The Crowd in the Early Middle Ages

Shane Bobrycki

"By the fifth and sixth centuries, the bread and circuses and triumphal processions of the Roman Empire had given way to a quieter world. And yet, as Shane Bobrycki argues, the influence and importance of the crowd did not disappear in early medieval Europe. In The Crowd in the Early Middle Ages, Bobrycki shows that although demographic change may have dispersed the urban multitudes of Greco-Roman civilization, collective behavior retained its social importance even when crowds were scarce.

Most historians have seen early medieval Europe as a world without crowds. In fact, Bobrycki argues, early medieval European sources are full of crowds—although perhaps not the sort historians have trained themselves to look for. Harvests, markets, festivals, religious rites, and political assemblies were among the gatherings used to regulate resources and demonstrate legitimacy. Indeed, the refusal to assemble and other forms of “slantwise” assembly, became a weapon of the powerless. Bobrycki investigates what happened when demographic realities shifted, but culture, religion, and politics remained bound by the past. The history of crowds during the five hundred years between the age of circuses and the age of crusades, Bobrycki shows, tells an important story—one of systemic and scalar change in economic and social life and of reorganization in the world of ideas and norms."

Department of History
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
601012 Medieval history
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