The Middle Ages as they were known, was a period of time that lasted for roughly 1,000 years and fell in the period of time after which the mighty Roman Empire fell until the beginning of the 16th century when the Early Modern Period began. Of course, depending on the specialisation of various scholars, the actual dates of this occurrence will vary.
In Europe there is a schematic division of the history of the region in which it is divided into three distinct ages. These ages are the Antiquity, the Middle Ages or Medieval Period as it is also known as well as the modern period. It was actually Flavio Biondo who was a humanist and historian who first noticed that the history of Europe was able to be split into unique periods of time. According to Flavio, around 400 to 476 AD, Rome was sacked by the Visigoths as a means of deposing Romulus Augustus then between 1453 and 1517 AD, Constantinople fell and Protestant Reformation began. Of course the actual dates have been long the centre of many arguments between historians and many different specialties looked at the history of Europe differently and thus resolved with different dates and years for the occurrence of the Middle Ages.
It was during the Middle Ages when urbanisation first began. Up until this point in time, every place was rural but afterwards people tended towards cities and various strongholds as these became the places to make the most money. Matter of fact, this concept started to occur all over the continent and as a result of this urbanisation, there was a demand for peasants and land as a commodity. This then led into battles and wars between various kingdoms each seeking their own stake to lands held by one another and recruiting their loyalists as their own. Political boundaries for the first time started appearing and much advancement was done in the lines of militaries.
Of course then with the ending of the Middle Ages, the awe of the period of time led to the portrayal of the era in different ways depending on the generation. Basically since the end of the Middle Ages, as every new century passed by, the concept of the period changes dramatically. The way that 16th century Europeans looked at the period of time is very different than we see it today. In today’s day and age, it is seen for its castle’s knights of old and damsels in distress due to the popularisation through film and other forms of media.
Everyone knows about the vast and mighty Roman Empire which had expanded its reach all over Europe and into parts of Asia. Their military was mighty and their rule was final. This expansion continued on through the beginnings of the millennia, only to reach the peak during the 2nd century AD. After this period of time, the empire slowly began to decline especially in its outermost territories. In England, many people will insist that from all information that could be gathered today, it seemed almost as if the Roman Empire disappeared from the island over night. In 285 AD, Emperor Diocletian then split the empire into two halves for which Constantine would then found Byzantium again as the capital of Constantinople which occurred officially in 330 AD.
Over the next century, the neighbours to the Roman Empire began to become more powerful as well as wealthier which led to the Romans having to spend increasing amounts on their militaries. Many tribes of the time even joined the Roman Empire as Diocletian reformed the government and taxation to handle to increased militaries costs. While these reformations may have helped a bit, without the needed money, the Roman Empire was slowly becoming unable to protect its lands from invaders. By 378 AD, mounted Gothic lancers went head to head with the Roman Calvary in the Battle of Adrianople and Rome lost virtually all of it’s military. At this same time, Germanic tribes began seeking refuge in Rome’s outermost territories including that of England.
Many people call this period of time the Barbarian Invasions, Völkerwanderung, which means wandering of the people or even the Migration Period. Irregardless of what you call it, these wandering tribes that sought refuge in the outermost territories of the Roman Empire rejected the Roman culture. Of course some were inspired to be part of Rome and in exchange were given lands and the rights to taxation of the lands.
Then in 410 AD, the Visigoths raided Rome and sacked it. This led to a rapid crumbling of the Roman Empire, as much like a snake without its head, the body will eventually die off within time. As the once mighty Roman Empire began to falter, the continent which was once largely under Roman Control was to fall into the dark ages where they would stay for a millennia.
The period soon after the fall of the Roman Empire can be further broken down into the Early Middle Ages. As the Roman Empire fell, the small time rulers that had once been given lands and the rights to taxation would be unable to handle ruling their lands and civic infrastructure without the help of the Roman Empire and this infrastructure began to fall rapidly without the proper finances and control. There were no longer safe places for traders and as a result, wars broke out between those who had wished to fill the gaps after the fall.
During the time between the 5th and 8th centuries, the governmental voids were slowly being filled by the Germanic tribes who followed their original boundaries set by the Romans to establish their own kingdoms. This was a decentralised kingdom which was unstable to say the least. Practically every part of Europe had developed these kingdoms and in Britain it was the Angles and the Saxons.
It was to be the Catholic Church with its centralised administration and its maintenance of the written word that would also cause some serious issues. For example, some of the regions that were predominately Catholic had been conquered by different Arian rulers which increased the tensions between the two. As the Bishops and the Catholic Church spread out across Europe and into Britain, their literacy became a highly demanded item which led to them playing a crucial role in the government. In some cases, this role became so powerful that some considered the Catholic Church to be the ones actually ruling the kingdom and the King would follow with whatever the Bishop or Cardinal had decided.
As the times went on and the development of larger kingdoms occurred, the masses began making their way within the gates of the kingdom’s wall for safety and security. This migration led to the urbanisation of Europe. For a kingdom it meant money but in order to get that money through taxation, they had to protect the people and their lands from invasions. As a result, there was much military advancement that occurred during the High Middle Ages. This was the time period that ran from the 11th century all the way up until the 13th century.
As the civic infrastructures within the walls of a kingdom were improved, the populations of the kingdom began to explode rampantly. While during the age of Antiquity, the only real cities that had existed, existed in the Mediterranean with England being mostly rural, as the kingdoms began to increase in power, the fortresses became castles and these castles became entire walled cities as a means of protecting those who pay the king’s taxes. It was during this time period that Paris would see a population of more then 200,000 people for the very first time. Of course today that number is much higher, but back then the number of people in the city centres might have appeared overwhelming for most.
By the 10th century, the Papacy had become very powerful and even was considered a completely separate entity from the kingdoms. The Catholic Church began to have a large sway in the happenings of the Christian Kingdoms even with regards to the militaries. It was during this time as a means of assimilating the “pagan” natives across Europe, the Crusades would begin. The goals of the Crusades have been seen as armed pilgrimages that were led to free Jerusalem from the Muslims who had control of it. The Papacy was able to mobilise tens of thousands of people from all over Europe and of all walks of life to defend Christianity and liberate Jerusalem from its Muslim captors. Of course this has also become a sore point as today the Papacy still insists that the area is the birthplace of Christianity and the Islamist nations see it as being part of Muslim which is the centre of controversy today with the Islamic extremists and the Christianised western societies.
It would be towards the end of the Middle Ages that through the crusades, most of Europe had been captured by the Christian Crusaders. Likewise, the Muslim nations ran counter offensives to retake the lands which are now considered to be in Asia and since those times, that boundary has been the de facto separating line between Europe and Asia.
It was in the 13th century that England would enter into the Late Middle Ages. Of course this time was not a good one as it was a time of climate changes that led to famine and issues with agriculture. The Great Famine occurred from 1315 AD until 1317.
By the middle of the 14th century, half of the country was killed off by the Black Death which had spread across the nation like wildfire. Many towns whose populous was more densely packed saw even greater numbers of deaths as a result of the plague. As the populous died off, the remaining workers were left to do the wok of two, three or even four men which led to an uprising of the labourers who demanded more pay. It was these uprisings that would eventually pave the way for the modern period to begin. However that would have to wait a while because the Roman Empire at this time did still exist. It was in 1453 that the Ottoman Turks would besiege Constantinople and strike the final blow to finish off the once mighty Roman Empire.
With the Help of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, royals would be able to strengthen their control over the people which led to final days of the Middle Ages. This war allowed the kings to gain more lands which meant more money and more strength and while it was considered to be harder on the peasants, the control still grew. England, Scotland and Wales regularly waged wars with each other in an attempt to control more land. By the end of the 14th and into the beginning of the 15th centuries, kingdoms were beginning to become sovereign states that imposed taxes, created laws, waged wars and enforced the rules. The kingdoms began to appoint ministers and advisors which set the wheels in motion for what would some day become the Parliamentary system.
Within only a few hundred years, the Parliamentary system would be in full swing, and the cities would become increasingly urbanised. Once the Tudors took control of the monarchy in England, the Modern Era would finally begin and the rest would be history.
Original Authors: Nick
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 06/03/2009