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- The Middle Ages was a time in Europe that lasted from the fall of Rome to the beginning of the Renaissance.
- Some scholars call it medieval, but others say that “Middle Age” makes it sound like this time is unimportant.
The Name “Middle Ages”
The Middle Ages were a time of change. There was more nationalism, people fought, natural disasters and climate changes, and people rebelled. The end of the Middle Ages was a period called the Renaissance when there was lots of progress.
Petrarch, an Italian poet of the fourteenth century, called this time the Dark Ages. Petrarch thought that there was not much learning during this time because people were missing out on classical knowledge.
Later, historians learned about the idea of the Dark Ages. They are also called the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages is a time in Europe that started at about 500 AD and went until the Renaissance, around 1500 AD.
The End of the Roman Empire
The fall of Rome had a huge impact on the political and social structure of the Western world. The Roman Empire helped provide stability to much of Europe.
The Germanic tribes were forced to move into southern and western Europe. They converted to Christianity, but they kept their customs and ways of life. The people would never be unified because the social organization was different for each tribe.
People were happier during the Roman Empire because of improvements in farming, roads, water supplies, and shipping. But over time, these things got worse or broke down completely.
In the West, the Roman Empire fragmented. But in the East, it remained strong. The emperors ruled from Constantinople, which they called New Rome. It had one of the largest churches in the world and was a major center for art production.
In the Middle Ages, political units were not organized, and there was no one with power. Local lords expanded their territory and got more powerful. There were no strong kings or emperors to stop them.
In many areas, the term feudum came to mean a form of property holding. In some cases, this type of holding was considered a dependent tenure with limited rights for people who held it.
Fiefs were the way that people got money when they were in Europe. The fief was land that people owned and used. If they did not use their land, the fief holder would take it away from them.
The fief was a piece of property you held, lords renowned, and the lord had to do something for you. The person who had the land, called the lord, has to receive things from the one who had the land.
The person who had the land became the lord’s man. The oath is taken in a ceremony where serfs swear loyalty to their lord.
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages lasted from the fall of Rome to about the year 1000. There was a brief break during Charlemagne’s time.
Outside of that interlude, no large political structure arose in Europe to provide stability. Germany and Italy lost their unity and became a series of smaller kingdoms.
The Catholic Church and the Emperor
After the Roman Empire broke down, people started to think of Europe as one large church-state. There were two groups of leaders: the religious leaders and the secular leaders.
In the first group, people attended to the spiritual needs of the people. The pope had supreme authority over this. In the second group, people attended to temporal needs. The emperor had supreme authority over this.
The two institutions were often fighting. The emperors often tried to control what the church did by appointing their people and interfering with beliefs.
The church-owned land and armies. They tried to control the government, too. This was a problem in the 11th century regarding who would choose the head of the church.
Women during the Middle Ages
Married women in medieval Europe were not allowed to sign contracts. They couldn’t be witnesses in court either or borrow money on their behalf.
These laws did not apply to single women. This was a big advantage over what the Romans had.
In medieval Europe, a woman could protect her assets by being in a different line of work from her husband. For example, if the woman was a tailor and the man was a brewer, their money remained separate.
In the Middle Ages, women could become queens and rule kingdoms. Sometimes they would rule for a little while or always. Male rulers had the same power as female ones did.
Trades during the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, most of the people lived in the countryside. Around 85% of people were peasants.
Peasants worked the land to get food, fuel, and wool. The countryside was divided into estates that were run by lords.
When someone had a lot of property, they had many people working for them. People couldn’t grow their food but they had to work on the landowner’s property.
At the top were some peasants that had money. They were enterprising and sometimes own land in their own right.
People also have different trades. Some people weaved baskets or raised bees. People had work relationships with others, too, which were formalized by oaths.
Death and Afterlife
Death was at the center of life in the Middle Ages. Most people were not healthy, so many died before they could get old. This is different from today because most people are healthy and can live a long time.
People thought about death a lot because they thought they should do good things to prepare for the afterlife.
In the Middle Ages, there was a disease called the Black Death. This disease killed more people than any other event that happened in history.
People used to measure time by saints’ days, which are the holidays for the holiest men and women of all time. Easter is one of these holidays because it commemorates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from death.
In the Middle Ages, everybody went to a parish church. It was a place where communities met, and it was also the burial ground.
Late Middle Ages
In the 12th century, a cultural and economic renaissance happened. The balance of economic power moved westward across Europe.
The gothic style developed in art and architecture. People began to travel and communicate more easily.
Towns were built, and merchant classes started to develop. Farming became easier too, which helped the towns grow and the merchant class develop.
During the 12th century, beans were grown and became a part of everyone’s diet. This was because now there was enough food to feed everyone. So people started having more babies. That made the old feudal structures break up.
The Rise of Islam
Meanwhile, the Muslim world was continuing to grow. It became strong after Muhammad died.
They took control of most of the Middle East and made it one country with one leader. The Medieval Islamic world was three times larger than all of Christendom.
Under the caliphs, great cities such as Cairo and Baghdad became important centers of cultural life. Poets, scientists, and philosophers wrote thousands of books.
Scholars translated books from India, Greece, and Iran into Arabic. They also invented the pinhole camera, soap, windmills, surgical instruments, and flying machines.
Religious thinkers and mystics translated, interpreted, and taught the Quran and other scriptural works to people across the Middle East.
The Knights and Kings were fighting in wars for God. They wanted to get Muslim people away from the sacred land where Jesus and the Bible were from.
The Crusades began when Pope Urban said that Christians should fight their way to Jerusalem. They captured Jerusalem from Muslim control. Pilgrims started coming from across Western Europe.
Christians and Muslims battled for dominance over lands in what is today Palestine. These battles lasted a year or more. Sometimes, they would go to China or India, which would take two to three years.
The Crusades ended in 1291. The crusading soldiers left the area and went home.
People showed devotion to the Church by building grand cathedrals. These were some of the largest buildings in medieval Europe and were found at the center of towns and cities across Europe.
Cathedrals in Europe were usually built in the Romanesque style. Romanesque cathedrals are strong and massive, with rounded arches and vaults beneath the roof to support them. They feature thick stone walls and few windows.
Many people then started building Gothic cathedrals. They have lots of windows and stained glass. Some people say that Gothic cathedrals are better than Romanesque ones because they seem to be lighter.
Medieval religious art took other forms. Frescoes and mosaics decorated church interiors. Artists also painted devotional images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the saints.
Royal courts began to accept new orders like the Order of the Golden Fleece. While knighthood was once a high-ranking job, knights were frequently used as simple sporting entertainment for royal families.
By 1337, some courts began to depreciate religion and even trivialize it. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France started to.
In the Late Middle Ages, many things changed. Feudal institutions got weaker, and city-states in Italy got stronger. In Spain, France, England, and other places, there were also kings.
The Renaissance was a period of rebirth and renewal in the history of Western culture. The term “Renaissance” means revival.
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