The Middle Ages
The period of European history extending from about 500 to 1400–1500 ce is traditionally known as the Middle Ages. The term was first used by 15th-century scholars to designate the period between their own time and the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The period is often considered to have its own internal divisions: either early and late or early, central or high, and late.
Although once regarded as a time of uninterrupted ignorance, superstition, and social oppression, the Middle Ages are now understood as a dynamic period during which the idea of Europe as a distinct cultural unit emerged. During late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, political, social, economic, and cultural structures were profoundly reorganized, as Roman imperial traditions gave way to those of the Germanic peoples who established kingdoms in the former Western Empire. New forms of political leadership were introduced, the population of Europe was gradually Christianized, and monasticism was established as the ideal form of religious life. These developments reached their mature form in the 9th century during the reign of Charlemagne and other rulers of the Carolingian dynasty, who oversaw a broad cultural revival known as the Carolingian renaissance.
In the central, or high, Middle Ages, even more dramatic growth occurred. The period was marked by economic and territorial expansion, demographic and urban growth, the emergence of national identity, and the restructuring of secular and ecclesiastical institutions. It was the era of the Crusades, Gothic art and architecture, the papal monarchy, the birth of the university, the recovery of ancient Greek thought, and the soaring intellectual achievements of St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224–74).
It has been traditionally held that by the 14th century the dynamic force of medieval civilization had been spent and that the late Middle Ages were characterized by decline and decay. Europe did indeed suffer disasters of war, famine, and pestilence in the 14th century, but many of the underlying social, intellectual, and political structures remained intact. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Europe experienced an intellectual and economic revival, conventionally called the Renaissance, that laid the foundation for the subsequent expansion of European culture throughout the world.
Many historians have questioned the conventional dating of the beginning and end of the Middle Ages, which were never precise in any case and cannot be located in any year or even century. Some scholars have advocated extending the period defined as late antiquity (c. 250–c. 750 ce) into the 10th century or later, and some have proposed a Middle Ages lasting from about 1000 to 1800. Still others argue for the inclusion of the old periods Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation into a single period beginning in late antiquity and ending in the second half of the 16th century.Edward PetersMichael Frassetto
The Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period, typically regarded as lasting from the 6thcentury to the 10th century CE, marked the start of the Middle Ages of European history. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages (c. 10th to 13th centuries). The Early Middle Ages overlap with Late Antiquity. The term "Late Antiquity" is used to emphasize elements of continuity with the Roman Empire, while "Early Middle Ages" is used to emphasize developments characteristic of the later medieval period.
The period saw a continuation of trends begun during late classical antiquity, including population decline, especially in urban centres, a decline of trade, and increased immigration. The period has been labelled the "Dark Ages", a characterization highlighting the relative scarcity of literary and cultural output from this time, especially in Northwestern Europe. However, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire, continued to survive, though in the 7th century the Islamiccaliphates conquered swathes of formerly Roman territory.
Many of these trends were reversed later in the period. In 800 the title of emperor was revived in Western Europe by Charlemagne, whose Carolingian Empire greatly affected later European social structure and history. Europe experienced a return to systematic agriculture in the form of the feudal system, which introduced such innovations as three-field planting and the heavy plough. Barbarian migration stabilized in much of Europe, although Northern Europe was greatly affected by the Viking expansion.
Collapse of Rome
Main article: Decline of the Western Roman Empire
Starting in the 2nd century, various indicators of Roman civilization began to decline, including urbanization, seaborne commerce, and population. Archaeologists have identified only 40 per cent as many Mediterranean shipwrecks from the 3rd century as from the first. Estimates of the population of the Roman Empire during the period from 150 to 400 suggest a fall from 65 million to 50 million, a decline of more than 20 per cent. Some scholars have connected this de-population to the Dark Ages Cold Period (300–700), when a decrease in global temperatures impaired agricultural yields.
Early in the 3rd century Germanic peoples migrated south from Scandinavia and reached the Black Sea, creating formidable confederations which opposed the local Sarmatians. In Dacia (present-day Romania) and on the steppes north of the Black Sea the Goths, a Germanic people, established at least two kingdoms: Therving and Greuthung.
The arrival of the Huns in 372–375 ended the history of these kingdoms. The Huns, a confederation of central Asian tribes, founded an empire. They had mastered the difficult art of shooting composite recurvebows from horseback. The Goths sought refuge in Roman territory (376), agreeing to enter the Empire as unarmed settlers. However many bribed the Danube border-guards into allowing them to bring their weapons.
The discipline and organization of a Roman legion made it a superb fighting unit. The Romans preferred infantry to cavalry because infantry could be trained to retain the formation in combat, while cavalry tended to scatter when faced with opposition. While a barbarian army could be raised and inspired by the promise of plunder, the legions required a central government and taxation to pay for salaries, constant training, equipment, and food. The decline in agricultural and economic activity reduced the empire's taxable income and thus its ability to maintain a professional army to defend itself from external threats.
In the Gothic War (376–382), the Goths revolted and confronted the main Roman army in the Battle of Adrianople (378). By this time, the distinction in the Roman army between Roman regulars and barbarian auxiliaries had broken down, and the Roman army comprised mainly barbarians and soldiers recruited for a single campaign. The general decline in discipline also led to the use of smaller shields and lighter weaponry. Not wanting to share the glory, Eastern Emperor Valens ordered an attack on the Therving infantry under Fritigern without waiting for Western Emperor Gratian, who was on the way with reinforcements. While the Romans were fully engaged, the Greuthung cavalry arrived. Only one-third of the Roman army managed to escape. This represented the most shattering defeat that the Romans had suffered since the Battle of Cannae (216 BCE), according to the Roman military writer Ammianus Marcellinus. The core army of the Eastern Roman Empire was destroyed, Valens was killed, and the Goths were freed to lay waste to the Balkans, including the armories along the Danube. As Edward Gibbon comments, "The Romans, who so coolly and so concisely mention the acts of justice which were exercised by the legions, reserve their compassion and their eloquence for their own sufferings, when the provinces were invaded and desolated by the arms of the successful Barbarians."
The empire lacked the resources, and perhaps the will, to reconstruct the professional mobile army destroyed at Adrianople, so it had to rely on barbarian armies to fight for it. The Eastern Roman Empire succeeded in buying off the Goths with tribute. The Western Roman Empire proved less fortunate. Stilicho, the western empire's half-Vandal military commander, stripped the Rhine frontier of troops to fend off invasions of Italy by the Visigoths in 402–03 and by other Goths in 406–07.
Fleeing before the advance of the Huns, the Vandals, Suebi, and Alans launched an attack across the frozen Rhine near Mainz; on 31 December, 406, the frontier gave way and these tribes surged into Roman Gaul. There soon followed the Burgundians and bands of the Alamanni. In the fit of anti-barbarian hysteria which followed, the Western Roman Emperor Honorius had Stilicho summarily beheaded (408). Stilicho submitted his neck, "with a firmness not unworthy of the last of the Roman generals", wrote Gibbon. Honorius was left with only worthless courtiers to advise him. In 410, the Visigoths led by Alaric Icaptured the city of Rome and for three days fire and slaughter ensued as bodies filled the streets, palaces were stripped of their valuables, and the invaders interrogated and tortured those citizens thought to have hidden wealth. As newly converted Christians, the Goths respected church property, but those who found sanctuary in the Vatican and in other churches were the fortunate few.
Main articles: Migration Period and Germanic monarchy
The Roman Empire was not "conquered" by Germanic tribes, but overrun and even completely displaced by the flood of Germanic migrants. The Goths and Vandals were only the first of many waves of invaders that flooded Western Europe. Some lived only for war and pillage and disdained Roman ways. Other peoples had been in prolonged contact with the Roman civilization, and were, to a certain degree, romanized. "A poor Roman plays the Goth, a rich Goth the Roman" said King Theoderic of the Ostrogoths. The subjects of the Roman empire were a mix of Catholic Christian, Arian Christian, Nestorian Christian, and pagan. The Germanic peoples knew little of cities, money, or writing, and were still mostly pagan, though were becoming increasingly Arian. Arianism was a branch of Christianity that was first proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius. Arius proclaimed that Christ is not truly divine but a created being. His basic premise was the uniqueness of God, who is alone self-existent and immutable; the Son, who is not self-existent, cannot be God.
During the migrations, or Völkerwanderung (wandering of the peoples), the earlier settled populations were sometimes left intact though usually partially or entirely displaced. Roman culture north of the Po River was almost entirely displaced by the migrations. Whereas the peoples of France, Italy, and Spain continued to speak the dialects of Latin that today constitute the Romance languages, the language of the smaller Roman-era population of what is now England disappeared with barely a trace in the territories settled by the Anglo-Saxons, although the Brittanic kingdoms of the west remained Brythonic speakers. The new peoples greatly altered established society, including law, culture, religion, and patterns of property ownership.
The pax Romana had provided safe conditions for trade and manufacture, and a unified cultural and educational milieu of far-ranging connections. As this was lost, it was replaced by the rule of local potentates, sometimes members of the established Romanized ruling elite, sometimes new lords of alien culture. In Aquitania, Gallia Narbonensis, southern Italy and Sicily, Baetica or southern Spain, and the Iberian Mediterranean coast, Roman culture lasted until the 6th or 7th centuries.
The gradual breakdown and transformation of economic and social linkages and infrastructure resulted in increasingly localized outlooks. This breakdown was often fast and dramatic as it became unsafe to travel or carry goods over any distance; there was a consequent collapse in trade and manufacture for export. Major industries that depended on trade, such as large-scale pottery manufacture, vanished almost overnight in places like Britain. Tintagel in Cornwall, as well as several other centres, managed to obtain supplies of Mediterranean luxury goods well into the 6th century, but then lost their trading links. Administrative, educational and military infrastructure quickly vanished, and the loss of the established cursus honorum led to the collapse of the schools and to a rise of illiteracy even among the leadership. The careers of Cassiodorus (died c. 585) at the beginning of this period and of Alcuin of York (died 804) at its close were founded alike on their valued literacy. For the formerly Roman area, there was another 20 per cent decline in population between 400 and 600, or a one-third decline for 150-600. In the 8th century, the volume of trade reached its lowest level. The very small number of shipwrecks found that dated from the 8th century supports this (which represents less than 2 per cent of the number of shipwrecks dated from the 1st century). There were also reforestation and a retreat of agriculture centred around 500.
The Romans had practiced two-field agriculture, with a crop grown in one field and the other left fallow and ploughed under to eliminate weeds. Systematic agriculture largely disappeared and yields declined. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian which began in 541 and recurred periodically for 150 years thereafter killed as many as 100 million people across the world. Some historians such as Josiah C. Russell (1958) have suggested a total European population loss of 50 to 60 per cent between 541 and 700. After the year 750, major epidemic diseases did not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century. The disease Smallpox which was eradicated in the late 20th Century did not definitively enter Western Europe until about 581 when Bishop Gregory of Tours provided an eyewitness account that describes the characteristic findings of smallpox. Waves of epidemics wiped out large rural populations. Most of the details about the epidemics are lost, probably due to the scarcity of surviving written records.
For almost a thousand years, Rome was the most politically important, richest and largest city in Europe. Around 100 CE, it had a population of about 450,000. Its population declined to a mere 20,000 during the Early Middle Ages, reducing the sprawling city to groups of inhabited buildings interspersed among large areas of ruins and vegetation.
Main article: Byzantine Empire
The death of Theodosius I in 395 was followed by the division of the empire between his two sons. The Western Roman Empire disintegrated into a mosaic of warring Germanic kingdoms in the 5th century, making the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople the legal successor to the classical Roman Empire. After Greek replaced Latin as the official language of the Empire, historians refer to the empire as "Byzantine." Westerners would gradually begin to refer to it as "Greek" rather than "Roman." The inhabitants, however, always called themselves Romaioi, or Romans.
The Eastern Roman Empire aimed at retaining control of the trade routes between Europe and the Orient, which made the Empire the richest polity in Europe. Making use of their sophisticated warfare and superior diplomacy, the Byzantines managed to fend off assaults by the migrating barbarians. Their dreams of subduing the Western potentates briefly materialized during the reign of Justinian I in 527–565. Not only did Justinian restore some western territories to the Roman Empire, but he also codified Roman law (with his codification remaining in force in many areas of Europe until the 19th century) and built the largest and the most technically advanced edifice of the Early Middle Ages, the Hagia Sophia. A bubonic plaguepandemic, the Plague of Justinian, marred Justinian's reign, however, infecting the Emperor, killing perhaps 40% of the people in Constantinople, and contributing to Europe's early medieval population decline.
Justinian's successors Maurice and Heraclius had to confront invasions of the Avar and Slavic tribes. After the devastations by the Slavs and the Avars, large areas of the Balkans became depopulated. In 626 Constantinople, by far the largest city of early medieval Europe, withstood a combined siege by Avars and Persians. Within several decades, Heraclius completed a holy war against the Persians by taking their capital and having a Sassanid monarch assassinated. Yet Heraclius lived to see his spectacular success undone by the Muslim conquests of Syria, three Palaestina provinces, Egypt, and North Africa which was considerably facilitated by religious disunity and the proliferation of heretical movements (notably Monophysitism and Nestorianism) in the areas converted to Islam.
Although Heraclius's successors managed to salvage Constantinople from two Arab sieges (in 674–77 and 717), the empire of the 8th and early 9th century was rocked by the great Iconoclastic Controversy, punctuated by dynastic struggles between various factions at court. The Bulgar and Slavic tribes profited from these disorders and invaded Illyria, Thrace and even Greece. After the decisive victory at Ongala in 680 the armies of the Bulgars and Slavs advanced to the south of the Balkan mountains, defeating again the Byzantines who were then forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty which acknowledged the establishment of the First Bulgarian Empire on the borders of the Empire.
To counter these threats, a new system of administration was introduced. The regional civil and military administration were combined in the hands of a general, or strategos. A theme, which formerly denoted a subdivision of the Byzantine army, came to refer to a region governed by a strategos. The reform led to the emergence of great landed families which controlled the regional military and often pressed their claims to the throne (see Bardas Phocas and Bardas Sklerus for characteristic examples).
By the early 8th century, notwithstanding the shrinking territory of the empire, Constantinople remained the largest and the wealthiest city of the entire world, comparable only to Sassanid Ctesiphon, and later AbassidBaghdad. The population of the imperial capital fluctuated between 300,000 and 400,000 as the emperors undertook measures to restrain its growth. The only other large Christian cities were Rome (50,000) and Salonika (30,000). Even before the 8th century was out, the Farmer's Law signalled the resurrection of agricultural technologies in the Roman Empire. As the 2006 Encyclopædia Britannica noted, "the technological base of Byzantine society was more advanced than that of contemporary western Europe: iron tools could be found in the villages; water mills dotted the landscape; and field-sown beans provided a diet rich in protein".
The ascension of the Macedonian dynasty in 867 marked the end of the period of political and religious turmoil and introduced a new golden age of the empire. While the talented generals such as Nicephorus Phocas expanded the frontiers, the Macedonian emperors (such as Leo the Wise and Constantine VII) presided over the cultural flowering in Constantinople, known as the Macedonian Renaissance. The enlightened Macedonian rulers scorned the rulers of Western Europe as illiterate barbarians and maintained a nominal claim to rule over the West. Although this fiction had been exploded with the coronation of Charlemagne in Rome (800), the Byzantine rulers did not treat their Western counterparts as equals. Generally, they had little interest in political and economic developments in the barbarian (from their point of view) West.
Against this economic background, the culture and the imperial traditions of the Eastern Roman Empire attracted its northern neighbours—Slavs, Bulgars, and Khazars—to Constantinople, in search of either pillage or enlightenment. The movement of the Germanic tribes to the south triggered the great migration of the Slavs, who occupied the vacated territories. In the 7th century, they moved westward to the Elbe, southward to the Danube and eastward to the Dnieper. By the 9th century, the Slavs had expanded into sparsely inhabited territories to the south and east from these natural frontiers, peacefully assimilating the indigenous Illyrian and Finno-Ugric populations.
Rise of Islam
Main articles: Umayyad conquest of Hispania and History of Islam in southern Italy
From the 7th century Byzantine history was greatly affected by the rise of Islam and the Caliphates. Muslim Arabs first invaded historically Roman territory under Abū Bakr, first Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, who entered Roman Syria and Roman Mesopotamia. As the Byzantines and neighbouring Persian Sasanids had been severely weakened by a long succession of Byzantine–Sasanian wars, especially the climactic Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628, under Umar, the second Caliph, the Muslims decisively conquered Syria and Mesopotamia, as well as Roman Palestine, Roman Egypt, parts of Asia Minor and Roman North Africa, while they entirely toppled the Sasanids. In the mid 7th century AD, following the Muslim conquest of Persia, Islam penetrated into the Caucasus region, of which parts would later permanently become part of Russia. This expansion of Islam continued under Umar's successors and then the Umayyad Caliphate, which conquered the rest of Mediterranean North Africa and most of the Iberian Peninsula. Over the next centuries Muslim forces were able to take further European territory, including Cyprus, Malta, Septimania, Crete, and Sicily and parts of southern Italy.
The Muslim conquest of Hispania began when the Moors (mostly Berbers with some Arabs) invaded the ChristianVisigothic kingdom of Iberia in the year 711, under their Berber leader Tariq ibn Ziyad. They landed at Gibraltar on 30 April and worked their way northward. Tariq's forces were joined the next year by those of his superior, Musa ibn Nusair. During the eight-year campaign most of the Iberian Peninsula was brought under Muslim rule—save for small areas in the north-westnorthwest (Asturias) and largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees. This territory, under the Arab name Al-Andalus, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire.
The unsuccessful second siege of Constantinople (717) weakened the Umayyad dynasty and reduced their prestige. After their success in overrunning Iberia, the conquerors moved northeast across the Pyrenees, but were defeated by the Frankish leader Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The Umayyads were overthrown in 750 by the Abbāsids and most of the Umayyad clan massacred.
A surviving Umayyad prince, Abd-ar-rahman I, escaped to Spain and founded a new Umayyad dynasty in the Emirate of Cordoba in 756. Charles Martel's son Pippin the Short retook Narbonne, and his grandson Charlemagne established the Marca Hispanica across the Pyrenees in part of what today is Catalonia, reconquering Girona in 785 and Barcelona in 801. The Umayyads in Spain proclaimed themselves caliphs in 929.
Birth of the Latin West
Due to a complex set of reasons, conditions in Western Europe began to improve after 700. In that year, the two major powers in western Europe were the Franks in Gaul and the Lombards in Italy. The Lombards had been thoroughly Romanized, and their kingdom was stable and well developed. The Franks, in contrast, were barely any different from their barbarian Germanic ancestors. Their kingdom was weak, hopelessly divided, and ruled by a king who was barely distinguishable from a peasant. Impossible to guess at the time, but by the end of the century, the Lombardic kingdom would be extinct, while the Frankish kingdom would have nearly reassembled the Western Roman Empire.
Though much of Roman civilization north of the Po River had been wiped out in the years after the end of the Western Roman Empire, between the 5th and 8th centuries, new political and social infrastructure began to develop. Much of this was initially Germanic and pagan. Arian Christian missionaries had been spreading Arian Christianity throughout northern Europe, though by 700 the religion of northern Europeans was largely a mix of Germanic paganism, Christianized paganism, and Arian Christianity. Catholic Christianity had barely started to spread in northern Europe by this time. Through the practice of simony, local princes typically auctioned off ecclesiastical offices, causing priests and bishops to function as though they were yet another noble under the patronage of the prince. In contrast, a network of monasteries had sprung up as monks sought separation from the world. These monasteries remained independent from local princes, and as such constituted the "church" for most northern Europeans during this time. Being independent from local princes, they increasingly stood out as centres of learning, of scholarship, and as religious centres where individuals could receive spiritual or monetary assistance.
The interaction between the culture of the newcomers, their warband loyalties, the remnants of classical culture, and Christian influences, produced a new model for society, based in part on feudal obligations. The centralized administrative systems of the Romans did not withstand the changes, and the institutional support for chattel slavery largely disappeared. The Anglo-Saxons in England had also started to convert from Anglo-Saxon polytheism after the arrival of Christian missionaries around the year 600.
Main articles: Lombards, King of Italy, and Medieval Corsica
The Lombards, who first entered Italy in 568 under Alboin, carved out a state in the north, with its capital at Pavia. At first, they were unable to conquer the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Ducatus Romanus, and Calabria and Apulia. The next two hundred years were occupied in trying to conquer these territories from the Byzantine Empire.
The Lombard state was relatively Romanized, at least when compared to the Germanic kingdoms in northern Europe. It was highly decentralized at first, with the territorial dukes having practical sovereignty in their duchies, especially in the southern duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. For a decade following the death of Cleph in 575, the Lombards did not even elect a king; this period is called the Rule of the Dukes. The first written legal code was composed in poor Latin in 643: the Edictum Rothari. It was primarily the codification of the oral legal tradition of the people.
The Lombard state was well-organized and stabilized by the end of the long reign of Liutprand (717–744), but its collapse was sudden. Unsupported by the dukes, King Desiderius was defeated and forced to surrender his kingdom to Charlemagne in 774. The Lombard kingdom ended and a period of Frankish rule was initiated. The Frankish king Pepin the Short had, by the Donation of Pepin, given the pope the "Papal States" and the territory north of that swath of papally-governed land was ruled primarily by Lombard and Frankish vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor until the rise of the city-states in the 11th and 12th centuries.
In the south, a period of chaos began. The duchy of Benevento maintained its sovereignty in the face of the pretensions of both the Western and Eastern Empires. In the 9th century, the Muslims conquered Sicily. The coastal cities on the Tyrrhenian Sea departed from Byzantine allegiance. Various states owing various nominal allegiances fought constantly over territory until events came to a head in the early 11th century with the coming of the Normans, who conquered the whole of the south by the end of the century.
Main articles: History of Anglo-Saxon England, History of Brittany, History of Cornwall, Scotland in the Early Middle Ages, and History of Wales
Roman Britain was in a state of political and economic collapse at the time of the Roman departure c. 400. A series of settlements (traditionally referred to as an invasion) by Germanic peoples began in the early fifth century, and by the sixth century the island would consist of many small kingdoms engaged in ongoing warfare with each other. The Germanic kingdoms are now collectively referred to as Anglo-Saxons. Christianization began to take hold among the Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century, with 597 given as the traditional date for its large-scale adoption.
Western Britain (Wales), eastern and northern Scotland (Pictland) and the Scottish highlands and isles continued their separate evolution. The Irish descended and Irish-influenced people of western Scotland were Christian from the fifth century onward, the Picts adopted Christianity in the sixth century under the influence of Columba, and the Welsh had been Christian since the Roman era.
Northumbria was the pre-eminent power c. 600–700, absorbing several weaker Anglo-Saxon and Brythonic kingdoms, while Mercia held a similar status c. 700–800. Wessex would absorb all of the kingdoms in the south, both Anglo-Saxon and Briton. In Wales consolidation of power would not begin until the ninth century under the descendants of Merfyn Frych of Gwynedd, establishing a hierarchy that would last until the Norman invasion of Wales in 1081.
The first Viking raids on Britain began before 800, increasing in scope and destructiveness over time. In 865 a large, well-organized Danish Viking army (called the Great Heathen Army) attempted a conquest, breaking or diminishing Anglo-Saxon power everywhere but in Wessex. Under the leadership of Alfred the Great and his descendants, Wessex would at first survive, then coexist with, and eventually conquer the Danes. It would then establish the Kingdom of England and rule until the establishment of an Anglo-Danish kingdom under Cnut, and then again until the Norman Invasion of 1066.
Viking raids and invasion were no less dramatic for the north. Their defeat of the Picts in 839 led to a lasting Norse heritage in northernmost Scotland, and it led to the combination of the Picts and Gaels under the House of Alpin, which became the Kingdom of Alba, the predecessor of the Kingdom of Scotland. The Vikings combined with the Gaels of the Hebrides to become the Gall-Gaidel and establish the Kingdom of the Isles.
Main articles: Frankish Empire, Carolingian Empire, and Carolingian Renaissance
The Merovingians established themselves in the power vacuum of the former Roman provinces in Gaul, and Clovis I converted to Christianity following his victory over the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac (496), laying the foundation of the Frankish Empire, the dominant state of early medieval Western Christendom. The Frankish kingdom grew through a complex development of conquest, patronage, and alliance building. Due to salic custom, inheritance rights were absolute, and all land was divided equally among the sons of a dead land holder. This meant that, when the king granted a prince land in reward for service, that prince and all of his descendants had an irrevocable right to that land that no future king could undo. Likewise, those princes (and their sons) could sublet their land to their own vassals, who could in turn sublet the land to lower sub-vassals. This all had the effect of weakening the power of the king as his kingdom grew, since the result was that the land became controlled by not just by more princes and vassals, but by multiple layers of vassals. This also allowed his nobles to attempt to build their own power base, though given the strict salic tradition of hereditary kingship, few would ever consider overthrowing the king.
This increasingly absurd arrangement was highlighted by Charles Martel, who as Mayor of the Palace was effectively the strongest prince in the kingdom. His accomplishments were highlighted, not just by his famous defeat of invading Muslims at the Battle of Tours, which is typically considered the battle that saved Europe from Muslim conquest, but by the fact that he greatly expanded Frankish influence. It was under his patronage that Saint Boniface expanded Frankish influence into Germany by rebuilding the German church, with the result that, within a century, the German church was the strongest church in western Europe. Yet despite this, Charles Martel refused to overthrow the Frankish king. His son, Pepin the Short, inherited his power, and used it to further expand Frankish influence. Unlike his father, however, Pepin decided to seize the Frankish kingship. Given how strongly Frankish culture held to its principle of inheritance, few would support him if he attempted to overthrow the king. Instead, he sought the assistance of Pope Zachary, who was himself newly vulnerable due to fallout with the Byzantine Emperor over the Iconoclastic Controversy. Pepin agreed to support the pope and to give him land (the Donation of Pepin, which created the Papal States) in exchange for being consecrated as the new Frankish king. Given that Pepin's claim to the kingship was now based on an authority higher than Frankish custom, no resistance was offered to Pepin. With this, the Merovingian line of kings ended, and the Carolingian line began.
Pepin's son Charlemagne continued in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He further expanded and consolidated the Frankish kingdom (now commonly called the Carolingian Empire). His reign also saw a cultural rebirth, commonly called the Carolingian Renaissance. Though the exact reasons are unclear, Charlemagne was crowned "Roman Emperor" by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day, 800. Upon Charlemagne's death, his empire had united much of modern-day France, western Germany and northern Italy. The years after his death illustrated how Germanic his empire remained. Rather than an orderly succession, his empire was divided in accordance with Frankish inheritance custom, which resulted in instability that plagued his empire until the last king of a united empire, Charles the Fat, died in 887, which resulted in a permanent split of the empire into West Francia and East Francia. West Francia would be ruled by Carolingians until 987 and East Francia until 911, after which time the partition of the empire into France and Germany was complete.
Main articles: Feudalism and Manoralism
Around 800 there was a return to systematic agriculture in the form of the open field, or strip, system. A manor would have several fields, each subdivided into 1-acre (4,000 m2) strips of land. An acre measured one "furlong" of 220 yards by one "chain" of 22 yards (that is, about 200 m by 20 m). A furlong (from "furrow long") was considered to be the distance an ox could plough before taking a rest; the strip shape of the acre field also reflected the difficulty in turning early heavy ploughs. In the idealized form of the system, each family got thirty such strips of land. The three-field system of crop rotation was first developed in the 9th century: wheat or rye was planted in one field, the second field had a nitrogen-fixing crop, and the third was fallow.
Compared to the earlier two-field system, a three-field system allows for significantly more land to be put under cultivation. Even more important, the system allows for two harvests a year, reducing the risk that a single crop failure will lead to famine. Three-field agriculture creates a surplus of oats that can be used to feed horses. Because the system required a major rearrangement of real estate and of the social order, it took until the 11th century before it came into general use. The heavy wheeled plough was introduced in the late 10th century. It required greater animal power and promoted the use of teams of oxen. Illuminated manuscripts depict two-wheeled ploughs with both a mouldboard, or curved metal ploughshare, and a coulter, a vertical blade in front of the ploughshare. The Romans had used light, wheel-less ploughs with flat iron shares that often proved unequal to the heavy soils of northern Europe.
The return to systemic agriculture coincided with the introduction of a new social system called feudalism. This system featured a hierarchy of reciprocal obligations. Each man was bound to serve his superior in return for the latter's protection. This made for confusion of territorial sovereignty since allegiances were subject to change over time and were sometimes mutually contradictory. Feudalism allowed the state to provide a degree of public safety despite the continued absence of bureaucracy and written records. Even land ownership disputes were decided based solely on oral testimony. Territoriality was reduced to a network of personal allegiances.
Main article: Viking Age
The Viking Age spans the period roughly between the late 8th and mid-11th centuries in Scandinavia and Britain, following the Germanic Iron Age (and the Vendel Age in Sweden). During this period, the Vikings, Scandinavian warriors and traders raided and explored most parts of Europe, south-western Asia, northern Africa, and north-eastern North America.
With the means to travel (longships and open water), desire for goods led Scandinavian traders to explore and develop extensive trading partnerships in new territories. Some of the most important trading ports during the period include both existing and ancient cities such as Aarhus, Ribe, Hedeby, Vineta, Truso, Kaupang, Birka, Bordeaux, York, Dublin, and Aldeigjuborg.
Viking raiding expeditions were separate from, though coexisted with, regular trading expeditions. Apart from exploring Europe via its oceans and rivers, with the aid of their advanced navigational skills, they extended their trading routes across vast parts of the continent. They also engaged in warfare, looting and enslaving numerous Christian communities of Medieval Europe for centuries, contributing to the development of feudal systems in Europe.
Main articles: Byzantine Empire, Western Turkic Khaganate, Avar Khaganate, Khazar Khaganate, Old Great Bulgaria, Alani, Magyars, Early Slavs, Principality of Serbia (medieval), Great Moravia, and Duchy of Croatia
The Early Middle Ages marked the beginning of the cultural distinctions between Western and Eastern Europe north of the Mediterranean. Influence from the Byzantine Empire impacted the Christianization and hence almost every aspect of the cultural and political development of the East from the preeminence of Caesaropapism and Eastern Christianity to the spread of the Cyrillic alphabet. The turmoil of the so-called Barbarian invasions
The Barbarians' Invasions
On 25 December 800, Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III. Coronation of Charlemagne, Grandes Chroniques de France, Jean Fouquet, Tours, c. 1455-1460
- 8th century homeland
- 9th century expansion
- 10th century expansion
Viking raiding regions