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|The Middle Ages
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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
- 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.
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?
- Bishop, Morris. The Middle Ages (2001) excerpt and text search
- Cantor, Norman. The Civilization of the Middle Ages (1994) excerpt and text search
- Contamine, Philippe. War in the Middle Ages (1991) excerpt and text search
- Hanawalt, Barbara. The Middle Ages: An Illustrated History (1999) excerpt and text search
- Holme, George, ed. The Oxford History of Medieval Europe (1992) online edition
- Jordan, William Chester, ed. The Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia for Students (4 vol 1996)
- Southern, Richard W. The Making of the Middle Ages (1961) excerpt and text search
- Jordan, William Chester. Europe in the High Middle Ages (2004) excerpt and text search
- Strayer, Joseph R. Western Europe in the Middle Ages: A Short History (1955) online edition