Portal:Middle Ages

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The fortified town and abbey of Mont Saint-Michel off the northern coast of France is an iconic image of the Middle Ages that remains little changed since it was painted by the de Limbourg brothers in the 1430s

The Middle Ages is a period of European history that lasted from the 5th until the 15th centuries. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and was followed by the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the traditional division of Western history into Classical, Medieval, and Modern periods. The period is subdivided into the Early Middle Ages, the High Middle Ages, and the Late Middle Ages.

In the Early Middle Ages, depopulation, deurbanization, and barbarian invasions, which began in Late Antiquity, continued. The barbarian invaders formed new kingdoms in the remains of the Western Roman Empire. In the 7th century North Africa and the Middle East, once part of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire), became an Islamic Empire after conquest by Muhammad's successors. Although there were substantial changes in society and political structures, the break with Antiquity was not complete. The still sizeable Byzantine Empire survived and remained a major power. The empire's law code, the Code of Justinian, was widely admired. In the West, most kingdoms incorporated extant Roman institutions, while monasteries were founded as Christianity expanded in western Europe. The Franks, under the Carolingian dynasty, established an empire covering much of western Europe; the Carolingian Empire endured until the 9th century, when it succumbed to the pressures of invasion — the Vikings from the north; the Magyars from the east, and the Saracens from the south.

During the High Middle Ages, which began after AD 1000, the population of Europe increased greatly as technological and agricultural innovations allowed trade to flourish and crop yields to increase. Manorialism — the organization of peasants into villages that owed rent and labor 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 organized in the High Middle Ages. The Crusades, first preached in 1095, were military attempts, by western European Christians, to regain control of the Middle Eastern Holy Land from the Muslims. Kings became the heads of centralized nation states, reducing crime and violence but making the ideal of a unified Christendom more distant. Intellectual life was marked by scholasticism, a philosophy which emphasized joining faith to reason, and by the founding of universities. The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, the paintings of Giotto, the poetry of Dante and Chaucer, the travels of Marco Polo, and the architecture of Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres are among the outstanding achievements of this period.

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The Byzantine Empire (a historiographical term used since the 19th century) and Eastern Roman Empire are expressions used to describe the Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, centered on its capital of Constantinople, referred to by its inhabitants simply as the Roman Empire (in Greek Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων) or Romania (Ῥωμανία), its emperors continuing the unbroken succession of Roman emperors, preserving Greco-Roman legal and cultural traditions; to the Islamic world it was known primarily as روم (Rûm, "land of the Romans"). Due to the dominance of Medieval Greek language, culture and population, it was known to many of its western European contemporaries as Empire of the Greeks. As an outgrowth of the eastern portion of Empire founded in Rome, the Byzantine Empire's evolution into a separate culture from the West can be seen as a process beginning with Emperor Constantine's transferring the capital from Nicomedia in Anatolia to Byzantium on the Bosphorus (then renamed Nova Roma, and later Constantinople). By the 7th century under the reign of Emperor Heraclius, whose reforms changed the nature of the Empire's military and recognized Greek as the official language, the Empire had taken on a distinct new character. During its existence the Empire suffered numerous setbacks and losses of territory yet it remained one of the most powerful economic, cultural and military forces in Europe.


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Slav warrior from Solntsev book.jpg

Sviatoslav I Igorevich (Old East Slavic: С~тославъ / Свѧтославъ Игорєвичь, Sventoslavŭ / Svantoslavŭ Igorevičǐ; Russian: Святослав Игоревич, Sviatoslav Igorevich; Ukrainian: Святослав Ігорович, Sviatoslav Ihorovych; Bulgarian: Светослав, Svetoslav, Greek: Σφενδοσθλάβος, Sphendosthlabos) (c. 942 – March 972), also spelled Svyatoslav, was a prince of Rus. The son of Igor of Kiev and Olga, Sviatoslav is famous for his incessant campaigns in the east and south, which precipitated the collapse of two great powers of Eastern Europe—Khazaria and the First Bulgarian Empire; he also conquered numerous East Slavic tribes, defeated the Alans and the Volga Bulgars, and at times was allied with the Pechenegs and Magyars.

His decade-long reign over Rus' was marked by rapid expansion into the Volga River valley, the Pontic steppe and the Balkans. By the end of his short life, Sviatoslav carved out for himself the largest state in Europe, eventually moving his capital from Kiev (modern day Ukraine) to Pereyaslavets (modern day Romania) on the Danube in 969. In contrast with his mother's conversion to Christianity, Sviatoslav remained a staunch pagan all of his life. Due to his abrupt death in ambush, Sviatoslav's conquests, for the most part, were not consolidated into a functioning empire, while his failure to establish a stable succession led to fratricidal feud among his sons, resulting in two of his three sons being killed. (Read more. . .)

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  • ...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 the Ætheling was the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England, but was only proclaimed, never crowned?
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