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Middle Ages,period in Western European history that followed the disintegration of the West Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th cent. and lasted into the 15th cent., i.e., into the period of the Renaissance. The ideas and institutions of western civilization derive largely from the turbulent events of the Early Middle Ages and the rebirth of culture in the later years. The importance of the Middle Ages has been increasingly recognized as scholarship based on newly published source material, archaeological findings, and studies of demographics and migration patterns presents more accurate and detailed analyses of events and trends.
Beginnings and Cultural Developments
Although the transitions were gradual, and exact dates for the demarcation of the Middle Ages are misleading, convention often places the beginning of the period between the death of the Roman emperor Theodosius I in 395 and the fall of Rome to the VisigothsVisigoths
(West Goths), division of the Goths, one of the most important groups of Germans. Having settled in the region W of the Black Sea in the 3d cent. A.D., the Goths soon split into two divisions, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths.
..... Click the link for more information. in 410. The Dark Ages, formerly a designation for the entire period of the Middle Ages, and later for the period c.450–750, is now usually known as the Early Middle Ages. The term Dark Ages may be more a judgment on the lack of sources for evaluating the period than on the significance of events that transpired.
Medieval Europe was far from unified; it was a large geographical region divided into smaller and culturally diverse political units that were never totally dominated by any one authority. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, Christianity became the standard-bearer of Western civilization. The papacypapacy
, office of the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is pope by reason of being bishop of Rome and thus, according to Roman Catholic belief, successor in the see of Rome (the Holy See) to its first bishop, St. Peter.
..... Click the link for more information. gradually gained secular authority; monastic communities, generally adhering to the Rule of St. BenedictBenedict, Saint
, d. c.547, Italian monk, called Benedict of Nursia, author of a rule for monks that became the basis of the Benedictine order, b. Norcia (E of Spoleto).
..... Click the link for more information. , had the effect of preserving antique learning; and missionaries, sent to convert the GermansGermans,
great ethnic complex of ancient Europe, a basic stock in the composition of the modern peoples of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, N Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, N and central France, Lowland Scotland, and England.
..... Click the link for more information. and other tribes, spread Latin civilization.
By the 8th cent. culture centered on Christianity had been established; it incorporated both Latin traditions and German institutions, such as Germanic lawsGermanic laws,
customary law codes of the Germans before their contact with the Romans. They are unknown to us except through casual references of ancient authors and inferences from the codes compiled after the tribes had invaded the Roman Empire.
..... Click the link for more information. . The far-flung empire created by CharlemagneCharlemagne
(Charles the Great or Charles I) [O.Fr.,=Charles the great], 742?–814, emperor of the West (800–814), Carolingian king of the Franks (768–814).
..... Click the link for more information. illustrated this fusion. However, the empire's fragile central authority was shattered by a new wave of invasions, notably those of the VikingsVikings,
Scandinavian warriors who raided the coasts of Europe and the British Isles from the 9th cent. to the 11th cent. In their language, the word "viking" originally meant a journey, as for trading or raiding; it was not until the 19th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. and MagyarsMagyars
, the dominant people of Hungary, but also living in Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Serbia. Although in the past it was thought a common origin existed among the Magyars, the Huns, the Mongols, and the Turks, modern research has disproved this claim.
..... Click the link for more information. .
, form of political and social organization typical of Western Europe from the dissolution of Charlemagne's empire to the rise of the absolute monarchies. The term feudalism is derived from the Latin feodum,
..... Click the link for more information. , with the manorial systemmanorial system
or seignorial system
, economic and social system of medieval Europe under which peasants' land tenure and production were regulated, and local justice and taxation were administered.
..... Click the link for more information. (see also tenuretenure,
in law, manner in which property in land is held. The nature of tenure has long been of great importance, both in law and in the broader economic and political context.
..... Click the link for more information. ) as its agricultural base, became the typical social and political organization of Europe. The new framework gained stability from the 11th cent., as the invaders became Christian and settled and as prosperity was created by agricultural innovations, increasing productivity, and population expansion.
The High Middle Ages
As Europe entered the period known as the High Middle Ages, the church became the universal and unifying institution. While some independence from feudal rule was gained by the rising towns (see communecommune
, in medieval history, collective institution that developed in continental Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Because of the importance of the commune in municipal government, the term is also used to denote a town itself to which a charter of liberties was
..... Click the link for more information. , in medieval history), their system of guildsguilds
economic and social associations of persons engaging in the same business or craft, typical of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Membership was by profession or craft, and the primary function was to establish local control over that profession or
..... Click the link for more information. perpetuated the Christian and medieval spirit of economic life, which stressed the collective entity, disapproved of unregulated competition, and minimized the profit motive. Strong popes, notably Gregory VIIGregory VII, Saint,
d. 1085, pope (1073–85), an Italian (b. near Rome) named Hildebrand (Ital. Ildebrando); successor of Alexander II. He was one of the greatest popes. Feast: May 25.
..... Click the link for more information. , worked for a reinvigorated Europe guided by a centralized church, a goal virtually realized under Innocent IIIInnocent III,
b. 1160 or 1161, d. 1216, pope (1198–1216), an Italian, b. Anagni, named Lotario di Segni; successor of Celestine III. Innocent III was succeeded by Honorius III.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Militant religious zeal was expressed in the CrusadesCrusades
, series of wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th cent. to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. First Crusade
In the 7th cent., Jerusalem was taken by the caliph Umar.
..... Click the link for more information. , which also stemmed from the growing strength of Europe. Security and prosperity stimulated intellectual life, newly centered in burgeoning universities (see colleges and universitiescolleges and universities,
institutions of higher education. Universities differ from colleges in that they are larger, have wider curricula, are involved in research activities, and grant graduate and professional as well as undergraduate degrees.
..... Click the link for more information. ), which developed under the auspices of the church. From the Crusades and other sources came contact with Arab culture, which had preserved works of Greek authors whose writings had not survived in Europe. Philosophy, science, and mathematics from the Classical and Hellenistic periods were assimilated into the tenets of the Christian faith and the prevailing philosophy of scholasticismscholasticism
, philosophy and theology of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. Virtually all medieval philosophers of any significance were theologians, and their philosophy is generally embodied in their theological writings.
..... Click the link for more information. ; Aristotle, long associated with heresy, was adapted by St. Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas, Saint
[Lat.,=from Aquino], 1225–74, Italian philosopher and theologian, Doctor of the Church, known as the Angelic Doctor, b. Rocca Secca (near Naples).
..... Click the link for more information. to Christian doctrine.
Christian values pervaded scholarship and literature, especially Medieval Latin literatureMedieval Latin literature,
literary works written in the Latin language during the Middle Ages. The Decline of Rome
With the slow dissolution over centuries of the Roman Empire in the West, Latin writing dwindled and changed like the rest of Roman culture.
..... Click the link for more information. , but Provençal literatureProvençal literature,
vernacular literature of S France. Provençal, or Occitan, as the language is now often called, appears to have been the first vernacular tongue used in French commerce and literature.
..... Click the link for more information. also reflected Arab influence, and other flourishing medieval literatures, including German literatureGerman literature,
works in the German language by German, Austrian, Austro-Hungarian, and Swiss authors, as well as by writers of German in other countries. Old and Middle High German: From Early to Medieval Literature
Heroic legends, among them the
..... Click the link for more information. , Old Norse literatureOld Norse literature,
the literature of the Northmen, or Norsemen, c.850–c.1350. It survives mainly in Icelandic writings, for little medieval vernacular literature remains from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark.
The Norwegians who settled Iceland late in the 9th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Middle English literatureMiddle English literature,
English literature of the medieval period, c.1100 to c.1500. See also English literature and Anglo-Saxon literature. Background
..... Click the link for more information. , incorporated the materials of pre-Christian traditions. The complex currents, vitality, and religious fervor of medieval culture are evident in the classics of DanteDante Alighieri
, 1265–1321, Italian poet, b. Florence. Dante was the author of the Divine Comedy, one of the greatest of literary classics. Life
..... Click the link for more information. and ChaucerChaucer, Geoffrey
, c.1340–1400, English poet, one of the most important figures in English literature. Life and Career
The known facts of Chaucer's life are fragmentary and are based almost entirely on official records.
..... Click the link for more information. . Gothic architectureGothic architecture and art,
structures (largely cathedrals and churches) and works of art first created in France in the 12th cent. that spread throughout Western Europe through the 15th cent., and in some locations into the 16th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. developed most notably in the 12th cent., against a background of the cultural and economic ascendancy of Western Europe.
Transition to the Modern World
The transition from the medieval to the modern world was foreshadowed by economic expansion, political centralization, and secularization. A money economy weakened serfdom, and an inquiring spirit stimulated the age of exploration. Banking, the bourgeois class, and secular ideals flourished in the growing towns and lent support to the expanding monarchies. The church was weakened by internal conflicts as well as by quarrels between church and statechurch and state,
the relationship between the religion or religions of a nation and the civil government of that nation, especially the relationship between the Christian church and various civil governments.
..... Click the link for more information. . As feudal strength was sapped, notably by the the Hundred Years WarHundred Years War,
1337–1453, conflict between England and France. Causes
Its basic cause was a dynastic quarrel that originated when the conquest of England by William of Normandy created a state lying on both sides of the English Channel. In the 14th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. and the Wars of the RosesRoses, Wars of the,
traditional name given to the intermittent struggle (1455–85) for the throne of England between the noble houses of York (whose badge was a white rose) and Lancaster (later associated with the red rose).
About the middle of the 15th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , there emerged in France and England the modern nation state. A forerunner of intellectual modernity was the new humanism of the RenaissanceRenaissance
[Fr.,=rebirth], term used to describe the development of Western civilization that marked the transition from medieval to modern times. This article is concerned mainly with general developments and their impact in the fields of science, rhetoric, literature, and
..... Click the link for more information. . Finally, the great medieval unity of Christianity was shattered by the religious theories that culminated in the Protestant ReformationReformation,
religious revolution that took place in Western Europe in the 16th cent. It arose from objections to doctrines and practices in the medieval church (see Roman Catholic Church) and ultimately led to the freedom of dissent (see Protestantism).
..... Click the link for more information. .
There is a vast body of scholarship dealing with the Middle Ages. A general bibliography to provide a helpful introduction to aspects of the period should include works by Henry AdamsAdams, Henry,
1838–1918, American writer and historian, b. Boston; son of Charles Francis Adams (1807–86). He was secretary (1861–68) to his father, then U.S. minister to Great Britain.
..... Click the link for more information. , Marc BlochBloch, Marc
, 1886–1944, French historian and an authority on medieval feudalism. He taught at the Univ. of Strasbourg from 1919, became professor at the Sorbonne in 1936, and was cofounder of the journal Annales.
..... Click the link for more information. , P. Brown, J. B. BuryBury
, metropolitan borough (1991 pop. 60,785), NE England, located in the Manchester metropolitan area on the Irwell River and linked by canal with Bolton and Manchester.
..... Click the link for more information. , N. F. Cantor, G. Duby, F. L. Ganshof, P. J. Geary, H. Grundmann, C. H. HaskinsHaskins, Charles Homer,
1870–1937, American historian, an authority on medieval history, b. Meadville, Pa. At Harvard (1902–31) he was professor and dean of graduate studies (1908–24); in the latter capacity he greatly influenced contemporary graduate training.
..... Click the link for more information. , Johan HuizingaHuizinga, Johan
, 1872–1945, Dutch historian. He began his academic career in Indian literature, but his reputation rests on his work in the cultural history of the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation.
..... Click the link for more information. , E. James, F. Lot, S. Painter, Henri PirennePirenne, Henri
, 1862–1935, Belgian historian. He was for many years a professor of history at the Univ. of Ghent. A leader of Belgian passive resistance in World War I, he was held (1916–18) as a hostage by the Germans. In his History of Belgium (tr., 7 vol.
..... Click the link for more information. , E. Power, F. M. Powicke, R. W. Southern, F. M. Stenton, J. R. Strayer, G. Tellenbach, and Lynn ThorndikeThorndike, Lynn,
1882–1965, American historian, b. Lynn, Mass. He taught history at Northwestern Univ. (1907–9), at Western Reserve Univ. (1909–24), and at Columbia (1924–50).
..... Click the link for more information. . See also bibliographies under such related articles as countries, e.g., FranceFrance
, officially French Republic, republic (2015 est. pop. 64,457,000), 211,207 sq mi (547,026 sq km), W Europe. France is bordered by the English Channel (N), the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay (W), Spain and Andorra (SW), the Mediterranean Sea (S; the location of the
..... Click the link for more information. , GermanyGermany
, Ger. Deutschland, officially Federal Republic of Germany, republic (2015 est. pop. 81,708,000), 137,699 sq mi (356,733 sq km). Located in the center of Europe, it borders the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France on the west; Switzerland and Austria on
..... Click the link for more information. , and peoples, e.g., Anglo-SaxonsAnglo-Saxons,
name given to the Germanic-speaking peoples who settled in England after the decline of Roman rule there. They were first invited by the Celtic King Vortigern, who needed help fighting the Picts and Scots. The Angles (Lat.
..... Click the link for more information. , MoorsMoors,
nomadic people of the northern shores of Africa, originally the inhabitants of Mauretania. They were chiefly of Berber and Arab stock. In the 8th cent. the Moors were converted to Islam and became fanatic Muslims.
..... Click the link for more information. .
the accepted historical name of the period following ancient history and preceding modern history. The concept of Middle Ages (Latin medium aevum, literally “the middle era”) first appeared in the 15th and 16th centuries in the writings of Italian humanist historians, such as F. Biondo, and came into general use in the 18th century.
Marxist historians see the Middle Ages as the period of the birth, growth, and decay of feudalism. The fall of the slaveholding Roman Empire (conventionally dated to the year 476) is considered the divide between ancient history and the Middle Ages, and the English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century, the beginning of modern history. The term “Middle Ages,” originally coined in relation to the history of Western Europe, is also used in relation to other areas of the world, although in such areas the medieval era and the period of feudalism do not always coincide. The discipline devoted to the history of the Middle Ages is known as medieval studies.
The Bible gives dreams a mixed review. While the biblical God sometimes communicates through dreams, they are clearly a less exalted mode of communication, because individuals particularly close to God receive His messages while they are awake. Furthermore, only pagans receive symbolic dreams, which require interpretation. This mixed heritage is reflected at various stages in Christianity’s development.
Of particular importance for the Middle Ages were mistranslations by Saint Jerome of certain key biblical passages warning against witchcraft and augury, which he confused with dreams. These explicit warnings, in combination with the admonitions of writers like Macrobius, who warned about the possibility of demons in one’s sleep, served to effectively condemn dreams as little more than stages for Satan’s minions to tempt the souls of the faithful.
The medieval attitude is expressed in, for example, a sixteenth-century work De magia, by Benedict Peterius, a Jesuit priest: “The devil is most always implicated in dreams, filling the minds of men with poisonous Superstition and not only uselessly deluding but perniciously deceiving them” (Van de Castle, p. 83—see Sources). Nowhere is this suspicion of dreams more clearly demonstrated than in the notion of incubi and succubi, demons who took the form of men and women to seduce mortals in their sleep. These creatures were particularly useful for explaining sexual dreams in a society where any form of illicit sex was viewed as demonic. One can imagine the dismay of celibate clergy, monks, and nuns who awakened with vivid memories of erotic dreams. By attributing such dream images to evil spirits who seduced them in their sleep, they could absolve themselves of responsibility for such dreams.
Middle Agesthe European history