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The Middle Ages was the era from Rome’s collapse to the start of the Italian Renaissance, but it starts about 476 and lasts for 1000 years as we get into the 14th and 15th centuries, also famous as the “Dark Ages”. The term Dark Ages was coined by an Italian scholar named Francesco Petrarch. It suffered the loss of two separate empires (Roman and Byzantine) and failed to recover from their defeats. Generally speaking, the Middle Ages are divided into three main sections, the early Middle Ages, from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to about the year 1000. The high Middle Ages, which was a high trend for the Middle Ages in Europe moving from about what the year 1000 to the year 1300, and then the late Middle Ages, which gets us to the 15th century and it is not considered as good as living in Europe.
The Roman Empire falls in 476 AD. With the fall of Rome, Germanic people started to move in and overrun lands once occupied by the Roman Empire. By 500 AD, the Western Roman Empire had been replaced by a number of German kingdoms. Constant fighting disrupts trade and government; people abandon cities. Knowledge of the Greek language and culture is almost completely lost. Germanic people were constantly at war. Wars continually change borders between kingdoms. During this time of upheaval, the Church continues to grow and offers security. Just one Germanic kingdom, the Franks kingdom, proved to be a lasting one. Clovis, a strong military leader of about 500AD, set up the empire. Clovis, like other Germanic tribes, was able to unite the Franks into one kingdom. In fact, Clovis was the first Germanic king to convert to Christianity. Christianity had started as an obscure Jewish sect. 24 years after the fall of western Rome a religious leader was born in Saudi Arabia whose vision would challenge the Christian worldview. Islam appears in 622. The Islamic Holy Book (The Quran) was the final authority on faith and lifestyle for the followers of Islam. Islam is a monotheistic religion. Although the Quran mentions both Mary and Jesus respectfully it states that Jesus was another prophet (and not the Son of God or divine).
A German prince called Charlemagne was the Grandson of Charles Martel. Charlemagne was eager to unite Europe’s numerous kingdoms. He was famous for his athleticism and intelligence although like most leaders he was illiterate. He embarked on more than 50 military campaigns beginning in 774. In 779 Pope Leo III was driven out of Rome by an angry mob (who was angered by his ‘common’ birth and accused him of adultery and perjury!). To defend the Pope, Charlemagne sent an army. In return, the grateful Pope named Charlemagne the head of the “HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE”. The largest empire since the Roman Empire was the empire of Charlemagne (known as the CAROLINGIAN EMPIRE).
For the first 500 years of the Middle Ages, there were NO large castles or ‘Knights in Shining Armor’. These developed in response to three waves of invasions that were so terrifying, that they completely changed how Medieval Society was organized. The waves of invaders and raiders during the 800s and 900s made central control of Europe very difficult. A system based on local power and loyalty emerged. This was known as FEUDALISM. Feudalism means a socio-economic system based on land ownership by a few wealthy people. Age of Feudalism is when Europe broke up into 3 separate kingdoms (France, Germany, and Italy). The most prominent features of feudalism were the nobles, knights, serfs, and crusades.
During the early Middle Ages German tribes such as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded Britain. The name ‘England’ comes from Angleland (named after one of the German tribes). In 1066 William the Conqueror invaded from Normandy and defeated the English King Harold II. The Battle has been portrayed on the famous Bayeux Tapestry. William was crowned King on Christmas Day. William introduced a strong and efficient central government. During the High Middle Ages England would develop a Parliament and the radical concept that the law applied to the King. It would also wage a series of wars with another rising European power – France.
By the High Middle Ages, the church was the largest landowner in Western Europe. They also ran the majority of schools, hospitals, and orphanages. The church occasionally came into conflict with political leaders. The church usually won these conflicts. Growing concerns about corruption in the church (including the selling of Church titles by Monks for profit) led to sweeping reforms in this period.
The crusade was a holy war declared by the Pope who commanded the kings and nobles into a military expedition. Byzantine emperor Alexius I asks Pope Urban II for Christian knights to help him fight the Turks. Muslim groups were interfering with Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
During the 1300s and 1400s, the temperature of Europe began to cool. This resulted in violent storms and unpredictable rainfall. Crop yields dropped dramatically. The worst years were 1315-1317. In most towns and regions 10 to 50 percent of the population starved to death. As trade had expanded in the 1300s Europeans had more regular contact with Asia. The Silk Road was the main route between Europe and China. Tensions occurred along this route between Europeans and the Mongolian tribesman (Mongols). Italian merchants at the city of Kaffa were besieged by the Mongols in 1345. The disease killing the Mongols was the Bubonic Plague. During medieval times there was no cure for this disease – and it was spread easily. Symptoms included large blisters called Buboes, high fevers, and delirium. The Late Middle Ages (1300-1500) had been a time of climate change, war, famine, and poverty. Despite these events, there were several reasons the period from 1500 was the beginning of Modern Europe.
Charlemagne (742-814) – He was an Emperor and King who brought most of Western and Central Europe under his reign by a variety of means including military conquest.
William the Conqueror (1028-1087) – His Normans were the last foreign force to conquer what is now Great Britain. He was King (William I) He began this conquest with the famous battle of Hastings in 1066 and in subsequent battles mostly to repress revolts and uprisings.
William Wallace (Died 1305) – He is the figure now made very famous by the movie Braveheart. He was a Scottish knight and landowner who was a leading figure in the Scottish Wars for Independence.
The dark ages weren’t necessarily all that dark. In fact, at many points in history, they were filled with light. Many forget the victories but remember the tragedies. For there were many tragedies. Deaths, illnesses, wars, and punishment occurred, more horrible than most have seen. But out of those horrors came a new beginning, which proved that the horrible happenings were essential to the rebirth of Europe. The people had to rely on the church and the feudal system. For if they hadn’t a lot of modern-day cultures may have changed. As the people relied on the church, they began to form ranks and social statuses. These statuses became as important as money and land, knights, lords, and monarchs ruling over the peasants and serfs. No damsels in distress, fairies, dragons, knights in shining armor, or glorious palaces existed. The Medieval Times was truly fascinating but wasn’t just dark. It was also quite light and deserves to have its victories remembered as a reality, not just as the faraway fairytale that it is now known as. Some of the tales told today were a reality, some were mere legends, and a lot is yet to be confirmed.
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