The North Sea rescued from the backwaters of history / Entertainment / The Foreigner

The North Sea rescued from the backwaters of history. BOOK REVIEW: The ancient Romans believed that civilization ended at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, where it meets the Atlantic. If historian and novelist Michael Pye is right, the Romans were wrong. In his new book The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are, published this November, he persuasively argues that the North Sea rivals the Mediterranean as the birthplace of European civilization. The development of the civilization of the Mediterranean area took place over about 500 years, driven by the expansion of the Western Roman Empire. In contrast, the development of the civilization of the North Sea region took place over 1,000 years and involved more than 100 kingdoms. So it’s a more fragmented story, an imbroglio of facts, figures and historical accounts.

northsea, books, oil, fish, paywall



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The North Sea rescued from the backwaters of history

Published on Sunday, 23rd November, 2014 at 07:36 under the entertainment category, by M. Michael Brady.

BOOK REVIEW: The ancient Romans believed that civilization ended at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, where it meets the Atlantic. If historian and novelist Michael Pye is right, the Romans were wrong.

Book cover 'The Edge of the World'
The civilization of the North Sea region took place over 1,000 years to develop and involved more than 100 kingdoms.Book cover 'The Edge of the World'
Photo: Penguin


In his new book The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are, published this November, he persuasively argues that the North Sea rivals the Mediterranean as the birthplace of European civilization.

The development of the civilization of the Mediterranean area took place over about 500 years, driven by the expansion of the Western Roman Empire. In contrast, the development of the civilization of the North Sea region took place over 1,000 years and involved more than 100 kingdoms. So it’s a more fragmented story, an imbroglio of facts, figures and historical accounts.

Yet Mr. Pye picks up the loose ends and weaves them into a coherent story of the march to modernity of the lands bordering the North Sea. There are two main triggers: water, and because of it, trade. The proximity of the peoples of the North to nearby waters eased both.

A Norwegian example illustrates that. The cities on its west coast were closer to Scotland than they were to the country’s capital at Christiania (now Oslo) in travel time until a railway was built across the central cordillera of Norway. Accordingly, west coast cities, such as Stavanger and Bergen, early became hubs for fish exports. The economy of the country in part became fish-driven, much as it is oil-driven today.

With travel by sea faster than travel by land, trade flourished. One of the most remarkable undertakings was the Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchants and their towns that dominated trade along the coasts of Northern Europe from the 13th through the 17th century. In one short paragraph (page 221), author Mr. Pye describes its seminal impact on European history:

“The Hansa had no flag, no seal and no king of its own: it was a loose arrangement between trader towns, a sort of economic community. It was nothing like a nation or a kingdom because it had no responsibilities and no territory to defend, and sometimes it seemed allergic to either. All it had was power.”

In short, the concept of the power of an economic community, the founding cornerstone of the European Union (EU) of the 20th century, was first proven in the North Sea area four centuries ago.

Remnants of the Hanseatic League are evident today. Lufthansa (“Air Hansa”) is Germany’s flag-carrier airline. The Hanze University of Applied Sciences is at Groningen in The Netherlands, Hansa Rostock is a football club in Rostock, Germany, and Hansa Bryggeri is the oldest brewery in Bergen on Norway’s west coast. That naming stems from Bergen having been the northernmost town in the Hanseatic League and consequently having Bryggen, a group of 62 Hanseatic League buildings now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The thread of Hansa is but one of many on the complex fabric of the book. Though complex, it’s enjoyable. Above all, Mr. Pye’s scholarship is impeccable: at the end there are 47 pages of references that curious readers may pursue to further follow the threads.

The book: The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are by Michael Pye, London, Penguin 2014, 394 pages hardcover, ISBN 978-0-670-92232-1, £25



Published on Sunday, 23rd November, 2014 at 07:36 under the entertainment category, by M. Michael Brady.

This post has the following tags: northsea, books, oil, fish, paywall.





  
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