This was my third book read for the Medieval Challenge, and the second of the non-fiction books I have read about this time period. Actually, the other non-fiction book I read discussed the true medieval time period, 1040-ish to the 1500's, and this book obviously covered an earlier time period, 400 to 1100. But as they focused on different topics, there would not have been much overlap anyway.
I have to say that I loved this book. I have not read a history book that I enjoyed so much in a long time. Women in Early Medieval Europe could easily be used as a textbook for a class on either early medieval history or women's studies. It is an extensively researched and well notated book that focuses solely on women, and their impact on the history of this time period, as well as the time period's impact on them. Bitel does an excellent job of finding the stories about women from the little that is said about them. She points out that the histories written during this time period are by men, and women are only discussed if they are somehow connected to the male main characters, as mothers or wives. The only women that merit real attention are those that either break the rules set for them by society, or who are especially pious and noble, and therefore used by the historians as examples of what women should or should not be.
In addition to the histories written during these time periods, Bitel examines records of laws and accounts, often finding evidence of women when it is not explicitly stated. And of course we know that women existed, because people continued to procreate and extend their reach over the land. Bitel discusses the reasons for why women were included or left out of records to great extent. This is a fascinating book both on the level of women's history and early european history.
Women in Early Medieval Europe is part of the Cambridge Medieval Textbook series. For anyone interested in good non-fiction about this time period, I would recommend checking out any books in this series.