In 300 the Roman Empire was still flourishing. In 700 it had been replace in Western Europe by a number of kingdoms ruled by kings of supposedly Germanic origin. The chapter provides a brief narrative of the change. It sets out some of the main lines of interpretation that have been offered, beginning in the period of the Reformation, but more especially with the Ancien Régime. It stresses the importance of the context in which historical interpretation is written. It then defines the scope of the rest of the book.
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