Ancient history

The Middle Ages in Europe - An overview

The Middle Ages is an important epoch in European history. It can be chronologically classified between antiquity, antiquity and modern times. Specifically, its course between the 6th and 15th centuries is recorded. Within the thousand-year Middle Ages, an internal periodization is made into the Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages.

The early Middle Ages from the 6th century to the middle of the 11th century

In the early Middle Ages, Christian missionaries, such as St. Nicholas, traveled through many countries, starting from Rome or from Ireland. In this way, the pagan belief in the Germanic gods first mixed with the Christian belief.

Over the centuries, the traditional beliefs of the Germanic peoples died out more and more. Entire kingdoms and their populations converted to Christianity. The former Roman Empire was now divided into Christian and Islamic areas. In addition, there was another division in the Christian area, which showed itself in a Latin area in western Europe and an Orthodox area in eastern Europe.

The newly founded kingdom of the Franks established itself under the rule of King Clovis I as an important power in the early Middle Ages. As his later successor, Charlemagne was able to strengthen this position of power even further. However, the medieval Frankish kingdom disintegrated into different areas after his death. The later France then formed in the west, whereas the East Frankish Empire emerged from the eastern half.

The life of people in early medieval Europe

Although there were free people in the early Middle Ages, they were in the minority. This included, above all, the rich nobility, who owned a lot of land or received it on loan from the royal ruler. In contrast, the vast majority of people were unfree, being serfs subject to a master. Most of the serfs worked as peasants, servants and maids on the estates of the nobility. No one was allowed to move away or marry the chosen person without the permission of the Lord.

Although money in the form of coins already existed in this era, the exchange of goods was still widespread. At the end of the early Middle Ages, Vikings from the Scandinavian countries undertook many raids, especially on the west coast of Europe. In the Middle Ages, the various Viking tribes terrified all of Europe. The warriors were armed to the teeth and flashed onto the shores with their longships. They conquered the villages, plundered nearby monasteries and enslaved the residents. Then the Vikings sometimes burned down everything they couldn't take with them.

On the other hand, the Magyars, who later founded the Kingdom of Hungary, invaded from the east. However, this tribe could be pushed back again and again in various wars.

The clothing of the early Middle Ages is more practically cut - wide tunics and dresses that are held together with a belt. The clothing of the different classes does not differ that much. Wealth is more likely to be reflected in jewelry and armor at this time.

The High Middle Ages from the mid-11th to mid-13th centuries

In the High Middle Ages almost all of Europe was Catholic, with the Pope as the powerful head in Rome. Thanks to an economic boom, the medieval population grew rapidly. Trade and crafts were primarily responsible for this. As a commodity, money took on an increasingly important position. As a result, the first banks emerged in medieval Italy, which greatly simplified the handling of monetary values.

With the expansion, the desire for education also increased, which led to the founding of the first cathedral and monastery schools as well as the first universities. The most important subject areas for medieval study included theology, medicine and law, which related to faith, healing and legal studies. In the Middle Ages, painters primarily painted pictures with a biblical and natural background. At that time, the medieval Romanesque with the characteristic round arches prevailed as the common architectural style.

The medieval garments are changing towards body-hugging cuts. Men's tunics are becoming shorter, and tight trousers or leg warmers were worn. Women wore extravagant and at the same time fitted dresses. The lower classes still favored practical, monochromatic clothing, while wealthier individuals dressed in richly decorated, colorful robes. Stands stood out more and more from each other, with the first decrees on dress codes being announced.

Crusades and important inventions in the High Middle Ages

The High Middle Ages marked the beginning of the Crusades, in which armies marched on Jerusalem to liberate the Holy City from the Muslims. Knights served as the leaders of armies, which rode into battle on horseback, wielding swords. The few knights were accompanied by common soldiers who were on foot.

Among the most important achievements of the High Middle Ages are the many different inventions that made a breakthrough in everyday life. These include the powerful wind and water mills for grinding grain, pressing oil and sawing wood. The spinning wheel, improvements in looms and the practical wheelbarrow also date from this medieval period. Clocks with gear wheels were also developed and the explosive power of black powder was discovered.

The compass came from China to Europe via the Silk Road, which led to an important evolution in seafaring and all further voyages of discovery. As a revolutionary idea, the notion that the sun, rather than the earth, is at the center of our planetary system prevailed in the Middle Ages.

The late Middle Ages from the mid-13th century to about 1500

In the late Middle Ages, the prevailing climate cooled down noticeably, resulting in poorer harvests. As a result, there were great famines and serious illnesses among the population. Due to the plague, about half of all European inhabitants died in the 14th century. In the late Middle Ages, the Hundred Years' War broke out between England and France, which also claimed many lives. During this period, Islam was able to spread to large areas of present-day Spain and Portugal.

In the late Middle Ages, people also made important inventions. One of the pioneers in this field is the brilliant Leonardo da Vinci, who even invented the parachute. Thanks to the newly introduced glasses, many people with visual impairments were able to see even small things again and read written texts. With the paper mill, paper could be made from rags, this method was significantly cheaper than parchment from animal skins.

In the late Middle Ages, further fashion trends developed, which were mainly based on the fashion of the nobility. Much to the annoyance of the Church, the cuts of women's clothing became more revealing in the late Middle Ages. The first two-piece suits for women, consisting of a blouse and a skirt, were also created. Due to the lively trade and the progress in the textile industry, many fabrics and colors were now available, not only for the nobility, but also for the aspiring bourgeoisie.

Important events in the late Middle Ages

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type in 1450 and was the first to print a Bible. This is how the medieval Reformation and later separation in the Christian faith began.

At the end of the late Middle Ages, the navigator Vasco da Gama circumnavigated the continent of Africa and thus reached India by sea rather than by land. As a result, trade expanded, to the benefit of the city's craftsmen. As a result, the banks also benefited and increased their influence. The Gothic style developed from the Romanesque style, which in modern times led to the Renaissance.

Cover photo:(c) Timo Skorzik, submitted to the photo battle 2015