Henri Pirenne

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Portrait of Henri Pirenne

Henri Pirenne (born December 22/23, 1862 in Verviers , † October 24, 1935 in Uccle ) was a Belgian historian .


Pirenne studied history and law at the University of Liège and continued his studies in Paris, Leipzig and Berlin. Wilhelm Arndt , Harry Breßlau and Gabriel Monod were among his teachers. At the age of 24 he was appointed professor of medieval history at Ghent University . He held this professorship, interrupted by the war, until 1930. At that time the university became Dutch-speaking, which ran counter to Pirenne’s desire to have a bilingual university in Ghent (such as the University of Leuven). He then lived in Uccle near Brussels. He was married to Jenny-Laure Vanderhaegen, with whom he had four sons, of whom only his son Jacques survived.

Although he was definitely a friend of German culture, he consistently refused any cooperation with the military and civil occupation authorities during the First World War . In March 1916 he was therefore interned in the German Reich, including in the internment camp near Holzminden . His internment conditions were eased through humanitarian interventions, including at diplomatic level, and upon intervention by German historians, he first came to the university city of Jena with the historian Paul Fredericq , where he maintained closer contact with Alexander Cartellieri . From January 1917 until the end of the war, he was assigned to stay in Jena Creuzburg an der Werra after a short time . In order to find distraction from the pain of the separation from his family and the death of his nineteen-year-old son Pierre, who died as a volunteer in the Battle of the Yser in November 1914 , he summarized the economic history lectures on the history of the European Middle Ages that he gave had held in Holzminden without preparation and without his books in front of Russian students. His son Jacques published it as a book posthumously in 1936.

Before the First World War, Pirenne had good contacts with German historians and regularly attended the German Historians' Days. That changed after the First World War and he questioned nationalistic tendencies in German historical studies, which until then had served as a model for him and others in Belgium. In particular, the nationalist attitude of Lamprecht and his behavior during a visit to Belgium in 1915 sobered Pirenne and other Belgian historians such as Fredericq. He expressed his criticism of Germany in several speeches by the rectorate (Ce que nous devons désapprendre de l'Allemagne, Ghent 1922). Pirenne revoked his membership in German academies and returned his German honorary doctorates. He no longer worked on the quarterly journal for social and economic history because of the nationalistic attitude of its editor Georg von Below , but supported the founding of a new magazine by the then little-known Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch in Paris (who initially for financial reasons failed) and was thus instrumental in founding the Annales School .

Pirenne is considered the father of a Ghent historical school, to which his students François Louis Ganshof and Hans Van Werveke belong. He became known through the so-called Pirenne thesis , according to which the cultural unity of the Mediterranean was not destroyed by the migration and the invasion of the Germanic peoples, but only by the Islamic expansion . In his major work Mahomet et Charlemagne , published posthumously in 1937 , he formulated precisely this thesis.

In his monumental Belgian history he advocated the thesis that the deeper cause of Belgium's independence ultimately goes back to the Middle Kingdom (Lotharingia) created in the Carolingian era when the Franconian Empire was divided up after the Treaty of Verdun in 843 . This view and too one-sided focus on the County of Flanders and the Principality of Liège was later criticized.

In 1912 he became a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and in 1921 of the British Academy . He was also a member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences (1906-1919) and the Society for Rhenish History. In 1909 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Leipzig and in 1911 in Göttingen. In 1922 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .


  • Mahomet et Charlemagne , Paris / Brussels 1937 (German: Birth of the West. Fall of Antiquity on the Mediterranean and Rise of the Germanic Middle Ages , Amsterdam 1939). Online .
  • Histoire de l'Europe des invasions au XVIe siècle , Paris / Brussels 1936 (German: History of Europe. From the Migration Period to the Reformation , Berlin 1956).
  • (with Gustave Cohen and Henri Focillon ) La civilization occidentale au Moyen Âge du XIe au milieu du XVe siècle , Paris 1933 (German: Social and Economic History of Europe in the Middle Ages , Bern 1946).
  • Les villes du moyen age. Essai d'histoire économique et sociale , Brussels 1927.
  • Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade , Princeton University Press 1925.
  • Souvenirs de Captivité en Allemagne (Mars 1916 - November 1918) , Bruxelles, Librairie Maurice Lamertin, Collection du Flambeau, 1920 (and Revue des Deux Mondes , 55, 1919/20, 539-560, 829-858).
  • Histoire de Belgique , 7 volumes, Maurice Lamertin, Brussels 1899–1932, online .
    • The first volume first appeared in German in 1899 as part of the history of European states by Karl Lamprecht and shortly afterwards in French.


  • Alexander Cartellieri : Diaries of a German Historian. From the empire to the two states (1899–1953) (= German historical sources of the 19th and 20th centuries. Vol. 69). Edited, introduced and edited by Matthias Steinbach and Uwe Dathe. Oldenbourg, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-486-71888-1 .
  • Jan Dhondt : Henri Pirenne. Historien des institutions urbaines , in: Annali della Fondazione Italiana per la Storia Amministrativa. Vol. 3, 1966, ISSN  0531-9846 , pp. 81-129.
  • FL Ganshof: Henri Pirenne and Economic History , in: Economic History Review, 6, 1936, pp. 179-185.
  • Bryce Lyon : Henri Pirenne. A Biographical and Intellectual Study , Gent 1974.
  • Bryce Lyon, Mary Lyon (Editor): The Birth of Annales History: the letters of Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch to Henri Pirenne (1921–1935) , Brussels 1991.
  • Bryce Lyon (editor): The Letters of Henri Pirenne to Karl Lamprecht (1894-1915) , in: Bulletin De La Commission Royale D'histoire , Volume 132, 1966, pp. 161-231.
  • Bryce Lyon: Henri Pirenne - connu or inconnu? in: Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire 81, 2003, pp. 1231–1241, online .
  • Klaus-Gunther WesselingHenri Pirenne. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 15, Bautz, Herzberg 1999, ISBN 3-88309-077-8 , Sp. 1166-1182.
  • Erna Patzelt : Franconian culture and Islam. With special consideration of the Nordic development. A universal historical study (= publications of the seminar for economic and cultural history at the University of Vienna. 4). 2nd, revised edition. License issue. Scientia, Aalen 1978, ISBN 3-511-06934-3 (The author presents arguments against Pirenne's theses, with detailed historical examples and contexts. A comprehensive reply).
  • Peter Schöttler : Henri Pirenne's criticism of German historical studies and his re-establishment of comparatism in the First World War , in: Sozial.Geschichte. Journal for historical analysis of the 20th and 21st centuries , 19 (2004), no. 2, pp. 53–81.
  • Peter Schöttler: Henri Pirenne, historien européen, entre la France et l'Allemagne , in: Revue belge de philologie et d´histoire , 76, 1998, pp. 875–883, online .
  • Matthias Steinbach : The king's biographer. Alexander Cartellieri (1867–1955). Historian between France and Germany (= Jena contributions to history. Vol. 2). Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2001, ISBN 3-631-37496-8 (At the same time: Jena, University, dissertation, 1998: History between France and Germany. ).
  • Raoul Van Caenegem : Henri Pirenne. Naar aanleidning van de honderste verjaardag van zijn benoeming te Gent, Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschapen , in: Letteren en Schonen Kunsten van Belgie , 49, 1987, pp. 87-105 (English translation Henri Pirenne. Medievalist and Historian of Belgium , in: Van Caenegem: Law, history, the low countries and europe , London 1994).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Preface to: Europe in the Middle Ages. From the Great Migration to the Reformation, by Henri Pirenne. From the Franz. By Wolfgang Hirsch ISBN 978-3-86647-402-4 .
  2. ^ Matthias Steinbach: The king's biographer. Alexander Cartellieri (1867–1955). Historian between France and Germany. Frankfurt am Main 2001, pp. 145 f .; and Alexander Cartellieri: Diaries of a German Historian. From the empire to the two states (1899–1953). Edited, introduced and edited by Matthias Steinbach and Uwe Dathe. Munich 2014, p. 243.
  3. ^ Geneviève Warland Reception and perception of German history among Belgian epigones: Paul Fredericq (1850–1920), Godefroid Kurth (1847–1916), Henri Pirenne (1862–1935), in: Hubert Roland, Marnix Beyen, Greet Draye (eds. ), Pictures of Germany in Belgium 1830–1940, Waxmann, Studies on the History and Culture of North West Europe 22, 2011, pp. 219–261.
  4. What we have to unlearn from Germany.
  5. ^ Deceased Fellows. British Academy, accessed July 17, 2020 .
  6. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Vol. 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Episode 3, vol. 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 190.