.54
By purchasing books through this website, you support our non-profit organization. World History Encyclopedia is an Amazon Associate and earns a commission on qualifying book purchases.

Subscribe to this author

About the Reviewer

Richard Tuttle
A graduate student at The University of Edinburgh, I am a lifelong learner with an intense interest in ancient history, the history of writing systems, languages, and literature -- especially of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Tuttle, R. (2023, June 09). The Donkey and the Boat: Reinterpreting the Mediterranean Economy, 950-1180. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/review/365/the-donkey-and-the-boat-reinterpreting-the-mediter/

Chicago Style

Tuttle, Richard. "The Donkey and the Boat: Reinterpreting the Mediterranean Economy, 950-1180." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 09, 2023. https://www.worldhistory.org/review/365/the-donkey-and-the-boat-reinterpreting-the-mediter/.

MLA Style

Tuttle, Richard. "The Donkey and the Boat: Reinterpreting the Mediterranean Economy, 950-1180." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 09 Jun 2023. Web. 17 May 2024.

Membership