In this ground-breaking work, historian John J. O’Neill examines a great variety of evidence from many specialties and reaches an astonishing and novel conclusion: Classical Civilization was not destroyed by Barbarians or by Christians. It survived intact into the early seventh century. The Vandals and Goths who seized the Western Empire in the fifth century had become completely romanized by the start of the sixth century. Artistic and intellectual life flourished, as did the economy and the cities built earlier under the Empire. Yet sometime in the middle of the seventh century everything changed. Cities were abandoned, literacy plummeted, royal authority declined and local strongmen, or “barons”, seized control of the provinces. The Middle Ages had begun.
Who or what had caused this? As O’Neill notes, by the 1920s Belgian historian Henri Pirenne had located the proverbial “smoking gun”; but it was not in the hands of the Barbarians or the Christians: it was held by those who, even then, it had become fashionable to credit with saving, rather than destroying, Classical Civilization: the Arabs. In a conclusion that will have resonance for the modern world, O’Neill argues convincingly that all we regard as “Medieval” had its origin in Islam, and that the Muslims terminated Classical Civilization in Europe just as surely as they did in the Middle East.