Portal:Middle Ages

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The Middle Ages Portal

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.

Selected article

The original Gawain manuscript.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th-century Middle English alliterative romance outlining an adventure of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table. In the tale, Sir Gawain accepts a challenge from a mysterious warrior who is completely green, from his clothes and hair to his beard and skin, the "Green Knight" offers to allow anyone to strike him with his axe if the challenger will take a return blow in a year and a day. Gawain accepts, and beheads him in one blow, only to have the Green Knight stand up, pick up his head, and remind Gawain to meet him at the appointed time, the story of Gawain's struggle to meet the appointment and his adventures along the way demonstrate the spirit of chivalry and loyalty. The poem survives in a single manuscript, the Cotton Nero A.x., that also includes three religious pieces, Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience. These works are thought to have been written by the same unknown author, dubbed the "Pearl Poet" or "Gawain poet." All four narrative poems are written in a North West Midland dialect of Middle English. The story thus emerges from the Welsh and English traditions of the dialect area, borrowing from earlier "beheading game" stories and highlighting the importance of honour and chivalry in the face of danger.


Selected biography

Giovanni villani 1.JPG

Giovanni Villani (c. 1276 or 1280–1348, Italian pronunciation: [dʒoˈvanni vilˈlaːni]) was an Italian banker, official, diplomat and chronicler from Florence who wrote the Nuova Cronica (New Chronicles) on the history of Florence. He was a leading statesman of Florence but later gained an unsavory reputation and served time in prison as a result of the bankruptcy of a trading and banking company he worked for, his interest in and elaboration of economic details, statistical information, and political and psychological insight mark him as a more modern chronicler of late medieval Europe. His Cronica is viewed as the first introduction of statistics as a positive element in history. However, historian Kenneth R. Bartlett notes that, in contrast to his Renaissance-era successors, "his reliance on such elements as Divine Providence links Villani closely with the medieval vernacular chronicle tradition. In recurring themes made implicit through significant events described in his Cronica, Villani also emphasized three assumptions about the relationship of sin and morality to historical events, these being that excess brings disaster, that forces of right and wrong are in constant struggle, and that events are directly influenced by the will of God.

Villani was inspired to write his Cronica after attending the jubilee celebration in Rome in 1300 and noting the venerable history of that city. He outlined the events in his Cronica year for year, following a strictly linear narrative format, he provided intricate details on many important historical events of the city of Florence and the wider region of Tuscany, such as construction projects, floods, fires, famines, and plagues.

While continuing work on the Cronica and detailing the enormous loss of life during the Black Death in 1348, Villani died of the same illness, his work on the Cronica was continued by his brother and nephew. Villani's work has received both praise and criticism from modern historians, the criticism is mostly aimed at his emphasis on supernatural guidance of events, his organizational style, and his glorification of the papacy and Florence. (read more . . .)

Did you know...

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

Selected picture

LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMatt.jpg
Credit: Eadfrith of Lindisfarne

The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The manuscript was produced on Lindisfarne in Northumbria in the late 7th century or early 8th century, and is generally regarded as the finest example of the kingdom's unique style of religious art, a style that combined Anglo-Saxon and Celtic themes, what is now called Hiberno-Saxon art, or Insular art.

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