UNIT 6 - EARLY MIDDLE AGES



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01 - EUROPEAN GEOGRAPHY
02 - EARLY CHRISTIANITY
03 - THE FRANKS
04 - FEUDALISM
05 - THE MANOR SYSTEM
06 - TOWNS AND TRADE
07 - JAPAN & EUROPE
08 - AUDIO RESOURCES
09 - YOUTUBE FULL DOCUMENTARIES

01 - EUROPEAN GEOGRAPHY

Europe is a small continent, but it is very diverse. Many different landforms, water features, and climates can be found there. Although we call Europe a continent, it is actually part of Eurasia, the large landmass that includes both Europe and Asia. Geographers consider the Ural Mountains to be the boundary between the two continents.

Look at the map of Europe. You can see that different parts of Europe have very different features. In other words, Europe’s topography (tuh-PAH-gruh-fee) varies widely from place to place. Topography refers to the shape and elevation of land in refers a region. Mountain ranges cover much of southern Europe. Some peaks in the Alps reach higher than 15,000 feet. The highest mountains have large snowfields and glaciers.

North of the Alps, the land is much flatter than in southern Europe. In fact, most of northern Europe is part of the vast Northern European Plain. As you can see on the map, this plain stretches all the way from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east. In the past, this huge expanse of land was covered with thick forests. Many types of trees grew well in the plain’s rich, fertile soils.

The Northern European Plain is also the location of most of Europe’s major rivers. Many of these rivers begin with melting snow in the southern mountains and flow out across the plain on their way northward to the sea. If you travel even farther north from the Northern European Plain, the land starts to rise again. Far northern Europe has many rugged hills and low mountains.

You can see these hills and mountains in the northern part of the British Isles and in Scandinavia, Europe’s largest peninsula. Scandinavia is only one of Europe’s many peninsulas. Smaller peninsulas extend into the sea from many parts of Europe. These peninsulas give Europe a very long, jagged coastline.

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Climate and Vegetation


Like its landforms, Europe’s climates and vegetation vary widely from region to region. For example, southern Europe is largely warm and sunny. As a result, shrubs and trees that don’t need a lot of water are common there. Most of northwestern Europe, in contrast, has a mild and cooler, wetter climate. Cold winds from the north and northeast can bring freezing weather in winter. Freezing weather is much more common in Scandinavia, though. That region is very cold throughout the year. Snow falls for much of the year, and few plants can survive the region’s cold climates.

Geography and Life


Southern Europe

In southern Europe, most people lived on coastal plains or in river valleys where the land was flat enough to farm. People grew crops like grapes and olives that could survive the region’s dry summers. In the mountains where the land was steep or rocky, people raised sheep and goats. Because southern Europe has many peninsulas, people there don’t live far from the sea. As a result, many became traders and seafarers.

Northern Europe

Most people in northern Europe lived farther from the sea. They still had access to the sea, however, through northern Europe’s rivers. Because rivers were an easy method of transportation, towns grew up along them. Rivers also provided protection. The city of Paris, France, for example, was built on an island in a river to make the city hard for raiders to reach. In the fields around cities, farmers grew all sorts of crops. These fields were excellent farmlands, but the flat land also made an easy route for invaders to follow. No mountains blocked people’s access to northern Europe, and as a result, the region was frequently invaded.

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02 - EARLY CHRISTIANITY

As the Roman Empire fell, various groups from the north and east moved into former Roman lands. As they moved in, these groups created their own states. The rulers of these states, usually powerful warlords, began to call themselves kings. These kings often fought among themselves. As a result, by the early 500s Europe was divided into many small kingdoms.

The creation of these kingdoms marked the beginning of the Middle Ages, a period that lasted from about 500 to about 1500. We call this time the “middle” ages because it falls between ancient times and modern times. Another name for the Middle Ages is the medieval (mee-DEE-vuhl) period, from the Latin words for “middle age.”

At the beginning of the Middle Ages, many of the kingdoms of northern Europe were not Christian. Christianity was only common in places that had been part of the Roman Empire, such as Italy and Spain. As time passed, however, Christianity slowly spread farther north. This spread was largely through the efforts of two groups of Christians—missionaries and monks.



Missionaries


Perhaps the most powerful force that helped spread Christianity into northern Europe was the pope. Over the years, many popes sent missionaries to teach people in northern kingdoms about Christianity. Missionaries are people who try to convert others to a particular religion. Some missionaries traveled great distances to spread Christianity to new lands. For their devotion to Christianity, many missionaries were named saints. Saint is a religious title given to people famous for their holiness.

One of the first places to which popes sent missionaries was Britain. These missionaries traveled all over the island, and eventually most people in Britain became Christian. From Britain, other missionaries carried Christianity into what are now France and Germany.

Not all missionaries, though, were sent by the pope. In fact, one of the first missionaries to travel to northern Europe was Patrick, who took it upon himself to teach people about Christianity. In the mid-400s Patrick traveled from Britain to Ireland to convert the people there. Unlike most missionaries, Patrick traveled alone. Although he faced resistance to his teachings, he eventually converted the Irish people to Christianity.


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MONKS


While missionaries traveled to spread Christian teachings, men called monks were equally dedicated to their faith. Monks were religious men who lived apart from society in isolated communities. In these communities, monks spent their time in prayer, work, and meditation.
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Communities of monks, or monasteries, were built all over Europe in the Middle Ages. Life in a monastery was strictly organized. The monks had to follow rules that were intended to help them live as good Christians. These rules outlined the day-to-day affairs of the monastery, including how monks should dress and what they should eat.
Most European monasteries followed a set of rules created in the early 500s by an Italian monk named Benedict. His code was called the Benedictine Rule, and those who followed it were called Benedictine monks. But not all monks in Europe were Benedictines. Different groups of monks created their own rules. For example, monks in Ireland were very different from monks in France or Germany.

Even though they lived apart from society, monks had a big influence on Europe. Monks performed many services, both inside and outside of monasteries. Monasteries sometimes provided basic services, such as health care, that were unavailable to many members of their communities. The poor and needy would arrive at a monastery and the monks would give them aid. In addition to giving aid to people in their communities, monks

- ran schools and copied books for those who couldn’t read or write,
- collected and saved ancient writings from Greece and Rome,
- served as scribes and advisors to local rulers.

Monks also helped spread Christian teachings into new areas. Many monasteries were built in remote locations where Christians had never traveled before. People living near the monasteries learned about Christianity from the monks.




03 - THE FRANKS
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As Christianity was spreading into northern Europe, political changes were also taking place. In the 480s a powerful group called the Franks conquered Gaul, the region we now call France. Under a ruler named Clovis, the Franks became Christian and created one of the strongest kingdoms in Europe.

As strong as the Franks were under Clovis, though, they had yet to reach their greatest power. That power would not come until the late 700s, when a leader named Charlemagne (SHAHR-luh-mayn) appeared. Charlemagne was a brilliant warrior and a strong king, and he led the Franks in building a huge empire.

To build this empire, Charlemagne spent much of his time at war. He led his armies into battle against many neighboring kingdoms and conquered them. By the time he was finished, Charlemagne’s empire included all of what is now France. It also stretched into modern Germany, Austria, Italy, and northern Spain.

Charlemagne, a Christian king, had conquered parts of the former Roman Empire. For that reason, on Christmas Day in 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans. This title symbolized a return to the greatness of the Roman Empire.

Charlemagne didn’t spend all of his energy on warfare, however. A great admirer of education, he built schools across Europe. He also brought scholars to teach in his capital at Aachen (AH-kuhn), now in western Germany. Among these scholars were some of the greatest religious scholars and teachers of the Middle Ages. Their teachings helped shape religious and social life in Europe for centuries.






Invaders


Even while Charlemagne was building his empire, though, new threats appeared in Europe. Invaders began to attack settlements all over the continent. Muslim armies poured into southern France and northern Italy. Fierce warriors called the Magyars swept into Europe from the east, attacking towns and destroying fields. From Scandinavia came perhaps the most frightening invaders of all, the Vikings.

The Vikings raided Britain, Ireland, and other parts of western Europe. They looted towns and monasteries and took prisoners to sell into slavery. The attacks were swift and savage, and Europeans lived in terror of Viking raids. Because Vikings could sail their ships up rivers, their raids weren’t limited to coastal areas. The Vikings also reached inland cities and attacked cities in the Iberian and Italian peninsulas.

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04 - FEUDALISM

When the Vikings, Magyars, and Muslims began their raids in the 800s, the Frankish kings were unable to defend their empire. Their army was too slow to defend against the lightning-fast attacks of their enemies. Because they couldn’t depend on protection from their kings, nobles had to defend their own lands. As a result, the power of nobles grew, and kings became less powerful. In fact, some nobles became as powerful as the kings themselves. Although these nobles remained loyal to the king, they ruled their lands as independent territories.

Knights


To defend their lands, nobles needed soldiers. The best soldiers were knights, warriors who fought on horseback. However, knights needed weapons, armor, and horses. This equipment was expensive, and few people had money in the early Middle Ages. As a result, nobles gave knights fiefs (FEEFS), or pieces of land, instead of money for their military service. A noble who gave land to a knight in this way was called a lord.

In return for the land, a knight promised to support the noble in battle or in other matters. A knight who promised to support a lord in exchange for land was called a vassal. The vassal swore that he would always remain loyal to his lord. Historians call this system of promises that governed the relationships between lords and vassals feudalism (FYOO-duh-lih-zuhm).



Duties


The ties between lords and vassals were the heart of feudalism. Each group had certain responsibilities toward the other. A lord had to send help to his vassals if an enemy attacked. In addition, he had to be fair toward his vassals. He couldn’t cheat them or punish them for no reason. If a lord failed to do what he was supposed to, his vassals could break all ties with him.

To defend their lands, many lords built castles. A castle is a large building with strong walls that can easily be defended against attacks. Early castles didn’t look like the towering structures we see in movies and storybooks. Those great castles were built much later in the Middle Ages. Most early castles were made of wood, not stone. Nevertheless, these castles provided security in times of war.

When a lord went to war, he called on his vassals to fight with him. But fighting wasn’t a vassal’s only duty. For example, vassals had to give their lords money on special occasions, such as when a lord’s son became a knight or when his daughter got married. A vassal also had to give his lord food and shelter if he came to visit. If a vassal gained enough land, he could become a lord. In this way a person might be both a lord and a vassal. A knight could also accept fiefs from two different lords and become a vassal to both. Feudal obligations could become confusing.

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Spread of Feudalism


Feudalism was first created by the Franks. Before long the system began to spread into other kingdoms. In the 1000s, Frankish knights introduced feudalism into northern Italy, Spain, and Germany. Feudalism then spread into eastern Europe.

Feudalism also reached Britain in the 1000s. It was brought there by a French noble named William, who was the duke of Normandy in northern France, and who claimed a right to the English throne.

In 1066, William and his knights sailed into England and defeated the English king at the Battle of Hastings. After winning the battle, William declared himself the new king of England. He became known as William the Conqueror. To reward his knights for their part in the victory, William gave them large estates of land in his new country. This was the beginning of feudalism in England.




05 - THE MANOR SYSTEM

When a knight received a fief from his lord, he needed a way to farm it. Knights were fighters who didn’t have time to work in the fields. At the same time, peasants, or small farmers, needed to grow food to live. Very few peasants, however, owned any land. As a result, a new economic system developed. Under this system, knights allowed peasants to farm land on their large estates. In return, the peasants had to give the knights food or other payment.
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The large estate owned by a knight or lord was called a manor. In general, each manor included a large house or castle, pastures, fields, and forests. It also had a village where the peasants who worked on the manor lived. Most medieval lords kept about one-fourth to one-third of their land for their own use. The rest of the land was divided among peasants and serfs—workers who were tied to the land on which they lived.

Although they weren’t slaves, serfs weren’t allowed to leave their land without the lord’s permission. Serfs spent much of their time working in their lords’ fields. In return for this work, they got a small piece of land to farm for themselves. They also received their lords’ protection against outlaws and raiders. The lives of serfs and peasants weren’t easy. Farm labor was hard, and they often worked in the fields late into the night. Men did most of the farming. Women made clothing, cooked, grew vegetables, and gathered firewood. Even children worked, tending sheep and chickens. In addition to peasants and serfs, most manors had several skilled workers. These workers traded their goods and services to the peasants in exchange for food. Lords wanted the people who lived on the manor to produce everything they needed, including food and clothing.

The lord of a manor controlled everything that happened on his lands. His word was law. The lord resolved any disputes that arose on the manor and punished people who misbehaved. He also collected taxes from the people who lived on his manor. As you would expect, manor lords and ladies lived more comfortably than other people on the manor. They had servants and large houses. Still, their lives weren’t easy. Lords who survived diseases faced the possibility of being killed in war.

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06 - TOWNS AND TRADE

In the Middle Ages, most people lived on manors or on small farms, not in towns. As a result, most towns were small. After about 1000, however, this situation began to change. Some towns became big cities. At the same time, new towns appeared. What led to the growth of medieval towns? For one thing, Europe’s population increased, partly because more food was available.

New technology helped farmers produce larger harvests than ever before. Among these improvements was a heavier plow. With this plow farmers could dig deeper into the soil, helping their plants grow better. Another new device, the horse collar, allowed farmers to plow fields using horses. In times past, farmers had used oxen, which were strong but slow. With horses, farmers could tend larger fields, grow more food, and feed more people.

Towns also grew because trade increased. As Europe’s population grew, so did trade. Trade routes spread all across Europe. Merchants also brought goods from Asia and Africa to sell in markets in Europe. The chance to make money in trade led many people to leave their farms and move to cities, causing cities to grow even larger.

In time, the growth of trade led to the decline of feudalism. Knights began to demand money for their services instead of land. At the same time, serfs and peasants left their manors for towns, slowly weakening the manor system.

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07 - JAPAN & EUROPE

In Europe, the basis for the feudal system was land. Kings and lords gave land to knights. In return, the knights promised to serve their lords and fight for them when necessary. Many knights owned large manors. Peasants and serfs worked on the manors and paid the lords in food. A very similar system existed in Japan. There, the emperor gave land to great lords who were later called daimyo. In turn, these lords employed warriors called samurai. Like European knights, the samurai promised to serve and fight for their lords. In exchange, the samurai received rice and grain. Lords got the grain from peasants who farmed their land. Peasants had to pay their lords in grain.

Knights and Samurai


The lives of knights and samurai were, in many ways, very similar. Both had to swear vows of loyalty to their lords. These lords expected them to fight well and to be fearless in battle. The lords also expected their knights or samurai to live disciplined and honorable lives.

Both European knights and Japanese samurai had to follow strict codes of honor that governed how they behaved. You have already learned about Bushido, the Japanese code of the samurai. Europeans called their code of honorable behavior for knights chivalry (SHIV-uhl-ree). Like Bushido, chivalry required knights to be brave and loyal but humble and modest at the same time. It also required them to be kind and generous when dealing with people, especially women. Because of their loyalty and dedication, both knights and samurai were greatly admired by other members of their societies.

This admiration can often be seen in literary descriptions of the men, such as this description of the French knight Roland and his comrades who are greatly outnumbered by their enemies:

“The battle is fearful and full of grief. Oliver and Roland strike like good men, the Archbishop, more than a thousand blows, and the Twelve Peers do not hang back, they strike! the French fight side by side, all as one man. The pagans die by hundreds, by thousands: whoever does not flee finds no refuge from death, like it or not, there he ends his days.”

Even though Roland and the others were almost certain that they would die, they continued to fight. They became heroes, admired for their courage and bravery.

The Japanese also admired their warriors for their courage. A passage from a Japanese text shows a similar admiration for warriors fighting impossible odds:

“Where Naozane galloped, Sueshige followed; where Sueshige galloped, Naozane followed. Neither willing to be outdone, they dashed in by turns, whipping their horses and attacking until the sparks flew…Naozane pulled out the arrows that were lodged in his own armor, tossed them aside, faced the stronghold with a scowl, and shouted in a mighty voice, ‘I am Naozane, the man who left Kamakura last winter determined to give his life for Lord Yoritomo… Confront me! Confront me!’”

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Differences


Although European and Japanese societies were the same in some ways, in most ways they were not. Their two cultures were also very different.

Perhaps the main difference between medieval Europeans and Japanese was religion. Nearly all Europeans were Christian, while the Japanese blended elements of Buddhism, Shinto, and Confucianism. European and Japanese religions taught very different ways of looking at the world. People in those places, therefore, did not act the same way.

The differences between Europe and Japan can also be seen in the artistic forms popular in each place. European art in the Middle Ages dealt mostly with religious themes. Paintings showed scenes from the Bible, and writers tried to inspire people with stories about great Christians. In Japan, on the other hand, most art dealt with natural themes. Paintings of nature were common, and people built many gardens. Buildings blended with nature, rather than standing out. Japanese literature also celebrated nature. For example, Japanese poets in the 1600s created haiku (HY-koo), short, three-line poems of 17 syllables that describe nature scenes.

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08 - AUDIO RESOURCES







09 - YOUTUBE FULL DOCUMENTARIES

The Dark Ages - History Channel




Terry Jones - Medieval Lives - BBC