Medieval Times

Covering the Dark Ages

Were the "Dark Ages" Truly "Dark?" Were the "Middle Ages" Really the "Middle?"

The term "Middle Ages" began with the fall of the Roman Empire (western) in 476 c.e. and lasting through the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century. The terms "Dark Ages" and "Middle Ages" describe a period when no great art was produced, no great leaders born and no scientific accomplishments were made. It was a time when the people "squandered" the accomplishments of their predecessors and sank into a period of barbarism & religion.

Catholic Church in the Middle Ages

*After the fall of Rome, there was no single state or government that united the people of Europe. The Catholic Church became the most powerful institution in Europe.

*Kings, queens & other leaders derived their power from alliances with and protection from the Church.

*In 800 c.e. Pope Leo III called the Frankish king, Charlemagne, the "Emperor of the Romans"--the 1st since the fall of Rome 300+ years earlier.

*Charlemagne's realm became the "Holy Roman Empire," one of several political entities in Europe whose interests aligned with the Church.

*"Normal people" had to tithe 10% of their annual earnings to the Church. But the Church was mostly exempt from taxation. As a result the Church amassed a great deal of money and power.

Islam in the Middle Ages

After the prophet Muhammed's death in 632 c.e. armies conquered large parts of the Middle East and united them under the rule of a single caliph. (Caliph: person considered to be a successor of Muhammed and a leader of the entire Muslim community.) At the height of Middle Ages, the Islamic world was 3 times as big as Christendom.


Cities like Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus fostered a lively intellectual and cultural life in cities with poets, scientists and philosophers making many scholarly advances. Thousands of books were translated on paper (a Chinese invention in the 8th century) from Greek, Iranian and Indian into Arabic. Religious scholars interpreted and taught the Quran to people across the Middle East.

The Crusades

At the end of the 11th century the Catholic Church started to authorize military expeditions (or crusades) to expel Muslim "infidels" from the Holy Land. They wore red crosses on their coats to denote their status. They believed their service would guarantee remission of sins and ensure them eternal life in Heaven. They also gained worldly rewards like papal protection of property and forgiveness of some kinds of loan payments.


In 1095 Pope Urban summoned Charlemagne to go to Jerusalem to expel the "infidels" and the Crusades lasted until the end of the 15th century. No one "won" the Crusades--1000s on both sides died.


Results of the Crusades include a unifying effect upon Catholics throughout Europe, making them feel a sense of common purpose when they might have been alienated against the Church. Also the Crusades exposed Europeans to Islamic literature, science and technology, an exposure that would change Europe's intellectual life for good.


The Crusades expanded trade routes to the East and gave Europeans a taste of imported goods like wine, olive oil and luxurious textiles.

Art and Architecture in the Middle Ages

*To prove their devotion to the Church, Europeans built massive cathedrals and other religious structures like monasteries. These buildings were Europe's largest building and stood at the center of cities and towns.

*10th-13th Centuries: Cathedrals built in Romanesque style.

*1200: Gothic style cathedrals became in vogue with frescoes, mosaics, and even books that were works of art with gilt edges and colorful illustrations (before the printing press in 1486.)

Economics and Society in the Middle Ages

*Feudalism: a system of government

*The king granted land to noblemen and bishops. Landless peasants called serfs did most of the work, planting and harvesting crops. The serfs gave most of the produce to the landowner. In return the serfs were allowed to live on the land and were promised protection in case of enemy invasion.

*In the 11th century feudal life began to change with the advent of agricultural innovations like heavy plows and three-field crop rotation. Fewer farm workers were needed, so people flocked to the cities. Increased and improved food supply led to population growth.


*Because of the increase in trade with the East, a commercial economy developed and port cities thrived. By 1300 at least 15 port cities in Europe had populations of 50,000+.

The Dark Ages...How Dark Were They, Really?: Crash Course World History #14
Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars All Without a Flamewar: Crash Course World History #13
The Crusades - Pilgrimage or Holy War?: Crash Course World History #15
Charlemagne: An introduction (1 of 2) | World history | Khan Academy