Early Middle Ages

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The Early Middle Ages are a period in the history of Europe following the fall of the Western Roman Empire spanning roughly the five centuries from AD 500 to 1000.[1] Aspects of continuity with the earlier classical period are discussed in greater detail under the heading "Late Antiquity". The Early Middle Ages were followed by the High Middle Ages.


Collapse of Rome (372-410)

Starting in the second century, various indicators of Roman civilization began to decline, including urbanization, seaborne commerce, and population. Only 40 percent as many Mediterranean shipwrecks have been found for the third century as for the first. The population of the Roman Empire shrank from 65 million in 150 to 50 million in 400, a decline of more than 20 percent. Some have connected this to the Dark Age Cold Period (100-700), when there was a decline in temperature globally which reduced agricultural harvests.

Migrating south from Scandinavia, the Germanic peoples reached the Black Sea early in the third century. They created confederations which proved more formidable opponents than the Sarmatians, whom the Romans had dealt with earlier. In Romania and the grassy steppes north of the Black Sea, the Goths, a Germanic people, created at least two kingdoms, one Therving, the other Greuthung. The arrival of the Huns in 372-375 ended the history of these kingdoms. The Huns were a confederation of central Asian tribes who founded an empire with a Turkic-speaking aristocracy. They had mastered the difficult art of shooting composite recurve bows from horseback. The Gothic people were forced to seek refuge in Roman territory (376). The Goths agreed to enter the Empire as unarmed settlers, but many bribed the Danube border guards into allowing them to bring their weapons with them.

The discipline and organization of a Roman Legion made it a superb fighting machine. The Romans preferred infantry to cavalry because infantry could be trained to retain formation in combat, while cavalry tended to flee when faced with danger. But unlike a barbarian army, the legions required constant training and salaries that made them a huge expense for the empire. As agriculture and economic activity declined, taxes grew harder to collect, and the system came under strain.

In the Gothic War (376-382), the Goths revolted and confronted the main Roman army in the Battle of Adrianople (378). Not wanting to share the glory, Eastern Emperor Valens ordered an attack on the Therving infantry under Fritigern without waiting for Western Emperor Gratian, who was on the way with reinforcements. While the Romans were fully engaged, the Greuthung cavalry arrived. Only one third of the Roman army managed to escape. It was the most shattering defeat that the Romans had suffered since Cannae, according to Roman military writer Ammianus Marcellinus. The core army of the eastern empire was destroyed, Valens killed, and the Goths free to lay waste to the Balkans, including the armories along the Danube. As Edward Gibbon comments, "The Romans, who so coolly and so concisely mention the acts of justice which were exercised by the legions, reserve their compassion and their eloquence for their own sufferings, when the provinces were invaded and desolated by the arms of the successful Barbarians."

The empire lacked the resources, and perhaps the will, to reconstruct the professional mobile army that had been destroyed at Adrianople, so it was forced to rely on barbarian armies to fight on its behalf. The Eastern Roman Empire was able to buy off the Goths with tribute. The Western Roman Empire was less fortunate. Stilicho, the western empire's half-Vandal military commander, stripped the Rhine frontier of troops to fend off invasions of Italy by the Visigoths in 402-03 and by other Goths in 406-07.

Fleeing before the terrifying advance of the Huns, the Vandals, Suebi, and Alans launched an attack across the frozen Rhine near Mainz; on December 31, 406, the frontier gave way and these tribes surged into Gaul. They were soon followed by the Burgundians and by bands of the Alamanni. In the fit of anti-barbarian hysteria which followed, Emperor Honorius had Stilicho summarily beheaded (408). Stilicho submitted his neck, "with a firmness not unworthy of the last of the Roman generals," wrote Gibbon. Honorius was left with only worthless courtiers to advise him. In 410, the Visigoths led by Alaric I captured the city of Rome and for three days there was fire and slaughter as bodies filled the streets, palaces were stripped of their valuables, and those thought to have hidden wealth interrogated and tortured. As newly converted Christians, the Goths respected church property. But those who found sanctuary in the Vatican and in other churches were the fortunate few.

Migrations (Dark Age) 400-700

The Goths and Vandals were only the first of many waves of invaders that flooded Western Europe. Some lived only for war and pillage and disdained Roman ways. Others admired Rome and wished to become its heirs. "A poor Roman plays the Goth, a rich Goth the Roman" said King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths.

The Romans were trinitarian Christians, the disciplined subjects of a long-established bureaucratic empire. The Germanic peoples knew little of cities, money, or writing. They were recent converts to Arian Christianity and were thus heretics to the churchmen of the empire.

The era of the migrations has historically been termed the "Dark Ages" by some Western European historians, and as Völkerwanderung, or "wandering of the peoples", by German historians. The term Dark Ages has fallen from favour since the Second World War, partly to avoid the entrenched stereotypes associated with the phrase, but also because more recent research and archaeological findings from the period challenge old notions of backwardness in the arts, technology, political and social organizations.

The earlier settled population was left intact or only partially displaced. Whereas the peoples of France, Italy, and Spain continued to speak dialects of Latin, that today constitute the Romance languages, the language of the smaller Roman-era population of England disappeared with barely a trace in the territories conquered by the Saxons, although the Brittanic kingdoms of the west remained Brythonic speakers. The new peoples greatly altered established society, including law, culture, religion, and patterns of property ownership.

The pax Romana had provided safe conditions for trade and manufacture, and a unified cultural and educational milieu of far-ranging connections. As this was lost, it was replaced by the rule of local potentates, sometimes members of the established Romanized ruling elite, sometimes new lords of alien culture. In Aquitania, Gallia Narbonensis, southern Italy and Sicily, Baetica or southern Spain, and the Iberian Mediterranean coast, Roman culture lasted until the sixth or seventh centuries.

Everywhere, the gradual break-down of economic and social linkages and infrastructure resulted in increasingly localized outlooks. This breakdown was often fast and dramatic as it became unsafe to travel or carry goods over any distance; there was a consequent collapse in trade and manufacture for export. Major industries that depended on trade, such as large-scale pottery manufacture, vanished almost overnight in places like Britain. Tintagel in Cornwall, as well as several other centres, managed to obtain supplies of Mediterranean luxury goods well into the sixth century, but then lost their trading links. Administrative, educational and military infrastructure quickly vanished, and the loss of the established cursus honorum led to the collapse of the schools and to a rise of illiteracy even among the leadership. The careers of Cassiodorus (died c. 585) at the beginning of this period and of Alcuin of York (died 804) at its close were founded alike on their valued literacy.

For the formerly Roman area, there was another 20 per cent decline in population between 400 and 600, or a one third decline for 150-600. In the eighth century, the volume of trade reached its lowest level since the Bronze Age. The very small number of shipwrecks found that dated from the 8th century supports this (which represents less than 2% of the number of shipwrecks dated from the first century CE). There was also reforestation and a retreat of agriculture that centered around 500. This phenomenon coincided with a period of rapid cooling, according to tree ring data. The Romans had practised two-field agriculture, with a crop grown in one field and the other left fallow and ploughed under to eliminate weeds. With the gradual breakup of the institutions of the empire, owners were unable to stop their slaves from running away and the plantation system broke down. Systematic agriculture largely disappeared and yields declined to subsistence level.

Byzantine Empire

The death of Theodosius I in 395 was followed by the division of the empire between his two sons. The Western Roman Empire disintegrated into a mosaic of warring Germanic kingdoms in the fifth century, making the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople the legal successor to the classical Roman Empire. After Greek replaced Latin as the official language of the Empire, historians refer to the empire as "Byzantine." Westerners would gradually begin to refer to it as "Greek" rather than "Roman." The inhabitants, however, always called themselves Romaioi, or Romans.

The Eastern Roman Empire aimed at retaining control of the trade routes between Europe and the Orient, which made the Empire the richest polity in Europe. Making use of their sophisticated warfare and superior diplomacy, the Byzantines managed to fend off assaults by the migrating barbarians. Their dreams of subduing the Western potentates briefly materialized during the reign of Justinian I in 527-565. Not only did Justinian restore some western territories to the Roman Empire, but he also codified Roman law (with his codification remaining in force in many areas of Europe until the 19th century) and built the largest and the most technically advanced edifice of the Early Middle Ages, the Hagia Sophia.

Justinian's successors Maurice and Heraclius had to confront invasions of the Avar, Bulgar and Slavic tribes. In 626 Constantinople, by far the largest city of early medieval Europe, withstood a combined siege by Avars and Persians. Within several decades, Heraclius completed a holy war against the Persians by taking their capital and having a Sassanid monarch assassinated. Yet Heraclius lived to see his spectacular success undone by the Arab conquest of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa which was considerably facilitated by religious disunity and the proliferation of heretical movements (notably Monophysitism and Nestorianism) in the areas converted to Islam.

Although Heraclius's successors managed to salvage Constantinople from two Arab sieges (in 674-77 and 717), the empire of the 8th and early 9th century was rocked by the great Iconoclastic Controversy, punctuated by dynastic struggles between various factions at court. The Bulgar and Slavic tribes profited from these disorders and invaded Illyria, Thrace and even Greece (which they called Morea).

To counter these threats, a new system of administration was introduced. The regional civil and military administration were combined in the hands of a general, or strategos. A theme, which formerly denoted a subdivision of the Byzantine army, came to refer to a region governed by a strategos. The reform led to the emergence of great landed families which controlled the regional military and often pressed their claims to the throne (see Bardas Phocas and Bardas Sklerus for characteristic examples).

By the early eighth century, notwithstanding the shrinking territory of the empire, Constantinople remained the largest and the wealthiest city of the entire world, comparable only to Sassanid Ctesiphon, and later Abassid Baghdad. The population of the imperial capital fluctuated between 300,000 and 400,000 as the emperors undertook measures to restrain its growth. The only other large Christian cities were Rome (50,000) and Salonika (30,000).[9] Even before the eighth century was out, the Farmer's Law signalled the resurrection of agricultural technologies in the Greek Empire. As the 2006 Encyclopædia Britannica noted, "the technological base of Byzantine society was more advanced than that of contemporary western Europe: iron tools could be found in the villages; water mills dotted the landscape; and field-sown beans provided a diet rich in protein".

The ascension of the Macedonian dynasty in 867 marked the end of the period of political and religious turmoil and introduced a new golden age of the empire. While the talented generals such as Nicephorus Phocas expanded the frontiers, the Macedonian emperors (such as Leo the Wise and Constantine VII) presided over the cultural flowering in Constantinople, known as the Macedonian Renaissance. The enlightened Macedonian rulers scorned the rulers of Western Europe as illiterate barbarians and maintained a nominal claim to rule over the West. Although this fiction had been exploded with the coronation of Charlemagne in Rome (800), the Byzantine rulers did not treat their Western counterparts as equals. Generally, they had little interest in the political and economical developments in the barbarian (from their point of view) West.

Against this economic background, the superior culture and the imperial traditions of the Eastern Roman Empire attracted its northern neighbours — Slavs, Bulgars, and Khazars — to Constantinople, in search of either pillage or enlightenment. The movement of the Germanic tribes to the south triggered the great migration of the Slavs, who occupied the vacated territories. In the seventh century, they moved westward to the Elbe, southward to the Danube and eastward to the Dnieper. By the 9th century, the Slavs had expanded into sparsely inhabited territories to the south and east from these natural frontiers, peacefully assimilating the indigenous Illyrian and Finno-Ugric populations.

Resurgence of the Latin West (700-850)

Conditions in Western Europe began to improve after 700 as Europe experienced an agricultural boom that would continue until at least 1100. A study of limestone deposited in the Mediterranean seabed concludes that there was a substantial increase in solar radiation received between 600 and 900. The first signs of Europe's recovery on the battlefield are the defense of Constantinople in 717 and the victory of the Franks over the Arabs at the Battle of Tours in 732.

Between the fifth and eighth centuries a political and social infrastructure developed across the lands of the former empire, based upon powerful regional noble families, and the newly established kingdoms of the Ostrogoths in Italy, Visigoths in Spain and Portugal, Franks and Burgundians in Gaul and western Germany, and Saxons in England. These lands remained Christian, and their Arian conquerors were converted (Visigoths and Lombards) or conquered (Ostrogoths and Vandals). The Franks converted directly from paganism to Catholic Christianity under Clovis I. The interaction between the culture of the newcomers, their warband loyalties, the remnants of classical culture, and Christian influences, produced a new model for society, based in part on feudal obligations. The centralized administrative systems of the Romans did not withstand the changes, and the institutional support for chattel slavery largely disappeared.


The Lombards, who first entered Italy in 568 under Alboin, carved out a state in the north, with its capital at Pavia. At first, they were unable to conquer the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Ducatus Romanus, and Calabria and Apulia. The next two hundred years were occupied in trying to conquer these territories from the Byzantine Empire.

The Lombard state was truly barbarian in custom compared with the earlier Germanic states of Western Europe. It was highly decentralized at first, with the territorial dukes having practical sovereignty in their duchies, especially in the southern duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. For a decade following the death of Cleph in 575, the Lombards did not elect a king and the period is called the Rule of the Dukes. The first written legal code was composed in poor Latin in 643: the Edictum Rothari. It was primarily the codification of the oral legal tradition of the people.

The Lombard state was well-organized and stabilized by the end of the long reign of Liutprand (717–744), but its collapse was sudden. Unsupported by the dukes, King Desiderius was defeated and forced to surrender his kingdom to Charlemagne in 774. The Lombard kingdom came to an end and a period of Frankish rule was initiated. The Frankish king Pepin the Short had, by the Donation of Pepin, given the pope the "Papal States" and the territory north of that swath of papally-governed land was ruled primarily by Lombard and Frankish vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor until the rise of the city-states in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

In the south, a period of anarchy began. The duchy of Benevento maintained its sovereignty in the face of the pretensions of both the Western and Eastern Empires. In the ninth century, the Saracens conquered Sicily and began settling in the peninsula. The coastal cities on the Tyrrhenian Sea departed from Byzantine allegiance. Various states owing various nominal allegiances fought constantly over territory until events came to a head in the early eleventh century with the coming of the Normans, who conquered the whole of the south by the end of the century.

Anglo-Saxon England

In the mid-5th century several tribes from modern Germany, Holland, and Denmark began sporadic and marginally successful invasions of Britain, at that point a neglected Roman province. Traditionally, two Jutish chieftains named Hengest and Horsa were promised land by the powerful British king Vortigern in exchange for routing the warlike Pict tribe. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, after they defeated the Picts, "They sent to Angeln and called on them to send more forces, and to tell people about the worthlessness of the Britons and the merits of their land." This marked the beginning of decades of invasion and conquest of southern and central Britain from the Celts by such Germanic peoples as the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons. At least 50 percent of England's original Celtic inhabitants were killed off in the process. The Anglo-Saxons eventually established several kingdoms of differing longevity and significance. King Alfred the Great (871-899) of Wessex led Anglo-Saxon resistance to the invading Danish forces. The unification of England was completed in 926 when Northumbria was annexed by King Athelstan, a grandson of Alfred.

Frankish Empire

The Merovingians established themselves in the power vacuum of the former Roman provinces in Gaul, and Chlodwig I following his victory over the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac (496) converted to Christianity, laying the foundation of the Frankish Empire, the dominant state of medieval Western Christendom.

Starting with the Frankish realms at the beginning of the ninth century, Charlemagne united much of modern day France, western Germany and northern Italy into the Carolingian Empire. Scholarship and Classical learning flourished under Charlemagne leading to what twentieth-century historians called the "Carolingian Renaissance".

The 840s saw renewed disorder, with the breakup of the Frankish Empire and the beginning of a new cycle of barbarian raids, at first by the Vikings and later by the Magyars.


Around 800, there was a return to systematic agriculture in the form of the open field, or strip, system. A manor would have several fields each subdivided into one-acre strips of land. This was considered to be the amount of land an ox could plough before taking a rest, according to one theory. Another possibility is that the holdings were originally rectangular and were split into strips because of the way land was inherited. In the idealized form of the system, each family got thirty such strips of land. The three-field system of crop rotation was first developed in the ninth century: wheat or rye was planted in one field, the second field had a nitrogen-fixing crop (barley, oats, peas, or beans), and third was fallow. Compared to the earlier two-field system, a three-field system allows for significantly more land to be put under cultivation. Even more important, the system allows for two harvests a year, reducing the risk that a single crop failure will lead to famine. Three-field agriculture creates a surplus of oats that can be used to feed horses. Because the system required a major rearrangement of real estate and the social order, it took until the 11th century before it came into general use. The heavy wheeled plough was introduced in the late 10th century. It required greater animal power and promoted the use of teams of oxen. Illuminated manuscripts depict two-wheeled ploughs with both a mouldboard, or curved metal ploughshare, and a coulter, a vertical blade in front of the ploughshare. The Romans had used, light, wheelless ploughs with flat iron shares that often proved unequal to the heavy soils of northern Europe.

The return to systemic agriculture coincided with the introduction of a new social system called feudalism. This system featured a hierarchy of reciprocal obligations. Each man was bound to serve his superior in return for the latter's protection. This made for confusion of territorial sovereignty since allegiances were subject to change over time, and were sometimes mutually contradictory. Feudalism allowed the state to provide a degree of public safety despite the continued absence of bureaucracy and written records. Even land ownership disputes were decided based solely on oral testimony. Territoriality was reduced to a network of personal allegiances.

Viking Age (793-1066)

The Viking Age spans the period between AD 793 and 1066 in Scandinavia and Britain, following the Germanic Iron Age (and the Vendel Age in Sweden). During this period, the Vikings, Scandinavian warriors and traders, raided and explored most parts of Europe, south-western Asia, northern Africa and north-eastern North America. Apart from exploring Europe by way of its oceans and rivers with the aid of their advanced navigational skills and extending their trading routes across vast parts of the continent, they also engaged in warfare and looted and enslaved numerous Christian communities of Medieval Europe for centuries, contributing to the development of feudal systems in Europe.

Eastern Europe 600-1000

Prior to the rise of the Kievan Rus, the eastern frontier of Europe had been dominated by the Khazars, a Turkic people who had gained independence from the Turkic Empire by the seventh century. Khazaria was a multiethnic commercial state which derived its well-being from control of river trade between Europe and the Orient. They also exacted tribute from the Alani, Magyars, various Slavic tribes, the Goths and Greeks of Crimea. Through a network of Jewish itinerant merchants, or Radhanites, they were in contact with the trade emporiums of India and Spain.

Once they found themselves confronted by Arab expansionism, the Khazars pragmatically allied themselves with Constantinople and clashed with the Califate. Despite initial setbacks, they managed to recover Derbent and eventually penetrated as far south as Caucasian Iberia, Caucasian Albania and Armenia. In doing so, they effectively blocked the northward expansion of Islam into Eastern Europe several decades before Charles Martel achieved the same in Western Europe.

In the seventh century, the northern littoral of the Black Sea was hit with a fresh wave of nomadic attacks, led by the Bulgars, who established a powerful khanate of Great Bulgaria under the leadership of Kubrat. The Khazars managed to oust the Bulgars from Southern Ukraine into the middle reaches of the Volga (Volga Bulgaria) and into the lower reaches of the Danube (Danube Bulgaria, or the First Bulgarian Empire). The Danube Bulgars were quickly Slavicized and, despite constant campaigning against Constantinople, accepted the Greek form of Christianity. Through the efforts of two local missionaries, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the first Slavic alphabet came into being and a vernacular dialect, now known as Old Church Slavonic, was established as a language of books and liturgy.

To the north from the Byzantine periphery, the first attested Slavic polity was Great Moravia, which emerged under the aegis of the Frankish Empire in the early 9th century. Until its defragmentation in consequence of the conflicts with the East Franks a century later, Moravia was a stage for confrontation between the Christian missionaries from Constantinople and from Rome. Although the West Slavs eventually acknowledged the Roman ecclesiastical authority, the clergy of Constantinople succeeded in converting into the Greek faith the largest state of contemporary Europe, Kievan Rus, towards 990. Led by a Varangian dynasty, the Kievan Rus controlled the routes connecting Northern Europe to Byzantium and the Orient.

Both before and after the Christianization, the Rus staged predatory raids against Constantinople, some of which resulted in the mutually beneficial trade treaties. The importance of Russo-Byzantine relations is highlighted by the fact that Vladimir I of Kiev was the only foreigner who married a Byzantine princess of the Macedonian dynasty, a singular honour which many rulers of Western Europe sought in vain. The military campaigns of Vladimir's father, Svyatoslav I, had crushed the statehood of two strongest powers of Eastern Europe, namely the Bulgars and the Khazars.

Bulgarian Empire

In 681 the Bulgarians founded a powerful state which played a major role in Europe and specifically in South Eastern Europe until its fall under Turkish rule in 1396. In 718 the Bulgarians decisively defeated the Arabs near Constantinople, and their ruler Khan Tervel became known as "The Saviour of Europe". Bulgaria effectively stopped the barbarian tribes (Pechenegs, Khazars) from migrating further to the west and in 806 destroyed the Avar Khanate. Under the first Emperor Simeon I (893-927), the state was the largest in Europe, threatening the existence of Byzantium.

After the adoption of Christianity in 864, Bulgaria became the cultural and spiritual centre of the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world. The Cyrillic alphabet was invented by the Bulgarian scholar Clement of Ohrid in 885. Literature, art and architecture were thriving with the establishment of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools,and the Preslav Ceramics School. In 927 the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was the first European national Church to gain independence with its own Patriarch.

Transmission of Learning

With the end of the Western Roman Empire and urban centres in decline, literacy and learning decreased in the West. Education became the preserve of monasteries and cathedrals. A "Renaissance" of classical education would appear in Carolingian Empire in the 8th century. In the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), learning was maintained at a higher level than in the West. Further to the east, Islam conquered many of the Eastern Patriarchates, and it outstripped Christian lands in science, philosophy, and other intellectual endeavors in a "golden age" of learning.

Classical Education

The classical education system emphasized grammar, Latin, Greek, and rhetoric. Pupils read and reread classic works and wrote essays imitating their style. By the fourth century, this education system was Christianized. In De Doctrina Christiana (started 396, completed 426), Augustine explained how classical education fits into the Christian world-view. Christianity was a religion of the book, so Christians must be literate. Preaching required learning the classical principles of rhetoric. Tertullian was more sceptical of the value of classical learning, asking "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" But even he did not object to Christian enrollment in classical schools.

Decline in the West

De-urbanization reduced the scope of education and by the sixth century teaching and learning moved to monastic and cathedral schools, with the center of education being the study of the Bible.[16] Education of the laity survived modestly in Italy, Spain, and the southern part of Gaul, where Roman influences were most long-lasting. However, in the seventh century, learning began to emerge in Ireland and the Celtic lands, where Latin was a foreign language and Latin texts were eagerly studied and taught.


In the ancient world, Greek was the primary language of science. Advanced scientific research and teaching was mainly carried on in the Hellenistic side of the Roman empire, in Greek. Late Roman attempts to translate Greek writings into Latin had limited success. As the knowledge of Greek declined, the Latin West found itself cut off from its Greek philosophical and scientific roots. Latin-speakers who wanted to learn about science had access to only a couple of books by Boethius (c. 470-524) (that summarized Greek handbooks by Nicomachus of Gerasa) and the works of other Latin encyclopedists.

The leading scholars of the early centuries were clergyman for whom the study of nature was but a small part of their interest. The study of nature was pursued more for practical reasons than as an abstract inquiry: the need to care for the sick led to the study of medicine and of ancient texts on drugs, the need for monks to determine the proper time to pray led them to study the motion of the stars, the need to compute the date of Easter led them to study and teach rudimentary mathematics and the motions of the Sun and Moon.Modern readers may find it disconcerting that sometimes the same works discuss both the technical details of natural phenomena and their symbolic significance.

Even though not much progress occurred in the Early Middle Ages, the period laid the foundations for important scientific developments in the High Middle Ages and beyond.

The modern stereotype of this Age as a time of backwardness is reflected in popular misconceptions related to the history of science. Notions such as: "the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science", "the medieval Christian Church suppressed the growth of the natural sciences", "the medieval Christians thought that the world was flat", and "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages", are all reported by Ronald Numbers and others as examples of widely popular myths that still pass as historical truth, even though they are not supported by historical research.

Carolingian Renaissance

Around 800, there was renewed interest in Classical Antiquity as part of the Carolingian Renaissance. Charles the Great carried out a reform in education. The English monk Alcuin of York elaborated a project of scholarly development aimed at resuscitating classical knowledge by establishing programmes of study based upon the seven liberal arts: the trivium, or literary education (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the quadrivium, or scientific education (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music). From the year 787 on, decrees began to circulate recommending, in the whole empire, the restoration of old schools and the founding of new ones. Institutionally, these new schools were either under the responsibility of a monastery, a cathedral or a noble court. The real significance of these measures would only be felt centuries later. The teaching of dialectic (a discipline that corresponds to today's logic) was responsible for the rebirth of the interest in speculative inquiry; from this interest would follow the rise of the Scholastic tradition of Christian philosophy. In the 12th and 13th century, many of those schools founded under the auspices of Charles the Great, especially cathedral schools, would become universities.

Byzantium and its Golden Age

Byzantium's great intellectual achievement was the Corpus Juris Civilis ("Body of Civil Law"), a massive compilation of Roman law made under Justinian (r. 528-65). The work includes a section called the Digesta which abstracts the principles of Roman law in such a way that they can be applied to any situation. The level of literacy was considerably higher in the Byzantine Empire than in the Latin West. Elementary education was much more widely available, sometimes even in the countryside. Secondary schools still taught the Iliad and other classics. As for higher education, a Neoplatonic school in Athens was closed in 526 for paganism. There was also a school in Alexandria which remained open until the Arab conquest (640). The University of Constantinople, originally founded by Emperor Theodosius II (425), may have dissolved around this time. It was refounded by Emperor Michael III in 849. Higher education in this period focused on rhetoric, although Aristotle's logic was covered in simple outline. Under the Macedonian dynasty (867–1025), Byzantium enjoyed a golden age and a revival of classical learning. There was little original research, but many lexicons, anthologies, encyclopaedias, and commentaries.

Christianity West and East

From the early Christians, early medieval Christians inherited a church united by major creeds, a stable Biblical canon, and a well-developed philosophical tradition.

During the early Middle Ages, the divide between Eastern and Western Christianity widened, paving the way for the East-West Schism in the 11th century. In the West, the power of the Bishop of Rome expanded. In 607, Boniface III became the first Bishop of Rome to use the title Pope. Pope Gregory the Great used his office as a temporal power, expanded Rome's missionary efforts to the British Isles, and laid the foundations for the expansion of monastic orders.

In the East, the conquests of Islam reduced the power of the Greek-speaking patriarchates.

Celtic Christianity comprised a separate Christian tradition in the British Isles.

Christianization of the West

The Roman Catholic Church, the only centralized institution to survive the fall of the Western Roman Empire intact, was the sole unifying cultural influence in the West, selectively preserving some Latin learning, maintaining the art of writing, and preserving a centralized administration through its network of bishops ordained in succession. The Early Middle Ages are characterized by the urban control of bishops and the territorial control exercised by dukes and counts. The rise of urban communes marked the beginning of the High Middle Ages.

The Christianization of Germanic tribes began in the fourth century with the Goths, and continued throughout the Early Middle Ages, in the sixth to seventh centuries led by the Hiberno-Scottish mission, replaced in the eighth to ninth centuries by the Anglo-Saxon mission, with Anglo-Saxons like Alcuin playing an important role in the Carolingian renaissance. By AD 1000, even Iceland became Christian, leaving only more remote parts of Europe (Scandinavia, the Baltic and Finno-Ugric lands) to be Christianized during the High Middle Ages.

Foundation of the Holy Roman Empire (10th century)

Listless and often ill, Carolingian Emperor Charles the Fat, provoked an uprising led by his nephew Arnulf of Carinthia which resulted in the division of the empire into the kingdoms of France, Germany, and (northern) Italy (887). Taking advantage of the weakness of the German government, the Magyars had established themselves in the Alföld, or Hungarian grasslands, and began raiding across Germany, Italy, and even France. The German nobles elected Henry the Fowler, duke of Saxony, their king at a Reichstag, or national assembly, in Fritzlar in 919. Henry's power was only marginally greater than that of the other leaders of the stem duchies, which were the feudal expression of the former German tribes. Henry's son King Otto I (r. 936-973) was able to defeat a revolt of the dukes supported by French King Louis IV (939). In 951, Otto marched into Italy and married the widowed Queen Adelaide, named himself king of the Lombards, and received homage from Berengar of Ivrea, king of Italy (r. 950-52). Otto named his relatives the new leaders of the stem duchies, but this approach didn't completely solve the problem of disloyalty. His son Liudolf, duke of Swabia, revolted and welcomed the Magyars into Germany (953). At Lechfeld, near Augsburg in Bavaria, Otto caught up the Magyars while they were enjoying a razzia and achieved a signal victory (955). After this, the Magyars ceased to be a nation that lived on plunder and their leaders created a Christian kingdom called Hungary (1000). Otto, his prestige greatly enhanced, marched into Italy again and was crowned emperor (imperator augustus) by Pope John XII in Rome (962). Historians count this event as the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, although the term was not used until much later. The Ottonian state is also considered the first Reich, or German Empire. Otto used the imperial title without attaching it to any territory. He and later emperors thought of themselves as part of a continuous line of emperors that begins with Charlemagne. (Several of these "emperors" were simply local Italian magnates who bullied the pope into coronating them.) Otto deposed John XII for conspiring with Berengar against him and named Pope Leo VIII to replace him (963). Berengar was captured and taken to Germany. John was able to reverse the deposition after Otto left, but died in the arms of his mistress soon afterwards.

Aside from founding the German Empire, Otto's achievements include the creation "Ottonian church system," in which the clergy (the only literate section of the population) assumed the duties of an imperial civil service. He raised the papacy out of the muck of Rome's local gangster politics, assured that the position was competently filled, and gave it a dignity that allowed it to assume leadership of an international church.

Europe in AD 1000

Speculation that the world would end in the year 1000 was confined to a few uneasy French monks.[26] Ordinary clerks used regnal years, i.e. the 4th year of the reign of Robert II (the Pious) of France. The use of the modern "anno domini" system of dating was confined to the Venerable Bede and other chroniclers of universal history.

Europe remained a backwater compared to Islam, with its vast network of caravan trade, or China, at this time the world's most populous empire under the Song Dynasty. Constantinople had a population of about 300,000, but Rome had a mere 35,000 and Paris 20,000.[4][5] In contrast, Islam had over a dozen major cities stretching from Córdoba, Spain, at this time the world's largest city with 450,000 inhabitants, to central Asia. The Vikings had a trade network in northern Europe, including a route connecting the Baltic to Constantinople through Russia. But it was modest affair compared to the caravan routes that connected the great Muslim cities of Cordoba, Alexandria, Cairo, Baghdad, Basra, and Mecca.

With nearly the entire nation freshly ravaged by the Vikings, England was in a desperate state. The long-suffering English later responded with a massacre of Danish settlers in 1002, leading to a round of reprisals and finally to Danish rule (1013). But Christianization made rapid progress and proved itself the long-term solution to the problem of barbarian raiding. Scandinavia had been recently Christianized and the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark established. Kievan Rus, recently converted to Orthodox Christianity, flourished as the largest state in Europe. Iceland and Hungary were both declared Christian about AD 1000.

In Europe, marriage was established among the nobility.[27] North of Italy, where masonry construction was never extinguished, stone construction was replacing timber in important structures. Deforestation of the densely wooded continent was under way. The tenth century marked a return of urban life, with the Italian cities doubling in population. London, abandoned for many centuries, was by 1000 once again England's main economic centre. By 1000, Bruges and Ghent held regular trade fairs behind castle walls, a tentative return of economic life to western Europe.

This time also marks the disintegration of the Muslim Caliphate, an imposing and united rival only a century before. Muslim unity was hobbled by the divisions between Shiite and Sunni conflicts as well as Arab Persian ones. At this time, there were three caliphs, an Umayyid caliph in Spain, an Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, and a Shiite (Fatimid) caliph in Egypt. The population of Baghdad, the Abbasid capital, had shrunk to 125,000 (compared to 900,000 in AD 900).[28] The Umayyids were still strong and assertive in 1000, but declined rapidly after 1002 and disappeared entirely by 1031.

In the culture of Europe, several features surfaced soon after 1000 that mark the end of the Early Middle Ages: the rise of the medieval communes, the reawakening of city life, and the appearance of the burgher class, the founding of the first universities, the rediscovery of Roman law, and the beginnings of vernacular literature.

In 1000, the papacy was firmly under the control of German Emperor Otto III, or "emperor of the world" as he styled himself. But later church reforms enhanced its independence and prestige: the Cluniac movement, the building of the first great Transalpine stone cathedrals and the collation of the mass of accumulated decretals into a formulated canon law.

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