The Basques is by an author who has impressed me in the past, and was also a chance to look at The Peoples of Europe series. The book (and presumably others in the series) is a little under 300 pages in an oversized paperback format, with good sized type and a good number of photographs and maps. As such, it’s not a very long or detailed book, but it’s obviously written as a friendly introductory text. The maps were not always the best (simple line maps that didn’t always have enough context), but were frequent and addressed in the text.

The book gets off to a rough start,mostly, I think, as Collins overthinks sentences to avoid nationalistic pitfalls. It gets better, but never settles down into really good prose. The earliest section deals with language and pre-history in the Pyrenees, and largely states that there is just very little that can be known. Some of that is from the fact that there hasn’t been a lot of good archaeology in the region, but mostly, what there is shows that there’s just no way to tell ‘who’ lived there at the time. Are the Basques survivors of a pre-Indo-European culture that stretched across Western Europe? Did they migrate to their current home in the face of a Indo-European invasion? Something else entirely? There’s no appreciable difference in material culture, so the only way to even define ‘Basque’ in these questions is by language, and there’s no way to tell who was speaking what before the Romans start writing about the region.

And the Romans didn’t say a lot. There are a couple units in the records that came from the region. There’s no signs that the ‘Vascones’ caused any real trouble. That starts in post-Roman period, when the Basques are effectively on the frontier between the Frankish and Visigothic kingdoms. The big surprise (for me) shows up here: Gascony (the part of France south and west of the Garrone) derives from ‘Vasconia’. It would seem that for a short time the Basques controlled much of this region, and lent it their name.

The bulk of the book is about the Middle Ages, when the Basques effectively controlled a decent chunk of land, but never gained any sort of ‘national identity’. Although Basques effectively dominated Navarre, it never presented itself as a ‘Basque kingdom’, and there were no efforts to ‘unify’ with other Basque-speakers in Gascony and Castile.

The book wraps up fairly quickly with post-Medieval history, including an analysis of the emergence of Basque nationalism in the Nineteenth Century, and how that led into their involvement in Spanish politics.

So the book is pretty much what you’d expect: A short history of one of the more unique peoples of Europe, and while the writing is not stellar, it covers the subject very well, and shines a light on a few things that often don’t get enough attention. I certainly hope to get more of the series in the future.