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The Middle Ages portal

The Cross of Mathilde, a crux gemmata made for Mathilde, Abbess of Essen (973–1011), who is shown kneeling before the Virgin and Child in the enamel plaque. The figure of Christ is slightly later. Probably made in Cologne or Essen, the cross demonstrates several medieval techniques: cast figurative sculpture, filigree, enamelling, gem polishing and setting, and the reuse of Classical cameos and engraved gems.

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages (or medieval period) lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

Population decline, counterurbanisation, invasion, and movement of peoples, which had begun in Late Antiquity, continued in the Early Middle Ages. The large-scale movements of the Migration Period, including various Germanic peoples, formed new kingdoms in what remained of the Western Roman Empire. In the 7th century, North Africa and the Middle East—once part of the Byzantine Empire—came under the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate, an Islamic empire, after conquest by Muhammad's successors. Although there were substantial changes in society and political structures, the break with classical antiquity was not complete. The still-sizeable Byzantine Empire, Rome's direct continuation, survived in the Eastern Mediterranean and remained a major power. The empire's law code, the Corpus Juris Civilis or "Code of Justinian", was rediscovered in Northern Italy in 1070 and became widely admired later in the Middle Ages. In the West, most kingdoms incorporated the few extant Roman institutions. Monasteries were founded as campaigns to Christianise pagan Europe continued. The Franks, under the Carolingian dynasty, briefly established the Carolingian Empire during the later 8th and early 9th century. It covered much of Western Europe but later succumbed to the pressures of internal civil wars combined with external invasions: Vikings from the north, Magyars from the east, and Saracens from the south.

During the High Middle Ages, which began after 1000, the population of Europe increased greatly as technological and agricultural innovations allowed trade to flourish and the Medieval Warm Period climate change allowed crop yields to increase. Manorialism, the organisation of peasants into villages that owed rent and labour services to the nobles, and feudalism, the political structure whereby knights and lower-status nobles owed military service to their overlords in return for the right to rent from lands and manors, were two of the ways society was organised in the High Middle Ages. The Crusades, first preached in 1095, were military attempts by Western European Christians to regain control of the Holy Land from Muslims. Kings became the heads of centralised nation-states, reducing crime and violence but making the ideal of a unified Christendom more distant. Intellectual life was marked by scholasticism, a philosophy that emphasised joining faith to reason, and by the founding of universities. The theology of Thomas Aquinas, the paintings of Giotto, the poetry of Dante and Chaucer, the travels of Marco Polo, and the Gothic architecture of cathedrals such as Chartres are among the outstanding achievements toward the end of this period and into the Late Middle Ages.

The Late Middle Ages was marked by difficulties and calamities including famine, plague, and war, which significantly diminished the population of Europe; between 1347 and 1350, the Black Death killed about a third of Europeans. Controversy, heresy, and the Western Schism within the Catholic Church paralleled the interstate conflict, civil strife, and peasant revolts that occurred in the kingdoms. Cultural and technological developments transformed European society, concluding the Late Middle Ages and beginning the early modern period.

Selected article

Norman-conquest-1066.svg
The Norman conquest of England was the invasion and occupation of England by an army of Normans and French led by Duke William II of Normandy in the 11th century. William, who defeated King Harold II of England on 14 October 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, was crowned king at London on Christmas Day, 1066. He then consolidated his control and settled many of his followers in England, introducing a number of governmental and societal changes.

William's claim to the English throne derived from his familial relationship with the childless King Edward the Confessor, who may have encouraged William's hopes for the throne. But when Edward died in January 1066, he was succeeded by his brother-in-law Harold, who not only faced challenges from William but also another claim by the Norwegian king, Harald Hardrada. Hardrada invaded northern England in September 1066 and was victorious at the Battle of Fulford before being defeated and killed by King Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066. William, however, had landed in southern England, and Harold quickly marched south to confront William, leaving many of his forces behind in the north. On 14 October Harold's army confronted William's invaders near Hastings and after an all-day battle, was defeated and Harold was killed.

Although William's main rivals were gone, he still faced a number of rebellions over the following years, and it was not until after 1072 that he was secure on his throne. Native resistance led to a number of the English elite having their lands confiscated, and some of them went into exile. In order to control his new kingdom, William gave lands to his followers and built castles throughout the land to command military strongpoints. Other changes included the introduction of Norman French as the language of the noble elite, the court and government, and changes in the composition of the upper classes, as William enfeoffed lands to be held directly of the king. More slowly the conquest eventually changed the agricultural classes and village life: the main immediate change appears to have been the formal elimination of slavery, which may or may not have been linked to the invasion. There was little change in the structure of government, with the new Norman administrators taking over many of the forms of Anglo-Saxon government.


Selected biography

Maome.jpg

Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim (Arabic: محمد بن عبد الله بن عبد المطلب‎) (c. 570 – c. 8 June 632), also transliterated as Muhammad (Arabic: محمد‎), was a religious, political, and military leader from Mecca who unified Arabia into a single religious polity under Islam. He is believed by Muslims and Bahá'ís to be a messenger and prophet of God and, by most Muslims, the last prophet sent by God for mankind. Non-Muslims regard Muhammad as the founder of Islam. Muslims consider him to be the restorer of an unaltered original monotheistic faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets.

Born in about 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca, he was orphaned at an early age and brought up under the care of his uncle Abu Talib. He later worked mostly as a merchant, as well as a shepherd, and was first married by age 25. Being in the habit of periodically retreating to a cave in the surrounding mountains for several nights of seclusion and prayer, he later reported that it was there, at age 40, that he received his first revelation from God. Three years after this event Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that "God is One", that complete "surrender" to Him (lit. islām) is the only way (dīn) acceptable to God, and that he himself was a prophet and messenger of God, in the same vein as other Islamic prophets.

Muhammad gained few followers early on, and was met with hostility from some Meccan tribes; he and his followers were treated harshly. To escape persecution, Muhammad sent some of his followers to Abyssinia before he and his followers in Mecca migrated to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in the year 622. This event, the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, which is also known as the Hijri Calendar. In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina. After eight years of fighting with the Meccan tribes, his followers, who by then had grown to 10,000, took control of Mecca in the largely peaceful Conquest of Mecca. He destroyed the pagan idols in the city and then sent his followers out to destroy all of the remaining pagan temples in Eastern Arabia. In 632, a few months after returning to Medina from The Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and died. By the time of his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam, and he had united Arabia into a single Muslim religious polity. (read more ...)

Did you know...

  • ...that a paillasse is a thin mattress filled with hay or sawdust and was commonly used in the middle ages?
  • ...that a barbican is a tower or other fortification defending the drawbridge, usually the gateway?
  • ...that a coif is a type of armored head-covering made out of chain-mail and worn under the helmet for extra protection?
  • ...that a heriot is a payment owed to the lord of the manor by a serf’s family upon the serf’s death; usually the family’s best animal, such as a cow, horse or most commonly ox?
  • ...that before 1066, it was noted in the Domesday Book, if one Welshman killed another, the dead man’s relatives could exact retribution on the killer and his family (even burning their houses) until burial of the victim the next day?
  • ...that buboes are pus-filled egg-sized swellings of the lymph glands of the neck, armpits, and groin; typically found in cases of bubonic plague?
  • ...that laws passed in the late 1300s aimed at maintaining class distinctions by prohibiting lower classes from dressing as if they belonged to higher classes?
  • ...that Pier Gerlofs Donia, a 15th century Frisian freedom fighter of 7 feet tall was alleged to be so strong that he could lift a 1000 pound horse?
  • ...that Edgar Ætheling was the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England, but was only proclaimed, never crowned?

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