In the chronicles of history, time itself can be subdivided into three distinct eras which start with the times of Antiquity followed by the Middle Ages then finally the Modern Times. This distinction can be mostly attributed to two major incidents in world history with the first being that of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the second is that of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.
When talking about Medieval Times in Britain, what we are actually thinking of is that of the Middle Ages. This period of time starts at the fall of the Western Roman Empire which occurred in the 5th Century A.D. and continued on until the fall of Constantinople which occurred in the 16th century. Unfortunately, this time span can only be guessed as there were no real recorded dates of these times occurring.
During the Medieval Britain, the entire Northern as well as Western parts of Europe were becoming urbanised. Cities began sprouting up at locations of strategic importance and politics became a whole new concept. The events that were to unfold during the Medieval Times would ultimately lead to the development of the many nations that exist today in Europe. This is because the political boundaries which were formed throughout the Medieval Times are in most cases still the same.
It was actually in the 15th century when an Italian humanist was first to coin the term of the Middle Ages and since then it has been known as such. Furthermore, this same period of time has also become known as the Medieval Period or Medieval Times which can be spelled either Mediaeval or Medieval.
By the 16th century after the ending of the Medieval Period, generations through time have since portrayed this period differently and as such much of the information has since been obscured. The way that 16th Century Britain looked at the Medieval Period is quite different in contrast as compared to that of the 20th Century or even the 21st century.
It was not until the Renaissance would occur that the timeline of humanity would be categorised into three ages. Prior to this period it was actually separated into 6 ages which was based on the six days of creation spoken of in the Bible. It was during the Renaissance that historians would change the views on the categorisation of time by referring to the time preceding the 15th century as the Dark Ages stating that the Modern Period was a time for a new light to shine and that there was no room for much advancement in science, technology, society and of course humanity.
It was in the 2nd Century that the Great Roman Empire would reach its peak of existence. At this time their territory was the largest in the world as well as in the history of mankind. As the 3rd and 4th Centuries unfolded, the Great Roman Empire was on a slow decline and as a result Emperor Diocletian split up the Empire as a means of saving it. After this split, Constantine would re-establish Byzantium as the capital of Constantinople.
The Roman Empire by the 4th Century had to increase their military expenses as their enemies were quickly growing in numbers as well as power. Although the Emperor made many changes in the politics of the Empire, the militaries as well as their encounters began to grow faster than their taxes could be collected and spent on the military. It was in 378 that the Roman Army would begin to seriously falter after much of their forces were destroyed at the Battle of Adrianople.
As the military forces of the Great Roman Empire began to fail, the Barbarian Invasions began. These were not really invasions, but rather great migrations throughout the area of the Roman Empire’s border regions. It was this time that the Middle Ages would start. The barbarian tribes would ultimately reject the culture of the vast Roman Empire. Groups like the Bulgars, Huns, Magyars as well as the Avars and Germanic Tribes began revolting against the culture. With the steady losses in the Roman Empire’s treasury increasing, the institutions of the Empire began crumbling beneath them.
When the Roman Empire began to fall, it fell quickly. The monies needed to support infrastructure was no longer available as it was being spent on militaries to protect its interests. As a result, in many places throughout Britain, the Roman Empire virtually disappeared overnight. With this said however, well into the 6th Century, Cornwall was still receiving trade goods through the Roman Empire’s trade routes.
As the Dark Ages began to set in, the political voids that were left by the disappearing Roman Empire’s rule were needed to be filled and as such, many new people began to fill up these voids. It was at this time when the Angles and the Saxons became prominent throughout Britain and would stay that way for many more centuries to come.
The only real major unification during this time period was the Catholic Church and as such the centralised network of Bishops would play a prominent role throughout much of the Medieval Period in Britain. Monastic ways of life also began to increase exponentially as people wanting to get away from the torrential life during the Middle Ages and focus on their spirituality. These monasteries began spreading all over the region which was once the Great Roman Empire and was considered to be the major supplier of literacy and education to the masses.
It was on Christmas Day of 800 A.D. that Charlemagne would receive his Imperial Coronation which is considered by many as an important turning point in the Medieval Times. He went forward to reorganise the Carolingian government as well as reform the church. This of course led the way to the Carolingian Renaissance which was an increase in literacy, the arts, scriptural studies as well as architecture. An English monk by the name of Alcuin had been invited to teach classical Latin to the Franks which would ultimately lead to the development of Medieval Latin.
By 843, a civil war which lasted for three years saw the fall of the Carolingian Empire which would give rise to the Holy Roman Empire which would be established in 962 A.D.
A number of new buildings would begin to rise all over Great Britain based on the traditional Roman architecture, then later by the Romanesque form. The reasons for this renaming was for the fact that many of the older Roman buildings were robbed of materials to make the new buildings especially those of churches and monasteries.
Between the 11th and the 13th Centuries, Britain would see a number of growth spurts regarding the urbanisation of the cities throughout the countryside. This also gave way to the expansions of the militaries that were held by Angles and Saxons as well as the increase in intellects. As populations in the cities began to grow, this would force people out further into the unconquered areas where people would start cultivating and expanding their territories. Britain, France and Spain were to consolidate their powers through the formation of the Papacy and by the 13th Century under the guided tutorage of Innocent III would reach its peak. This would also eventually lead the way to the Crusades throughout most of Europe.
An Armed Pilgrimage was sent to Jerusalem to liberate it from the Muslim control that had taken it. This area became under Muslim control due to rapid expansion during the 7th Century. A number of military orders were formed at this time to support the crusades against the Muslims including that of the Knights Hospitaller as well as the Knights Templar. Before the Medieval Period came to an end, the Crusades had managed to regain control of the Islamic territories which had worked their way into places like Portugal, Spain as well as Italy.
As the 12th and 13th Century led on, much advancement in science and technology occurred. This was due to the church losing its monopoly on education thanks to the development of many new schools and universities in the 11th Century. Education became more widely available to all classes of people at this time and was not just limited to the wealthy classes. Many architectural, economic and technological breakthroughs began to occur. Things like silk, gunpowder, the compass and many other navigational tools began working their way into the hands of Britain and as a result, the populations began to explode in numbers.
By the end of the Medieval Period, a number of calamities as well as upheavals would occur. This would include things like famine as well as the Black Death. The Great Famine would occur between 1315 and 1317 due to a number of vast climate changes in the region. Major cities were hit hard by the Black Death and were left virtually unpopulated by the end of the outbreak. During this time period there were also many diversifications occurring in the Papacy that would eventually make way for a number of national churches which would fall outside the jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire.
Finally in 1453, Ottoman Turks would lay siege on Constantinople and would prove to be victorious. As a result, the once vast Roman Empire would finally be no more. As Constantinople’s existence came to an end, so too would the period of time that has since become known as the Medieval Period.
Original Authors: Nick (Globel Team)
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 15/08/2008