The Early Middle Ages

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1 The Early Middle Ages The Dark Ages The term the Middle Ages was coined by historians who did not know what to call the time period between the classical era (Rome) and the rebirth of the classical era, (ie. the Renaissance), in Europe. The concept of The Dark Ages, was introduced by Petrarch (an Italian scholar of the 1300s), and refers to the time period directly after the Fall of Rome until the rise of feudalism roughly from CE. It is also called the early Middle Ages. The Dark Ages were initially characterized by waves of tribal invasions and migrations (from ). In general this time period yielded few artistic, architectural or technological innovations or accomplishments. A Muslim Europe? By 700, Europeans faced a new threat this time, from the Middle East. Muslim Arabs had rapidly conquered northern and eastern Africa, and had pushed into Spain as well. They were making their way into the rest of the continent, and spreading Islam in their wake. In 732, Charles Martel was the ruler of the Franks a Germanic people with a Kingdom in Central & Western Europe. Martel fought the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in France, and was able to stop their advance into the rest of Western Europe. Historians often consider this battle to be one of the most influential because of the historic implications for Europe. The Fall of Rome Rome fell in 476 as a result of many factors, but ultimately because of the invasions of the Huns. As Rome fell, Western Europe experienced a power vacuum, since there was no state or tribe powerful enough to succeed the Empire. Without Rome as a centralizing and unifying factor, various tribes, such as the Lombards, Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Huns, Franks, Angles & Saxons swarmed Europe. It was a chaotic and violent time. Charlemagne Charlemagne was the grandson of Charles Martel, and his name means Charles the Great. He is known for expanding the Frankish Kingdom into an Empire, and creating the Carolingian Dynasty. Charlemagne worked to bring culture and learning to his kingdom. He opened Churches and palace schools, and encouraged the development of literacy. The font Carolingian was developed at this time. Charlemagne was crowned the First Holy Roman Emperor in 800, loosely reviving the power of Ancient Rome. It was really the first large centralized state Europe had seen since Rome, but it was not to last. According to Frankish custom, the father s possessions were divided among the sons, and Charlemagne s kingdom was divided among his heirs.

2 Feudalism What is Feudalism? Feudalism is an all-in-one system it includes a political, economic and a social structure. Officially, it is a system in which land or services are exchanged for protection or loyalty. Politically, Politically feudalism tends to be a decentralized system. Although there is a king or ruler who in theory has the most power, the authority wielded by the king is not overwhelming, and is generally limited somewhat by the power of local lords. Economically, Economically feudalism is grounded in the possession of land. In general, land = power and money. Therefore, the economy tends to be agrarian. In fact, often feudal economies operate on the barter system, without currency, much trade, or a sophisticated economic construct. Socially, Socially feudalism yields a fairly rigid and stratified social structure. Social position is generally determined by the quantity of land owned, and that is generally determined by birth. European Feudal Social Structure The upper classes comprised, perhaps, 5% of the general population in Medieval Europe. In order, the classes were made up of the King, lords, lesser lords and knights. Knights were the warrior class, and generally were the younger sons of lords or lesser lords. The lower classes were the other 95% of the population and were made up of merchants & artisans, peasants and serfs. How does it work? In theory, the King owns all of the land in the kingdom. He cannot possibly oversee the administration of it all, so he divides the land and delegates administration of that land to his friends. Each of his friends is called a lord, and is put in charge of an enormous tract of land. (The King also has his own tract of land.) In reality, these tracts are too much for one lord to administrate, so each lord will further sub-divide the land into smaller tracts which he will contract with lesser lords to administrate. These lesser lords owe loyalty and perhaps military service to the lord, just as the lord owes it to the king. It seems all neat and clear in terms of loyalties until some enterprising lesser lord signs a feudal contract with two different lords. He gains land and perhaps favors in return for service. It becomes messy when his two lords go to war with each other. As a lesser lord who has signed a feudal contract with each, he owes EACH military service and loyalty. Which one does he support in the conflict? Feudalism tended to create a web of confusing and conflicting loyalties. Feudal Contracts Feudal contracts were signed ONLY by members of the upper classes. In a feudal contract, a lesser lord received a fief (estate) from a lord, and promised certain specified services in return. Such services might include military service, days of labor, or percentage of crops harvested.

3 The Church The Roman Catholic Church In the absence of a unified, centralized, powerful government (ie. Rome), the Catholic Church played an important role in Western Europe. Eventually, the Catholic Church became the only commonality in Europe. As tribes filtered through, and eventually converted, the only thing that all Europeans had in common was the Christian Church. The Church, in essence, became the centralizing factor in Europe. Role of the Church The Church played many roles for many years in Western Europe. First of all it was the only source of literacy and education in Western Europe for centuries. Priests, monks, nuns and bishops needed to be literate in Latin (the language of the Church and most Bibles at the time). They also tended to be literate in their own language. This made clergy invaluable to the nobility and in royal courts during the early and middle Middle Ages, because most people (including the upper classes) were illiterate. The nobles needed the clergy to write and authenticate contracts of all sorts. Along the same lines, monks spent years painstakingly copying all kinds of manuscripts. As such, the Church became important in the preservation of the Western cultural heritage. Finally, it was the job of the Church to administer the sacraments special rites and rituals important to Christianity. The Church s Power Because of the roles the Church played in Medieval life, it wielded a lot of power. In fact, the Catholic Church s power peaked during the Middle Ages in Europe. First power: Royal Favor. Because the Church clergy were the only literate ones in society, they were often called upon by nobles or the king, to write, translate or witness contracts. These acts curried favor with important and powerful people, and as a result, clergy often received gifts or favors for these services. Second power: Monopoly. The Catholic Church was the only game in town. That is to say, the Church was the only source of Christianity in Western Europe. This yielded tremendous power. Third power: Control of the Sacraments. Since the Church dispensed the sacraments, they had control over who received them. To be denied the sacraments was to be denied entrance to Heaven. The sacraments included things like baptism, confirmation, communion, confession, and the last rites. Without the sacraments, a person was in danger of eternal damnation. Denial of the sacraments was known as excommunication. Popes sometimes excommunicated kings who crossed them. They could also excommunicate an entire region this was known as an Interdict. Fourth power: Land. The Church became one of the largest landowners in Europe. Much of this land was given as favors for services rendered to powerful people. As such, Church bishops often became powerful feudal lords.

4 The High Middle Ages The High Middle Ages The High Middle Ages refers to the period near the end of the Middle Ages from Many believe that the roots of the Renaissance were planted during this time. This time was characterized by a revival of education. Many major European Universities were established during the High Middle Ages, including the Universities at Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Salamanca and Padua. These schools were originally established under the auspices of the Church, and by the end of the era, they were accepting lay students the sons of wealthy lords. This time period was also characterized by a decline in Barbarian invasions, and an increase in political organization & centralization. Decentralized feudalism reached its peak in the 1000s, and steadily increased its centralization in the person of the king. A Revival of Trade The High Middle Ages was also characterized by a revival in trade. This revival was largely a result of the Crusades the series of Holy Wars fought in the Middle East. Much trade came through the Middle East to traders in the Italian city states especially in Venice. In Northern Europe, several cities formed an alliance of trading states known as the Hanseatic League. Cities like Lübeck, Hanover, Cologne, and Amsterdam maintained a trade monopoly along the coast of Northern Europe. New Styles of Architecture Most notable about the High Middle Age period was the new style of Church architecture that was developed. Until this time, the principal style of Church architecture was Romanesque, and was reminiscent of Ancient Rome. Churches of this style had heavy domes, pillars and vaulted arches. The problem with this architectural design was that as the walls got higher, or the domes got bigger, the pillars and walls supporting the weight became thicker and thicker. Windows were openings in the walls, and they cut the supportive nature of the wall. Thus, windows in Romanesque churches tended to be small, or located in the dome area. A new architectural innovation, the Flying Buttress, was utilized in the period and became common in the new Church architecture known as Gothic. This buttress was a support that existed outside the walls of the cathedral. Stone arms connected the buttress to the wall, and the Flying Arm weight of the roof, the spire (tall pointed tower), and the wall was channeled down the arm into the outside support. Buttress Wall Thus the walls of a Gothic cathedral could be thin, and cut with huge windows. One of the characteristics of Gothic cathedrals are the huge stained glass windows. These windows typically illustrate Biblical stories, as a method of education. Since most common people of this time were illiterate, the stories served educational purposes on the Christian faith.

5 The Crusades The Crusades The term Crusades generally refers to a series of Holy Wars that lasted nearly 200 years between Christian Europeans and the Muslim Turks of the Middle East. The first Crusade was initiated by Pope Urban II in 1095 at the Council of Clermont. The Byzantine Emperor Alexius I asked the Pope for help in defending his Empire against the expansion of the Seljuk Turks. The Turks had recently conquered the Holy Land of Jerusalem. The Byzantine Emperor sought help from the west, and the Pope saw an opportunity to extend his influence. Keeping in mind that the East-West Schism occurred in 1054, the Pope saw this as an opportunity to reconcile the two churches. The Pope also saw this as a way to channel the energies of the military segment of society. In other words, knights and warriors were creating a significant amount of violence in European society violence that was better aimed at the Middle East. Course of the Crusades Overall, there were nearly a dozen crusades over the course of 200 years. Some were more successful than others (some were dismal failures). In each crusade, a military effort was mounted to regain the Holy Land of Jerusalem, and in some cases, they were met with success. In general however, the Byzantine Empire, or the Crusader states that were set up in the Holy Land, were too weak to hold the territory, and they reverted back to Muslim possession Results of the Crusades The results of the Crusades cannot be evaluated simply on the basis of their military success or failure. Clearly, they were considered military failures for Western Europe, however, they yielded important social, political and economic effects. Economic Effects: One of the largest and most important impacts of the Crusades was the increase of trade that was stimulated within Europe and between Europe and the Middle East. Goods from the Middle and Far East flowed into Europe en masse for the first time since the fall of Rome. Roman roads, long unused in Medieval Europe, were bustling with trade and travel by the end of the Crusades. More than just goods flowed into Europe. Technology and innovation like the astrolabe and compass also arrived, and began to stimulate European interest in exploration. Political Effects: The increase in trade would help bring about the end of feudalism. Trade necessitated the growth of towns, and towns lay outside the manor system and outside the control of lords. Towns were under the control of kings, and kings gained substantial power over lords as a result. The Church also lost power during this time, and national monarchies began to take shape with the rise of powerful kings. Social Effects: The split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church was solidified in this time period. Western crusaders sacked Constantinople, and killed fellow Christians there. Bad feelings following this would persist.

6 The Development of Medieval Towns The Revival of Trade The revival of Medieval trade occurred slowly over the centuries. As the impact of barbarian invasions lessened in the 10th century, travel became a bit safer. The pace of trade really picked up by the 1200s as a result of the Crusades. Armies of crusaders trekked to the Middle East and there encountered goods and luxuries not found in Europe. These goods and luxuries were brought back home, and a huge demand was created. Simultaneously, most of Eurasia was falling under Mongol rule. The Pax Mongolica (Mongol peace) created an increase in trade volume moving along the Silk Roads. Town Charters Towns often grew out of small villages in Manor systems. Eventually, most towns desired independence from the local lord, and sought a Charter of Liberation or a Charter of Rights from the king. With a Charter, towns could govern themselves, collect their own taxes and make their own rules. They owed nothing to the local lord. The town was independent. Town Charters were expensive to buy, however. As such, the issuing of town Charters became a major money-maker for many kings. It also hastened the decline of politically decentralized feudalism. Local lords lost revenue and power as towns became independent. Kings gained revenue (through the Charters), and power, beginning the centralizing process. The Growth of Towns As trade began to increase, towns began to grow in size and in number, because merchants and traders looked for an urban setting in which to exchange their goods. During the Early Middle Ages, towns had languished because travel was dangerous and trade had ground to a halt. In the late Middle Ages, town populations swelled not only with merchants, but with bankers, artisans, businessmen, laborers, and runaway serfs. These townspeople were often called burghers, after the town itself, the burg, burgh, or bourg. (It is why many towns or cities end with that suffix.) Serfs often tried to escape to independent Chartered towns. If a serf could live for a year and a day in a town without being caught, they were considered free. But it was difficult for serfs to do this. They usually had no money and few skills (aside from farming). Most turned to a life of crime to make a living. Many were caught and punished or returned to the manor. Conditions in towns were dangerous and filthy. Most buildings were constructed with wood and heated or lit with open flames creating a significant fire hazard. Crime was everywhere. There was no plumbing or sewers. Waste and garbage were tossed into the streets where stray dogs, cats or rats cleaned it up. This led to a large population of vermin, and contributed greatly to the rapid and deadly spread of the Black Plague in Europe in the 1300s.

7 The Decline of Feudalism The Decline of Feudalism Feudalism was the functional system of the Middle Ages, and it worked well for many years. But slowly, things changed, and as such, the system began to decline. The Black Death The Black Plague was one of the worst pandemics in history. The outbreak peaked in Europe in the mid 1300s, and claimed more than 25 million victims, or 40% of Europe s population. The plague was spread by infected fleas that lived on rats. The filthy condition of European cities allowed for the rapid spread of this disease. The plague had many impacts on Europe, but one was that it hastened the decline of feudalism. Because so many people died in the pandemic, there was a scarcity of laborers. As such, serfs could demand their freedom from lords and peasants could demand greater plots of land in exchange for their labor. The feudal system began to fall apart. Military Factors The nature of warfare began to change in Europe in the 1300s. The first change came with the development of the English longbow. Suddenly, infantry who specialized in the bow were more important than mounted knights. More important, however, was the introduction of gunpowder from Asia. This would dramatically change Medieval warfare, since cannons could blow holes in castle walls. Economic Factors Feudalism had a land based economy and was predicated on the exchange of loyalties and services in relation to that land. As the Crusades helped foster a revival of trade, the economy of Europe began to shift away from land and toward commerce. In Feudalism, the Manor system was a self-sufficient unit. Middle Eastern trade offered products that a manor could not produce or provide. As towns developed in the wake of increased trade, they became independent of manors, further weakening the feudal system. Political Factors Feudalism tended to exist as a decentralized political system, but over time, there were factors that helped Kings to centralize their power, and thus, move away from the feudal system. Kings also gained power through the establishment of towns, even as lords lost power. The disaster of the Crusades and subsequent decline in power of the Catholic Church was one factor that led to the rise of powerful national monarchies. Kings were eager to hasten the decline of the Church since the Church was a major land-owner in Europe. Finally, as the economy became more commercial, lords and knights preferred to pay for their military obligation, rather than serve it themselves. Kings began to develop professional standing armies, ending the military aspect of feudalism.

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