Last modified on September 7, 2020, at 14:46

Middle Ages

Part of the series on
The Middle Ages
Historical Periods

Early Middle Ages (6th-10th century)
High Middle Ages (11th-13th century)
Late Middle Ages (14th-15th century)

Medieval History

Holy Roman Empire
Investiture Conflict
Black Death
The Crusades

Medieval Society

Medieval religion
Medieval politics

for detailed history see:

General Notes

The Middle Ages, also known as the Medieval period, is the period of European history from the fall of the Roman Empire until the beginnings of the Renaissance or the Protestant Reformation. Historians have suggested different dates for its beginning and end. The beginning is most commonly set at the abdication of the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, but the Visigothic sack of Rome in 410 AD has also been suggested. The ending point is variously given as the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492, or the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Other historians prefer a more vague periodization from 500 AD to 1500 AD, arguing that the change between epochs require a transitional period over many years, making it pointless to try to fix the change at an exact date.

Middle Ages in Brief

  • Aftermath of the Roman Empire
  • Carolingian Empire
  • Vikings
  • Crusades
  • Renaissance of the 12th century
  • Italian city states and Hanseatic League
  • Hundred Years' War
  • Crisis of the later Middle Ages

One of the major events of the late Middle Ages is the Black Death, a plague pandemic that swept across most of Europe between 1347 and 1351 and which is believed to have wiped out one-third of the European population. The plague had momentous consequences for the late medieval European society and mentality.


A conception of a modern nation state did not exist in the Middle Ages. The two dominant political entities were kingdoms, in which the king ruled with the consent of the nobility, and the city state, which was often ruled by an oligarchy drawn from either the local nobility or the merchant class. However, it was also during the Middle Ages that the groundwork for the later nation states were laid.

Warfare was endemic to the period, often on a very small scale. When at war, medieval rulers typically depended on troops paid from their own resources, supported by soldiers provided by their vassals. This meant that only limited number of troops could be raised, and difficulties in logistics and communications further limited this number. For this reason, warfare was often conducted by raids through enemy territories and sieges of important towns or castles. Open field battles between armies were quite rare.

Notable conflicts of the era were between the English and the French in the Hundred Years' War, the conquests of Charlemagne, and several peasant revolts.


Small economies of scale developed throughout the Middle Ages, in the form of vassalage between a lord and his clients.


Overall, Europe during the Middle Ages was predominantly Catholic. At the beginning of the period, however, the Christian Western Roman Empire had broken up and been replaced by Germanic kingdoms that were predominantly non-Christian.

A long period of missionary activities, as well as the support of the Carolingian Empire, meant that by the year 1000 AD, Christianity was again the dominant religion in Europe. A division occurred in 1054 AD, however, when the Church broke up into a Catholic western part and an Orthodox eastern part.

The Church had many roles that now are usually filled by the state. For instance: until the end of the Middle Ages, the Church was the only organization that had any say in the institution of marriage. The Church decided who could marry whom, how the marriage had to take place, and how a marriage could be ended. No city, no state, and no king had the final say concerning the institution of marriage.

Later Perceptions of the Middle Ages

  • Renaissance: the medium aevum
  • Enlightenment: dark superstition
  • Romanticism: the glorious past
  • Modern times: academic study and prejudices
  • Now: renewed interest?

Further reading

See also

External links