The Middle Ages Steve Wood TCCC The “Middle” Ages • To understand the Middle Ages, let’s start with the name itself. • What exactly were these ages in the middle of? The “Middle” Ages • The Middle Ages is a period of time lasting for roughly 1000 years, from approximately AD 500-1500. • They were called “Middle Ages” because they were between the Classical world of ancient Greek and Roman civilization and the modern world beginning with the Renaissance. The “Dark” Ages • Unfortunately, the name often gives rise to the belief that the Middle Ages are a cultural valley between the two peaks of Roman culture and the European Renaissance. • That is why some refer to the Middle Ages, especially the first few centuries, as the Dark Ages. The “Dark” Ages • The reality is that the Middle Ages was a time of great change in Western Europe. • Some of those changes were positive, some negative, while most of them were painful and disruptive. Filling the Void • The Roman Empire, which had dominated the region for several centuries, had begun to dissolve. • Because Nature abhors a vacuum, the void left by the Romans was eventually filled by a number of social, political, and religious institutions. • It is these institutions – such as chivalry, feudalism, and the church -- that we most often think of when we think of the Middle Ages. Dating the Middle Ages • Precise dates for the beginning and end of any historical period can be difficult; however, there are two dates that serve as convenient markers for the Middle Ages – A.D 476 and A.D. 1453. • Both dates are associated with the fall of the Roman empire. The Roman Empire • At the zenith of their power, the Romans ruled the world from Britain to the northern Africa, from Spain to the Holy Land and beyond. A Divided Empire • The Roman Empire had been split in two since the late 200s (the reign of Diocletian). Subsequent emperors, especially Constantine, had tried to reunite the halves, although pressure from various groups of barbarians had shrunk the empire in the west. • Finally, in 395, Theodosius formally split the empire in two parts – the western Roman empire centered on Rome and the eastern Byzantine empire centered on Constantinople. Foundations of Empire • Humanitas (social heroism) – subordination of the individual to the social good • Pietas (piety) – subordination of the human will to the divine • Gravitas (self-restraint) – intellectual integrity • Virtus (masculine virtue) – strength, courage, military prowess Pax Romana • The Romans pacified much of the world by ruling fairly, but also brutally. • “The Pax Romana was not totally peaceful, but Rome itself was largely safe and orderly even though the question of succession rose again and again. Relatively speaking, Pax Romana was the most peaceful two centuries of human history. Human frailty brought this period to an end; it is still with us.” Harry Rosenberg, here. A.D. 476 • In 476, the last emperor of the western Roman empire, a boy named Romulus Augustulus, is deposed by the barbarian king Odacer. Odacer then sent word to the eastern Roman Emperor Zeno that no replacement emperor was needed. • This date is often used as the beginning of the Middle Ages as various forces struggled to fill the cultural, political, military, and social void left by the Romans. The Example of Law • For example, the Roman concept of law, to which the English and American systems owe a great deal, had once help tie together an empire of disparate cultures. • Roman law was founded on three principles: – Single sovereignty – law should come from a single source – Universality – all citizens are under the same laws – Equity – circumstances should alter the individual application of laws The Example of Law • This system was replaced by the Germanic trial by combat or the trial by ordeal. • Trial by combat meant that the two parties in a legal dispute fought, and the winner was the legal victor. In some cases, a representative of the king would fight. The Example of Law • Trial by ordeal involved various forms of physical torture. For example, someone accused of stealing would be forced to grasp a red-hot iron bar. Based on how the wound healed, the accused was declared innocent or not. • Both of these trials were based on the belief that the gods would insure the just outcome. Filling the Void • Three of the forces that eventually filled the void left by the Romans were: – Feudalism – Chivalry – Christianity Feudalism from Britain Express.com • “Feudalism in practice meant that the country was not governed by the king but by individual lords, or barons, who administered their own estates, dispensed their own justice, minted their own money, levied taxes and tolls, and demanded military service from vassals. Usually the lords could field greater armies than the king. In theory the king was the chief feudal lord, but in reality the individual lords were supreme in their own territory. Many kings were little more than figurehead rulers.” Feudalism from Britain Express.com • “Feudalism was built upon a relationship of obligation and mutual service between vassals and lords. A vassal held his land, or fief, as a grant from a lord. When a vassal died, his heir was required to publicly renew his oath of faithfulness (fealty) to his lord (suzerain). This public oath was called "homage".” Feudalism from Britain Express.com • “The vassal was required to attend the lord at his court, help administer justice, and contribute money if needed. He must answer a summons to battle, bringing an agreed upon number of fighting men. As well, he must feed and house the lord and his company when they travelled across his land.” Feudalism from Britain Express.com • “This last obligation could be an onerous one. William the Conqueror travelled with a very large household, and if they extended their stay it could nearly bankrupt the lord hosting them. In a few days of Christmas feasting one year William and his retinue consumed 6,000 chickens, 1,000 rabbits, 90 boars, 50 peacocks, 200 geese, 10,000 eels, thousands of eggs and loaves of bread, and hundreds of casks of wine and cider.” Feudalism from Britain Express.com • “On the lord's side, he was obliged to protect the vassal, give military aid, and guard his children. If a daughter inherited, the lord arranged her marriage. If there were no heirs the lord disposed of the fief as he chose.” Important Feudal Terms • Fief – or “feodum” – the land itself that was the basis for the feudal system • Homage – the ceremony in which a vassal would swear an oath of fealty to his lord • Fealty – the two-way obligation between lord and vassal • Primogeniture – the inheritance of the fief and the attendant oaths by the eldest son • Perfidy – oath-breaking Chivalry • The warrior codes of the tribes who replaced the Romans in western Europe eventually became the practice known as chivalry. Chivalry • The term “chivalry” comes from the French “chevalier,” which meant “Horseman.” • Thus, originally, “chivalry” referred to the military tactics of the mounted soldier or knight. • Along the way, though, a whole series of social and religious conventions were attached to the process. Chivalry from Britain Express.com • “After the lord on the social ladder came the knight. The path to knighthood began at the age of seven, when a vassal sent his son to the lord's house to become a page. For seven years a page was cared for by the women of the house, who instructed him in comportment, courtesy, cleanliness, and religion.At 14 the page became a squire, a personal attendant to a knight. From the knight he learned riding and all the skills of war, as well as hunting, hawking, and other sports.” Chivalry from Britain Express.com • “When he was judged ready (generally between the ages of 18 and 21) the squire was knighted in a religious ceremony after spending the night guarding his armour before a church altar. He had to swear to the knightly code which asked him to ‘protect the weak, defenseless, and helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all.’” The Duties of a Knight from John of Salisbury • “But what is the office of the duly ordained soldiery? To defend the Church, to assail infidelity, to venerate the priesthood, to protect the poor from injuries, to pacify the province, to pour out their blood for their brothers (as the formula of their oath instructs them), and, if need be, to lay down their lives.” Christianity • The third force will helped fill the void left by the Roman Empire is Christianity, which also had a great impact on the other two forces. • From its beginnings in Jerusalem, Christianity had begun to spread throughout the Roman Empire. Christianity A.D. 185 Christianity in the Roman Empire • AD 303 Emperor Diocletian tries to purge Christianity from the empire – the Great Persecution. • AD 312 Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity. Christianity in the Roman Empire • AD 313 Emperor Constantine issues Edict of Milan, which declares toleration of all religions in the empire. Christianity in the Roman Empire • AD 361 Emperor Julian tries to abolish Christianity in the empire, but Christians revolt. • AD 391 Emperor Theodosius makes Christianity the official religion of the empire, and all pagan religions are outlawed. • AD 395 As the empire splits upon the death of Theodosius, so, in effect, does the church. Christianity A.D. 600 Filling the Void • As Christianity spread through what had been the Roman empire and gained footholds with the various Germanic tribes in western Europe, it came to fulfill many important social functions, including education, historical record- keeping, and local political structure. A.D. 1453 • The date generally given as the end of the Middle Ages is 1453, which is the date of the fall of Constantinople and of the eastern Roman Empire. • This fall is significant because many scholars and texts made their way from Constantinople to the west, thus helping to touch off the Renaissance.
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