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Historical Period: Middle Ages

Updated on April 18, 2018
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.

Overview

Regarded by historians as the era between ancient history and the modern world, the Middle Ages, or Medieval period, is considered to have begun in 476 CE (Common Era) with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Controversy, civil strife and cultural and technological developments marked the end of this age and the beginning of the modern world in 1500 CE.

Scholars usually divide the Middle Ages into three distinct eras, the first was the Early Middle Ages. The decline in population, invasion and emigration in the final years of the Roman Empire continued, causing new kingdoms to form in what remained of the empire. They incorporated the few persisting Roman institutions and monasteries were founded in order to convert pagan Europeans to Christianity.

The High Middle Ages began in 1000 CE. The population of Europe increased with technological and agricultural innovations allowing trade to flourish. As societies organized themselves through manorialism and feudalism, kings became the head of their own nation-states. Here is also when the Crusades began in an attempt to regain Christian control of the Middle East from Muslims, scholasticism sought to join faith and reason, universities were founded and the Catholic Church split under the East-West Schism of 1054 where the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches broke away from each other in a separation still lasting today.

Finally, the Late Middle Ages started in 1250 CE and were characterized by a massive diminishing of Europe’s population through a number of factors including famine, plague and war. Alongside these difficulties were problems within the Catholic Church one of which was the Western Schism in 1378 when three different men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope.

Meanwhile in Asia, the Khans ruled after Genghis Khan unified individual Mongol tribes and expanded his kingdom to the west and south, conquering lands in China, Burma, Central Asia, Russia, Iran, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Culture

Music in the MIddle Ages consisted of songs, instrumental pieces and music used for religious and non-religious purposes. As Mass was a reenactment of Christ’s Last Supper and intended to provide a spiritual connection between man and God, music became one way for said connection to be established. As such, monks sang in Gregorian chant during Mass. Medieval music further laid the foundations for music notation and theory that would eventually shape Western music, such as dots over lyrics of a chant becoming a four-line staff and monophonic melodies becoming polyphonic. Musicians used such instruments like flutes,recorders, pan flutes, lutes, dulcimers, fiddles, and zithers.

Medieval art is vast in its movements and many works continue to endure from sculpture and stained glass to fresco wall paintings and tapestries. In Europe, art grew out of the artistic heritage of the Roman Empire sustaining the practice of realistically depicting objects while combining new forms of expressionism. Additionally, artistic traditions in Asia continued to be far-reaching across the continent. Stone carvings and murals in Cambodia, monochromatic landscape paintings and ink paintings of bamboo in China and bronze sculptures and fresco paintings in India are just a small portion of Asian art from the Middle Ages.

Literature went through great strides in the Middle Ages. Though theological works dominated the literary landscape, poetic dramatic, allegorical, secular and mystical works were popular as was travel literature, fantastic accounts of far-off lands. Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, The Book of Good Love by Juan Ruiz, The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kemp, Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich are just some of Medieval literary works. From the East, Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji, seen by many scholars as the first novel.

Science & Technology

The Middle Ages saw much in the way of technological advancements civilly and militarily. In the Late Middle Ages these advancements were built on techniques established earlier in the era, existing techniques from the Roman and Byzantine Empires or techniques adapted through cross-cultural exchanges with the Middle East and Asia. Among these advancements were crop rotation, paper mills, chimneys, hourglasses and mechanical clocks, vertical windmills, the movable printing press, gunpowder and gunpowder weapons, Arabic numerals, spinning wheels, mirrors, chainmail, plate armor, spurs, crossbows, longbows, and counterweight trebuchets.

Sociological Timeline

  • 400 - Mayan culture begins to decline
  • 405 - Christian Gospel translated into Latin
  • Aug. 24, 410 - Rome sacked by Visigoths
  • June 22-July 31, 431 - Council of Ephesus
  • June 2, 455 - Rome sacked by Vandals
  • Sept. 4, 476 - Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus deposed, Middle Ages begin
  • 507 - Franks defeat Visigoths
  • 524 Boethius writes Consolation of Philosophy, regarded as most important and influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity
  • Aug. 1 527 - Justinian I becomes Eastern Roman Emperor
  • 529-534 - Justinian I publishes Code of Civil Law
  • 529 - Benedict of Nursia founds monastery at Monte Cassino, beginning of Order of Saint Benedict
  • 568 - Kingdom of the Lombards founded in Italy
  • 570 - Birth of Muhammad
  • March 4, 581 - Beginning of Sui Dynasty in China
  • Sept. 3, 590 - Gregory the Great becomes Pope
  • 597 - Augustine arrives in England, Christianization of England begins
  • 602-629 - Last great Roman-Persian War
  • June 18, 618 - Tang Dynasty begins in China
  • 626 - Persian-Avar-Slav Siege of Constantinople
  • June 8, 632 - Death of Muhammad
  • 632 - Old Great Bulgaria established
  • June 8, 632 - Abu Bakr ascends as first Caliph
  • 638 - Jerusalem captured by Arab Army
  • 650 - Xochicalco founded in Morelos, Mexico
  • 663 - Synod of Whitby
  • 668 - Three Kingdoms period in Korea ends
  • 674-678 - First Arab siege of Constantinople
  • 681 - Bulgarian Empire established
  • 698 - North South States Period begins in Korea
  • 718 - Second Arab attack on Constantinople
  • 726 - Iconoclast movement begins in Byzantine Empire
  • May 26, 735 - Death of Bede, later regarded as father of English history
  • Jan 25, 750 - Beginning of Abbasid Caliphate, longest lasting caliphate
  • 751 - Pepin the Short begins Carolingian Dynasty
  • 768 - Charlemagne’s reign begins
  • 793 - Viking attacks on Britain begin
  • 794 - Heian Period begins in Japan
  • Dec. 25, 800 - Charlemagne crowned Holy Roman Emperor
  • Jan. 28, 814 - Death of Charlemagne
  • 843 - Charlemagne’s empire divided between grandsons, stage set for Holy Roman Empire and France as separate states
  • 843 - Kenneth McAlpin becomes king of Picts and Scots, creates Kingdom of Alba
  • 866 - Fujiwara period begins in Japan
  • 868 - Earliest known printed book in China with a date
  • 871 - Alfred the Great becomes first king of a unified England
  • Oct. 27, 899 - Death of Alfred the Great
  • 907 - Tang Dynasty ends in China, Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period commences
  • 919 - Henry I becomes first king of Medieval Germany
  • 925 - Tomislav crowned first king of Croatia
  • 927 - King Aethelstan the Glorious unites nations of Wessex, Sussex, Essex, Kent, East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria, Kingdom of England founded
  • 936 - Korea unified into Later Three Kingdoms of Korea
  • 960 - Song Dynasty begins in China
  • 962 - Otto the Great becomes Holy Roman Emperor
  • 985 - Eric the Red begins Scandinavian colonization of Greenland
  • 987 - Hugh Capet becomes King of France, Capetian dynasty begins
  • 1001 - Leif Ericson the first European to settle in the Americas
  • 1021 - earliest evidence of The Tale of Genji
  • 1037 - Great Seljuk Empire founded
  • 1054 - East-West Schism divides church into Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy
  • 1066 - William the Conqueror invades England, becomes king after Battle of Hastings
  • 1077 - Domesday Book compiled, surveys land and property allowing William the Conqueror to assess possessions
  • 1088 - University of Bologna formed, oldest university in Europe
  • 1096 - First Crusade
  • 1098 - Cistercian Order founded
  • 1100-1101 - Crusade of 1101
  • 1102 - Kingdoms of Croatia and Hungary formed; Synods of Westminster
  • 1107-1111 - Norwegian Crusade
  • 1117 - University of Oxford founded
  • 1118 - Knights Templar founded
  • 1122-1124 - Venetian Crusade
  • 1147-1149 - Second Crusade
  • 1174 - William I of Scotland captured in battle, begins acquisition of Scotland by English
  • 1185 - Windmills first recorded
  • 1187 - Saladin recaptures Jerusalem
  • 1189 - Richard I becomes king of England
  • 1189-1192 - Third Crusade
  • 1193 - First known merchant guild
  • 1199 - Europeans first use compasses
  • 1202-1204 - Fourth Crusade
  • 1204 - Sack of Constantinople
  • 1206 - Genghis Khan elected Khagan of the Mongols, Mongol Empire established
  • 1209 - University of Cambridge founded, Franciscan Order founded
  • June 15, 1215 - Magna Carta sealed by John of England
  • 1217-1221 - Fifth Crusade
  • Aug. 18, 1227 - Death of Genghis Khan
  • 1228-1229 - Sixth Crusade
  • 1234-1241 - Barons’ Crusade
  • 1248-1254 - Seventh Crusade
  • 1257 - University of Paris founded
  • 1270 - Eighth Crusade
  • 1272-1273 - Ninth Crusade
  • 1296 - First War of Scottish Independence, William Wallace emerges as leader of Scottish resistance
  • 1298 - Marco Polo publishes tales of China
  • July 27, 1299 - Ottoman Empire founded
  • Aug. 23, 1305 - William Wallace executed
  • 1310 - Dante publishes Divine Comedy
  • June 23-24, 1314 - Battle of Bannockburn, Scottish independence restored
  • 1337 - Hundred Years’ War begins
  • 1347 - Black Death begins to ravage Europe
  • 1347 - University of Prague founded
  • 1378 - Western Schism
  • 1381 - Bible translated into English
  • Oct. 18-19, 1386 - University of Heidelberg founded
  • 1392 - Joseon Dynasty begins in Korea
  • 1417 - Western Schism ends
  • 1429 - Joan of Arc lifts siege of Orléans
  • May 30, 1431 - Joan of Arc executed
  • 1434 - Medici family rises to prominence in Florence, Italy
  • 1439 - Johannes Gutenberg invents printing press
  • 1453 - Constantinople falls to Ottoman Turks
  • 1453 - Hundred Years’ War ends
  • 1492 - Christopher Columbus reaches New World
  • June 10, 1494 - Treat of Tordesillas signed, Spain and Portugal divide New World
  • 1497 - Vasco de Gama begins first voyage from Europe to India and back
  • 1499 - First naval battle using cannons in ships
  • 1500 - Middle Ages ends, Modern world begins

Comments

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    • hrymel profile image

      Haley 

      2 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      It always surprises me when I realize how long the Middles Ages actually lasted, and that it's not just synonymous with "Renaissance".

      Great piece!

    working

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