Europe : the emergence of an idea 

Hay, Denys  

Edinburgh : University Press


This title is unfortunately not available in full text for copyright reasons.
Further works by Denys Hay

Denys Hay (British, born 29 August 1915 - died 14 June 1994) was educated at Balliol College, Oxford and became Emeritus Professor of Mediaeval History from 1945, and later Vice Principal, of Edinburgh University. Professor of History at the Badia Fiesolana European Institute from 1980 to 1982, his passion for European history included the effects of the Italian Renaissance and the Church on 15th Century Europe. Edinburgh University's Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies holds an annual Denys Hay Lecture.


In this book, Hay traces the emergence of the term 'Europe' itself. He brings us back to a time before Europe had evolved as a distinct entity either culturally, politically or geographically. His enquiry ranges from ancient civilisations to the renaissance. His erudition in the realm of medieval history lightly worn, Hay maps the evolution of European values and the consequences for the emergence of a European civilisation.

The author's theory is that the rise of a European idea in the Middle Ages harks back to the opposition of Greek civilisation to the Persians, at a time when conflict spurred Greek unification. He notes that from even the earliest times the very climate of the south-east of the European continent was considered to be more favourable than that of land-masses further south, and therefore the peoples of what was to become Europe were thought naturally superior.

Hay goes on to examine the subsequent development of Christendom as an entity. He notes that a great influence in Christian teachings of the time was that of the story of Noah and the notional division of the known continents of Africa, Asia and Europe amongst his sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. Europe became the land of Japheth and the gentiles, Asia the home of Shem, whereas Ham was punished for a transgression with the dominion of Africa - thus further identifying the African peoples with values of inferiority. After the fall of Rome, the religious hierarchy was at pains to point to barbarianism as the antithesis of civilisation, thus contributing to a growing feeling of belonging - an almost racial feeling - amongst those in Christendom.

At this time, however, Christendom remained an international concept, with the possibility remaining for Christians to evangelise the whole world, notably via the Crusades. The subsequent unification of the west in the face of Muslim aggression saw the first real expressions of Europe as the concrete geographical territory it has become. Thereafter the notions of Christendom and Europe began to be used interchangeably in contemporary literature.

The geographical view of Europe of the 13th Century developed, even as Christendom as an international concept was abandoned in the 14th Century, as a result of loss of territory and economic developments which led to Europe becoming largely self-sufficient. By the 15th Century, Christendom is entirely a Western geographical and conceptual idea, wherein Charlemagne takes up his role as the first-mentioned father of Europe. Later turmoil in the Church and the successive and simultaneous papacies held by Rome and Avignon seem only to have reinforced Europe as a common idea.

By the time Hay reaches the 1700s, Europeans are familiar with the term, and indeed are once more setting out into the world, to conquer territories for Europe. A European is considered to be at home, wherever in Europe he may find himself, and European industry and commerce thrive.

Hay's work is a fascinating insight into the ancient history and developments which have come to shape our European psyche.