& High Medieval (Middle Ages) Period Essay, Research Paper
The Middle Ages was the period between ancient and modern times in Europe. It was also known as the Medieval period. It was a time of great change. Before the Middle Ages, Western Europe was part of the Roman Empire. After the Middle Ages, Western Europe included the last remains of the Holy Roman Empire and the countries of England and France, which are still around today. The turning point of the Middle Ages and of European history was the year 1000, which marked the collapse of an old civilization and separated it from the appearance of a new one. In this essay, I will compare the early Medieval period to the High Medieval period, based on in-class lectures, the manuscript given to us, and an online encyclopedia. The two periods will be compared in terms of geography, population, economics, society, politics, warfare, diplomacy, and culture.
First of all, during the beginning of the Early Medieval period most Europeans were still getting over the ‘fall’ of the Western Roman Empire. That had divided into small states controlled by Germanic tribes, also known as the barbarians. The Eastern Roman Empire then became the Byzantine Empire, yet they still called themselves Romans. Which is strange because they spoke Greek instead of Latin and changed the capital from Rome to Constantinople. Soon enough, however, the Byzantine Empire started losing territory to the rising-in-power Muslims. During the High Medieval period, agricultural improvements like invention of a more efficient plow and a harness for horse to pull it led to a big change in geography. Lots of Western Europeans started to move into the Eastern Mediterranean because of the Crusades. The Crusades were the many holy wars fought between the Christians and the Muslims for control of the holy land. Also, lots of Italians from the northern city-states moved into the Eastern Mediterranean coast because of the trade and Germanic knights colonizing the Baltic area and the Pagan Slavs. Spanish and French peasants, following the crusading knights from these countries, also settled along Western Europe. And the biggest bang of all in the geography department is in 1492, when Christopher Columbus ‘discovers’ the New World and opens the floodgates for colonization and migration there. This is really what is meant when talking about the ushering of a new era.
Next is the comparison of population. As the Western Roman Empire fell, the population in Europe decreased steadily. The collapse of the commercial economy of the Western Roman Empire, the loss of economic stability, the diseases going around, and the barbarian attacks and abuses led to a drastic decrease in population all over Europe after the Western Roman Empire fell. Soon enough, the uncivilized started outnumbering the civilized, and this was the perfect set up for feudalism. During the High Medieval period, feudalism was the government of choice. It was highly accepted throughout Europe. Because of this and the agricultural developments mentioned earlier, population took off. During the beginning of the High Medieval period, the population doubled in 350 years, from 40 to 80 million people. This led to a growth in towns, trade, and a more organized economy. These in turn all led to a bigger population. However, around the 1300’s the population got too big for the land and the resources. This led to huge famines and a terrible plague called the Black Death, which killed around 25 million people.
The next category to be analyzed is economy. Needless to say, the collapse of the Western Roman Empire left tremendous damage on the economy of all of Europe. The economy transformed into a subsistence economy, with each local estate producing only what was necessary for their survival. This is very typical trait in feudalism. Trade for luxuries remained, but it was very limited. This stabilized the economy, but kept it at a minimum. The transition to the High Medieval period brung agricultural improvements, but this stabilized the economy rather than expanded it. However, soon enough trade and manufacturing appeared stronger because of this. Connections to the luxury trade became stronger with China and the silk produced there. After the economy stabilized, it started growing again. Trade and Manufacturing started growing fast in Europe, and organizations called trade guilds started popping up to regulate the quality and prices of products.
The next department to be analyzed is society. Society is very much tied to economy and how it’s going, and as economical power died, so did society. Instead of many different social classes, after the Western Roman Empire fell there became only two social classes, landlord and peasant. The landlords were usually warriors who led other warriors. They conquered their estate, and all the warriors had a part in it, a piece of land called a fief. They all defended it from attackers, whether the attackers attacked one small part of the land or all of it. The warriors were called vassals. The leader was usually the strongest or the smartest general within the warriors. He was called the lord. Most of the peasants worked the land for the lord and got some of the food grown in return. These people were called serfs. This was all a part of the feudalistic government. During the beginning of the High Medieval period, nothing changed. In fact, these feudalistic bonds grew stronger. More people became serfs, although now leadership was more hereditary than whoever was the strongest. Yet people followed feudalism mainly because of the danger of living in a town unprotected. After peace stabilized the region, feudalism started declining and towns started popping up all around Europe. Serfs started to buy their freedom from the lords of their estates to live in towns. The church also owned land, yet they could not marry so after they died ownership remained with the church.
The next section to be analyzed is Politics. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, many of the Germanic tribes leaders attempted to continue the tradition of commerce and economy, which brought so much wealth to the Roman Empire. Yet it failed, as it was too much for them to understand. Most of the Tribes leaders gave land to their warriors and other powerful former Romans who helped them. They gave them land in return for loyalty and military service. They tried to control these new nobles, but instead each pretty much ruled his region independently. Rule became hereditary, and no strong central state dominated. As explained in a class lecture, Kings tried to rule over many states, but they realized that unless they could travel to all of them to keep a strong presence (like Charlemagne did) and still be able to run enough military campaigns to capture new land with which to give as a gift to their warriors and nobles, it was almost impossible. The situation became very unstable, another reason for the rise in Feudalistic governments. People wanted to be protected against the numerous barbarians and invaders, and they would become serfs to powerful lords to do it. During the High Medieval period, the feudalistic system just grew stronger, as lords gave fiefs to vassals, who in turn gave fiefs to their vassals, etc.
The next department to be analyzed is warfare. As we learned in class, the stirrup (a holster for a rider’s foot when riding/fighting on a horse) was a major revolution in the way wars were fought. Before this, horses were mainly used to shoot arrows and retreat. But because of this little invention, warriors could now absorb an impact in a battle and still remain in the saddle. This led to a dramatic increase in cavalry, especially lance-armed heavy cavalry, which with their weight and momentum made them a devastating weapon. Also, the stirrup helped lead to more professional warriors and the beginning of warfare being a specialized career with highly trained, heavily equipped warriors. Heavy cavalry was especially effective against barbarians, as Knights became essential to any army. Also, castles started to become essential as a fort and a base from which to fight or retreat. During the High Medieval period, knights and castles became even more popular and essential. Knights dominated the fighting in almost all wars during this period, as their numbers in an army were seen as a sign to that army’s strength. Castles also dominated the warfare of the time, as cannons were not yet invented so seizing one was damn near impossible.
One of the last topics to be analyzed is Diplomacy. Diplomacy during the Early Medieval period was a joke. The Germanic tribes and the Byzantine Empire pretty much fought each other, amongst themselves, and the numerous invaders. The only diplomacy was the Byzantine Empire convincing the barbarians to be against each other, so as they wouldn’t gang up on the Byzantines. Charlemagne united a big part of Europe together, but after he died his three grandsons wasted what he left to them. During the High Medieval period, diplomacy was more developed. The most interesting and major diplomatic struggles were France being fought over by the English and the French and the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope fighting for power and influence. Also, The Crusades was starting to kick into full gear. The German knights mentioned before colonized the Baltic territory, while in Spain a reconquest was beginning to take effect.
The last topic to be covered in the comparison is Culture. After the Western Roman Empire collapsed, so did culture for that region. The only thing that survived was Christianity and the influence of the church. The conversions that were made stuck, and Christianity only grew in spite of the loss of society and culture. Sad to say, much of the class and culture so developed by the Western Roman Empire was lost when it fell. Barbarians had no use for Hellenistic culture and Latin texts. The only people who preserved these last vestiges of culture were the monks in the monasteries. During the High Medieval period, however, a stabilization and rise in economy and trade led to a rise in culture. As the warriors had fewer wars to fight, they became softer and more civilized. They developed a system of behavior called chivalry, which was very popular. Also, a stabilization of society led to a growth in education, art, philosophy, and interest in ancient texts and art.
In conclusion, the year 1000 did form a turning point in European history, by separating the collapse of an old civilization, which was the Western Roman Empire, with the appearance of a new one. After this period, events like the ‘discovery’ of the New World and the Renaissance changed life and civilization forever, not only in Europe but all over the world.